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The Firearms Act (Northern Ireland) defines a firearm as "a lethal barreled weapon of any description, from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged." This very loose definition leaves scope to cover almost every conceivable type of device that incorporates a tube through which any missile is projected. Could a blowpipe used to discharge poisoned darts be described as a firearm? It is "gas" operated, has a barrel, and the projectile is designed to be lethal. Although the blowpipe may not be considered a lethal barrel, it is, as with a firearm, the means of directing and discharging the projectile. It is the projectile that kills. Consequently, great attention has been focused on projectile design, and there are many different types of projectiles available on the military and civilian markets.

For the purpose of this text, only conventional projectiles are considered in detail. Conventional projectiles for firearms are bullets, pellets, and slugs, each of which may differ from others of the same kind in size, shape, weight, composition, and physical properties.

There is a wide range of firearms, and the choice of ammunition available presents a very large number of gun/ammunition combinations. The reason for such a variety of projectiles encompasses internal and external ballistics, nature of target, and wound ballistics, all of which are beyond the scope of this text.

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