Firearm magazines have been around for centuries in one form or another and there is a lot of odd terminologies used today when referencing them. With that, we are here to clear the air with a little Gun 101. 

Is a Clip a Magazine? 


If you enjoy arguing with folks on social media, on gun ranges, or while at the gun store, puff out your chest and make a stand on the hill of confusing a clip and a magazine. In general, the term "clip" is used today to describe a separate container, typically of light metal, without a spring that holds cartridges in sequence so that they may be loaded or charged into a firearm. 

These 30.06 Springfield cartridges are loaded in M1 Garand en-bloc clips. The Garand takes an 8-cartridge clip to be fully loaded. Once the rifle has fired all eight shots, the clip is ejected by the action. (Photo: Chris Eger/
mag capacity
The terms "clip" and "magazine" were often interchangeable in the past, such as in the 1940-dated U.S. Army FM.23-35 on the M1911 and this 1969 Colt ad, but today, the terms are kept apart under threat of smack talk from modern gun culture adherents. 

A magazine, which holds cartridges under tension from a spring for the firearm until they are fed into the chamber by the action, can be fixed or detachable. For instance, the Winchester Model 70, in its traditional format, uses a fixed magazine. On the other hand, an AR-15 has a detachable box or drum-style magazine. Magazines can also come in various forms including tubular, such as on a traditional Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun or Marlin Model 60 rimfire rifle; rotary such as those found on a Ruger 10/22; or helical like the Calico series of guns.

And to throw a monkey wrench into this, magazines-- both fixed and detachable-- can be topped off or "charged" by a stripper clip. 

magazine capacity
This AR-15 magazine can be quickly loaded by the use of a stripper clip. (Photo: Chris Eger/

Standard Capacity? 


When it comes to magazine capacity, be it on a fixed or detachable type, the size the firearm is designed for and marketed with is typically regarded in the gun industry as the "standard" capacity. For instance, the standard capacity for the Browning Hi-Power, one of the most popular semi-automatic handguns, first patented in 1923, is 13 rounds. 

The BHP, which has been around in for nearly a century and is still production overseas in a host of clones, was designed with a standard 13+1 magazine capacity. This had been boosted in recent years by improved-designed mags that hold 14 or 15 rounds without extending from the bottom of the grip.  (Photo: Chris Eger/

When the AR-15 first hit the market in the early 1960s, it used 20-round detachable magazines although 30-round magazines were soon the standard. The Glock 17, first introduced in the U.S. in 1984, was marketed from the beginning with a 17-round flush-fit magazine. The FN FiveSeven pistol, developed in the early 1990s, has always been marketed with a 20-round magazine. 

gun magazines
The M1911 magazine on the left, standard since 1911, holds seven or eight rounds as designed. The standard magazine for the Glock 19X which ships from the factory, holds 21 rounds. 

Such capacity goes back even further than the 1920s. As we have noted in the past, there were a variety of early repeaters that existed even prior to the Second Amendment's enshrinement in the U.S. Constitution. These included the 16th Century Kalthoff rifles which could hold as many as 30 shots, the famed Puckle Gun of 1718, and the 12-shot Cookson Volitional repeating flintlock of the 1750s.

Going even further back, organ guns (Orgelgeschütz) or salvo guns (Salvengeschütz) were fielded in Germany in the 15th Century allowing a single user to envelope a battlefield in a cloud of black powder smoke in seconds.

Large Capacity Magazines?


So-called "Large Capacity" or "High Capacity" magazines are terms often purposely and wrongly applied by anti-gun groups during conversations on gun politics to mislabel standard capacity magazines. The use of these terms is typically done when attempting to regulate or otherwise ban the production or possession of otherwise ordinary magazines by applying an arbitrary number of rounds they can contain. 

For instance, in 2013, the proposed New York SAFE Act included a 7-shot cap on loaded magazines and a 10-round limit on the magazine itself, meaning that gun owners had to download even 10-round magazines. While a federal judge later blasted the 7-shot arbitrary cap, the 10-round limit remains in the Empire State. However, limits as low as a 5-round cap have been floated in other states.

A 10-round AR magazine vs a 30-round AR magazine. In most parts of 41 states, the one on the right is standard capacity. In the rest of the country, lawful gun owners with local- or state-mandated magazine restrictions have to make do with the mag on the left and can face fines or prison if found with a standard capacity mag.

Today nine states have active capacity-based magazine bans: California (10 rounds), Colorado (15), Connecticut (10), Hawaii (10), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (10), New York (10), New Jersey (10), and Vermont (10 for rifles, 15 rounds for handguns). Further, there are over a dozen cities and counties as well as Washington, DC that have their own local limits. Such limits have been the subject of legal challenges by gun owners and Second Amendment groups almost since their inception, arguing that they are unconstitutional.

Despite the bans, firearm industry trade groups estimate there are upwards of 150 million such magazines-- including 71.2 million pistol magazines capable of holding more than 10 cartridges, and another 79.2 million rifle magazines capable of holding 30 or more rounds-- in ready circulation.

With proper maintenance, such devices can last generations.