Thursday, April 11, 2013

What is a clip? What is not a clip?

You've just gotten into firearms. It's a new, strange world full of opinions, history, and lots of marketing. You and your friend, who's been into guns for ages, it seems, go to the gun store for a look around. You've just bought a Savage Model 64 a few weeks back, and you've had a hard time finding any of the little ugly black aluminum bits that hold the ammunition. You come up to the gun counter, get the attention of a clerk, and ask:

"Hi, you got any clips for a Savage .22?"

The clerk groans and rolls his eyes. You look back at your friend, wondering what you did, and he looks a little embarrassed, but he's making a noble effort to hide it. What went wrong?

Gun owners can be very sensitive about this little quirk of firearm terminology. "Clip" is a flag to many of them that says "I am an idiot; I learned everything I know about firearms from TV, and if you interact with me for any length of time, I will make your day difficult." Sadly, like many people who use the term "clip" to mean "thing you load your gun with", you just want a magazine or two, and to go about your day.

Well, you can't change gun owners. If you could, no one would use lever actions anymore. Nah, we're all a bunch of sticks in the mud, and often pretty loud about it, too. It's better, trust me, to just play along, and learn the difference between a magazine, and a clip.

There are a number of resources online which aim to teach this difference. All the ones I have seen do not quite reach the mark. I will attempt to give the most concise, but widely-applicable definition that I can.

The term "clip" refers to devices made of (usually) a single piece of stamped and/or bent metal which retains rounds ammunition for the purpose of feeding into a weapon or magazine, and which does not contain a spring for advancing the cartridges to the chamber during cycling.

 Sheesh! That was a mouthful! Why does it have to be that way?

Clips, almost always, contain springs. From SKS stripper clips, to revolver moon clips, it's extremely common for clips to be sprung or contain springs. The important distinction here lies in what the spring does. In virtually all clips I'm aware of, the spring acts to hold the rounds in the clip. In a magazine, the mainspring performs two, or even three functions:

1. To hold the rounds in the magazine.

2. To push the next round into the feeding position, after a round has been stripped from the magazine.

3. (often) To hold the magazine together.

To this end, the springs in magazines are usually large, coiled wire springs, which are a separate part. Because of these large, dedicated springs, magazines are usually much, much more expensive than clips.

As if things needed to be more complicated, not all clips are springs, however. This .303 British 5-round clip holds its cartridges in primarily by friction. It is somewhat springy, but if you were to polish the inside of the clip to 400 grit, it probably would not hold the rounds in place any more.

The video by Life, Liberty, Etc claims that "clips are for loading magazines, and magazines are for loading the breech." While this is often true, in many cases it is not. For instance, with revolver moon clips, there is no magazine, and the clip holds ammunition in place while it is seated in the chambers, and merely simplify loading and unloading by making the ammunition a single unit. With a Garand en-bloc clip, the ammunition is loaded into the magazine, but it is the en-bloc clip's feed lips which hold the ammunition in the proper feeding position as it is rammed by the bolt into the chamber. The next round of ammunition is then forced into position by the internal magazine's spring. In this way, the clip and magazine work together as a unit to allow the gun to function.

The above is a lot to remember, for anyone. The Life, Liberty, Etc definition is a bit shorter, but it doesn't really help you if you see some nondescript clip-like object at the gun show and want to know if it's a magazine or a clip. Here's perhaps a more helpful mnemonic:

"Cheap clips, expensive magazines".

Clips are almost always simpler, and thus cheaper than magazines. Often, they are downright disposable. It's not uncommon for someone to spend more than $20 on a single magazine, even for used examples, but you might spend $20 on a bag of 50 clips without being branded a thief. The fact that "cheap" and "clip", and "expensive" and "magazine" have the same number of syllables, respectively, should help the reader remember, in general, which is which.

There are endless permutations to clips and magazines, some (thankfully, very rare) blurring the line between the two. Hopefully, however, this article has given the reader some insight into which is which, and why gun owners are so anal about the difference between the two.

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