Today’s firearms are complex, yet simple. The technology that goes into modern firearms are usually top-notch. Firearm operations may go back many decades but with today’s technology, gun manufacturers have simplified the process and safety of using a firearm effectively. Many gun manufacturers usually get their specifications for their weapons from military requirements. With this in mind, one might think that it is difficult to learn how to operate a firearm or even just a simple handgun, but it is fairly simple. Learning how to shoot may take a small learning curve depending on much you might know about guns.

Semi-Automatics are fairly easy for a beginner to learn how to shoot. If you do not know what Semi-Automatic is, check out this article to understand how to shoot in various firing modes. Here are some basics in learning how to shoot a semi-automatic handgun from loading ammo to clearing your weapon at the end.

Loading the magazine

Semi automatic handguns usually take an external magazine to feed it bullets. If the magazine is still in the gun, press the magazine release button next to the trigger with either your thumb or finger. The magazine should drop out of the handgun grip. Grab it with your other hand. If the magazine is already out of the gun, lets just start loading.

Hold the magazine in one hand and a round in the other. Start putting the back of the bullet in the front of the magazine under the magazine lip where the ammo is exposed. Do this while pushing the back top of the magazine with the thumb of the hand you’re holding the magazine with. As you push down the top with your thumb slide the bullet back and in to the magazine until the back of the bullet is against the back of the magazine under the lip. Repeat this process until the magazine is fully loaded.

Loading the handgun

Hold the gun in one hand and you’re loaded magazine in the other. Make sure your magazine and the bullets are pointed forward with the gun. Insert the magazine into the lower grip of the weapon. To make sure the magazine is seated correctly, give the bottom of the magazine a tap. You might hear a small click to confirm that the magazine is in properly.

As of now, the firearm is not ready to fire. You need to load a round in the chamber to fire the weapon. If the slide is in the back position, use the slide release button to release the slide and the slide will release forward and load a round into the chamber. If the slide is in the forward position, use the hand that is not holding the firearm and pull back the slide from the rear position with your index finger and your thumb. If you look in the ejector while doing this you will see a round moving up out of the magazine and into the chamber. Let go of the slide to have the slide go back to its forward position so you can be ready to fire.

Single Action or Double Action or neither?

You might be wondering, “What does Single Action or Double Action even mean?” This is basically the operation on how the gun fires the round in the chamber. With both operations, the gun will have a hammer on the rear of the slide. Single action means you HAVE to cock the hammer back before you shoot for the gun to fire. Double action means you can just pull the trigger (with added force mind you) for the gun to cock the hammer back and fire. Most semi-auto handguns built today with a hammer, come in the Double action variety with an option for Single action. There are also some that are Double action only (DAO).

You might notice that your handgun doesn’t have a hammer at the rear of your slide. You’ll notice at the picture here that the HK VP9SK (as shown here) doesn’t have a hammer. These guns operate in Striker-Fired mode. What makes Striker-fired guns desirable is that there is no hammer to cock. Striker-Fired pistols have the firing mechanism inside the gun. Plus, the trigger pull is comparable to the trigger pull of a Single Action pistol hence being a very popular type of firearm these days. People still use Single Action or Double action guns regularly. Some treat this type of firing mechanic to be an additional safety feature.

Take a look at your pistol and see what type of firing mechanism it fires with. Pull back the hammer if you have a Single action handgun. If you have a Double action pistol, it’s up to you to decide to cock it manually of not. If you have a Striker-Fired pistol, skip this step altogether.

Safety – on/off

There are many semi automatic handguns that have a manual safety. If you notice another switch on the side of the handgun most likely that is a safety. Switching it to expose the red button will mean the safety is off. Make sure this is set before firing.

Ready to shoot

You are now loaded and ready to shoot. Take both hands and wrap them around the grip of your handgun. Always point your weapon in a direction where you will be shooting. Never point the handgun in a direction where are you will not be shooting. This is very important for beginners. This is called muscle discipline. As a beginner, you need to learn this well as safety is most important when handling a firearm. Also, never have your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot with your weapon pointed at your target.

With your firearm pointed in the direction of where you are shooting, look down the sights (if your gun has adequate sights) and pull or squeeze the trigger while holding the gun into place to maintain accuracy while the gun is fired. Repeat this action until the gun is out of ammo. You will know when the gun is out of ammo when the slide is in the rear position.

There are many ways to hold and stand while shooting a firearm. With time and practice you will find a stance that works for you for shooting. We will not cover stances and the best ways to shoot in this article. This is just the basics on how to fire a semi automatic handgun.

Clearing and Reloading

Once done shooting, point the firearm away from you and look down the ejector to see if there are any jammed shell casings or any other debris. This will clear the gun and ready it for reloading.

Repeat the loading steps to get the firearm ready to fire again. If you have a spare magazine loaded and ready to go, load it into the gun as stated before. If you need to load the magazine with ammo, do this before inserting the magazine.


Now you know the basics of shooting a common semi automatic. You can take this tutorial and apply it to just about every semi auto handgun you come across. Remember, all guns are made differently and might not all have the same features as some of other handguns. For instance, some handguns have a manual safety. Some have a hammer for Single Action. Make sure you do your research if you are going to buy a handgun with the features you want.

All in all, have fun and be safe. Hopefully you won’t have to use your handgun in a self defense capacity but It’s always good to be prepared. Remember, Practice Makes Proficient.