Magazine or Clip: Does it really matter?

It seems that gun enthusiast can get pretty worked up about seemingly silly issues. An example that easily comes to mind is how wound up gun owners can become about the use of proper terminology. More specifically, the misuse of terms like clip in place of the proper term magazine.

I actually can see both sides of the issue.

magpul pmag
Mags or clips?

From the viewpoint of the new shooter, there is a lot to learn. Gun, safety, how a gun operates, and how to shoot well. Why get bogged down with silly terms that don’t really matter that much?

The firearms aficionado may see it differently. Words actually do mean things and the terminology a person uses can often be a strong indicator of their level of knowledge on a subject. When terms are used incorrectly by those that appear to be knowledgeable, like media outlets, confusion can result.

I think it makes sense to ask ourselves these kinds of questions: What is the difference between a magazine and a clip and does it really matter?

What is a magazine?

In the simplest terms, a magazine is a container that holds ammunition for storage or a container that holds ammunition as a supply to a firearm.

glock 17 magazines
Glock mags.

Webster is a great place to look for meaning and when you do, here is what you find:



mag·a·zine | \ ˈma-gə-ˌzēn ,  ˌma-gə-ˈ \
5: a supply chamber: such as
a: a holder in or on a gun for cartridges to be fed into the gun chamber
b: a light proof chamber for films or plates on a camera or for film on a motion-picture projector

Magazines work on a pretty simple concept. Insert cartridges into the magazine, insert magazine into gun, work the action then work the trigger and, in a semi automatic, continue working the trigger until the ammunition has been consumed.

Magazines can be found on semi automatics and a host of manually operated guns, like bolt actions, pump actions and lever actions. Each magazine for each type of firearm may look a bit different, but they all have the same function, they are a vessel that holds ammunition to supply it to a gun.

XD 9mm magazine
Very few pistols run off clips these days.

Some magazines are fixed in place like the magazine tube on a Remington 870 shotgun or my on a nifty lever action like my Winchester 1894. Some magazines are removable like the box magazine for an AR-15 or the magazines for most handguns like the GLOCK 17 or Springfield XD9.

Magazines come in all shapes and sizes, but they all are containers that hold ammunition.

What is a clip?

9mm moon clips
These are clips, too.

Just like a magazine, a clip holds ammunition, but there is a difference. A clip doesn’t enclose the ammunition. Instead it holds on to one part of the ammunition to tie it together into a group and sometimes clips are used to fill magazines.

Let’s go back to Webster:

noun (1)
1: any of various devices that grip, clasp, or hook
2: a device to hold cartridges for charging the magazines of some rifles

Clips hold ammunition and are tools to ease logistics and make loading both guns magazines easier and faster.

A perfect example of a clip is a “moon clip” for a revolver. Moon clips allow an entire cylinder of cartridges to be loaded at the same time and can also serve as a method to headspace rimless cartridges in a revolver cylinder like these moon clips for the Taurus 905.

Why the difference between a magazine and clip doesn’t matter.

Both magazines and clips hold ammunition, but magazines enclose that ammunition while clips just grab it. That is the “big” difference. To the firearms enthusiast (probably you) it is easy to see the difference. For someone that is relatively new to firearms, the difference may seem like a minor nuance or even an unimportant detail. That is if they even know there is a difference.

stripper clips
Your grandfather’s clips.

When it comes to communication, words serve as tools to help us to express ideas. When you are on the range with a new shooter not a single person is confused when they look at their now empty gun and say, “I need another clip!”

It really isn’t such a big deal. I’m not sure that I really want a new or newer shooter to be most focused on vocabulary while shooting a gun. I think we can all agree that there are more important issues at hand. Issues like gun safety.

If words do their work, well, then I suppose all is well. Except that maybe there could be some unintended consequences.

Why the difference matters a lot!

If you have a child in your life that is someplace around the third grade give or take, you should consider getting them a copy of the book, Frindle, by Andrew Clements. The book is an excellent one that details the main character’s goal to create a new word, “frindle,” a synonym for the word pen. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that in a way we have “frindled” the word clip.

In the Webster’s definition of clip above, I left something out:

also : a magazine from which ammunition is fed into the chamber of a firearm

Yeah. People have used the word clip as a synonym for magazine so consistently that Merriam-Webster’s folks have decided that clip and magazine ARE synonyms. The only problem is, they aren’t.

magazine and stripper clips
Is one easier to use than the other? Of course.

In my opinion, the common misuse of the word clip as an incorrect stand in for magazine has led us down one of those slippery slopes.

When it comes to media coverage, I don’t trust the general press to get much right, especially when it comes to topics like firearms. Just because I don’t trust them to get it right doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. That is their job after all.

That leads us to the problem. When we as a collective group of firearms owners don’t hold ourselves to a high standard, it is difficult to hold outsiders to a higher standard. In fact, it may be impossible. When it comes to mainstream media reporting on the firearms industry, it seems to be wrong more often than right. More troubling is that the gun industry is often the source for the incorrect information

That is a problem for gun owners, the industry and most importantly for the Second Amendment. If we want to protect the 2A, we need to combat the ignorance. It begins with us.

What we can do about it.

When it comes right down to it, correcting the issue isn’t terribly difficult. Our goal should be to speak about guns with accurate and correct language.

A simple first step is to clean up your gun speak. If you work behind a gun counter or at a range, if you teach gun classes or guide clients, or if you simply enjoy sharing your gun knowledge with the world, speak with care. Your example matters and sets the standard for how others will speak about firearms.

Our action doesn’t have to stop with our own words. We can help others to speak with more accuracy. Not in a punitive way. There is no need to alienate fellow gun owners, however, if approached gently, with kindness, simple corrections can help to improve the overall level of understanding of the gun industry and the Second Amendment as well as increase the level of knowledge of the individual shooter. It’s an easy win/win.

Do you think that the accuracy of firearms related words we use has a wider impact on how “outsiders” view the firearms industry as a whole?

What other word related misunderstandings have you experienced while interacting with other gun owners, or seen in the media?

Do you think we can make a difference by improving how we speak about firearms?

Comment below and let us know what you think.

Paul Carlson, owner of Safety Solutions Academy, is a Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor.  He has spent the past decade and a half studying how humans can perform more efficiently in violent confrontations and honing his skills as an instructor both in the classroom and on the range. Through Safety Solutions Academy, Paul teaches a variety of Critical Defensive Skills courses in more than a dozen states annually.  Courses range from Concealed Carry Classes to Advanced Critical Defensive Handgun Courses and include instruction for the defensive use of handguns, rifles and shotguns.  Safety Solutions Academy regularly hosts other industry leading experts as guest instructors to make sure that SSA's students have the opportunity for quality instruction across a broad range of Critical Defensive disciplines.

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38 thoughts on “Magazine or Clip: Does it really matter?

  1. This is truly a part of the 2nd Amendment issue, glad the author finally came around to showing some understanding of this fact!

  2. Hollywood is notorious for using clip!!! Gun owners don’t care for Hollywood much!!! So magazine it is!!👍

  3. As former Marine infantry, commissioned Security, and currently in law enforcement, I have always thought the argument was silly and that both terms are acceptable.

    1. Then you have no problem using ‘gun’ and ‘rifle’ interchangeably ;-).
      Terminology, especially correct terminology IS important. We cannot allow the other side to dictate the definition of those terms as they almost always do, like say fully semi auto assault rifle. NOT a silly argument.

      Thanks for serving.
      BTW, I’ll stack my 44+ years of military and civilian LE/security experience up against anyone’s any day.

        1. 😉 – I started in the Army – was taught – more or less – the same thing. Well except that anything smaller than .50cal was a ‘small arm’.

          Enjoy retirement, I do, most of the time anyway!
          BTW, did ya notice the person I replied to bailed?

    2. I guess that PI drill instructors have been told it’s no longer politically correct to teach the Old Corps ditty “this is my rifle, this is my gun….this is for killing and this is for fun”. Shouted loud with appropriate hand gestures.

      My favorite “mis speak” the interchangeable use of “gun” “pistol” “hand gun”

      1. So, all my years of loading 5.56 from BRASS clips into my magazines, the Army used the wrong metal??? Damn low bid contractors…
        And THAT is how easy it is to give out wrong information: ON SOME clips, the steel MAY BE spring steel. Not on ALL clips. I have 7.92×57, .303, 7.62×51 and 5.56 all on brass clips. I have 7.62×63 M2 ball in steel en bloc clips, possibly spring steel.

        I am HOPING you are not referring to a magazine spring pushing upwards against a follower that applies tension to cartridges at the feed lip of a magazine to retain them…

  4. Do you call a striker a hammer? A trigger guard a shroud? A round a bullet? A safety a thingy? A magazine release a clip release? A grip a handle? A trigger a bullet release? An FFL a gun runner? A butt stock a rear bumper? A muzzle the end the bullet comes out?

    When it comes to guns, every detail matters. Why have someone learn the wrong terminology only to have them learn something different later. The gun world can be confusing enough, and intimidating for many people. Confusion is not conducive to easily overcoming fears.

    It’s bad enough that the Armalite Rifle is mistaken as an assault rifle. Correct terminology absolutely matters.

    1. I couldn’t agree more.Every hobby, profession, sport, etc has a unique vocabulary that is not a code intended to baffle the uninitiated, but rather to make communication and instructions very precise. I’ve been around sailboats for most of my life. The use of correct nautical terminology is not a snobbish affection, but rather a potential life saver. Imagine your sailboat is hit with a sudden burst of very strong wind. Is ” grab that rope over there and let it out a little bit” better and clearer than “slack the jib sheet”.?

      Same goes for firearms and shooting.

  5. We live in a world today where people challenge each other to eat Tide Detergent Pods, Jump out of a moving car and dance to a certain song in traffic while the car still rolls & the latest is to suck a condom up their nose and pull it out of their mouth. And if that wasn’t telling enough, we have people trying to give away our rights, using violence to suppress others from their 1stA Right all while stabbing them, screaming at them through a bull-horn and throwing bags of their own urine and feces. Oh and then there’s 22 million illegal immigrants roaming around screaming for the right to be here, terrorists training children in the SW to shoot up schools, hospitals and other public areas. And when they’re arrested, the judge lets them go with a signature after a body of a child is recovered from a dug out tunnel. I could go on and on and on, but you all probably know already. Maybe there’s something to that evolution concept. Meaning some of us seem to be regressing to their baser instincts. Not sure where I’m going with this?? Go to your local zoo and tease the monkeys, see what they do in return. I refuse to allow intentional ignorance & stupidity to perpetuate the cool-factor of what is known as the “Thug Life”. I won’t do business with anyone on if they don’t write the description correctly. Say it right & learn it correctly. There are many things to learn from a vast amount of teachers when it comes to the sciences of ballistics and shooting. Don’t look like a fool when it comes to the basics.

    1. I live in Michigan, not far from Dearborn. There are NO Sharia zones, that is a myth made up by keyboard pot stirrers.

          1. Only one of us is wearing blinders, and publicly admitting to it. Its a FALSEHOOD. I live nearby, there are NO Sharia cities or courts in Michigan. Anyone who says otherwise is a LIAR.

          2. I’ll admit it – after you go into one of those “nonexistent” zones and start trying to convert the locals to ANY other religion – let me know how that works out for you.

          3. WHY would I convert anyone? Freedom of religion is NOT Judeo-Christian only. I hope they live here peacefully forever. Just so bigots can keep making stupid memes and false accusations…

  6. Call it what ever you want. As long as your not hurting any one who am I to judge. There is far more important things to worry/battle over. In the USA we use our own slang for things. Like gun for example. we true Americans might call it a strap, gat, or rosco. I’m not gona be a sissy and correct you, how lame would I have to be to do that? And for all you politacly correct Nancy’s out there, by sissy I mean woose or and for you super uptight girly men by woose I mean sensitive weak male. If everyone else including foreigners can under stand what it means and you can’t that says a lot.

    1. Sorry, but if you cannot differentiate between being technically correct and being politically correct, I feel sorry for you. Your semi-veiled name calling does not make you either one.

      1. Good bc I’m not trying nor do I want to be “either one”. both are gay to me. And I guess you don’t have to feel sorry for me bc I can tell the difference. My point that apparently went over your head is that I don’t care and don’t think it’s worth crying like a baby about.

        1. I totally noticed how something you don’t care about was eating at you enough that you came back a month later to show your ass again.

          1. …and apparently, you think that you matter. Standing by for more of your, “it doesn’t matter”, “you don’t matter”, “it’s gay”, “you’re gay”. Calling a magazine a clip, is as ignorant as calling a water heater, a hot water heater. I was taught by my father at an early age, how to distinguish between the adequately educated, and the nimrods.

  7. I majored in English in college and have made quite a bit of money as a freelance writer. I’m a good wordsmith. Here’s my take on it:

    The argument made for using the word clip in reference to a magazine is that it’s idiomatic, which means correct by virtue of common usage, and that insistence on use of the word magazineM/i> instead is hyper-correctness, meaning so grammatically correct it doesn’t sound right, like using the word whom instead of who when whom might be correct but just doesn’t sound right.

    The problem with that argument is that there is a good reason for clips and magazines to be distinguished from each other. For example, say a person says he has several clips for an AR15 he’s willing to sell for a few dollars each. Someone who doesn’t know the difference could think he’s buying magazines for a really good price, and then get a really unpleasant surprise. And there are other possibilities too.

    The reason I always insist on correct usage though is that it seems like anti-gun bigots always use the word clip when they are talking about limiting capacity or outlawing 20th Century arms (so-called assault weapons), so when a person uses the word clip to refer to a magazine they sound like an anti-gun bigot and I want to slap them or choke them or something. So I tell them to stop talking like an indoctrinated nitwit and talk like a patriot who knows what he’s talking about. No good comes from sounding ignorant.

    1. It’s comforting to know that there are other intelligent people out there who take a rigorous stand on issues like the correct usage of American English. One of my concerns…..and I harbor a few… for the future of our written and spoken English. It’s in jeopardy not just because of the impact of technology and it’s attendant encouragement of acronyms, contractions and unimaginative prose, but mainly because a large portion of our population just don’t seem to recognize or care about incorrect usage and if they do are either unwilling or unable to make any effort to point it out. This worries me not because I’m a disgruntled grammarian or stodgy old English teacher. I’m a first generation American who grew up in a family where Finnish and Swiss German were the everyday lingo. Rather, my concern is that fuzzy speech and equally fuzzy thinking play right into the hands of those who work hard to indoctrinate and ultimately control the opinions and views of the body politic.Have you ever listened critically to the Political Speak from most of our elected officials or the slippery spiel of a trail lawyer?

      I personally hold strong convictions that are well right of center. That is a simple declarative statement… weasel words, no waffling. Words can be seductive and manipulated and used deceptively to sway an audience. Precisely what opponents of the 1st, 2nd,et al, amendments practice. Frankly, the correct use of magazine vs clip may be unimportant to anyone not interested in firearms, but taking to task those who deliberately mislead or propagandize with vague and incorrect words should be a priority for the type of person who subscribes to this blog.

      “William F. Buckley…..where are you now that we need you”.

      1. I like to collect books on grammar and style (though I lost most of them in a fire years ago), and the older ones are my favorite because they are by far the best. At least I like them to precede the deliberate bastardization of language by the liberal cult as part of its cultural indoctrination, primarily feminist indoctrination. This means definitely pre ’80s, and pre ’60s is even better. Early 20th Century is best though. They had something then that we lost long ago.

        1. Dear Deprog ( how’s that for a trendy contraction ?),

          I think I have my Harbrace circa 1961 in a box somewhere. If your interested I’ll be glad to look and send it to you. Of course, it strikes me as carrying coals to New Castle.

          The bastardization of American English is just another consequence of the almost complete infiltration of our educational system, Elementary through Graduate, by the Socialist Left. Remember Lenin’s statement “students are useful idiots in support of the cause”.

          “H.L. Mencken, where are you now that we need you”.

          1. Thanks for the offer my friend, but I have plenty; I’d rather see it remain in the hands of a fellow patriot.

            As you point out, the liberal cult has managed to turn government schools into indoctrination centers, and what they do works in coordination with the liberal press, which wages propaganda and big lie campaigns as weapons of political, cultural, religious, and race war. Bringing in masses of ignorant fools from the third world, who can be counted on to vote socialist generation after generation, is another of their strategies. So is the abuse of power by the deep state. All of these strategies of war are coordinated together. It’s a wonder the Republic still stands.

            The election of Donald Trump and defeat of the traitor Hillary is a glimmer of hope that maybe enough Americans have awakened and are ready to fight back against this aggression. The coming election will tell us whether they are still awake, and whether that hope is still alive.

        2. I was raised in the south. The propensity for speaking poorly was extremely high. Thankfully, my father corrected every error, every time. He would tell us, “ninety per cent of Americans cannot properly speak English. How will you ever learn and speak a second language if you cannot properly speak English? What if, someday, you find yourself dining with the president? Do you want others to think you are ignorant and uneducated?”

  8. A quote from a local newspaper… “Police shot the suspect with a 40mm handgun.”… Didn’t say if they ever found his remains…

  9. The problem I see is basically what the author spoke of to start off- People get too worked up about it and come across as jerks. By all means correct people on the use of the terms, but don’t be a jerk about it!

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