Handguns are small firearms that are designed to be worn on one's person ready for sudden action, and then drawn, aimed, and fired with one or both hands, though their construction and sight radius makes one-handed firing impractical. They are usually small and lightweight, making them easy to carry and conceal.


A 3rd Gen Glock 17.

  • While they fire less powerful projectiles than rifles, the recoil of a pistol is still more difficult to manage than that of a rifle, especially for an inexperienced shooter. The weapon is held in the hand and cannot be braced against the shoulder, and has considerably less weight than a rifle to mitigate the recoil.
  • This added recoil and inability to brace the gun, combined with their much shorter barrels, also greatly reduces the accuracy of handguns. As a result, the majority of handguns are designed to be used in close-range standoffs (<30 yards), with simple sights that are not suited to long-range accuracy. They are difficult to aim at longer ranges (30-50 yards), especially at a target as small as a human head. Excluding some custom target-shooting variants, handguns are largely ineffective at ranges greater than 50 yards.
  • Handguns typically have a smaller chance of penetrating a zombie's skull than a rifle due to the fact that most handguns have a muzzle velocity ranging from 900-1,500 ft/s (274.32-457.2m/s) although some pistols chambered for magnum calibers fire 2000 ft/s(609.6m/s). Caliber, distance to the target, angle, and location of impact in the skull are all major variables. Generally speaking, one should not have a problem penetrating the skull.
250px-H&amp;K1 P9S

Heckler & Koch P9S

For these reasons, handguns are best suited to close quarters combat, but even in this situation a carbine is preferable. Despite its flaws, the handgun does have a great deal of value as a secondary weapon. It makes an excellent fall-back option and can become a lifesaver if one runs out of ammunition for his or her primary weapon. although handguns are extremely weak and short-ranged, they can still benefit you due to its speed, which can be a lifesaver (if you require a fast way to deal with a zombie) if you lose your weapon or otherwise cannot utilize your primary weapon for any reason (if you are knocked down and become pinned under a zombie, for instance, it requires no skill to place the end of the barrel against the zombie's head and pull the trigger)


An M1911A1.


Handguns are standard-issue for police officers and licensed security guards, and are likewise kept by civilians for both home defense (easy to grab off the nightstand) and concealed carry, whereas shotguns and rifles (and their ammunition) are often locked away in police armories and personal gun safes. Semi-automatic weapons have become more common than revolvers since the 1980s in America.  

Proper Usage

When using a handgun, always remember to properly aim it, preferably with both hands (although this may not be possible in some situations). Attempting to dual-wield handguns in an imitation of Chow Yun-Fat or Keanu Reeves, and/or holding the gun sideways, will likely result in wasted ammo, a clean miss and a slow and painful death. In close quarters, the handgun can be more effective than a long arm. It can allow the user to hold a light source or an additional melee weapon.

Never assume a weapon is unloaded, and when handling a handgun, always try to keep the barrel facing in a safe direction. Firing a weapon without hearing protection, especially in a confined space or in an area where sound reverberates strongly will cause hearing damage. Safety is a matter of building good habits.

Famous defensive pistol expert Jeff Cooper (1920-2008) summed up firearm safety in 4 absolute rules:

1. "There is no such thing as an unloaded firearm. The only firearm you may consider unloaded is one you have personally checked and has not left your hand. The moment it leaves your grip you must consider that it has magically reloaded itself."

2. "Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy. In regards to pointing an unloaded gun, see rule #1."

3. "Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target. As a corollary, place only guarded trust in mechanical safety catches--they can and do fail"

4. "Always be sure of your target and what is behind it."

Semi-automatic pistols

Semi-automatic pistols are pistols that fire one round for each pull of the trigger, and use the energy derived from firing a cartridge to cycle the action, load another cartridge, and cock the weapon for another shot. Pistols in this category chamber cartridges ranging from .17HMR to .50AE, and range in capacity from under 6 rounds, to over 100. Although America's federal assault weapon ban ended in 2004, some states and counties still choose to enforce magazine capacity and bans on certain kinds of firearms and accessories. Availability of magazines that hold over 10 rounds can be limited depending on which state in America you find yourself in. However, law enforcement (state, municipal and federal) is exempt from such laws in all states, so obtaining a higher capacity magazine should be easy enough. Semi-automatic handguns feed from a magazine as opposed to Revolvers, which feed from a revolving cylinder. Almost all modern semi-automatics utilize a detachable magazine. Semi-auto handguns can be reloaded by skilled operators in less than 1 second.  

S&amp;W M&amp;P .40 right side

A .40 caliber Smith & Wesson M&P Semi-automatic pistol.

Many semi-automatic handguns also come equipped with the means to attach flashlights, lasers, suppressors, and other attachments that aid the operator in managing hostiles in a given environment. These advantages have led to semi-auto handguns replacing revolvers as the standard sidearm of most law enforcement agencies since the 1980s in America.

However, a semi-auto handgun is relatively complex compared to a revolver, with more moving parts, which increases the chances that a malfunction will occur, especially if the weapon isn't properly maintained or held correctly when firing.  The semi-automatic should be approached with the same caution one would give an automobile.Preventive maintenance is a must if reliability is to be ensured.


Revolvers are fed through a chamber that rotates whenever the gun is cocked. They are known for being extremely reliable weapons -- it is often said that a revolver will never fail to fire, no

S&W Model 10

matter how much abuse it is put through (although as with any gun, the individual parts can still be damaged, particularly the hammer), but such notions are false; revolvers generally require as much maintenance as any other kind of firearm, and if the trigger mechanism of a revolver fails, it can be much more difficult to repair than nearly any other handgun mechanism. Rounds can be left chambered in a revolver indefinitely.  
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Colt Anaconda

To ready a revolver for firing, the user loads cartridges into the cylinder, closes it, and pulls the trigger.

On the flip side, revolvers hold less ammunition than semi-autos (a few revolver hold 8 rounds, most only 6 rounds, some even just 5), take longer to reload (though speed loaders and moon clips can offset this, to a degree), are louder, have fewer recoil countermeasures than semi-automatic pistols, and cannot have suppressors fitted (with few notable exceptions). Revolvers may or may not be more common than semi-autos depending on where you live.

Machine pistols

Machine pistols are self-loading handgun-style weapons that are capable of firing more than one cartridge per pull of the trigger. They may be a fully-automatic version of an existing semi-automatic pistol (such as the Glock 18, which is the select-fire variant of the Glock 17), or a purpose-built machine pistol (such as the MAC-10 or Micro Uzi). Due to their construction, less accurate and less powerful than most long guns, and typically have a very high rate of fire (higher than many assault rifles), and are more difficult to control than most people would think. Machine pistols -- contrary to popular perception -- actually have more felt recoil than most rifles. While they do fire pistol cartridges (which create less recoil force than larger rifle cartridges), the weapons themselves are also smaller and lighter, so there is less weight to counteract the recoil, a problem which is often compounded by the weapon's rate of fire. This makes machine pistols more difficult to control during sustained fire, especially if they have no stock. 


A Micro Uzi machine pistol, 9x19mm.


A Beretta 93R machine pistol, 9x19mm. This is the machine pistol variant of the Beretta 92.

For all intents and purposes, automatic pistols are a few seconds of suppressing fire in a small package. An inexperienced operator may have difficulty maintaining effective fire on target, and will likely expend more ammunition than necessary. These problems are solved when the gun is used in semi-auto mode, but then you may as well just have an ordinary handgun. If you find yourself with a machine pistol in the zombie apocalypse, then, certainly hold onto it, as it still makes for a good sidearm, but there's no reason to specifically seek one out over a semi-automatic handgun, and you should still make it your priority to find a decent rifle or shotgun. Against zombies, discipline will be crucial to minimize your shots to short bursts.

Access to automatic weapons is either prohibited or tightly controlled in most countries.


Smaller caliber handguns, such as those chambered in 9mm and .38 Special, have less recoil and, with the exception of revolvers, can hold more ammunition in a magazine, allowing the person wielding them to kill more zombies before reloading. Meanwhile, more powerful guns, such as those chambered in heavier cartridges can more reliably kill wild animals more easily. These, however, often have high recoil that, while not unpleasant, can take some getting used to.

Larger cartridges, such as the .44 Magnum and the .50 AE, typically constitute overkill against a zombie or a live human at anything less that the outer limits of a conventional pistol's range (and long range shooting should be done with a rifle anyway). Pistols firing such cartridges are loud, heavy, bulky, and have great recoil and a small ammunition capacity. Such high-caliber handguns should only be carried when there is a high risk of encountering large apex predators, like gray wolves, grizzly bears, or polar bears.
Caliber comparision2

Various common handgun calibers.

Handguns chambered in the .22 Long Rifle cartridge (or rim-fire) are of a controversial note. Though underpowered by conventional standards, and usually not advised for modern combat, the round is easy to transport (fifty rounds can fit in the palm of your hand). It is plentiful and has little recoil, noise, and muzzle flash, and is effective at the close-quarters ranges where the handgun comes into its own, and has more than enough energy to penetrate a human skull within the maximum effectiveness of the cartridge.

The following are some of the more common handgun calibers in North America. If your main choice of weapon is chambered in a round that is not on the list, then it is recommended that you stockpile ammo in the event of an emergency and learn how to reload ammunition. Exotic calibers will likely be much more difficult to acquire.

  • .22 Long Rifle
  • .25 ACP
  • .32 ACP
  • .380 ACP
  • 9mm
  • .38 Special
  • .357 Magnum
  • .40 S&W
  • .44 Magnum
  • .45 ACP
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