Clips vs Magazines


We have all been there before. Either you are at the gun range or a retail gun counter, and someone begins tossing around the term “clip” when they are clearly referring to a magazine. Maybe it is a newer shooter, and they authentically don’t know the vernacular nuances to shooting. Or quite possibly it is an older shooter who should know better, but they have a chip on their shoulder that, “They’re older than you, have been shooting longer than you, so they obviously know better than you.” Do you correct either type of person? You should, but you need to deliver your correction in a way that they will be receptive to it. Be polite, matter of fact, and gentle. No one is sticking “clips” in their AR-15. Clips can assist you in loading an AR-15 magazine, but they do not go inside – or get inserted – into an actual AR-15. An opposite example is the old M1 Garand from World War II. Those actually only use clips which are inserted from the top of the receiver, and once empty, are yeeted out of the receiver by the action. Correct gun nomenclature matters. So, let’s dissect what is precisely different about a magazine versus a clip.

What are Magazines?

A magazine is a closed-body component to a firearm that houses and feeds multiple rounds of ammunition into the firearm. That definition sounds very wide open and ambiguous, but it needs to blanket cover a lot of different types of magazines. Moreover, magazines can be used with a plethora of action types and platforms including, but not limited to lever-actions, bolt-actions, semi-autos, full-autos, shotguns, handguns, rimfire firearms, and much more.

Types of Magazines

If we set our gaze on magazines (forget about clips for a moment), there are several kinds of magazines to consider. The first and most common kind that people typically think of when the word magazine is brought into conversations are box magazines. Box magazines are commonly seen with handguns and rifles but are not limited to only those designs. They are the most common perception of what a magazine is supposed to be in many people’s eyes. Boxy and squarish in their appearance, they are often detachable (removable) and can vary in their capacity from only a few rounds to potentially 50 or more.

Another type of magazine commonly seen on firearms is a tube magazine. These are usually seen on shotguns, lever-action rifles, and an assortment of rimfire firearms. The rounds do not stack into a box like a box magazine; rather, they are lined up one after another in a row inside of a tube design. While tube magazines are often permanently affixed to the firearm they are feeding, there are exceptions. An example is some rimfire rifles like a Browning SA-22 (semi-automatic .22 Long Rifle). That specific firearm has a tube magazine through the stock and its “tube” can be removed through the rear of the stock to assist in loading rimfire rounds. This is a unique instance, but a prime example of how diverse each type of magazine can be.

A third variant of magazines that we see is a drum magazine. These could be grouped in with box magazines, but they look considerably different because of their high capacity and cylindrical/drum appearance. They are commonly paired and found on shotguns, AR-15s, Ruger 10/22 platforms, and full-auto firearms to name a few. Their circular design appears rather weird to most, but they are still considered magazines and not some other term.

Anatomy of a Magazine

A magazine, in all its various presentations discussed, will have 5 essential parts: a follower, spring, body, floorplate, and floorplate retainer. The follower is a shelf that lifts the ammunition through, and out of, the body of the magazine. The spring pushes on the follower to force rounds out of the magazine into the chamber of a firearm. The body shrouds and contains all of the ammunition and other components that comprise the magazine. The floorplate is the bottom of the magazine (often removable for cleaning and to replace in the instance of damage or an upgrade). The floorplate retainer is a flat, plastic piece connected to the spring that retains the exterior floorplate.

What’s a Clip?

Typically, a small strip or piece of metal used to “clip” or hold ammunition before it is inserted into a firearm’s action or an actual magazine. Sometimes a clip can act like a speed loader; where, a clip assists in quickly loading a box magazine (Ex: AR-15 magazine). Other times a clip can “act” like a magazine and be fully inserted inside a firearm (Ex: En Bloc Clip for M1 Garand). Clips typically assist in loading firearms as opposed to safely “housing” ammunition because a clip leaves ammo exposed to be bumped, scratched, influenced, or damaged by outside elements.

Types of Clips

These are several examples of actual clips you could encounter when handling firearms. Most, as previously mentioned, leave ammo exposed and don’t fully house ammunition like a true magazine will:

  • Moon clip: carry/hold rimmed revolver cartridges before entering a revolver’s cylinder.
  • Stripper Clip
    • 5.56mm NATO before inserted in AR-15 magazines
    • 7.62x39mm before inserted into action of an SKS
    • .308 Win/7.62mm NATO before inserted into action of an M1A
  • En Bloc Clip: inserted – clip, ammo, and all – into the action of an M1 Garand

The Difference between a Magazine and a Clip

Magazines house, hold, and feed ammo into the chamber of a firearm. Clips typically hold ammunition exposed so it can later be fed into a magazine or firearm.

Clips vs Magazines

So, the next time you see a moon clip for a Smith & Wesson revolver, or a drum magazine for a Tommy gun, you will know that there are many differences between the unassuming terms of clip and magazine. It might seem like nerdy semantics, but the correct terminology does matter. It might not be worth getting into an argument with a stranger about, but it does matter. As always, watch for future content on all of our socials and check ANR Design out for all of your thermoplastic holsters and solutions.

Adam Scepaniak | 12/19/2023

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