Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What is a Pistol? The ATF Definition

Defined Under Federal Laws: 18 U.S.C., § 921(A)(29) and 27 CFR § 478.11

The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having:
  • a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);
  • and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).
This below illustration shows the primary characteristics exhibited in the pistol category.

This illustration below details the primary characteristics exhibited in the Pistol category. Since pistol configurations differ significantly, various models in this classification may exhibit any of the illustrated components in a revised configuration, but not necessarily all components shown will be incorporated in any one given design.

For more on terminology and nomenclature of rifles, please click: 

This is per the ATF website below:


  1. I've heard people call revolvers pistols also. But that's not really the technical term for them. However, nobody's gonna fault you if you DO call a revolver a pistol. I've done it myself so I'm one of them. However, you should note that the ATF does not officially count a revolver as a pistol. They haven't done so since 1988. In 1992, the Weapons Division Act was passed by Congress that literally divided firearms and other weapons into individual groups. Therefore pistols and revolvers got their own category. Ever since then, the two weapons have since been divided. So to answer your question, no. A revolver is not technically a pistol. But then again, there is no written rule that says it can't be regarded as such. I rest my case.

  2. I have also heard of revolvers being called "pistols" but that is considered a nomenclature. But it doesn't really matter what you call them, they are still handguns.


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