A breakdown of gun terminology to help you in discussions on mass shootings and debates over gun control

AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pa. on October 6, 2017 Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Firearm language can be tricky.
"Assault weapons," for example, is one of the most contentious phrases in gun control debates.
After the recent mass shootings, there has been a renewed debate about gun control.
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With the ongoing and controversial gun control debate in the United States, it's helpful to understand the breakdown of some of the key terms that often come up after mass shootings.
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Some of these terms may seem inconsequential, but they relate strongly to discussions about what types of guns and firearm accessories should be more tightly regulated or even banned. And some in the Second Amendment camp have been known to poke fun at people pushing for new gun laws when they use incorrect terminology when it comes to firearms.
In the renewed discussion of gun control following high-profile mass shootings in Highland Park, Illinois, Buffalo, New York, Laguna Woods, California, and Uvalde, Texas, well-known disagreements over firearm terminology emerge.
Here is a summary of some of the more common and controversial terms related to guns and the broader discourse surrounding them in the US.
Semi-automatic vs. automatic
Customers view semi-automatic guns on display at a gun store in Los Angeles, California December 19, 2012. Gene Blevins/Reuters
A semi-automatic firearm refers to a gun that fires a single round or bullet each time the trigger is pulled or pulled, then automatically reloads the chamber between shots.
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An automatic firearm is essentially what many Americans are likely to think of as a machine gun or a firearm that continuously fires while the trigger is pulled or pulled and automatically reloads the chamber.
The vast majority of firearms in the US are semi-automatic and include rifles and handguns. Semi-automatic firearms are available in the United States with few restrictions.
Automatic weapons are heavily regulated and expensive.
The manufacture and importation of new automatic firearms has been banned since the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. However, this still allows the purchase of automatic firearms manufactured before a certain date in 1986, meaning that automatics are technically legal under certain circumstances.
Magazine vs Clip
A gun and magazine are pictured in this evidence photo released by Connecticut State Police on December 27, 2013. Connecticut State Police/Reuters
"Magazine" and "clip" are often used interchangeably, although they are not the same thing.
A magazine is a container that holds cartridges or rounds of ammunition and inserts them into the firing chamber of a gun. Some magazines are internal while others are detachable.
A clip holds multiple rounds of ammunition together, often on a metal strip, for insertion into a magazine. Most guns have magazines (revolvers and some types of shotguns don't have magazines), but not all firearms use clips.
offensive weapons
Frank Loane, owner of Pasadena Pawn and Gun, stands in front of a wall of assault rifles at his store in Pasadena, Maryland on Thursday, September 26, 2013.Brian Witte/Associated Press
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"Assault weapons" is one of the most controversial phrases in discussions of gun control.
There is no universal definition of what an offensive weapon is, which is one of the reasons this topic tends to anger the gun lobby or gun advocates.
But in 1994, after the now-expired assault weapons ban was enacted, the Justice Department said, "Generally, assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms with a large ammunition magazine designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use."
The gun industry often defines an assault rifle as a firearm with "selected firing capabilities" or the ability to set or switch the firearm between semi-automatic and automatic settings or modes.
In short, pro-Second Amendment groups typically say that a firearm should only be called an offensive weapon if it can fire fully automatically—or they dismiss the terminology altogether.
"None of the so-called 'assault rifles' legally owned by U.S. civilians are assault rifles, as the term is used in the military context," Gary Kleck, Florida State University professor emeritus of criminal justice, told PolitiFact.
Kleck added, "Assault rifles used by members of the military can all fire fully automatically, like machine guns, as well as one shot at a time, while none of the so-called 'assault rifles' legally owned by US civilians can fire fully automatically."
Because of the specifics of this topic and the broader debate surrounding it, many gun control advocates tend to refer to semi-automatic firearms used in mass shootings as "assault weapons" or "military weapons."
Polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans would support a ban on assault weapons.
AR-15
AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pa. on October 6, 2017 Joshua Roberts/Reuters
The AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle and was named "America's Favorite Rifle" by the National Rifle Association.
The "AR" in AR-15 does not stand for "assault rifle" but is associated with the original manufacturer of the firearm: ArmaLite, Inc. The name stands for ArmaLite Rifle.
The AR-15 was originally developed by ArmaLite as a military rifle for quick reloading in combat situations, but the company ran into financial difficulties. By 1959, ArmaLite sold the AR-15 design to Colt, who successfully introduced it to the US military.
The automatic version of the rifle, the M-16, was used during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Colt sold the semi-automatic version, the AR-15, to the public and police.
"If you're a hunter, camper, or gatherer, you're going to want the AR-15 Sporter," according to a 1963 advertisement for the firearm.
Colt's patent on the rifle's operating system expired in 1977, opening the door for other manufacturers to copy the technology and make their own models.
The AR-15 was banned from 1994 to 2004 via the Assault Weapons Ban. Gun manufacturers promptly reintroduced the AR-15 after the ban expired, and sales soared.
There are "well over 11 million" AR-15-style rifles in the hands of Americans, according to an investigation by CBS News' 60 Minutes, which also finds handguns kill "far more people."
However, AR-15-style rifles were widely used in mass shootings, putting the firearm at the center of the gun control debate -- particularly regarding whether to reintroduce a ban on assault weapons.
High capacity magazines
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut speaks at a news conference on a proposed amendment to ban high-capacity magazines in guns in Washington, DC, February 12, 2019.
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High or large capacity magazines are typically defined as ammunition delivery devices that hold more than 10 rounds. Nine states currently ban high-capacity magazines.
High-capacity magazines can hold up to 100 rounds of ammo, allowing dozens of shots to be fired before reloading. The rifle used in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio in 2019 featured a 100-round drum magazine.
— Nick Penzenstadler (@npenzenstadler) August 4, 2019
stock stock
On October 4, 2017, a bump fire stick was seen attaching to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the rate of fire at the Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah. George Frey/Reuters
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A butt stock is an attachment that allows a semi-automatic weapon to fire faster.
It replaces the standard rifle stock or the part of the firearm that rests against the shoulder. A buttstock uses the recoil effect to bounce the rifle off the shooter's shoulder, which in turn causes the trigger to continuously bang against the shooter's trigger finger.
In fact, burst stores allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns.
Bump stocks were banned by the Trump administration in large part due to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
— NPR (@NPR) March 26, 2019
Red Flag Law
Rally against guns and white supremacy outside the White House in WashingtonReuters
Red flag laws, also known as extreme risk laws, allow judges to temporarily confiscate a person's firearms if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Nineteen states and Washington, DC have adopted some form of warning flag law, according to Everytown for Gun Safety: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon , Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
Gun show loophole
A customer looks at shotguns on display at the New York State Arms Collectors Association's annual Albany Gun Show at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, New York in this January 26, 2013 file photo.
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The so-called "gun show loophole" is one of the most debated issues surrounding calls for expanded background checks by gun reform advocates.
"Gun show loophole" is a collective term that refers to the sale of firearms by unlicensed private sellers at gun shows and other venues - including the internet - without involving background checks.
State-licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks, but not all sellers are required to be licensed — laws vary from state to state. In that sense, there is a "loophole" that allows private sellers to sell firearms without doing background checks.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency that licenses gun dealers.
"Typically, if you repeatedly buy and sell firearms with the primary motive of making a profit, you need a license," notes the ATF. "On the other hand, if you only occasionally sell firearms from your personal collection, you don't need a license."
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