The Difference between a Magazine and a Clip Explained

Have you ever wondered what the difference between a magazine and a clip is? You may have been using these terms incorrectly. It’s easy to confuse the two, but hopefully, after reading this article you will be able to draw a clear distinction between these two different pieces of equipment in your mind.

A magazine is what feeds ammunition directly into the chamber of a gun, and it can either be detachable or attached. A clip is a separate unit that stores multiple rounds and is inserted into the magazine. This way rounds don’t have to be reloaded one at a time.

That answer might have opened the door to a whole new list of questions, so we have put together some information that may help you understand the difference a bit better. We have also included some information about the legality of owning a clip or magazine. Read on as we explain in greater detail what makes magazines and clips different and how they each make meaningful contributions to the function of a firearm.

What Is a Magazine?

A magazine is often mistakenly referred to as a ‘clip’ and vice versa. This issue stems from when veterans began returning from active duty after World War II and were repeatedly calling magazines clips. This was because the weapon most widely used in World War II, the M1 Garand, had a non-removable magazine that was fed by a clip. This oversimplification became instilled in many gun enthusiasts and is a persistent error that many people still make today.

A magazine is used to load rounds into the ‘breech’ which is where ammunition is drawn from into the chamber of a gun. The magazine keeps rounds under spring pressure before they are loaded into the chamber. The magazine can either be internal or external, and it also may be referred to as detachable. When an empty magazine is removed from a firearm and replaced with a full one, that is known as reloading.

Most modern firearms make use of magazines, with the notable exception of revolvers. They can be made of metal or plastic, though metal is much more common. Some plastic magazines are see-through so you can see how much ammunition you have left without having to take off the entire magazine.

Magazines come in various types, including box, tubular, drum, and rotary. The most common type is a box magazine, and it is used by most conventional rifles and modern semi-automatic rifles. In a box magazine, bullets are held in a column within the rectangular box-like structure of the magazine and a spring-loaded follower mechanism loads each round into the chamber one at a time.

The next most common type of magazine is a tubular magazine. A tubular magazine is used by some .22 rifles, pump and semi-automatic shotguns, and most lever-action rifles. In contrast to the box magazine, a tubular magazine is attached to the firearm. It uses a tube, spring, and the firearm’s action. Rounds must be loaded into a tubular magazine one at a time.

What Is a Clip?

A clip combines multiple rounds into a single unit for faster reloading. A clip does not use a spring-loaded follower, nor does it feed rounds directly into the chamber. It was initially developed for military purposes but it is now used by private citizens as well. A clip is typically used of a cheap type of sheet metal. This makes them easily disposable, though they are often-times reused as well.

There are various types of clips including stripper, en bloc, moon, and half moon.

A stripper, known as a charger in the UK, loads rounds into the magazine by pushing them down and stripping away from the clip. Some firearms expel the empty clip automatically while some require it to be removed manually.

In an en bloc clip, the rounds and clips are loaded into the magazine as a single unit. The clip is ejected automatically upon firing the last round in the magazine.

Revolvers are unique because instead of a magazine, they use a storage component known as a wheel. Rounds are loaded into the wheel using a special type of clip known as a moon or half-moon clip. A moon clip is a ring-shaped piece of metal designed to hold a cylinder of rounds, either six for a moon clip or three for a half-moon clip.

What Are the Main Differences between Magazines and Clips?

One way to remember the difference between magazines and clips is to remember that a paper magazine is one unit comprised of many individual pages which might contain articles or publications. A video clip is one smaller segment of a larger clip. Only when all the clips are combined do they become a final product whether it’s a movie or a short video. This visual aid is a good way to remember that a magazine is one single unit that is loaded into the firearm while a clip contains many rounds which are combined into one single unit and loaded into the magazine.

Here is a video from the NRA clarifying the differences between magazines and clips:

You may have seen on the movies someone talking about a clip or a magazine as it seems like the terms are used somewhat interchangeably, but as we have mentioned above there are actually some significant differences. Now, I am not in any way the word police trying to tell you how to say things, but knowing the difference between a magazine and a clip can save you from some confusion in the future if you plan on buying accessories for your gun.

How to Load Clips into a Magazine

Here are some step by step instructions on how to load an AR-15 magazine with stripper clips:

  1. Attach the magazine guide into the grooves
  2. Insert the loaded stripper clip into the magazine guide
  3. Position your hands so that the stripper clip is on top and the guide is on the bottom
  4. Brace the magazine against a hard surface and push the clip into the magazine
  5. Retain the empty clip to be reused

How to Take Care of your Magazine

Just like with any other gun item you own, you must know how to take care of and clean your magazine. In some cases, a person who does not take care of their gun can not only cause damage to their gun but can also increase the risk of an accident or jam happening while you shoot it. I have put together a few tips to help you take care of your magazine and to get the best value out of the ones you buy. (source)

  1. Disassembly – Just like your gun, a magazine can be taken apart. You should do this before you start. Most importantly though it is absolutely critical that you make sure that your magazine is unloaded before starting any cleaning. You can begin taking apart your magazine by taking a pencil (or some other similarly shaped item) and using it to press down on the follower from the backside. As you are doing this it will allow you to pull the front out of the magazine body. From here you should be able to pull all other parts out of the body of the magazine.
  2. Inspection – The next thing you are going to want to do is inspect each piece of your magazine. First, look at the base pad making sure that there are no cracks or dents that can make it hard to use in the future. Next, you want to check your springs. These coils generally sit flat and if it has many dents or is misshaped, it may be time to replace that part. The last part you are going to want to look at is the body of your magazine. Also, check to see if this has dents or cracks. Any dents, cracks, or discoloration in your magazine may be an indication that it is time for you to look into buying a new one. So if you are looking for a sign to buy a new magazine, this is it.
  3. Cleaning – Now that we have taken our magazine apart and inspected all of our parts it is time to actually clean our magazine. Throughout the process of cleaning be sure to be paying attention and looking for damage, you may not have noticed before you started cleaning. Many products can be bought online that are designed to help you clean your magazine. It is probably best to start by using a dry rag to brush away any debris that may be stuck in your magazine. Next, you want to spray the parts of your magazine with whatever product you bought and thoroughly wiped down the different pieces.
  4. Reassembly – Now that your magazine is clean you can now assemble all the pieces back together. Be careful to not damage any pieces during reassembly.

Standard Capacity Magazine Vs. High Capacity Magazine

The standard capacity of a magazine will vary from firearm to firearm. Many semi-automatic rifles and handguns are sold with magazines with a capacity of 15-30 rounds. Standard capacity magazines are very popular within the recreational shooting community.

When it comes to high capacity magazines, drum magazines, which are cylindrical-shaped high capacity magazines, are used. This type of magazine is only manufactured by six companies in the U.S., and the retail price for them is about $100. The capacity of a drum magazine is typically somewhere between 50 and 100 rounds.

Drum magazines have been used in several deadly mass shootings in the United States, including the shootings in Aurora, Colorado in 2012; Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017; and Dayton, Ohio in 2019. The fact that high-capacity magazines make it easier to fire off many rounds without the need to reload, many are of the opinion that regulating and even banning high-capacity drum magazines for private use could make mass shootings less deadly.

Are Magazines Legal?

The laws for large-capacity magazines vary from country to country, but for our purposes, I’ll focus on current legislation in the United States. From 1994 to 2004 the United States banned large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, which were defined as being able to store more than ten rounds of ammunition.

Though not illegal, there are currently 11 states with magazine capacity restrictions. Some municipalities also have restrictions of their own. For example, New York City restricts magazine capacity to five rounds for rifles and shotguns. New York state previously restricted capacity to seven but it was deemed excessive by a district court.

The states that currently restrict magazine capacity to 10 rounds or less are California, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.

Those that currently restrict magazine capacity to 15 rounds or less are Colorado and Vermont.

From 1994 to 2004 the United States banned large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, which was defined as being able to store more than ten rounds of ammunition.

This and other gun items have been a huge source for debate as some feel that it limits their constitutional right to own a gun, while others feel that for us to be safe we must have these types of regulations in place. Because these items have been used in terrible ways such as in the multiple mass shootings, it is easy to understand why many people are pushing for laws to regulate the purchase of these items.

However, I agree that law-abiding citizens should have the right to own a clip or magazine for their gun if they would like. Our trouble then becomes, how can we keep magazines and clips out of the hands of criminals and in the hands of law-abiding gun owners. Unfortunately for us, this is not a new problem and as we continue to think and counsel about this as a country I am confident that we will find a solution that will allow us to be safe while not limiting our freedoms.


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Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

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