Writing Guns, The 10,000 Foot View by JL Curtis

Today’s guest post is by J.L. Curtis, who blogs at Old NFO, and writes awesome contemporary westerns with cowboys vs. drug smugglers, as well as science fiction.

Get your guns…


A 10,000 foot view…

First, forget everything you’ve ever seen in the movies, it’s all BS!


Take a moment and think about Newton’s laws, especially the 2nd and 3rd ones…

2nd law is F=m*a Force equals mass times acceleration

3rd law is equal and opposite reactions. Now thing about this for a second… In the movies, hitting someone with a (insert pistol or shotgun caliber here) blows them back through the door, out the window, etc. But the hero never moves or flinches. At best, the bad guy is going to collapse on the spot, if he doesn’t continue fighting.

Now a 50BMG ‘can’ blow an extremity off, but it’s not going to blow a bad guy’s head off unless you hit him ‘exactly’ perfect in the neck and rupture the spinal column. It will punch through and blow the ‘back’ of the head off and knock them down, but that’s it.

One shot kills… Sigh… That does happen occasionally, but not EVERY time. If the bad guy needs to be dead, ‘pay the insurance’, better known as shooting him again, preferably in the head.

Without getting into the weeds, you hear about shootouts/wars/etc. where people were shot multiple times and lived. All true. Go look up Moro rebellion in the Philippines, and their drugged out reaction to being shot with .38 pistols by the US Army. Hint- That gave rise to the 1911 and .45 caliber military pistols.

Early pistols/rifles were versions of various black powder types Rounds fired did not have the velocity of bullets today, and were mostly round or round nosed lead, so they flattened on impact and didn’t penetrate very deeply. Also calibers were and are different. Recoil is different depending on caliber too! Research your ‘era’ to make sure you’re actually getting the right weapons for your story, with the right bullet.

Remember there are TWO different measurements for bore/bullet diameters! DON’T swap them. E.g. a .45 doesn’t fire 9mm bullets…

Research is your friend. Always! Yes you might waste an hour or two, and it might be one sentence in your novel, but getting that one sentence on gun use right will pay dividends with the discerning reader.

Terminology- It’s important. Magazines vs. clips is one classic screw-up. Clips are used in M-1 Garands, and moon clips are used in some revolvers. Magazines are used in M-1 Carbines, and most modern semi-automatic pistols and rifles (Glock, AR-15, AKs). Another is a revolver with a safety, or a Glock with a safety, nope on both counts… Round count is another one. ‘Most’ modern revolvers have 6 rounds. Semi-automatic pistols (1911, Glock, etc.) can have anything from 6 (pocket pistols) to 33 rounds (Glock with extended magazine), however the ‘average’ is 13-17. Know the difference between fully automatic and semi-automatic, again research is your friend.

Quick examples- 1870s western- Rio ducked down, laboriously ejecting one case at a time from his single action. When he got to five, he reached behind the holster and pushed five more rounds out of his gunbelt into his hand. “Load one, skip one, load four,” he repeated the mantra his dad had taught him out loud, as he shoved new rounds into the pistol. Why? You never kept a live round under the hammer because it could go off if dropped. Also very specific as to single action. If you had said he swung the cylinder open, you’d get the cocked Labrador head look from the reader, and a shake of the head. And it might throw them out of the story.

2000s fiction- Rio ducked down, popped the magazine release on the Glock, pulled a new magazine from his mag carrier, slapped it in, racked the slide, and was back in action.

Time difference? The western way takes a proficient cowboy 12-15 seconds. The 2000 version, 2-3 seconds. Substitute a revolver in the 2000 sequence, and you’re talking 3-4 seconds with a speed loader.

There were multiple pistols, rifles, etc. available just about from day one. So it’s not necessarily realistic for ‘everyone’ to be using exactly the same gun, or everyone having exactly the same ammunition.

Accuracy- That comes from many, many hours of practice. And yes, there are ‘natural’ shooters, who actually do get better with practice, but they aren’t going to go diving through the air and shoot/kill six different bad guys as they fly through the air. The longer the barrel, the more accurate. A snub nose revolver (1-2inch barrel) is NOT accurate at 50 yards, just sayin…

The heroine isn’t going to pick up the 12ga shotgun and ‘magically’ kill everything in range the first time. Have her ‘trained’ by someone, or give her a .22 or an AR-15 (less recoil), easier to handle. A .22 will kill you as dead as anything else.

Ear protection is another issue. You shoot without earpro, you’re going to have tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. How you play that is up to you, but shooting then having a quiet word with somebody isn’t going to work. And the levels of noise are SIGNIFICANTLY different between outdoors, in a room, and in a car. They are also different between rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

Holsters are another one… sigh… In the old west the ‘Buscadero’ style holsters you see in all the movies DIDN’T EXIST! If they had holsters, they were on their belts, assuming they had belts. They might be open topped, or flap style like the military holsters, carried in saddle holsters on the saddle, or simply dropped in the pocket. Cross draw holsters came into a little bit of use probably in the 1870s-80s, but no one knows for sure. Today there is a plethora of holster options available, and once again, research is your friend.

Know the difference between cover and concealment. Yes, they ARE different.

Gunfights don’t last long, unless it is a siege or hostage environment. The reality is most are over in less than a minute.

Now let’s talk about science fiction, specifically military science fiction. Yes, laser weapons are possible, and being tested today, BUT they require a lot of power, so a megajoule pistol that burns through armor isn’t realistic. Right now that takes over a ton of batteries, and some seriously large super capacitors. Same with rifles.

Caseless ammunition- Yes, it exists today. But you’re not going to ‘load’ 500 rounds in a battle rifle and have it weigh 10 pounds unless they are BBs. Remember Newton’s third law, it happens in space too! In light gravity, if you fire a projectile weapon, it will move the shooter. Same in zero G, unless they are ‘tethered’ to something. If they are untethered, they would probably be spinning over and over… Does the term ‘Dutchman’ ring a bell?

Holographic sights are under development today, but be at least semi realistic! The sight isn’t going to ‘steer’ the projectile into the target. Also, the more powerful the scope or sight, the less field of view it will have (imagine trying to follow a specific ant on the ground while looking through a straw). A ‘realistic’ way to handle it would be a lock and zoom function for a shot, or a Heads Up Device (HUD) with the weapon following eye movement with a targeting carat on the HUD.

The difference between cover and concealment is that concealment stops vision, cover stops bullets (large calibers excluded unless you’re behind REALLY thick cover).

I’m going to quit here, but if there are specific questions, I’ll try to answer them.


  1. And if you have a high tech grenade launcher like the current XM25 or SAGM involved in the gunfight, cover had better include overhead cover, or the grenades can be time fused to go off just as they pass overhead. The laser range finder on the grenade launcher sets the fuse time.

  2. JL, When i was talking about writing something like this, I was going to include discussion of what exactly is a ‘pistol’, ‘machine pistol’, ‘submachine gun’, ‘assault rifle’, ‘machine gun’, ‘rifle’, ‘carbine’ etc

    (Guess i should go ahead and type that part too)

    A pistol is a weapon designed to be first single handed, or with a two handed grip, with a single handgrip (close enough)

    ‘machine pistol’ – technically, a pistol that can fire fully automatic. The Germans also used the term for submachine guns (see next)

    Submachine gun (often SMG)- a pistol caliber weapon of rifle or carbine size designed for fully automatic fire.

    Assault Rifle- a select-fire (that is, capable of both semi-auto and full-auto fire) rifle or carbine in an intermediate cartridge (that is, a smaller weaker rifle cartridge) designed for general issue i.e. to infantry

    Machine gun- technically and legally, any firearm capable of fully automatic fire. In civilian areas, these are extremely expensive and no new machine guns have been able to be registered in the US to civilians since March, 1986. Nomenclature-wise, a machine gun is a large heavy weapon, either a rifle or a weapon designed for emplacement on vehicles or buildings, that is designed for sustained fully automatic fire in order to be used against area targets.

    Rifle- a weapon designed to be fired while braced against the shoulder

    Carbine- a short rifle designed for mounted troops- whether 1800s cavalry or modern mechanized troops

    Also, to be a little clearer- the type of hanging way off the hip open top style holster you most often see in cowboy movies, which is indeed called ‘Buscadero’ style, didn’t exist until the 1920s.

    If your character is in the late 1880s or early 1900s, he is likely to have a top break revolver as well as a single action where the cylinder doesn’t swing out. Top breaks were followed by the swing out cylinder. Top break actions are relatively few today- mostly reproductions- because both the single action style and swing out cylinder have a stronger frame made as one piece.

    Single Action means the hammer has to be cocked for every shot. A semi-automatic handgun can be single action, because the action of the slide cocks the hammer.

    Semi-automatic means that one round is discharged for each trigger pull. Fully automatic means many rounds are- depending on the weapon, it will either fire until it empties or fire a burst of a few rounds ( three rounds bursts were on the late 80s/early 90s Army M-16A2s).

    Most modern semi-automatics sold in gun stores are NOT easily convertible to fully automatic. A good knowledge of gunsmithing and machining would be required to do so, especially if you want said creation to be reliable. (Often, those kinds of creations will simply empty the magazine when the trigger is pulled, even if you release the trigger.)

    (Yes, I’m trying to defuse everything seen in movies or heard on tv news )

    uhm, let’s see…

    Despite what you see on NCIS, most states don’t have gun registries. Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine when someone shoots someone in Norfolk on NCIS and they talk about finding the person had a handgun that ‘wasn’t registered to them’- especially if they are civilians, If you really need a register of which, ask either of us.

    I realize “The whiff of cordite” is a term of art, but the last firearm ammunition to use cordite as a propellant would have been rifle ammunition produced in the 1950s, or British Naval cannon up to the early 1990s.

    Just adding the information…

    1. Where did you find a definition of “assault rifle?” I ask in all seriousness, because there are at least twenty different things I’ve heard and read described as “assault rifles” ranging from anything that has composite/plastics on it to a Kalashnikov clone to the AR-15 and it’s variants.

      I realize this question may be as bad for starting fights as declaring that the .45 is the queen of pistol calibers and that 9mm is a waste of good brass…

      1. “Queen?” (ducks)

        As far as definitions go, Britannica’s will do as well as any. The current fight is mostly about anti-gun folks, who want to broaden the definition to include semi-automatics, while purists will insist that any weapon incapable of fully automatic fire cannot be, “by definition” an assault rifle.

        “Assault rifle, military firearm that is chambered for ammunition of reduced size or propellant charge and that has the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire. Because they are light and portable yet still able to deliver a high volume of fire with reasonable accuracy at modern combat ranges of 1,000–1,600 feet (300–500 metres), assault rifles have replaced the high-powered bolt-action and semiautomatic rifles of the World War II era as the standard infantry weapon of modern armies.”

      2. I would add only one thing to Mark’s excellent answer: the term “assault rifle” is an English translation of the name of the first such weapon ever created: the German Sturmgewehr 44. “Sturmgewehr” translates literally to English as “assault rifle.” It was a cool name, so it stuck, and now any weapon built to fill the same role as the StG 44 is called an “assault rifle.”

      3. I asked JimJim, and thirty minutes later we have barely started into the first half of the evolution of rifles in warfare into assault rifles. Which has specific military meaning, unlike the meaningless “assault weapon” that gets thrown around by power-hungry scare-mongers.

        The assault rifle, if I understand correctly, was designed to replace the machine rifle by letting everyone provide cover fire, the accurate aimed fire of the rifles, and the room/trench clearing of the machine pistol. Mostly. At least 2 out of 3, across most militaries.

        The problem being, a “carbine length” of a full rifle keeps changing, as the rifle lengths kept shrinking. And at one point, the American military standard issue rifle was the same length as the carbine length for the Germans… and then we standardized a carbine length compared to that, and called it our standard rifle.

        Meanwhile, “intermediate cartridge”, even if you’re only looking at post-smokeless powder revolution, also keeps changing as we went from massive cartridges to NATO standardization in the cold war, to…

        Unfortunately, work keeps demanding attention, so I don’t think we’re going to get to the end of the answer within three hours. And then he’s going to open the safe when we get off work, to start pulling out examples. I recognize that I asked a subject matter expert about something he loves…

        1. And JimJim, when he saw me starting to post this, insisted that I add:

          “.577/450 Martini Henry, you pikers, and get off my lawn!”

          1. The single shot rifle made famous in modern days by the movie Zulu.
            All together now, a quick chorus of Men of Harlech.
            Good call on that miserable media term “assault weapon.”
            The push for intermediate power cartridges in assault rifles comes from the realization that such rifles in major calibers are all bur uncontrollable in full automatic fire. Examples would be the M-14, the FN-FAL, or the military version of the AR-10.
            The infamous BAR, in .30-06 was actually more of a crew tended light machine gun as its weight of 20 pounds made it controllable in full automatic fire, but also restricted its use to large weight lifter types partnered with an ammo carrier. The army’s experiment to replace both the M1 Garand and the BAR with the M-14 resulted in many of those being fitted with locks to prevent full auto fire.

            1. Hunting Guy, “Get off my lawn! You young whippersnappers with your boutique, flash in the pan rounds!”

              …I’m just going to relay these, and laugh. 😀

        2. Assault rifle: any two-hand, long-arm firearm with a rifled barrel capable of being swung like a club to “assault” your opponent or target. Early, single-shot, muzzle-loading black powder rifles with heavy barrels and stocks were robust enough to make excellent assault rifles; especially as the fastest reloading may take 15 to 20 seconds minimum during combat, and often required the shooter to club down assailants before he was able to reload.

      4. You can thank ol’ Adolph for “assault rifle,” he decreed that the new machine pistol MP 44 would be called Sturmgewehr. Because Hitler was all about the flashy names. Typical Lefty.

        Of interest to gun nuts, the original 8mm shorty round, 7.92x33mm, is roughly the same thing as the .300 Blackout, the Grendel, and a few more “modern” cartridges developed for the AR-15 over the last couple of decades.

        This is where Kalashnikov was a genius. His 7.62x39mm is as close a copy as he could make out of what he had handy. Unlike the Brits and Americans who turned their noses up at the funky rifle and crazy-wrong cartridge combination, Kalashnikov -respected- all the work those huge-brained German engineers had done. The original AK-47 had a forged receiver that could be churned out by a tractor factory, instead of the stamped steel of the StG-44. The barrel was pinned to the barrel block, meaning a drunk blacksmith could put it together and it would still work.

        Today guys make them in mud huts in Pakistan. Barrels too. With hammers and anvils. They still work just the same.

        Generally AKs are for shit with accuracy, they commonly shoot into 3″ at 100 yards. But that’s mostly because of the drunk blacksmiths making them. The Finnish Valmet-76 is very accurate. I used to hit those dime-sized orange stickers at 100 yards with the iron sights (back in the 90’s when I could still see.)

        Of late we have the odious appellation “assault weapon.” You can thank Josh Sugarmann of Handgun Control Inc. for that idiot name.

        1. I’m not so sure we ignored anything. The Dirty Little Secret is that the M-1 Carbine (no relation to the M-1 Garand rifle) may have started as a personal defense weapon, but rapidly evolved into the M-2…the original American assault rifle. Full-auto, intermediate-power round. Except that it was a third lighter than the StG-44…and didn’t have a sexy name.

          But there was a reason the USA made more of them than of the much-vaunted Garand.

          1. I had always thought the M1 Carbine was a poor excuse for a rifle, and was astonished to learn that most of the soldiers who actually carried one in combat thought it was just fine. And most of the few complaints were “insufficient magazine capacity” instead of “wimpy cartridge.”

            1. The M-1 Carbine makes great sense when in places like the south Pacific jungles, where ranges tend to be short, cover heavy, and enemies many.

          2. One of the reasons that so many M-1 Carbines were made was that they could. Before the M-1 Carbine, guns sold to the military had a single manufacturer. The number turned out bore a direct relationship to how large the plant making them was. Their parts were interchangeable because they all came from the same place, made with the same tools and dies.

            By the time the gun that “Carbine” Williams had designed and built while in prison was adopted most of the capacity for making guns was already tied up. So they went with a new method, extreme precision in making the parts so that parts from any plant anywhere would fit into any gun from any other plant. This allowed a bunch of different plants to make M-1 Carbines all over the country. Doing things this way seems obvious today, but it was seen as a New Thing then. (In fact, one “real” gun maker (not Winchester) made a few thousand that the government rejected because the parts were not interchangeable.)

            The “real” gun maker that was involved throughout was Winchester because that’s who Williams sold his design to. But that was just the beginning. Three different GM plants, Underwood, IBM, National Postal Meter, Rock-Ola (Yes, the jukebox people) and a couple of more that slip my mind.

            1. The “Rifle.30 M1” was not just made by the Springfield arsenal, but by Winchester, Harrington & Richardson and International Harvester.

              Nowhere near the number of primary and sub-contractors as for the Carbine, probably because of the complexity of the machining and heat-treatment requirements in the larger product. And, we should remember that US industry was sort of “busy” BEFORE the Carbine went into mass production.

              When GM had a look at producing Browning -pattern machine-guns, they told the people at Colt: “You guys don’t make guns, you make swarf; guns are your by-product”. GM took car-making techniques and high-speed heavy machinery into gun-making.

              Ford did the same with aircraft, building an entire factory and a new town at Willow Run, to manufacture the B-24 Liberator bomber from scratch. They knocked out nearly 7000 complete aircraft and “Kits” for another 1800 or so between June 1941 and May 1945.

              1. Ivan Law’s book on gear cutting has an amusing tale of a man who bought a new lathe, labored all day setting it up, and got it running late at night. Having no one else to show it to, he dragged his wife out to the shop and demonstrated it to her.

                “That’s nice,” she said, “but what are you going to do with all those little curly things when you finish making them?”

                *BTW, Mrs. TRX found that ROFL funny…)

            2. There were major innovations in the automotive industry shortly before the war. The guy who innovated would show up and the FIRST thing he did was take away the hammers and files, lock them up, and explain to the workers that if it didn’t come off the assembly line ready to use, it was a defect.

              Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Built the Arsenal of Democracy That Won World War II by Arthur Herman has a lot on that.

    2. Rifle- a weapon designed to be fired while braced against the shoulder

      but it does have to be rifled.

      Not that you’re likely to have to deal with smooth-bores in modern circumstances.

      1. I was intentionally not trying to give niggly gunny answers, but more generic terms. Yes, i know a flintlock musket is not s rifle even tho it is designed to be fired from the shoulder. I was trying to contrast it with ‘handgun’

        1. Musket’s being smoothbore like a shotgun. And yes, you could have flintlock musket OR a flintlock rifle.

          I happen to hunt deer with a 5.5 foot long, 15 pound, basement-workshop-built flintlock rifle in .45 cal.

          The joke about the long rifle being that you can’t get lost in the woods because you can’t turn without hitting trees.

          And yes, I occasionally carry a stick rest to support the damn thing because when holding 15 pounds at your shoulder for more than a few seconds, you start wobbling all over the place.

          Note: Wearing a long brimmed hat, such as a baseball cap, such that the brim extends over the pan can redirect the burning powder under the bill and directly at your forehead; thereby shortening your eyebrows and giving your forehead a very interesting temporary tattoo from burning powder grains. Not to mention making you flinch terribly and miss that nice 8 pointer you were aiming at.

  3. This gotta be a multi-part post. ‘Coz BOOKS could (and have) been written comprehensively covering these topics. Eg. – revolvers vs. auto pistols: which is optimal for a given user/application?

  4. Two minor nits, which I freely admit are kinda deep into the detail-weeds, but both of them are the sort of gotchas that can really getcha:

    1) J.L.: “‘Most’ modern revolvers have 6 rounds.” … except some of the compact ones meant for concealed carry, which tend to have 5 to reduce size and weight. Oh, and if you want to freak out the reader, you can slip in a LeMat revolver or reproduction thereof, which had 9 rounds in the cylinder plus a single shotgun round in a second barrel.

    2) Draven: “Semi-automatic means that one round is discharged for each trigger pull.” … and a part of the energy of the shot is used to eject the spent shell and load the next round. Revolvers also fire one round per trigger pull, but they aren’t semi-automatic. Well, I think there were one or two attempts at a semiauto revolver, but none were practical and few of them survive.

    Single-action: pulling the trigger releases the hammer. IE, the trigger only does one thing. You have to cock the hammer manually for each shot.
    Double-action: pulling the trigger first cocks and then releases the hammer. IE, the trigger does two things.

    Some double-action handguns can be fired either single or double action – that is, you can cock the hammer manually or let the trigger pull do it. Others are “double action only” (DAO) and you must pull the trigger to cock the hammer.

    If a firearm is double-action, then you do not need to cock the hammer/rack the slide manually before firing.

    A run through TVTropes’s collection of gun-related tropes is definitely worth the time. Lots of niggling details there are, and any one of them can throw a gun-savvy reader out of the story…

      1. “‘Most’ modern revolvers have 6 rounds.” … except some of the compact ones meant for concealed carry, which tend to have 5 to reduce size and weight. ” – Draven

        I had a Charter Arms Bulldog, Stainless. 44 Special, 5 rounds in a small frame revolver. At 21 ounces unloaded, recoil was BRUTAL with a hot handload. (KTW AP rounds, alternated with Glaser Safety Slugs) I shot easier, cheaper soft-nose 240 gr. reloads at the range when I felt like bein’ a wuss. Ima shuddup now before this thread gets totally hijacked. This ain’t a gun nuts site.

        So yes, what Draven said. Only “most” revolvers load six.

        1. Hijacking the thread.

          S&W and Ruger both made 8 shot .357 mag revolvers and there are some 9 and 10 shot .22s out there.

          Yeah, more detail than most people need, but I like it when authors get it right.

        2. I carried one of the older .44 Bulldogs for years. An under-rated pistol in an under-rated cartridge, IMHO.

          I have considered upgrading my .38 J-frame EDC to another Bulldog, but the Voices then insist that I look at one of the Smith aluminum-frame .44 Magnums, which would only cost, oh, $750 more than a Bulldog. The for all the fiscal responsibility the Voices show, they might as well be in Congress…

    1. The Webley-Fosbury Automatic Revolver (a semi-auto) was mentioned in The Maltese Falcon, both the book and in the movie. Wiki says Bogie called it a .45 8 shot, but that combination was never made. (8 shot .38 ACP*, 6 shot .455 Webley were offered, says Wiki).

      (*) ACP == Automatic Colt Pistol. Most common variant is the .45 ACP

      The S&W Chief’s special revolver is/was a 5 shot .38 Special. My boss at [redacted] kept a 9 shot Harrington and Richardson .22 revolver in his salmon fishing kit. Got the fish nice and quiet…

      For what it’s worth, some women (thinking of my wife) simply cannot properly operate some revolvers and pistols because their hands are too small. OTOH, some men (raises paw) have a hard time with pocket pistols, because it’s hard to get a good hold with a couple of fingers on the grip.

      1. I’m glad that someone mentioned that there actually is such a thing as an “automatic revolver,” specifically the Webley

        Early pulp writers occasionally mentioned it as an homage to Dashiell Hammett, author of _The Maltese Falcon_.

        (Sean Connery also carried one in _Zardoz_.)

        The use of the term is not always an illiteracy!

  5. Just a nit-pick here. I know you know this but didn’t say it.

    “If a firearm is double-action, then you do not need to cock the hammer/rack the slide manually before firing.”

    For a double-action semi-auto pistol, you still need to rack the slide to get the first round into the chamber and then decock it.

  6. Another one you might add is that modern firearms don’t use cordite. Hasn’t been used in about 100 years. I still see this mistake getting made even today.

  7. Hee, hee, hee… magazines have springs, clips do not…. the level of trivia gets silly.

    This comment thread should give warning to authors not familiar with guns that they can expect comments even when they do research, so don’t obsess. Larry Correia is about as expert in the subject as there is, and I’m sure he gets nit picky comments as well.

    1. Rather than “don’t obsess”, I’d say “Get a good subject matter expert to give you a beta read or consult before even writing.”

      But that’s because I’ve seen “I got really obsessive and watched an entire season of Walking Dead to get a good idea about guns.” Seriously. The point where you’re saying to a nice Brazillian author “That’s not even wrong…”

      1. You are very lucky that I read that in between sips of coffee.
        One of my soapbox hot topics is my wish that age appropriate firearm safety and handling instruction be performed at every level of public school.
        And the logic behind it is that otherwise, and absent parental instruction, everything kids know about guns is what they learn from TV and the movies. And the vast majority of that is pure crap.

        1. Yeah, but the gun control crowd load their britches every time someone mentions firearm training in school, envisioning kids all over America having unfettered access to unlimited guns, with unlimited ammunition supplies, doing mass murders without any opposition.

          Yes, there will be accidents where a child is harmed or killed on a school range. Big deal. More kids are run over by school buses each year than would be killed by accident with firearms training.

          1. Some of the students at Day Job were discussing the Leonardo deCaprio Romeo and Juliet they watched for English class. I used it to point out the horrible firearms safety and practices in the film (the poster is worse. Far worse. The good news is that none of the guys will get a second shot off.)

      2. Absolutely! The trick is in finding a good beta reader for the subject as there are plenty of people who “know” stuff that’s wrong. They’re often the same ones who feel compelled to nit pick. 🙂 And let’s not even get into the havoc typos can cause.

    2. Especially if you get it right.

      I have gotten grumbles about when I got it right in fields where I have expertise.

  8. I actually know of one brand of single action .22 revolver where they added a safety to the design. I’m almost certain it was mandated by their legal department.
    So, let’s talk a bit about silencers, which is what they are called in the controlling legislation from 1934 where they are lumped in with machine guns and sawn off rifles and shotguns.
    The proper term however is suppressor, actually quite popular elsewhere in the world, even required by law in some places. Such devices constrain the escaping gasses that propel the bullet down the barrel and out of the firearm. They do nothing to mask the mechanical noise of the guns action or the crack of the bullet if it’s traveling at supersonic speeds. Some suppressors can be quite effective, particularly with subsonic ammunition, but in general they simply reduce the decibel level of a gunshot from harmful to just painful.
    Legislation has actually been proposed to remove suppressors from the National Firearm Act of 1934 in an effort to protect the hearing of shooters, but under current Federal law possession requires a lengthy registration process and a $200 transfer tax.

    1. Oh, if it were only required by law in this country! I don’t have a suppressor, but it wouldn’t do me all that much good when I (all too rarely) can get to a range, because very few other people have one, either. A good pair of muffs is a definite requirement here, even if you are a casual shooter.

      1. Unless you specifically mention that it’s a Nagant M1895 – those revolvers can be silenced

        1. And other approaches have been tried. I recall reading about a revolver that used .44 cartridges with a specially saboted .357 bullet. The gun had a .44 cylinder and a.357 forcing cone and barrel. The idea was that the sabot would scrunch up and seal the cylinder-barrel gap as the bullet went into the barrel. Sealed the gap at least as well as a Nagant, at much higher pressure. The seal/sabot would then fall away, or be pushed clear of the cylinder by the next round you loaded into that chamber.

          You could suppress that one, but like the Nagant, it was mostly to improve performance. And like the Nagant, I suppose the improvement wasn’t enough to warrant the complication.

      2. Although I did see an IPSC revolver with a -huge- muzzle brake on it in Guns & Ammo once. ~:D

    2. As long as we’re all being pedantic…

      “Silencer” is a perfectly correct term. That’s what Maxim called them when they sold them before the National Firearms Act insanity (and that’s probably where the legislative perpetrators got the term).

      On the subject of silenced revolvers, other approaches have been tried. I recall reading about an S&W revolver with a .44 Magnum cylinder and a .357 Magnum barrel. It shot a .44 Mag cartridge with a .357 bullet in a special sabot. The sabot would squash against the forcing cone, letting the bullet fly on into the barrel. The squashed sabot would seal the barrel/cylinder gap, then either fall away or stay in the chamber, to be pushed out the next time you reloaded.

      It could be suppressed, but like the Nagant, it was mainly intended as a performance improvement. Like the Nagant, I suppose it didn’t improve performance *enough* to be worth the extra bother.

      Several revolvers over the years have had safeties. And some have had them retrofitted. Back when .38’s still ruled the police stations, somebody invented an “invisible safety” to keep cops from being shot by their own guns. It involved a “lever” that was moved into place by a magetic ring. If you weren’t wearing a ring, you couldn’t fire the gun.

      But you couldn’t build it into a J-frame (five-shot hideout gun, popular with detectives). So they licensed somebody else’s design, which added a manual safety catch–built into the cylinder latch. Push the latch, forward, the cylinder would swing out as usual. Pull it back, and the firing mechanism locked. Push it forward til it clicked, and the gun would work again. A SECRET safety.

      I always wanted one. But I had a hard enough time paying for the Centennial itself. That fancy a mod was beyond me.

      Not to say the main point isn’t valid. ALMOST no revolvers had safeties. Or more accurately…

      Modern revolvers–and the semi-autos (like the Glock} that don’t *seem * to have safeties–actually have them. What theey don’t have is a separate safety *catch.*

      The safety mechanism on a modern revolver is part of the firing mechanism. The safety *catch* is the trigger. In a double action, the trigger turns the cylinder and pulls back the hammer. In a single action pulling back the hammer rotates the cylinder.

      (A double action *usually* can be fired either way–some are double-action *only,* for various tactical reasons).

      Either way, when you pull the trigger, the next-to-last thing it does is deactivate the safety. *Then* it releases the hammer. Let go of the trigger, the safety re-engages.

      So. Keep your finger off the trigger, and the gun *can’t * fire. This is what made it possible to stop doing that “hammer down on an empty chamber” thing our columnist described as standard procedure for cowboy guns. It took longer to find a reliable and elegant way to do the same for semi-autos, but they worked it out. Thus the Glock and many of its competitors, who pull a similar stunt.


      Pedantry accomplishment unlocked.

  9. So, my semi-automatic assault Glock with a high-capacity revolving clip isn’t accurate?

    1. Just change the name to Dardick, and you can have a semi-auto revolver. The magazine can be fed with clips of trounds.

      Canadian FN-C1s also have a top cover arranged so you can feed the magazine with stripper clips. So you can have mags -and- five round clips in bandoleers. Also works with Mausers and Lee-Enfields. Broomhandle Mauser pistols have mags and stripper clips as well, if I remember right.

      1. Leave the magazine in the rifle and you can reload it with stripper clips in the M-14.

        We did it in basic.

        But your thumb really got sore after 20 rounds or so.

        1. You can reload an AK-47 magazine from strippers, but you have to take it out of the gun, first. The recoil mechanism and top cover block access to the top of the magazine when it’s out of the rifle.

          Soviet troops would carry several spare mags and a bunch of ammunition in strippers, the idea being to swap mags as needed and reload them as opportunity arose. AK mags are big and heavy compared to most, and a soldier can only carry so much, though I’m sure various general staffs are trying to figure out how to breed soldiers with donkey or brontosaurus DNA…

      2. My Lee-Enfield SMLE had a magazine *and* clips!

        Alas, since it’s now set up for .45-70-500, it doesn’t use clips any more… It’s definitely a “magazine”, though. James Paris Lee invented, named, and patented the magazine, and the patent number and date (1879!) are stamped on the side of the Remington-Lee magazine I’m using.

        When I saw that Colt was referring to “clips” in ads in the 1980s, I gave up. When the people who make them go soft on terminology, it’s time to find a new windmill to tilt at.

        Though I never did get where the magazine-writer types got the idea that “pistol” referred only to an autoloader. Samuel Colt called his revolving cylinder thingummy a “pistol”. When Colt started making Browning-designed automatics, they called them “automatic pistols” to distinguish them from ordinary pistols…

        1. It’s a “new normal” thing. The way you have to say “accoustic guitar” nowadays. Sigh.

      3. *some* Broomhandle models have both removable mags and stripper clips. Some are just stripper clips. Some are just mag fed.

    2. I’ll see your Glock and raise you a .50 Desert Eagle.

      Those things are HEAVY!

      Recoil isn’t too bad due to the weight, but there is no way you can hold and shoot it one handed. And as others have said, it won’t knock the target through a wall.

      But they do a wonderful job on bricks. Lots of dust everywhere!

      And while we’re at it, why in blazes do they color them up? If guns were supposed to be any color except black or silver, then Saint John Moses Browning would have done it.

      1. On a Sunday shooting session, after trying one, the shooter referred to the .50 Desert Eagle as the first candidate for a crew-served handgun.

      2. AMT Automag V – 50AE Factory magna-ported.
        My friend who had a 50 Desert Eagle HATED that the AMT V was SMALLER, Grip was smaller, YET HAD LESS FELT RECOIL.

        50 Desert Eagle had a grip built for a double stack mag but only has a single stack. MUCH bigger than the AMT V and hard to shoot one handed because of size and weight.

        AMT V – No problem shooting one handed, weight a little more than a 1911.
        The Factory magna-port helps with mussel jump – still a lot but less than the Desert Eagle.

  10. It could be worse…once you get to muzzle-loading arms, the misconceptions get insane. Yes, they will shoot straight. Even flintlocks…and a good flintlock (NOT the Bubba Deer Hunter shoddies for $300) is shockingly fast.

    And yes, a smoothbore will perform with a good load. Military muskets weren’t that accurate because they deliberately used an undersized bullet for ease of loading.

    1. Yeah. The rifle’s advantages kicked in past, say, a hundred yards, and weren’t all that great for a little ways after that. Most wilderness guns were smoothbores, simply because you could also load them with shot if that was called for. They were more versatile, where the rifle was a specialist’s gun.

      That’s the reason a lot of the modern survivalist/wilderness walkers these days say the best survival gun for most terrains is a single-barrel break-open 12-gauge, with a variety of shells for various purposes. Four or five guns in one. The only thing you can’t do with one is take down a deer or something from 200 yards away. And unless you’re in the Southwest, how often is your life gonna depend on doing that?

  11. Mike, excellent point, and THAT is what research will tell you… Sigh… The Brit’s wall o’ guns was nothing more than unaimed fire, betting on the come of at least ‘some’ of the bullets hitting their targets as they wobbled out of the barrel. Now you go to a Ferguson or a Kentucky Long Rifle, and they were accurate to around 200 yards.

    1. OK, I’ll bring up General Sedgwick’s last words: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at that distance”. Apparently, 1000 yards was close enough.

    2. One thing that the movie “Patriot” got right. It showed the people looking away as they fired. They did this mainly because the Flash in the pan was large and so were some of the holes to the powder. So a lot of blow back.

  12. “Is it cool in space?” asked Billy. “Do you have a spaceship and a ray gun and everything like in the movies?”

    “No, all the cool things are here Billy,” said Effie seriously. “Here I have friends, and I get to meet people like you. There’s food to eat and water to drink, lots of animals are here, and plants too. Even the air is exciting. Space is empty, boring and stupid. There’s nothing in it at all. I flew here from another whole solar system inside a rock no bigger than George’s head. I didn’t even have a proper body, I was just a blob of chewing gum stuff in the middle of the rock. It was so boring that even as a machine with no mind, I was bored. I have a ray gun now, though. Want to see?”

    “Real ray gun? AWESOME!” shouted Billy. His brother and the other little boy crowded in next to Effie to see.

    She pulled the black plasma pistol out of her waistband and displayed it proudly, showing the boys what all the buttons did and explaining how it worked.

    Herja started bragging about her chain gun, she too showed the little boys all the buttons and levers.

    Persephone rolled her eyes and made snide comments about how some people liked guns far too much because swords were way better. Then she showed off her sword.”

      1. From work in progress, “The Discarded Shoe”

        The man looked up, saw Bob advancing on him and blanched. Then he pushed the home button on his phone.

        Bob dropped like a puppet with its strings cut, and George slid bonelessly out of his chair to the floor. Guruh stood immediately, chair falling over behind her as Ginny drew the pistol concealed on her belt, both of them scanning for a target.

        Margaret threw her ladle as the man began to point the phone at Ginny. The ladle flew straight and true. It struck the man squarely on the temple, spoiling his aim. Ginny, still seated, put three rounds into his chest BANGBANGBANG!!! from her pistol as a bright light flashed and a six-inch hole opened in the ceiling above her head.

        Then the wolf was on him. She hurdled the table and most of the length of the café in one leap, smashed the phone in his hand with a flick of her claws and pinned him to the wall with the other hand. Literally pinned him, she stuck her fingers through his shoulder and sank the claws into the wall behind him. “What have you done?!” she snarled, teeth snapping in front of his face. “Speak, before I rend you to tatters!” With her other hand, she seized his head and began sinking the claws in.

        The man spit in her face, eyes wide with fear. Behind her, she could hear people running and Ginny shouting at George to wake up. She heard Margaret trying to drag Bob’s limp body away from the action. In that length of time, the spittle began to burn the skin off her muzzle. Hair turned to ash, skin crisped and blackened. One of her eyes had been hit, it began boiling with chemical virulence. The other eye glowed with golden fury, she caught his gaze and bored into him with her own. Skin peeled away to reveal teeth and bone… but then the damage ceased, and the skin rapidly grew back. The scalded eye reformed and stared into his.

        “Surprise, demon,” she growled with infinite menace. “I am Guruh, the Vengeful Wolf. You may have heard whispers of me in the shadow realm. Speak now, or you will suffer.”

          1. Thank you. ~:) I love gun nerding, but I’ve noticed that werewolves are not up on the latest 9mm vs .40 vs .45ACP drama. They are more hands-on types.

  13. Historical context also matters in naming: in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, protagonist Natty Bumppo repeatedly complains that his weapon is a rifle (i.e. has a rifled barrel), rather than a “long carbine,” (a smooth-bored infantry weapon) which is the French (enemy’s) nickname for Bumppo. The context is the French & Indian Wars in what would become upstate New York, so mid/late eighteenth century colonial America.

    Make sure your naming makes sense both to characters and to readers.

  14. Also, there are distinct subcultures among firearm owners.

    Some of us older types consider detachable magazines to be a type of clip (a piece of metal holding ammunition together for ease of transport and the loading of the weapon), and freely refer to them as such.
    One syllable is generally preferable to seven, and just the word “magazine” itself lacks clarity when magazines are often integral. (Nearly always for manual actions, and still a significant minority in semi-autos.)

    This annoys some other subcultures to no end. (Which is admittedly fun.)

    Which isn’t to say that we necessarily dislike detachable magazines. (Shrug) I might personally have lost a couple of such weapons in a tragic canoe accident.
    All else being equal in an ideal world, I like my actions like I like my transmissions: manual.
    But I cheerfully admit that we don’t live in such a world, and that I don’t really want to carry a Blackhawk IWB.

  15. “A snub nose revolver (1-2inch barrel) is NOT accurate at 50 yards, just sayin…” You might get lucky and hit someone near by him/her/it/your target, though. Not the way to bet.

    An assault rifle is any rifle a newspaper writer (or TV talking head) sees. If I assault someome with a screwdriver, it’s BY_DAMN an ASSAULT screwdriver! With a magazine clip!!
    (Aren’t stripper clips what a stripper uses to hold up her stockings?)

    1. And that can depend on the snub in question. A standard small J framed S&W has a fairly tiny grip, heavy trigger, and almost non-existent sights.

      A snub Model 15, Model 27, or Colt Python with a full sized frame, good trigger, and good, adjustable target style sights is surprisingly capable at that distance… if you have a really good revolver shooter and time to line up the sights. One won’t be getting one inch groups, but can probably get some solid body hits.

  16. The most important rule: if your story is exciting enough, most people will skip right over your gun mistakes:

    “He went back inside and got his other gun out of the hallway closet. It was a forty-four with grips and safety configured for a right-handed shooter. The cylinder also opened on the left side. Bosch couldn’t use it because he was left-handed.”

    Later on the same page, “And he could have taken it to a gunsmith and had it reconfigured for left-handed use,…”. Still later, as he’s handing it over before crossing into Mexico, the border cop smirks as Bosch signs the form left-handed and checks in a right-handed gun.

    The gun isn’t important to the story at all; all of the above is just to establish that he smuggled his real gun across the border so he’s not unarmed in later scenes. Still hurts to read, though. 🙂


    1. but that sets off all kinds of bells to me as being someone writing complex gun stuff that doesn’t know it.

      1. I think I can count the number of left-handed revolvers I’ve seen on the fingers of my gripping hand. Oh, wait.

        1. There have been some revolvers where the cylinder swung to the right instead of the left. The only ones I can think of offhand were some of the Systeme Delvigne variants. (the family the Nagant revolver belongs to) There were others, though.

          Delvigne pattern revolvers were widely used through the French and German empires, but are seldom encountered in Anglophone countries, other than the influx of Russian Nagants starting in the 1990s.

          1. Semi-autos that work (more or less comfortably) for a southpaw seem to be readily available. If I had to shoot shotgun left handed, I’d find something like the Ithaca down-ejector. Roommate had one in 20 gauge that was a blast to shoot.

            I sort of wonder how many zeros would be on the bill for a custom or modified LH revolver. Three or four, I suppose.

            1. Four at least- you’re pretty much custom making an entire gun, and revolvers are super complicated- there’s a lot of critical parts that just aren’t going to easily switch over.
              Finding good revolversmiths for bog common production guns is getting difficult and expensive. Try keeping an old Colt Python functioning- there’s a whole lot of bits that’s just plain hard to find.

            2. Colt Single Actions, (or Remington 1875s) work just as easily left or right handed. See also the Schofield / Smith and Wesson top-break revolvers.

              Now, if you want a double action, there is the mighty Webley series, or the rather fragile Colt 1877 /78 or the really nifty Merwin and Hulbert guns.

  17. As the old saying goes, there’s lies, dammed lies, and ballistics. Some more bits about bullets:
    -“Teflon coated cop killing bullets” are more media myth than reality. There are super small, super fast pistol rounds like the FN 5.7, but they’re not especially great in stopping people.
    -Pistol bullets all pretty much suck when it comes to stopping people- some just suck more than others.
    -All the regular services calibers (9mm, .38 special, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, .45acp) are pretty much equal when it comes to stopping people, if modern hollowpoint ammo is used.
    -“Shot placement trumps caliber” is true. Even a full powered battle rifle isn’t a guaranteed stop- there’s a lot of medals awarded to people who did awesome things after being shot by full powered rifle bullets.
    -The .223/ 5.56 cartridge used by the AR-15 isn’t an overpowered superbullet that outperforms normal “civilian” use ammo- it is actually far less powerful than most “civilian” hunting cartridges… which are themselves mostly of military origin (.30-06 and .308 come to mind).

    1. Teflon coated bullets were designed to reduce wear on barrels. They did not increase armor penetration significantly.

      The *actual* armor-piercing 5.7 FN rounds are not available on the civilian market. Also, they are only really armor piercing out of a P90, the FN 5.7 pistol’s barrel is a little short.

      and yeah, your last point was one that i missed.

      1. It would appear that the fad for PDW’s using super tiny bullets is passing, once they found that you pretty much have to mag dump a P90 or HK7 into a baddy for it to do anything.
        Apparently the US Army is wanting it’s new, compact PDW to be in 9mm.

        1. The FN P-90 is one of my favorite guns. I don’t have one, because frickin’ Canada.

          If I still lived in the US, I’d have one for each denizen of Chez Phantom. 50 round mag, very capable bullet, very accurate at short ranges, nice simple rifle. Very compact and easy to carry. Ambidextrous!

          Just the sort of thing for inside the house or in a vehicle.

          As always, the thing to remember is that a PDW or a pistol is a compromise. Its purpose is to keep you alive long enough to get to a Real Gun.

          Example, shooting zombies. You are accosted by Teh Undead, you break some pelvises and knee joints to slow them down, allowing you time to get back to the truck. Which, if its really Zombie Time, has a .50 caliber rifle and a flame thrower on it. One .50 per zombie, in the head, then light them up to make sue they don’t recuperate.

          1. Forgot to mention, PERFECT weapon for kids and small women. Zero recoil, very light weight. The smaller humans can carry it, shoot it, run and hide with it.

              1. The P-90 acts like a .22LR in your hands. Very small and light, much more manageable by small people. Like your average 8 yr old girl, for example. They can shoot the 5.56 AR, but it is adult sized. The P-90 is kid sized.

                I can just imagine some of the SJW heads exploding out there right now, at the notion of an 8 year old girl with a gun in her hands. And she LOVED it. Semi-auto P-90, bitchez. Shot it like a boss, too.

                Once upon a time I witnessed an 8 year old boy shooting a bolt action Remington sniper rifle in .300 WinMag. It had a proprietary muzzle brake on it, and had barely any kick at all. Kid put three rounds into a space the size of a quarter at 100 yards. And he had such a smile the first time he pulled the trigger!

                Recoil is a thing. I’ve shot large calibers with stout recoil, it doesn’t bother me. I can relax and ride it out. But I’m also big and strong. Little people need little tiny guns.

                1. If I had a nickel for every range trip I’ve made, where Experienced Gun Owner brings New Shooter to the range and hands them their hand-cannon… New Shooter fires the first round, maybe two, doesn’t hit the target while cringing from the flash and bang, and hands it back with “I’ll just watch…”

                  That’s why I always carry something in .22lr, because I’ve found that after you politely ask them “Try this; it might be easier,” they shoot it and hit what their aiming for without being hammered, and then New Shooter turns to Experienced Gun Owner (especially when it’s her boyfriend) and says “that was fun”.

                  1. Introduced a few younger teens to the AR a few years back, and showed the lack of recoil by holding it out like a pistol and firing a few rounds.
                    They loved it.

                  2. snelson134: If I had a nickel for every range trip I’ve made, where Experienced Gun Owner brings New Shooter to the range and hands them their hand-cannon…

                    The most common instance of this I see is “man teaching girlfriend how to shoot”, or more precisely, not to shoot. She hates the 357, 44, or large-gripped double-stack service pistol loaded with full-power hollowpoints that he hands her, so I ever-so-casually offer her my Browning Buck Mark and give a few friendly pointers.

                    Half an hour later, she tries his big gun again and outshoots him with it. Every time.


                2. I agree.
                  However, our definition of tiny rounds differs a mite.
                  (Shrug) My recommendations to new shooters are 20 gauge, .223, .38 special or 9mm for the reasons you cited.


                  Out of curiosity, does anyone else think Ruger’s new PC carbine in 9mm is a great gun reccomendation for new shooters and home defense?
                  My stock answer to that combination for decades was a pump youth-model 20 gauge, but I’ve been seriously reconsidering it.

                  1. Recoil is funny. I love to shoot the FN-FAL in High Power matches. 80 rounds is no problem, off hand, sitting or prone. .308 recoil in that rifle, not an issue. 8MM Mauser or Lee Enfield .303, brass buttplate and all, not an issue.

                    But some hunting rifles in .308 or .30-06 I find unpleasant, especially prone. They hurt, and they’re no fun to shoot. Lee-Enfield Jungle Carbine, Mosin-Nagant carbine, -punishing- recoil. I want a good healthy shoulder pad, and I don’t want to shoot more than five rounds.

                    Some people above were mentioning the .50 Desert Eagle. A guy let me try one at the range once, I found that a pleasant shooter. Civilized, good manners, more of a hearty shove in recoil. Some long slide 1911s are likewise nice to shoot, even though they have stout recoil.

                    S&W Airweight Snubbie, with full-power self defense rounds, felt like somebody hit my hand with a bat. Standard pressure, not even +P. To the point where going to the range I only shot lightweight, reduced power rounds in it so I didn’t develop a flinch.

                    1. kind of like 12 ga. slugs out of a lightweight Benelli from a prone position, from the non-dominant side – ouch!

                      and your experience with the lightweight snubbie is the same as mine, at least with factory grips – manageable but not pleasant.

                    2. Now that I think of it, one of the worst offenders is the .3030 Winchester lever gun. Terrible recoil. Awful.

                      Makes me wonder how the .45-70 and the .338 Winchester feel in those Marlin lever guns. I’m thinking not good. ~:(

        2. But…but…they took down Jaffa by the boatload–right through their fancy quasi-Egyptian armor!

            1. And we can hand wave the armor as being a particularly bad choice for that round. We can probably justify fanon that the stuff was optimized for countering staff weapons. If so, it might have fragmented and made the terminal ballistics /more/ lethal.

      2. Also, “armor piercing” depends on the ARMOR as much as the BULLET. So-called “bullet-proof vests” made from Kevlar may stop the typical handgun round from penetrating — but you’re still going to know you’ve been hit, and all that kinetic energy transferred can still do enough damage to incapacitate or kill you.

        Any rifle round will pretty much make it through, unless you have ceramic or metal “trauma plates” inserted in the pockets provided for them, AND the bullet hits one of the plates rather than on the gaps between them so you can move and bend. Again, kinetic energy will still transfer.

        Note that armor with those plates is also Federally and state regulated; there are “classes” of body armor that require varying levels of regulation including who is authorized to purchase them. More research…..

  18. Okay this a great post, but there is clearly a lot of experience on this blog that would be fantastic to expand upon. If I might humbly request, a thread like the most excellent “A Writer’s Guide to Horses” would be most welcome!

    I for one, though not new to firearms having grown up around them, would greatly benefit from having these details systematically discussed–with, um, pictures…

    For example, I only fired a revolver once. It was a friend of mine’s great big, “Come to Jesus”, blinding silver .44 Magnum. I aimed the thing properly and on pure fortune hit the absolute center of the target we were shooting. With a numbing arm, I smiled as I handed it back to him saying, “Yes, that is very nice gun.”

    So, I don’t follow the adage: load 1, skip 1, load 4. Wouldn’t it be skip 1, load 5? Little things like that are exactly the sort of details that, if correct, can add verisimilitude to a bland action scene. Fifteen sentences of gun stats–not so much, but a well placed detail here and there can add so very much to the reading moment.

    I say don’t feel timid about sharing all this detail–it’s great! Just maybe expand it a bit?

    1. iirc that has to do with the way the cylinder turns when loading- that means after loading the last round, you cycle it one more time and the action will be seated on the empty cylinder.

    2. Its because the loading gate is one position past the firing position. So you do the 1, skip, 4 sequence, the last time you advance the cylinder will put the first round in the loading gate position and the will be under the hammer.

    3. GURPS has two products for simulating gun fights. Tactical Shooting is the realistic one, and the author of that, IIRC, has a blog where he talks about movies with good gunfights and explains them in terms of GURPS rules.

      Gun Fu is for Hollywood gun fights.

    4. A Colt SAA’s loading gate is on the right side of the gun. The cylinder rotates clockwise. So the chamber that’s under the hammer is to the left of the one under the loading gate. So you load one, skip one, load four.

      Now the chamber under the hammer is the one you loaded first, and the gun is at half cock (it had to be, so you could turn the cylinder by hand). So you fully cock the gun. The chamber you skipped is now under the hammer. At this point it’s safe to hold the hammer back with your thumb, pull the trigger, and gently let the hammer down on the empty chamber.

      Hope that helps.

  19. I have no experience in gunfights; only reading. Some knowledge of guns, but I should know enough overall to know better than to make assumptions about what I read. And yet when I read a piece of fiction wherein a character mentioned needing “the ol’ Mozambique” I assumed it was part of the fiction. It was only later reading actual accounts that I saw that yeah, sometimes the classic double-tap isn’t enough, and that the Mozambique drill is real and sometimes needed.

    1. Full disclosure, I’ve never shot anybody myself, nor even shot -at- anybody. I consider myself very lucky in this regard, given the crazy places I’ve been over the years. I was shot at once (accidentally I surmise) while on horseback. Turns out horses will not pay any attention to the reins when there’s a loud noise behind them.

      My medical training in PT included some hospitals just north of NYC, where I met a number of patients who had survived being shot. This is where I really learned that pistols, as a class of weapons, suck. 9mm FMJ particularly is like throwing a spitball, but the other calibers are not much better.

      My favorite, whom I’ve probably written about here before, was the skinny druggie who got shot in the liver from front to back, shot side-to-side through the neck as he turned, and through the fibula as he ran away. Note that he’s running away with two bullets in him already. He ran for a while, he said. Healed up and showed no signs of having been shot. He was in the hospital for an unrelated ailment.

      I heard that story a few times. Shot in the center of mass, ran away. It sounded crazy, so I looked it up. Dr. Martin Fackler is the acknowledged expert on terminal ballistics, because over the years he’s done post-mortem exams on thousands of guys who got shot. Long story short, he says pistols suck. Bigger bullets that penetrate, expand and fragment suck a bit less than hardball. Higher velocity is better, because better penetration and energetic fragments.

      Big bullet going fast that sheds its jacket and goes a hundred directions after penetrating 4-6 inches is about the best you can hope for. Meaning 7.62mm rifle with deer hunting bullet, at least. .338 Lapua or .300WinMag with a fancy hollow point is what you really want, or a shotgun with fragmenting slugs. Buckshot turns out to be less effective than one might hope, round balls don’t penetrate well and don’t fragment.

      This is why the Mozambique Drill is a thing. If you need that guy to stop trying to kill you, and not get up and start killing you again: two in the body to get his attention and one in the head to stop the fight.

      Be prepared for Terminator Syndrome, in case your crappy pistol round bounces off his skull. That’s when you empty a mag into the guy and he keeps coming. That turns out to be a thing that happens pretty often with druggies. They can soak up a lot of fire before they go down.

      This is how we end up with these stories of cops shooting a hundred rounds at some guy. Because they missed him with 3 out of four rounds, and he kept coming at them.

      Now, all of the above seems very inhumane when looked at after the fact. Armchair analysis by bleeding heart types, they say things like “couldn’t you just wing him a little?” The answer is no, you can’t. Because that drugged-up guy would not have noticed somebody cutting off his left arm with an axe. I mean, literally would not notice. He would have most assuredly killed you.

      1. I came across a blog once that had a similar discussion of injury fatality for blades. Skin is actually fairly decent armor, and penetrating that is what lets serious damage get done.

        Key phrase for understanding the berserker shootings is dissociative analgesic. Relevant definitions are ‘messes with your head’ and ‘strong pain killer’. Mentally ill people who don’t feel pain as a permanent condition tend to accumulate injuries and die faster. It’s the reason you sometimes see retarded kids wearing helmets and stuff. These recreational users are temporarily extremely far into that category. If it were permanent, one could start processing them into a psychiatric hospital, that could possibly keep them alive. Since it is temporary, they are just wandering around, and if the mood takes them could kill themselves as easily doing that as while ripping you to pieces. The one sure way to stop one acting on that impulse before they tear your body to shreds is a wide enough wound channel through the heart. Enough of an opening releases enough blood, that the pressure and oxygen loss to the brain stops the signals from telling the muscle to remove your face.

        1. There is this phenomenon called the Dead Man’s 10 Seconds. That’s how long the brain’s store of oxygen lasts without blood flow.

          Ten seconds is about the length of most fights.

          That’s why the Mozambique drill is two to the body, one to the head. You get him picture-perfect through the heart, he’ll still kill you with that bat/knife/rock/chair/bar stool. And then die, but that doesn’t help you. You’re dead.

          Old story I read on the gunshot wound front, one biker emptied a Ruger Blackhawk into another biker’s chest, point blank. That’s 6 rounds of .44 caliber. Guys hunt half-ton feral hogs with those things. The shoot-ee beat the shooter to death with a pool cue, then wandered out the front door and expired in the parking lot. I read stories like that, and it makes me want to be quite far away from the target with a good scope.

          I sometimes wonder if this is why war hammers and chain maces were a thing. Cutting is too slow, you want the fight to STOP you go for the massive crushing injuries. A zombie may not feel it, but if you fracture his femur or pelvis he will still fall down.

          1. War hammers and maces were the result of any edged weapon being unable to cut through plate or even mail armor, and relied instead on the impact damage of the weapon impacting the body. Example – look how many guys get smacked down in the NFL just from impact blows. So if you couldn’t cut a guy in plate, just beat the hell outta him until he can’t fight. You could penetrate mail with a suitably designed thrusting weapon, but plate required that you either bludgeon a man, or use something like a dagger (yclept a roundel) to hit the inevitable weak spots – armpit, groin or eye slits, for example.

    2. The “ol’ Mozambique” isn’t magic, a whole lot of folks taking head shots you think would have killed them survive, too many don’t even stay down very long. Point and pop isn’t a good option, aim and shot placement are still needed to be sure.

      Take the couple extra seconds to do it right, front to back is least effective, shooting side to side is better but place the shot to the rear portion of the skull for the best results.

  20. Colt SAA Army Hammer Positions:

    1. Home…firing pin at the primer
    2. First Safety…Firing pin about 1mm from primer…trigger locked
    3. Loading…Cylinder Free
    4. Second Safety…Half Cock…Trigger Locked
    5. Full Cock…Ready to Fire…Trigger Unlocked

    If for some unknown reason you need the sixth cylinder loaded, you can set a safety cock.

    Now don’t go off half-cocked?

    1. “If for some unknown reason you need the sixth cylinder loaded, you can set a safety cock.”
      Or just use a Ruger.

  21. Gun Pedantry Alert! (you’ve been warned)

    Phantom182: The AK was designed from the get-go to use a stamped sheet metal receiver. They rapidly developed problems, so the milled receiver was developed and issued (It was referred to in internal Soviet documents as the “AK-49”, but that designation never took hold) They figured out the problems (internal bracing and having the selector switch pin extend across the receiver for starters) and that was named the AKM starting in about 1956, which is the most common variant one might encounter.

    Azure: the correct way to load a SAA (Single Action Army a/k/a the Colt Peacemaker) is load a round, skip the next chamber and then load the remaining four chambers. This will have the empty chamber naturally line up with the hammer/firing pin. One would also do the same for other single action revolvers of the time (Remington 1875 and 1890 and the S&W Model 3 series, for instance)

    Thank you all for providing me with an excuse to both pontificate about 19th Century cartridge handguns and to correct People Being Wrong On The Internet (grin).

    PS: There was a Dutch revolver which had a safety, and because of its’ unique action, one can indeed suppress a Nagant revolver. Pedantry Forever!!

  22. Good advice. You might want to do a followup on the martial arts. All too many movies and novels have the hero kick someone in the gut. The hero moves not at at all while the bad guy flies across the room. Another violation of Newton’s laws.

    1. I don’t know, I made a guy fly one time. Ten feet. He was quite shocked, as I recall.

      Full disclosure, I am not a 110lb female with poofy lips like Angelina Jolie.

    2. In martial arts, the kicker of a thrust kick is generally ‘connected’ to the ground. The force he exerts is statically braced to the ground by the friction on his back foot, which is why he can send someone flying but not fly back himself.
      Roundhouse kicks work a little different because the force of rotation is stopped by the target and transmitted in an inelastic collision.
      In Bruce Lee style retracting punches, the force is transmitted as crisply as possible into as small as possible an amount of the target. The objective is to make the target’s head snap back but not his whole body; or his ribs crush in but the rest of his body not move. In Bruce Lee’s ‘one inch punch’ demos, the target uses a pad or a board to spread out the impact so he flies back instead of being hurt; and you can see how Lee is dropping his weight and transmitting the force of his powering his body into the extension of his arm.
      In John Wayne style haymaker punches, the fist is supposed to travel through the target pushing all the while, both impacting as well as pushing from the back foot to shove the target over.

      1. Its a case of partial elastic scattering. If the contact were purely elastic, and the masses of the opponents were equal, then all of the momentum would be transferred to the stationary mass (your opponent) in the lab, and his body would recoil at the same average velocity as your center of mass was moving when you hit him. If you have full momentum transfer, then your body stops, and your velocity at contact is transferred to your opponent. Relatively simple physics (mechanics). It’s the same with billiard balls in a forward contact.

  23. I was practicing at the range one afternoon.
    Shot my S&W M649 single action at 25 yards. Group was
    nothing to write home about so “Snub nose revolvers are not accurate.”

    Then I shot at a target at 50 yards double action.
    That group was palm sized and beat my 25 yard group by a
    couple of inches. So, “Snubnose revolvers are accurate at 50 yards?”

    Actually, unless you own a clinker of a revolver, snubnoses are hard to
    shoot accurately, but more accurate than people expect. It bugs me
    when a blanket statement is made about snubnose accuracy.

    1. I wonder if that comes from people using snubbies in emergency situations when “Well-trained-but-not-expert” shooter + adrenaline = accuracy problems at other than very close range? So what gets seen is inaccuracy caused by event, rather than by the firearm per se.

      1. Oh, there’s reality behind it.

        The gun itself, if it’s made right, is just as accurate as any other pistol. But it’s made to be easy to hide. Soooo…

        –The grip is smaller than the optimal fit for a human hand that’s trying to hold it absolutely steady.

        –The barrel is short. You aim a gun by lining up the barrel with the target. Very precisely. The further away your target is, the more precisely you have to line it up–simple geometry. The shorter the barrel, the harder it is to line up–simple geometry.

        –Good, easily seen, easily lined-up sights tend to be tall, sharp-edged, and elaborate. Hard to hide, easy to snag on things–like clothing. Snubbies tend to have sights that hide easily and don’t screw up your fast draw–and sacrifice all that easy-to-line-up stuff to do it.

        –Recoil has an effect on accuracy, especially if you’re shooting groups. The heavier the gun, the easier it is to control recoil. Snubbies tend to be light, for obvious reasons.

        –Smaller guns often don’t have as smooth a trigger pull. Less room for all the parts means tolerances have to be tighter, and the geometry isn’t always optimal. You can make a snubbie trigger smooth, but it’s more work.

        All that said, it can still do what you need it to. A properly set-up snubby can be *very* accurate–especially with a laser or a red-dot sight–neither of those depend on sight geometry.

        1. I would use a snubby for a bedroom gun (as in, at hand if someone comes in via the window at 0200) or back-up CC handgun, OR if for some reason I could not carry a larger firearm.

          This is, of course, hypothetical if I had handguns and chose to use them for self defense. Which might or might not happen, or have happened in the past before the unfortunate moving accident with the box and the salt-water swamp.

  24. The clip feeds cartridges into the magazine. The magazine feeds cartridges into the firing chamber. (Some firearms have a fixed or internal magazine.)

  25. > pulled a new magazine from his mag carrier, slapped it in, racked the slide, and was back in action.

    After shooting empties the magazine, the pistol slide will hold open. After inserting a new magazine, the slide has to be released, then the pistol is ready to fire.

    1. You Count your rounds and change mags when the last round is in the chamber. Faster Better, plus if you need it a round available while you are changing mags. Why people don’t like mag locks.

      1. Good discussion – thanks for starting it off, OldNFO!

        In talking with a good number of people who have been involved in real gunfights, and reading about quite a few more, ‘counting your rounds’ is not something that is done. Your brain is trying to keep you alive, not count how many rounds you’ve shot.

        Re: snubbies not being accurate, that’s been nicely addressed, and also I saw Jerry Miculek getting a group at 1000 Dy’s on TV. But he’s Jerry ….

        BTW, length of rifle barrel after a point has little to do with accuracy either, at least after a point. Many rifles shoot just fine with an 18″ barrel when compared to longer ones. The XM-3 sniper rifle developed for DARPA a while back, based on a Rem 700 action, group within an MOA at 1000 yds. And that was a 7.62 NATO gun using Black Hills 175 gr match BTHP ammo. Yes, it stayed supersonic even with the gun’s shorter barrel.

        As far as racking a slide after a mag change on an empty gun, some trainers teach that it’s more reliable and more universally applicable to perform the same actions all the time and thus teach racking the slide after a mag change instead of using the slide release.

        1. In context, I was talking about iron sights. The further apart they are, the easier it is to see if your alignment is off. Not a problem with a scope. Or a red-dot or a laser. Then the barrel can be as short as you like.

        2. And some firearms are being made to reinforce that training.
          The slide release on Ruger’s Security 9 is much more of a slide catch, and is described as such in the manual. It’s about the only thing I don’t love about that gun. (It gets a lot more functional in the traditional fashion with time and use. But it takes a bit to break in.)

      2. I watched a rather obnoxious fellow on the range explaining how to do this “one round left” drill to a couple buddies. He proceeded to shoot until there was just the round left in the chamber. Dropped the empty magazine and inserted the full one. Back on target he shot that last round and the magazine fell out of the pistol. Yep, he forgot to give it that extra hard push needed when reloading this way, the one needed of overcome the pressure of the magazine spring that has to be compressed if the slide is forward.

        Personally, if I’m shooting to save my life I’m not going to be counting so I’ll practice like I’ll be shooting.

    2. Before they edited it out, Stallone did that in Demolition Man (When the script finally demanded his gun be empty). You can actually see a perfectly good (blank) cartridge come flying out of the gun.

  26. Short comment: Guns obey the laws of physics. When you don’t remember that, you end up with bonehead mistakes like this cover art, from an artist whose work is usually quite good. It’s just… even for someone who is not a firearms expert, it’s grating every time I see it, because that gun would have flown out of his grip after the first shot, and that’s even before we get into all the other awkward problems with that pose.

    1. That may be trickle-down from TV. I’ve been told some of the absurd grips and stances were due to cinematic desire to keep the gun in the frame while not obscuring the actor’s face.

      Makes about as much sense as any other explanation for holding a pistol crosswise over your head while shooting…

      1. I’m in California. I know lots of people who have never held a gun. And they all look at that picture with an expression that says, “That doesn’t look right…”

    2. we can just hope most of the bad guys continue to get their tactical firearms training from TV and movies! Some of them get really creative, don’t they? I remember a bunch of photos from some war zone in Africa (Liberia, maybe?) a few years ago that were really amazing!

  27. Since there’s a lot of gun pendants here…
    A rough guide to semi-automatic pistol actions:

    SA/ Single Action: the hammer has to be back for the gun to fire. Most have safeties to keep the gun from an accidental discharge. Most SA pistols are carried “Condition Three”, hammer back and safety on, which is more safe than hammer down.

    TDA/ Traditional Double Action: The gun can fire with the hammer resting down, or with the hammer back. When the gun fires, it cocks the hammer back. As mentioned above, the hammer down pull is heaver than the hammer back pull. Some trainers like the different pulls, as it gives you a “thinking” trigger when you may need to not shoot someone, and a light “fighting” trigger when you need to shoot.
    Most TDA guns have a decocker/safety that safely drops the hammer when engaged, then locks the gun. Some just have a safety that doesn’t drop the hammer. Others are “decock only”- the lever safely drops the hammer, but doesen’t lock the gun.

    DAO/ Double Action Only: The gun only fires with the hammer down, and has no means for the hammer to cock. Commonly seen in autos used by some law enforcement agencies that transitioned to autos from revolvers, as the trigger is very revolver like. There’s usually no safety lever at all.

    SFA/ Striker Fired Action: the one popularized by Glock. You have a spring loaded striker instead of a hammer, which is unseen inside the gun. Pulling the trigger pulls the striker back, and releases it (depending on the gun). Most SFA guns have a safety on the trigger itself… but a safety lever is included on some guns (S&W for instance). Trigger pull is usually heavier than that on a SA, but lighter than a TDA.

    This pedantry is fun when you see someone on TV fire a 1911 with the hammer down, or a Foleyed in safety click on a Glock.

    1. S&Ws (specifically, M&Ps) have both a safety on the trigger and an optional frame mounted safety. Also an optional magazine safety. That was planned so they meed all the state requirements and the requirements of different law enforcement agencies.

    2. “Most SA pistols are carried “Condition Three”, hammer back and safety on, which is more safe than hammer down.”

      I agree that carrying a SA pistol with the hammer back and safety on is good, but Condition Three is with an empty chamber. The same condition but with a round in the chamber is Condition One and is the most appropriate way to carry a 1911 for ‘social’ purposes where it needs to be immediately available.

      “But having a round in the chamber is dangerous!!” To paraphrase a Texas Ranger’s response to a similar pronouncement from a lady who saw his 1911 being carried cocked and locked (condition one) and just stuffed in his waistband (‘Mexican Carry’): “Yes Ma’am, it is. If this thing wasn’t dangerous, it wouldn’t be of much use to me!”

      1. “The same condition but with a round in the chamber is Condition One and is the most appropriate way to carry a 1911 for ‘social’ purposes where it needs to be immediately available.”
        Oops! Got them mixed all up! Thanks for catching that bit of derp.
        Too much blood in the coffee system when I wrote that.

  28. Some confusion gets added to the mix because a lot of early semi-autos were referred to as “Automatics”. (.45 Automatic, for example).

    1. It isn’t a “gun” either. In the spirit of being very accurate at long ranges, I think a laser can indeed be a “rifle.”

      I don’t know if “cars” count as “carriages” either. And Teamsters don’t work with teams.

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