Starting pistol

Last updated
A starting pistol in use at an East German athletics competition in 1961. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-79908-0001, Muller.jpg
A starting pistol in use at an East German athletics competition in 1961.

A starting pistol or starter pistol is a blank handgun [1] that is fired to start track and field races, as well as competitive swimming races at some meets. Starter guns cannot fire real ammunition without first being extensively modified: Blank shells or caps are used to prevent expelling projectiles, [1] and only a small amount of smoke can be seen when shot. In most places, trying to modify the replica is illegal. [2]


Starting pistols may also include modified versions of standard pistols incapable of firing bullets, most commonly achieved by welding an obstruction into the barrel. This is less common nowadays, especially in Western countries. When electronic timing is used, a sensor is often affixed to the gun, which sends an electronic signal to the timing system upon firing. For deaf competitors or for modern electronic systems, a light may be used instead.

Eight women participate in a hobble skirt race. Starter gun has just been fired by man in straw boater hat. Eight women participate in a hobble skirt race. Starter gun has just been fired by man in straw boater hat.jpg
Eight women participate in a hobble skirt race. Starter gun has just been fired by man in straw boater hat.

Use in races

The sound of the gun going off serves as the signal for the athletes to begin the event. An issue with the use of starting pistols is that, since the report of the pistol is carried to the competitors at the speed of sound, which takes about 3 milliseconds to travel one metre, positions nearest the starter hear the report a few milliseconds before further positions. This issue is exaggerated in races where the runners begin in a stagger, putting a significant distance between the nearest and furthest runners. To avoid this problem, the pistol is in all major competitions wired with a microphone that transmits the sound virtually instantaneously to loudspeakers directly behind each competitor.

With security after the September 11 attacks on the US becoming prevalent and causing issues with starting pistols, [3] a trend developed to use electronic starting systems that do not use pistols but use a "dummy" prop pistol which cannot function as a firearm and that is wired to the timing system. When the starter presses the button, they emit a signal to play a simulated gunshot that is broadcast to loudspeakers behind each lane, show a flash, emit simulated smoke [ further explanation needed ], and start the timing clock. Many venues have switched to the new format. [4] Beyond the security concerns, it has also been observed that even with the use of loudspeakers, some competitors still wait for the actual sound of the gun to reach them, and since the new all-electronic starting pistols have no such problems, they became the official way of starting games at the 2012 Summer Olympics. [5]

The Retay Xpro starting gun Retay Xpro.png
The Retay Xpro starting gun

Use in American and Canadian football

Officials in American and Canadian football formerly used a starting pistol to end each quarter of a game. In the NFL this was first done in 1924, to avoid confusion with the whistles and air horns used for other signals; at the time the stadium clock did not show the official game time, which was kept by the officials on the field. The stadium clock later became the official game time and the NFL discontinued the gunshot in 1994. Furthermore, upon the official end of the period, the referee will announce "That is the end of the (x period)" to the public address system. [6]

Use in the arts

Beside sporting events, starter pistols are also used in films and in TV or stage shows. [1]

Criminal use

Some pistols made to fire only blanks can be converted to fire live ammunition. Such makeshift firearms are used in crime and many are illegal to possess in certain jurisdictions. [7] [8]

An athletic festival Sapporo (48107414677).jpg
An athletic festival

See also

Incidents involving starting pistols

Related Research Articles

Firearm Gun for an individual

A firearm is any type of gun designed to be readily carried and used by an individual. The term is legally defined further in different countries.

Shooting sports Sports involving firearms used to hit targets

Shooting sports is a group of competitive and recreational sporting activities involving proficiency tests of accuracy, precision and speed in shooting — the art of using ranged firearms, mainly referring to man-portable guns and bows/crossbows.

The International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), founded in 1996, is an organization based in Bogata, Texas, that has created a shooting sport based on defensive pistol techniques, using equipment including full-charge service ammunition to solve simulated "real world" self-defense scenarios. Shooters competing in defensive pistol events are required to use practical handguns and holsters that are deemed suitable for self-defense use and concealment garment that can conceal the handgun from view of bystanders.

Blank (cartridge) Firearms filler device that produces an explosion but does not fire a projectile

A blank is a firearm cartridge that generates a muzzle flash and an explosive sound like any normal gunshots. The shooter experiences less recoil than a live round and the firearm may be modified to allow a blank to cycle the action, but without shooting a projectile. Blanks are often used in prop guns for shooting simulations that have no need for ballistic results, but still demand light and sound effects, such as in historical reenactments, special effects for theatre, movie and television productions, combat training, for signalling, and cowboy mounted shooting. Specialised blank cartridges are also used for their propellant force in fields as varied as construction, shooting sports, and fishing and general recreation.

International Practical Shooting Confederation International organization for the sport of practical shooting

The International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) is the world's largest shooting sport association and the largest and oldest within practical shooting. Founded in 1976, the IPSC nowadays affiliates over 100 regions from Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania. Competitions are held with pistol, revolver, rifle, and shotgun, and the competitors are divided into different divisions based on firearm and equipment features. While everyone in a division competes in the Overall category, there are also own separate awards for the categories Lady, Super Junior, Junior, Senior and Super Senior.

Fast draw, also known as quick draw, is the ability to quickly draw a handgun and accurately fire it upon a target in the process. This skill was made popular by romanticized depictions of gunslingers in the Western genre, which in turn were inspired by famous historical gunfights in the American Old West.

Cap gun Toy gun using percussion caps to simulate gunshots and smoke

A cap gun, cap pistol, or cap rifle is a toy gun that creates a loud sound simulating a gunshot and smoke when a small percussion cap is ignited. Cap guns were originally made of cast iron, but after World War II were made of zinc alloy, and most newer models are made of plastic. Cap guns get their name from the small discs of shock-sensitive explosive compounds that provide the noise and smoke, effectively the same as the Maynard tape primer and percussion caps used in real firearms of the mid to late 1800s but usually smaller and made from cheap plastic or paper. Some are arranged in plastic rings of eight or twelve. There are also single caps, roll caps, disk caps, and cap strips all of which are actually extremely small versions of percussion fireworks. Armstrong's mixture is often used today as the explosive, but previously the tiny powder charge was a simple mixture of potassium perchlorate, sulfur, and antimony sulfide sandwiched between two paper layers which hold in the gases long enough to give a sound report when the cap is struck.

Gunfire locator System that detects and conveys the location of gunfire or other weapon fire

A gunfire locator or gunshot detection system is a system that detects and conveys the location of gunfire or other weapon fire using acoustic, vibration, optical, or potentially other types of sensors, as well as a combination of such sensors. These systems are used by law enforcement, security, military, government offices, schools and businesses to identify the source and, in some cases, the direction of gunfire and/or the type of weapon fired. Most systems possess three main components:

Fully automatic time Form of race timing

Fully automatic time is a form of race timing in which the clock is automatically activated by the starting device, and the finish time is either automatically recorded, or timed by analysis of a photo finish. The system is commonly used in track and field as well as athletic performance testing, horse racing, dog racing, bicycle racing, rowing and auto racing. In these fields a photo finish is used. It is also used in competitive swimming, for which the swimmers themselves record a finish time by touching a touchpad at the end of a race. In order to verify the equipment, or in case of failure, a backup system is usually used in addition to FAT.

Blank-firing adaptor Firearms safety device for projectile-less cartridges

A blank-firing adapter or blank-firing attachment (BFA), sometimes called a blank adapter or blank attachment, is a device used in conjunction with blank ammunition for safety reasons, functional reasons or a combination of them both. Blank firing adapters are required for allowing blank ammunition to cycle the bolts of most semi-automatic and automatic firearms. It can also be a safety feature designed to break up the plugs replacing the bullet in military blanks as well as divert the hot gases from a blank discharge out to the sides, reducing the risk of injury to the target of an aimed shot.

Latency refers to a short period of delay between when an audio signal enters a system and when it emerges. Potential contributors to latency in an audio system include analog-to-digital conversion, buffering, digital signal processing, transmission time, digital-to-analog conversion and the speed of sound in the transmission medium.

Chiappa Firearms, Armi Sport di Chiappa, is an Italian firearms manufacturing company based in Brescia. It was founded in 1958 by Ezechiele Chiappa as Armi Sport. Total unit production is around 60,000 per year. Its U.S. headquarters are in Dayton, Ohio.

Recoil operation is an operating mechanism used to implement locked breech, autoloading firearms. Recoil operated firearms use the energy of recoil to cycle the action, as opposed to gas operation or blowback operation using the pressure of the propellant gas.

Lock time

Lock time or action time refers to the time interval from when the trigger of a firearm is activated until the firing pin strikes the primer, and depends on the design of the firing mechanism. A long lock time increases the probability of the shooter pulling the sights away from the target before the bullet has left the barrel, a common shooter error which can lead to poor hits or even misses. Shooters can therefore tend to experience better precision using firearms with a shorter lock time, and short lock times are especially sought after for shooting competitions which require high precision on small targets from unstable positions, such as the standing offhand position.

Silencer (firearms) Device which reduces sound intensity or muzzle flash on a firearm

A silencer, also known as a sound suppressor, suppressor or sound moderator, is a muzzle device that reduces the acoustic intensity of the muzzle report and the recoil when a gun is discharged, by modulating the speed and pressure of the propellant gas from the muzzle and hence suppressing the muzzle blast. Like other muzzle devices, a silencer can be a detachable accessory mounted to the muzzle, or an integral part of the barrel.

Cowboy action shooting

Cowboy action shooting is a competitive shooting sport that originated in Southern California in the early 1980s, at the Coto de Caza Shooting Range in Orange County, California. Cowboy action shooting is now practiced in many places with several sanctioning organizations including the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), Western Action Shootists Association (WASA), and National Congress of Old West Shooters (NCOWS), Single Action Shooting Australia (SASA), Western 3-Gun as well as others in the U.S. and other countries.

A time base generator is a special type of function generator, an electronic circuit that generates a varying voltage to produce a particular waveform. Time base generators produce very high frequency sawtooth waves specifically designed to deflect the beam of a cathode ray tube (CRT) smoothly across the face of the tube and then return it to its starting position.


Multigun, Multi Gun or Multi-Gun, often also called 2-Gun or 3-Gun depending on the types of firearms used, are practical shooting events where each of the stages require the competitor to use a combination of handguns, rifles, and/or shotguns Multigun has a lot in common with ordinary IPSC/ USPSA single gun matches, and matches generally have courses of fire where the shooter must move through different stages and engage targets in a variety of different positions.

Shot timer

A shot timer is a shot activated timer used in shooting sports, which starts the competitor by an audible signal and also records the competitor's time electronically by detecting the sound of each shot together with the time from the start signal. When the competitor is finished the timer will show the time from the start signal until the last shot. The time is usually recorded to hundredths of a second (centisecond), which is required by competitions in the International Practical Shooting Confederation.

Prop gun

A prop gun is a gun or gun replica that is used primarily by movie and television productions or in theatre performances. As a prop, these guns can be divided into non-firing guns (replicas) and firing guns (firearms). Firearms are subject to restriction by law and safety regulations in use, due to their inherent danger.


  1. 1 2 3 "Blank Guns". United States: Collector's Armoury, Ltd. Retrieved 2016-07-22.
  2. "Blank Guns". United States: Collector's Armoury, Ltd. Retrieved 2016-07-22.
  3. Powell, Donna (22 June 2018). "The Ancient Tradition of Starter Guns". Phillips Mini Guns - Charles Mini Works, LLC.
  4. Wizards at Omega create space-age starter's pistol
  5. The Speed of Sound is too Slow for Olympic Athletes, The Atlantic.
  6. Austro, Ben (September 28, 2019). "NFL100: Why did officials use a pistol to signal the end of the quarter?". Football Zebras. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  7. Heale, John (15 October 2009). One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 2004. ISBN   978-1-84983-051-5.
  8. ATF, ed. (23 April 2013). State Laws and Published Ordinances, Firearms, 2010-2011. Government Printing Office. p. 116. ISBN   978-0-16-091510-9.