Small arms

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Small arms is a term of art used by armed forces to denote infantry weapons an individual soldier may carry. The description is usually limited to revolvers, pistols, submachine guns, carbines, assault rifles, battle rifles, multiple barrel firearms, sniper rifles, squad automatic weapons, light machine guns, and sometimes hand grenades. Shotguns, general purpose machine guns, medium machine guns, and grenade launchers may be considered small arms or as support weapons, depending on the particular armed forces.

Small arms typically do not include infantry support weapons. In the U.S. military, small arms refer to handguns or other firearms less than 20 mm in caliber, and including heavy machine guns (typically .50 caliber or 12.7 mm in U.S. service).[1] The NATO definition extends to "all crew-portable direct fire weapons of a calibre less than 50 mm and will include a secondary capability to defeat light armour and helicopters."[2]

Though there is no civilian definition within the U.S., any firearm utilizing a projectile greater than 1/2 inch (.50 caliber or 12.7 mm) in diameter is legally defined as a "destructive device," while anything .50 caliber or less is normally considered "small arms." The so-called "1/2 inch rule" does not apply to shotguns, sporting cartridge big bore rifles (such as rifles chambered in .600 Nitro Express) or muzzleloading black powder firearms, many of which are larger than .50 caliber.[3]

The term which encompasses both, SALW (Small Arms and Light Weapons), is used by some organizations working to limit arms proliferation.[4] For example, much of the United Nations action to tackle illegal arms proliferation is raised in the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms.[5]


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