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The main differences between rifles, shotguns, and handguns are their barrels and the type of ammunition used.

Comparison of rifle, shotgun, and handgun barrels
  • The rifle barrel is long and has thick walls with spiraling grooves cut into the bore. The grooved pattern is called rifling.
  • The shotgun barrel is long and made of fairly thin steel that is very smooth on the inside to allow the shot and wad to glide down the barrel without friction. It’s thinner than a rifle barrel since it does not have to withstand as much pressure.
  • The handgun barrel is much shorter than a rifle or shotgun barrel because the gun is designed to be shot while being held with one or two hands, rather than being placed against the shooter’s shoulder. The bores of most handgun barrels also have a grooved pattern similar to rifles.