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A firearm is a device which projects either single or multiple projectiles at high velocity through a controlled explosion. The firing occurs by the gases produced through rapid, confined burning of a propellant. This process of rapid burning is technically known as deflagration. In older firearms, this 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 ranging from 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 a movable carriage, having bores of up to 18 inches (46 cm) and possibly weighing many tons. Strictly speaking, such weapons are not firearms.

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