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Tactical Writing Advice

Is it a “clip” or a “magazine”? #TacticalWritingAdvice

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The scene changes to show the cop/soldier/bad guy/someone behind cover, holding an empty gun. The person then says something like, “I’m out of ammo! Throw me a clip!”

At some point or another, we’ve all seen or read a variation of this; the problem is, it is absolutely incorrect. You would think that a procedural crime show or book would get their nomenclature correct, but they almost never do.

So what’s wrong with calling it a “clip”?

First off, there is such a thing as a clip in the gun-world. In fact, most guns in the WWI and WWII era used clips. It wasn’t until Vietnam that we started relying on the M-16 which used a box-fed magazine instead of a stripper clip. The very reliable M-14 rifle could actually use both a clip and a magazine, in fact, the magazine is necessary to even use an M-14.

A clip is a strip of bullets that is positioned above the open breach of a weapon. The bullets are then pushed off of the clip and into the weapon, thereby loading the weapon. The clip is then removed and thrown away, it is not meant to be used again. Some guns retain the clip until the last round is fired and then the clip is automatically ejected to let you know the gun is empty.


A magazine is a self-contained box that ammunition is loaded into. The magazine is then inserted into the weapon where it will remain until all of the bullets are fired. The magazine is then dumped from the weapon and a new magazine is inserted. A magazine is meant to be picked up, reloaded and reused.


For the vast majority of firearms used today, you should use the term magazine rather than clip. If you are being specific about the kind of gun being used, it would be a good idea to research that gun to determine if it uses a magazine or a clip.

If you are writing about a fictional gun that has yet to be invented, then I would suggest that if it has a replaceable energy cell or box-fed ammunition, and the cell or box are reusable, then call it a magazine. If the gun uses a non-replaceable ammunition container, then a clip might be the way to go. Of course, at this point, you’re creating a gun so you can call it whatever you freaking want to; call it a bananathinger if you’d like.

I’m sure there are gun-nuts out there that can tear apart certain aspects of this post; however, this post is not meant for them, this is a quick and dirty article for writers, to explain the difference between a clip and a magazine. So go forth and write, but stop asking for more clips for your empty guns.

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