Gun modes can be confusing for a new shooter. Everyone throws around the words like ‘semi-auto’, ‘fully-auto’ and generally, ‘automatic’ like its many different things. The thing is, it is. Usually when people who have not used guns before say ‘automatic’, they mean hold the trigger down and thousands of rounds come flying out within a few seconds. When gun owners say ‘automatic’ they mean something completely different. So what does ‘automatic’ really mean in actual gun culture?

An automatic firearm is a firearm that does not need to be manually reloaded after a round has been fired from the chamber. The term ‘automatic’ usually gets confused with ‘fully-automatic’ with both people who use guns and do not use guns, hence the confusion with the phrase.

There are quite a bunch of different types of firearm firing modes. Most of them depend on the type of gun it is. In the gun world, the word ‘automatic’ has been broken into two separate terms in particular. You hear the word ‘automatic’ a lot because it’s usually the most used firing mode with firearm users today. Since the most of America’s firearm purchases are handguns, the most common firing mode is ‘semi-automatic’.


Semi-auto or semi-automatic means that one round will fire once the trigger is pulled. Once you let go of the trigger, the gun will ready another round to shoot. You can only shoot as fast as you can pull the trigger. Basically, one pull = one shot. Anyone is able to purchase a semi-automatic in America without much hassle these days.

Generally, semi-auto pistols rely on a system of operation called the Blowback method. The Blowback method uses the power from the fired round which allows the handgun’s top part (the slide) to ‘blow back’ and load a new cartridge into the chamber. Pretty simple.

We have a tutorial on how to fire a Semi-auto handgun. Feel free to check that out.

If you were wondering, semi-auto operates differently than a revolver even though both only fire one shot with each trigger pull. What makes revolvers different is that they use a cylinder mechanism for cycling the next round. Generally, when the hammer is pulled, the cylinder mechanism turns to ready the next shot. This is single action but it’s not Semi-auto.


Ah, everyone’s favorite firearm mode – fully-automatic. As you might have guessed it, fully-automatic is when you pull and hold the trigger and multiple rounds get fired for as long as you hold the trigger until you are out of ammo in your magazine.

You have all seen that movie where the bad guy is shooting nonstop with a huge rifle in his hands, bullets flying everywhere and our hero is dodging bullets, ricochets and sparks are ending up everywhere around him. Most people think that most done owners have these type of firearms available to them at all times. This is just not the case.

Fully automatic weapons are banned within the US under most normal circumstances. It takes a lengthy background check and a lot of money to get weapons that are fully automatic in America. This is why there isn’t much confusion when non-gun owners are worried about gun safety in America. Most people think it is common to have weapons that are fully automatic. It’s most definitely not.

Burst Fire

This is basically the happy medium of Semi-Auto and Fully-Auto. Burst mode or burst-fire is a firing mode where one squeeze of the trigger will yield a few shots (Usually 2-4). There are many fully automatic weapons that also have the burst fire mode in conjunction to Semi-auto and fully-auto settings. Burst fire saves ammo but also increases the chances of hitting your target due to multiple rounds being fired in rapid succession.

The Burst fire mode is still considered as a fully automatic firearm in the US so the rules and regulations apply to weapons that have this mode.


Overall, if you are a civilian, you will most likely be firing in Semi-Auto. The military mostly has access to Fully-Auto and Burst-Fire weapons. Unless you have been qualified to own automatic weapons and have the money to purchase you will be firing weapons that use Semi-Auto only. It’s good to note that you should probably learn to shoot in Semi-Auto first before moving up to fire in Burst or Full-Auto modes.

Remember, only point the weapon at things you intend to shoot. Practice makes proficient.