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Due to the dominant prevalence of pistol-type handguns in modern times, The words "pistol" and "handgun" have overlapping variations in meaning.The word "pistol" is often synonymous with the word "handgun".This characteristic differentiates handguns from long guns such as rifles and shotguns, which usually mandate holding with both hands and braced against the shoulder for proper shooting.Major handgun subtypes are the revolver and pistol (including single-shot pistols, semi-automatic pistols, and machine pistols); other subtypes include derringers and pepperboxes.By the 18th century, the term came to be used often to refer to handheld firearms.Practical revolver designs appeared in the 19th century, but it was not until the mid-twentieth century that the (sometimes-observed) differentiation in usage of the words "pistol" and "revolver" evolved among some speakers and the use of "handgun" became prevalent.Some handgun experts make a technical distinction that views pistols as a subset of handguns.In American usage, the term "pistol" refers to a handgun having one chamber integral with the barrel, making pistols distinct from the other main type of handgun, the revolver, which has a revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers.

An example of a single-shot pistol is the flare gun.Some examples of multi-barreled pistols are: With the development of the revolver in the 19th century, gunsmiths had finally achieved the goal of a practical capability for delivering multiple loads to one pistol barrel in quick succession.Revolvers feed ammunition via the rotation of a cartridge-filled cylinder, in which each cartridge is contained in its own ignition chamber, and is sequentially brought into alignment with the firearms barrel by an indexing mechanism linked to the firearms trigger (double-action) or its hammer (single-action).But UK/Commonwealth usage often does not make this distinction.For example, the official designation of the Webley Mk VI was "Pistol, Revolver, Webley No. 2 Mk I" was used to refer to both the Enfield Revolver and the later Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic.

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