Gun - rifle

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There is a pedantic insistence among those who work with firearms that gun and rifle are different. In general use, however, most people use gun as a generic term to mean what are more precisely called 'firearms'. Handguns are weapons that are normally held, aimed and fired while being held in one hand. Rifles and shotguns are normally managed by both hands: both are for individual use, and are characteristically held with a piece (the 'butt') held to the shoulder.

Pedants give the word gun several meanings, in its more precise application, of which two are appropriate here.

  1. Personal firearms of a certain length should not be confused. A gun, more fully a shotgun, is different from a rifle. A rifle has spiralling inside the barrel, which makes the bullet spin and allows great range and accuracy. This spiralling is called rifling, and gave the weapon its name. A shotgun has a smooth barrel, and is mostly used to throw a number of small 'bullets' or 'shot' to increase the chances of hitting a small fast-moving target, commonly, a bird in flight.
  2. Among the military, guns means artillery, or heavy weapons that need to be transported and staffed by several people (a gun crew). Warships have guns, while individual sailors may have rifles. A single piece of artillery is a gun. Paradoxically, and as an example of the fact that language is never logical, guns in this sense are always nowadays rifled.

In the Royal Navy, 'Guns' is a traditional informal title for the officer in charge of the ship's shooting, more formally the Gunnery Lieutenant.