Self Loader
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Basic Information

A self loader in this context is a pistol with a semi-automatic, fully automatic or selective fire action which therefore self-loads from a magazine. These pistols are often referred to indiscriminately as 'automatics', which can be confusing, they are also what some people consider to be a 'pistol' as opposed to a 'revolver' (as though the two terms were mutally exclusive).

These weapons were the descendants of the revolver and start to appear in the late nineteenth century with Mauser producing their "broomhandle" design in 1896 as one of the first to be mass produced. The American Colt M1911 was another pioneering design, and one that has proven much longer lived.

Self loaders benefit over revolvers from a higher rate of fire, higher capacity, faster reload time, reduced bulk and better obturation (leading to higher muzzle velocity and making suppressors practicable). Since the action adsorbs a portion of the recoil, they may also be more comfortable to fire.

Disadvantages include mechanical complexity (thus increasing cost and demand for maintenance) and the fact that the magazine spring will frequently offset if they are stored loaded. Also, since the majority of designs route the magazine through the handgrip, users with smaller hands may struggle to grip some weapons effectively1. On a similar note, inexperienced users also risk being intimidated - or even injured - by the movement of the action, since a pistol generally requires to move a substantial portion of its frame in order to cycle.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • In a colonial era or late period western campaign these are impressive new technology (see, for example, The Wild Bunch). People may be genuinely surprised by the fact that your gun fires more than six shots.
    • In some cases, the capacity argument - and the faster reload time - were key factors in moving the technology transition, especially in some US police forces whose officers were finding themselves outgunned by criminals whilst revolvers were still on issue.
  • Remember that these can require significant maintenance - the PC who buys one and forgets about may find that it fails to function when required.
  • 'Automatic' versus revolver arguments are something of a sore point amongst many hangunners and something of a trope in cinema.
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