From the beginning of civilization Man has always resorted to the use of weapons in order to survive. As a nomad he used crude arms for self-protection and hunting. As time went by he continued to improve on them. Today he has at his disposal such a wide array of firearms and ammunition, which, if used without discretion, is potent enough to eradicate his very existence.
The Pistol was first invented in the fifteenth century. The name of the inventor however is not known. By eighteenth century any firearm, which was held by hand for use, was referred to as a pistol. The term pistol however owes its origin to the French word ‘pistolet.’
The pistol or the handgun, which are often synonymously used, is defined as a firearm with a short barrel and is held in the hand for use. In the U.S however a distinction is drawn between a pistol and a revolver, an important type of handgun. The pistol is defined as a handgun with a chamber, which is an intrinsic and essential part of the barrel. A revolver on the other hand has several chambers and a rotating cylinder. However today the Commonwealth countries see no technical difference between a pistol and a revolver.
Pistols are of different types, namely single shot pistols, multibarreled, lever action, machine pistols, semi automatic etc.
The simplest kind of pistol is the single shot pistol. It was mostly in use in West Europe. This eighteen-centimeter weapon was attached to a wooden staff for easy handling. It worked like a cannon and gunpowder was loaded into the muzzle for every single shot. Insertion of an ignited cord into the hole triggered it. The single shot pistol underwent several developments over the centuries. It came to be equipped with different kinds of locks like the matchlock, wheel lock and flintlock. In the first case a cord was attached to a pivot, which was loaded to a spring.
In case of wheel lock something similar to modern day cigarette lighters was used instead of the ignited cord. The flintlock surprisingly remained in use till the nineteenth century. Ignition was caused by the abrasion between steel and flint. Hammers, percussion caps and cartridges came into use in the nineteenth century. Today single shot pistols have not become obsolete. They are still used for hunting and the powerful ones can be used to bring down even elephants.
Soon people began to feel the need to fire multiple shots in quick succession before having to reload. Several experiments were conducted and multibarreled pistols came into use. The Derringers, Howdah pistols, Pepperbox guns and Duck’s –foot pistols were some of them.
The invention of the revolver was the answer to all the problems. This enabled them to use multiple shots in quick succession. In a revolver an ignition chamber is allotted for each cartridge. Based on the size of cartridge and gun the number may vary from five to eight. When in use the cartridge is aligned with the barrel of the gun by a certain mechanism.
Lever action pistols were not as popular as revolvers. Volcanic pistol is an example. In a semi automatic pistol a chamber is reloaded by utilizing the energy of the previous shot. The pistol ejects the used casing after the user fires and a new shot is loaded from its magazine. This enables the shooter to fire the next shot immediately.
Mauser C 96, Glock 18 are examples of machine pistols. Machine pistols are not very common and only one hand is used to fire. They are advantageous in the sense that they are small and light, but they can prove to be difficult to handle, as their rate of firing is very high. For this reason the bulkier submachine guns are often preferred.
Revolvers have definite advantages over other kinds of firearms. They are easy to use and do not require any difficult steps to put them into action. Involvement of several steps may prove hazardous in a critical situation. There is very little scope for malfunction as their mechanism is simpler. Use of semi automatic pistols on the other hand involve various steps and are often prone to various kinds of malfunctions.
Storing and loading a revolver is hassle free, but in a semi automatic if the spring weakens then loading cartridges becomes difficult. Moreover any cartridge can be used in a revolver. Revolvers are simpler to maintain and also easier to determine whether it is loaded or not. This is a problem in semiautomatics. Revolvers on the other hand are quieter and lighter, often made of polymers and the ammunition used by them are not very expensive. The act of pulling the trigger is lot easier.
In the modern pistol, several measures have been adopted to make it safer. The Pistol is easily portable and light in weight unlike shoulder firearms. Moreover as only one hand is used it puts the user in an advantageous position when combating an enemy. On the other hand arms with long muzzles may prove to be advantageous to the defender. He could move the gun away from him. The pistol offers no space to grab. Pistols however have certain disadvantages. They are effective for short distances and the energy of their cartridges is limited. Their speed rarely exceeds fifteen hundred feet per second. A long gun is more accurate than a pistol.
Ownership of pistols is subjected to many rules and regulations. In the United States forty-one states allow open or unconcealed carrying of handguns. Excepting muzzle loading and single shot pistols, use of handguns has been banned since Dunblane massacre in U.K and Ireland. Australia allows ownership by civilians but there are several restrictions. Licence is mandatory. Israel allows use of handguns for self-defense. Strict gun control rules are followed in the Indian sub continent. Flouting of rules in the use of the pistol is strictly dealt with.