We have been enjoying a spirited debate over the use or misuse of the term “clip” for generations. I firmly believe that we can blame this entire argument on the adoption of the M1 Garand rifle as it was the last of the clip loaders. Former soldiers and Hollywood popularized the the expedient term. Much like saying “Kleenex”, clip has gained widespread use. But what should we say?
Magazines are storage systems for ammunition that feed the cartridges into the action systematically by means of a spring-driven follower. They can be fixed or detachable; most modern firearms are the latter.
Magazines are the very definition of repeating arms and will be found in anything that isn’t a single shot gun. They may be boxed single stacked, double stacked, rotary, tubular, or even helical.
Stripper Clips, perhaps more correctly known as chargers, are devices used for rapid and easy loading of ammunition into the magazine. Cartridges are held together on the clip and then manually stripped into the magazine. They are very simple and can be made of anything from steel to cardboard.
Stripper clips were popularized by Paul Mauser and his namesake rifles. They were the standard on military arms until the detachable box magazine became popular.
En Bloc Clip system firearms are slightly trickier. They feature fixed magazine springs and followers, but cannot retain cartridges on their own. The ammunition is held together by an en bloc clip, the whole of which is inserted into the gun. The clip then becomes part of the magazine. When the last cartridge is expended, it is released from the gun.
En bloc clips were developed with Ferdinand Mannlicher’s rifles. They were often preferred for their speed and ease of loading. The actions, however, were usually left open to allow ejection of the empty clip and were therefore vulnerable to dirt and grit. They predate the stripper clip but were mostly abandoned until the M1 Garand’s unique ping gave them one last gasp.
Moon Clips deserve a mention, although they don’t add much to the confusion. They are simply a means of allowing revolvers to manipulate rimless cartridges.
During WWI the US was having trouble meeting the demand for pistols and so contracted for revolvers in .45 ACP. Because this is a rimless cartridge, the given extractor system would not work. A solution was found in the moon clip system, where all six rounds are attached to a round clip ahead of time. They may then be loaded as one into the cylinder and the extractor pushes against the center of the clip to eject the whole packet for reloading. Ultimately the military adopted the half-moon clip, which is pretty self explanatory.
When in doubt follow the follower. Since a magazine retains and feeds the ammunition it must contain a follower. Simply put, clips bundle cartridges, whereas magazines move them.