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Simply put, handguns are all handguns that are not long guns. The distinction is precisely regulated by the Weapons Act: Simply put, long guns are firearms whose barrel and breech are at least 30 cm long in the closed position, and which are at least 60 cm long overall. For example, for pistol models of the Austrian manufacturer GLOCK there are so-called "stop stocks": The pistol is clamped into a kind of stock extension can thereby be taken into the stop like a long gun. Nevertheless, the length of barrel and breech is still shorter than 30 cm - and the shortest total length that can be used for the intended purpose remains at the original length even in this system - so the pistol remains a short gun when it is "extended".

Handguns are usually either revolversrevolvers and pistols. Revolvers are multi-shot handguns that have a drum behind the barrel that can rotate. The cartridge chamber is located in this drum. The main difference between revolvers and pistols is that the chamber and barrel are separated from each other; the barrel is both the magazine and the chamber. Pistols, on the other hand, are handguns in which the chamber and barrel are not separate components. A pistol often has a magazine, but not necessarily. However, there are also single-shot pistols. The most common, however, are semi-automatic models (also called "self-loading pistols"), in which the weapon is ready to fire again immediately after the shot is fired.

The handgun forms commonly used in hunting and shooting sports are mainly revolvers and pistols. However, air pistols are also more commonly used in shooting sports.

After firing a cartridge, the recoil pushes the breechblock, which in pistols is also called a "slide" or "breechblock", backward toward the shooter. The extractor (also called "extractor claw") attached to the breech pulls the fired cartridge case out of the chamber, which is ejected from a predetermined groove in the gun. On the further way to the rear, the kinetic energy of the breech is used to re-cock the handgun. In addition, during the backward movement, the breech block cocks a spring which pushes it forward again after it has slid back. The lower edge of the breech guides a new cartridge forward into the chamber as it slides over the magazine. At the end of the movement, the gun is immediately ready to fire again.

As with all weapons, it is very important that the bolt of the weapon is closed when the cartridge is fired. With relatively small calibers, the mass, i.e. the weight of the breech is sufficient to close the handgun against the gas pressure. More powerful calibers, usually from about 9 mm short, generate such a high gas pressure during firing that the weight of a functional breech would no longer be sufficient to close the weapon during firing. Therefore, the breech must be locked for larger calibers. Most of the widely used pistol models, such as the Glock 17, the Beretta 92 or the large caliber Desert Eagle, therefore have a locked breech. Models with smaller calibers, such as the Walther PPK , on the other hand, have an unlocked ground bolt.

Short-barreled weapons are distinguished from long-barreled weapons primarily by their compactness and maneuverability, but they are inferior to long-barreled weapons in terms of accuracy - while skilled shooters with powerful rifles and optics can hit targets at distances of several hundred meters to one kilometer in long-range shooting, the effective range of most pistols and revolvers is about 50 meters - depending on the weapon. Sporting shooting therefore usually takes place at 25 meters and at 50 meters.

In hunting, handguns, revolvers as well as pistols are used for trap shooting. For trap shooting of sick game in the wound bed, the strongest possible large caliber is recommended in order to end the suffering of the piece of game as quickly as possible. For trapping, on the other hand, a small caliber is advantageous because the game is smaller and the bellows should suffer as little damage as possible from the shot.

The number of handguns one is allowed to own depends on whether one is a sport shooter or a hunter. As a hunter, one may acquire two handguns, whereby a preliminary entry in the green gun ownership card is required prior to acquisition. Sport shooters need a green or a yellow weapon possession card, depending on the type of handgun they wish to acquire. The so-called standard requirement for sport shooters is two multi-shot handguns. Here, no distinction is made between revolver and pistol.

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