A gun is a tubular ranged weapon typically designed to pneumatically
discharge projectiles that are solid (most guns) but can also be
liquid (as in water guns/cannons and projected water disruptors) or
even charged particles (as in a plasma gun) and may be free-flying (as
with bullets and artillery shells) or tethered (as with
spearguns and harpoon guns).
The means of projectile propulsion vary according to designs, but are
traditionally effected by a high gas pressure contained within a
shooting tube (gun barrel), produced either through the rapid
combustion of propellants (as with firearms), or by mechanical
compression (as with air guns). The high-pressure gas is introduced
behind the projectile, accelerating it down the length of the tube,
imparting sufficient launch velocity to sustain its further travel
towards the target once the propelling gas ceases acting upon it at
the end of the tube. Alternatively, acceleration via electromagnetic
field generation may be employed, in which case the shooting tube may
be substituted by guide rails (as in railguns) or wrapped with
magnetic coils (as in coilguns).
The first devices identified as guns appeared in
China around CE 1000.
By the 12th century the technology was spreading through the rest of
Asia, and into
Europe by the 13th century.
3 Operating principle
6.2 Machine guns
6.8 Rescue equipment
6.9 Training and entertainment
7 See also
The origin of the English word gun is considered to derive from the
name given to a particular historical weapon. Domina Gunilda was the
name given to a remarkably large ballista, a mechanical bolt throwing
weapon of enormous size, mounted at
Windsor Castle during the 14th
century. This name in turn may have derived from the
Old Norse woman's
proper name Gunnhildr which combines two Norse words referring to
battle. In any case the term gonne or gunne was applied to early
hand-held firearms by the late 14th or early 15th century.
Further information: History of the firearm
Hand cannon from the Chinese
Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)
Western European handgun, 1380
Depiction of a musketeer (1608)
The first device identified as a gun, a bamboo tube that used
gunpowder to fire a spear, appeared in
China around AD 1000. The
Chinese had previously invented gunpowder in the 9th century.
An early type of firearm (or portable gun) is the fire lance, a
black-powder–filled tube attached to the end of a spear and used as
a flamethrower; shrapnel was sometimes placed in the barrel so that it
would fly out together with the flames. The earliest depiction
of a gunpowder weapon is the illustration of a fire-lance on a
mid-10th century silk banner from Dunhuang. The De'an Shoucheng Lu,
an account of the siege of De'an in 1132, records that Song forces
used fire-lances against the Jurchens.
In due course, the proportion of saltpeter in the propellant was
increased to maximise its explosive power. To better withstand that
explosive power, the paper and bamboo of which fire-lance barrels were
originally made came to be replaced by metal. And to take full
advantage of that power, the shrapnel came to be replaced by
projectiles whose size and shape filled the barrel more closely.
With this, we have the three basic features of the gun: a barrel made
of metal, high-nitrate gunpowder, and a projectile which totally
occludes the muzzle so that the powder charge exerts its full
potential in propellant effect.
One theory of how gunpowder came to
Europe is that it made its way
Silk Road through the Middle East; another is that it was
Europe during the Mongol invasion in the first half of the
13th century. English
Privy Wardrobe accounts list "ribaldis",
a type of cannon, in the 1340s, and siege guns were used by the
English at Calais in 1346. The earliest surviving[clarification
needed] firearm in
Europe has been found from Otepää,
Estonia and it
dates to at least 1396.
Around the late 14th century in Europe, smaller and portable hand-held
cannons were developed, creating in effect the first smooth-bore
personal firearm. In the late 15th century the
Ottoman empire used
firearms as part of its regular infantry.
The first successful rapid-fire firearm is the Gatling Gun, invented
by Richard Gatling and fielded by the Union forces during the American
Civil War in the 1860s.
The world's first sub-machine gun (a fully automatic firearm which
fires pistol cartridges) able to be maneuvered by a single soldier is
the MP18.1, invented by Theodor Bergmann. It was introduced into
service in 1918 by the German Army during World War I as the primary
weapon of the
Stosstruppen (assault groups specialized in trench
The first assault rifle was introduced during
World War II
World War II by the
Germans, known as the StG44. It was the first firearm which bridges
the gap between long range rifles, machine guns, and short range
sub-machine guns. Since the mid-20th century guns that fire beams of
energy rather than solid projectiles have been developed, and also
guns that can be fired by means other than the use of gunpowder.
Most guns use compressed gas confined by the barrel to propel the
bullet up to high speed, though devices operating in other ways are
sometimes called guns. In firearms the high-pressure gas is generated
by combustion, usually of gunpowder. This principle is similar to that
of internal combustion engines, except that the bullet leaves the
barrel, while the piston transfers its motion to other parts and
returns down the cylinder. As in an internal combustion engine, the
combustion propagates by deflagration rather than by detonation, and
the optimal gunpowder, like the optimal motor fuel, is resistant to
detonation. This is because much of the energy generated in detonation
is in the form of a shock wave, which can propagate from the gas to
the solid structure and heat or damage the structure, rather than
staying as heat to propel the piston or bullet. The shock wave at such
high temperature and pressure is much faster than that of any bullet,
and would leave the gun as sound either through the barrel or the
bullet itself rather than contributing to the bullet's velocity.
Rifling of a 105 mm
Royal Ordnance L7
Royal Ordnance L7 tank gun.
Barrel types include rifled—a series of spiraled grooves or angles
within the barrel—when the projectile requires an induced spin to
stabilize it, and smoothbore when the projectile is stabilized by
other means or rifling is undesired or unnecessary. Typically,
interior barrel diameter and the associated projectile size is a means
to identify gun variations. Bore diameter is reported in several ways.
The more conventional measure is reporting the interior diameter
(bore) of the barrel in decimal fractions of the inch or in
millimetres. Some guns—such as shotguns—report the weapon's gauge
(which is the number of shot pellets having the same diameter as the
bore produced from one English pound (454g) of lead) or—as in some
British ordnance—the weight of the weapon's usual projectile.
A gun projectile may be a simple, single-piece item like a bullet, a
casing containing a payload like a shotshell or explosive shell, or
complex projectile like a sub-caliber projectile and sabot. The
propellant may be air, an explosive solid, or an explosive liquid.
Some variations like the
Gyrojet and certain other types combine the
projectile and propellant into a single item.
The term gun may refer to any sort of projectile weapon from large
cannons to small firearms including those that are usually hand-held
(handgun). The word gun is also commonly used to describe objects
which, while they are not themselves weapons, produce an effect or
possess a form which is in some way evocative of a handgun or long
The use of the term "cannon" is interchangeable with "gun" as words
borrowed from the French language during the early 15th century, from
Old French canon, itself a borrowing from the Italian cannone, a
"large tube" augmentative of Latin canna "reed or cane". Recent
scholarship indicates that the term "gun" may have its origins in the
Norse woman's name "Gunnildr" (which means "War-sword") (or "Gunnild",
possibly Queen Gunhild of Wenden, wife of King Sweyn
Forkbeard), which was often shortened to "Gunna".
The earliest recorded use of the term "gonne" was in a Latin document
circa 1339. Other names for guns during this era were "schioppi"
(Italian translation-"thunderers"), and "donrebusse" (Dutch
translation-"thunder gun") which was incorporated into the English
language as "blunderbuss". Artillerymen were often referred to as
"gonners" and "artillers" Early guns and the men who used them
were often associated with the devil and the gunner's craft was
considered a black art, a point reinforced by the smell of sulfur on
battlefields created from the firing of guns along with the muzzle
blast and accompanying flash.
The word cannon is retained in some cases for the actual gun tube but
not the weapon system. The title gunner is applied to the member of
the team charged with operating, aiming, and firing a gun.
Autocannons are automatic guns designed primarily to fire shells and
are mounted on a vehicle or other mount.
Machine guns are similar, but
usually designed to fire simple projectiles. In some calibers and some
usages, these two definitions overlap.
In contemporary military and naval parlance the term gun has a very
specific meaning and refers solely to any large-calibre, direct-fire,
high-velocity, flat-trajectory artillery piece employing an
explosive-filled hollowed metal shell or solid bolt as its primary
projectile. This later usage contrasts with
large-calibre, high-angle, low-velocity, indirect-fire weapons such as
howitzers, mortars, and grenade launchers which invariantly employ
explosive-filled shells. In other military use, the term "gun" refers
primarily to direct fire weapons that capitalize on their muzzle
velocity for penetration or range. In modern parlance, these weapons
are breech-loaded and built primarily for long range fire with a low
or almost flat ballistic arc. A variation is the howitzer or
gun-howitzer designed to offer the ability to fire both low or
high-angle ballistic arcs. In this use, example guns include naval
guns. A less strict application of the word is to identify one
artillery weapon system or non-machine gun projectile armament on
A related military use of the word is in describing gun-type fission
weapon. In this instance, the "gun" is part of a nuclear weapon and
contains an explosively propelled sub-critical slug of fissile
material within a barrel to be fired into a second sub-critical mass
in order to initiate the fission reaction. Potentially confused with
this usage are small nuclear devices capable of being fired by
artillery or recoilless rifle.
In civilian use, the captive bolt pistol is used in agriculture to
humanely stun farm animals for slaughter.
Shotguns are normally civilian weapons used primarily for hunting.
These weapons are typically smooth bored and fire a shell containing
small lead or steel balls. Variations use rifled barrels or fire other
projectiles including solid lead slugs, a
capable of stunning a target, or other payloads. In military versions,
these weapons are often used to burst door hinges or locks in addition
to antipersonnel uses.
Personal defense weapon
The Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun is widely used by law
enforcement tactical teams and military forces.
General-purpose machine gun
Light machine gun
Squad Automatic Weapon
Infantry Automatic Rifle
Medium machine gun
Heavy machine gun
Revolver chambered in .32 S&W Long
Smith & Wesson "Military and Police" revolver
Training and entertainment
Drill Purpose Rifle
^ The Chambers Dictionary, Allied Chambers - 1998, "gun", page 717
^ a b "The History of Weapons".
^ Merriam-Webster, Inc. (1990). The Merriam-Webster's New Book of Word
Histories. Basic Books. pg.207
^ Buchanan 2006, p. 2 "With its ninth century AD origins in
China, the knowledge of gunpowder emerged from the search by
alchemists for the secrets of life, to filter through the channels of
Middle Eastern culture, and take root in
Europe with consequences that
form the context of the studies in this volume."
^ Needleham 1986, p. 7 "Without doubt it was in the previous
century, around +850, that the early alchemical experiments on the
constituents of gunpowder, with its self-contained oxygen, reached
their climax in the appearance of the mixture itself."
^ a b c Chase 2003, pp. 31–32
^ a b c Crosby 2002, p. 99
^ Needham 1986, pp. 8–9
^ Needham 1986:222
^ Needham 1986, p. 10
^ Norris 2003:11
^ Chase 2003:58
^ David Nicolle, Crécy 1346: Triumph of the longbow, Osprey
Publishing; June 25, 2000; ISBN 978-1-85532-966-9.
^ "Ain Mäesalu:
Otepää püss on maailma vanim". Archived from the
original on 2012-06-14.
Gun - Definition of
Gun by Merriam-Webster".
^ "cannon - Origin and history of cannon by Online Etymology
^ a b Kelly 2004, p. 31.
^ Kelly 2004, p. 30.
^ Kelly 2004, p. 32.
^ "Captive Bolt Stunning Equipment and the Law - How it applies to
you". Archived from the original on 2014-04-05.
Look up gun in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Kelly, Jack (2004). Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics:
The History of the Explosive That Changed the World. New York: Basic
Books. ISBN 978-0-7867-3900-4.
Lee, R. Geoffrey (1981). Introduction to Battlefield Weapons Systems
and Technology. Oxford: Brassey's Defence Publishers.