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A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile(s) at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically black powder or cordite, but modern firearms use smokeless powder or other propellants. Most modern firearms (with the notable exception of smoothbore firearms) have rifled barrels to impart spin to the projectile for improved flight stability.
Beginning around 700 AD, scientists and inventors in ancient China developed different grades of gunpowder and innovated different types of firearms, including single-shot smooth-bore fire lances, multi-barreled guns, multiple-launch artillery rockets and the first cannon in the world made from cast bronze.
Several centuries later, in late Dark Age Europe, the term "firearm" was used in Old English to denote the arm in which the match was held that was used to light the touch hole on the hand cannon. The term was a variation on the contemporary terms of bow arm and drawing arm still used in archery. Due to the effects of firing the ordnance (barrel) at the time, the gunner had to be located somewhat behind the weapon, steadying brace with the other hand, hence the name "hand gun" became synonymous with the "fire arm". Although the modern term 'gun' is often used as a synonym for firearm, in specialist or military use it has a restricted sense referring only to an artillery piece with a relatively high muzzle velocity, such as a field gun, a tank gun, or a gun used in the delivery of naval gunfire. Artillery guns are much larger than these firearms, mounted on movable carriages, having bores of up to and possibly weighing many tons. Strictly speaking, such weapons are not firearms.
Hand-held firearms, like rifle, carbine, pistols and other small firearms, are rarely called "guns" in the restricted sense among specialists. Machine gun fire small-caliber ammunition (generally 14.5 mm (.50cal) or smaller), and many machine guns are crew-served infantry support weapon, requiring the services of more than one crewman, just like artillery guns. Generally, an automatic firearm designed for a single user is referred to as an automatic rifle. Other terms, including "firearm" itself, have been defined in specialized ad hoc ways by various legislation.
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