Get your gun

Right when you write about them…

This was I post I did over at

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. And yes, I know for every example I gave, there are multiple ‘exclusions/other/there is this gun… 10000 foot view…


Get your gun — 34 Comments

  1. Nice overview. 10,000′ foot view, indeed.

    The average person can’t hit another person at over ten yards with a pistol, or 100 yards with a rifle. Most trained men can’t hit another man at 50 yards with a pistol, or 300 yards with a rifle.

    Buckshot is essentially ineffective past 50 yards.

  2. A good post. The only thing I wish you would elaborate on is the fallacy of hiding behind a motor vehicle for cover. It looks like a good idea on television, but after firing a few .357 rounds through an old junk car when I was young, I realized a car is only slightly better than a sheet of cardboard.

    • The engine block will stop practically anything man-portable (excluding some 20mm Anti-Tank Rifles and that weird German 28-20mm squeezebore cannon they used before they ran out of Tungsten in WWII.) Yes, engine blocks will stop even the vaunted .50BMG.

      Now, car doors? Not so much. Unless the user has gotten weird and used old vests in the door panels like some police departments have done or mounted purpose-made armored panels of metal or UHMW plastic or something.

      And as to the vests mentioned above, there’s this whole Level thing that pretty much means that no ‘high-powered’ rifle will be stopped by pretty much any standard body armor, especially when firing AP ammo. Tough nuggies. Yeah, a Level III (heaviest most cops wear) will stop a typical AK round, but not an AR round, and add A

  3. Good points all around. A lot of the stuff you see in the movies and on TV is just down right silly and seems to be done because an ignorant someone thinks it looks cool. I reenact the old west period. If Rio was in the midst of a shooting scrape, he’d likely load all six. He might need the extra round and can always render it safe to carry after the incident is over. I imagine crossdraw holsters came in rather early. Most early revolvers had barrels of 7″-8″ in lengths and could be drawn more easily in that manner. At least that’s my experience. You could slide your holster to wherever you preferred on your belt.

    • “A lot of the stuff you see in the movies and on TV is just down right silly and seems to be done because an ignorant someone thinks it looks cool.”

      My family won’t let me watch Hawaii 5-0 with them because I start snorting when pistol bullets throw up huge showers of sparks where they hit.

  4. I read a lot, and I do mean a lot of novels. Being a gun type guy it really bugs the holy heck out of me when there are errors like that in books. Not so much with the energy weapons in sci-fi. I can deal with that. But in the terminology and performance ascribed to current and historical guns. One glaring error that comes to mind is in a novel by a very famous, kajillion selling author. The main bad guy was carrying a .45 Colt, double action revolver and pretty much shooting everyone that he came across. Said revolver was ejecting the spent casings as each round was fired. Yeah, right. That I would like to see………..

  5. Just being pedantic but Korth made a revolver with a safety and the Glocks used by the Malaysian police and the British Army have an external safety fitted. Rarer than unicorn droppings, I’ll admit but they do exist.

  6. Good points all, and welcome when used properly in a story. Nothing like being jarred out of that “suspension of disbelief” by glaring errors.

  7. I threw a book in the airport trash were the author had the hero shoot an AIM-9 to destroy a bunker buried deep underground. I could deal with the clips for magazines and the empty Glock going click,click,click.

  8. NFO, I suppose as a book writer you are concerned with accuracy in media, which includes movies. Myself, I ignore the embellishments or simply recognize them for what they are; heightened drama.

    Paul Harrel (YT channel by that name) explains very well the differences of cover and concealment. His video about the FBI Miami shootout is very informative on the subject. As for taking cover behind a vehicle, the engine block is the only part that offers a semblance of concealment.


  9. Readers like me appreciate accurate details. Once stopped reading a book when the author used “Army Corpsman”. Silly, maybe, but I wasn’t able to concentrate after that.

  10. My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
    Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a mite slow
    – The Devil’s Right Hand

    I’ve only seen one film where one of the actors was actually loading a cap and ball revolver. Having shot a little black powder, including a .36/20 LeMat revolver, I think the only way I’d enter a battle is with five or six revolvers. Sixty seconds later I’d be advancing to the rear and spend the next half hour reloading.

    On recoil, you’ve written what I’ve always preached, and what is common sense to anyone after their first week of high school physics. No, a .45 won’t knock anyone down, and no, the bad guys don’t obligingly drop dead after one shot, nor are they prone to stagger off to a convenient place for expiration after pontificating their last words, which are always contrite and reminiscent of an inherently good young man gone bad due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. People die from hemorrhage, destruction of vital organs (shot in the kidneys or liver, for instance), or destruction of the central nervous system – two in the head generally does it. Your opponent can also die from being shot in the intestines, which produces a slow, agonizing death that might last up to three or four days. Even with modern medicine, being shot in the digestive tract is dicey. You might live, you might not.

    After absorbing a full magazine from the assault rifle of choice, Our Hero is whisked (whisked, I say) away to a hospital where everyone is well-versed in gunshot wounds and trauma. In Toledo, Ohio, that used to be Riverside hospital (now defunct and the building torn down), which, due to its proximity to the most violent section of Toledo, had a staff that could handle everything from knife wounds to a double load of buckshot into the boiler house. At the end of a brief stay, Our Hero always discharges himself against doctor’s orders so as to get right back into the fight and finish off the bad guys. Our Hero may be bandaged up, but he’s actually pretty much okay, being tough and a hero and all. The reality is that after you’ve been shot, you don’t want anything to do with gun fights or reality for a long while. After that, nothing works the same way it used to. You, the victim, are busted up and some percentage of your overall usefulness has vanished. Should you have the bad luck to recover from being shot in the belly, your digestive tract will be mostly FUBAR for the rest of your life. If this ever happens to me, just shoot me. Personally, I think all EMS personnel should be issued a plain old .38 revolver so they can perform a mercy killing on site, but I’ll never get this notion past the government, so forget it. But believe me when I say that you really and truly do not want to get shot by anything. Ever. And anyone who says a .22 isn’t an effective self-defense caliber can stand at 100 feet and let me shoot them. See what happens.

    On the subject of recoil, I’m told that the average recoil for a .30-06 is 12 – 14 foot pounds, which equates to a nice, solid whack to the shoulder. The elephant gun of choice in the bad old days is the Holland and Holland .600 Nitro Express double rifle. The rifle weighed 18 pounds so the great white hunter had to recruit himself a gun bearer to carry the bloody thing all day. The .600 fired a 900 grain (58 gram, or about 2 ounces) bullet with a 120 grain (7.8 gram) load of powder, which gave it a muzzle velocity of 2,050 feet per second (620 m/s). It had to be fired from a standing or kneeling position so as to avoid a broken shoulder, and even then you have to know what you’re doing. Recoil is estimated at around 260 foot pounds, meaning that in theory the recoil wouldn’t knock over a fat guy like me, but the shock of being hit square in the head would render a charging elephant prone and unconscious, allowing the great white hunter to administer the coup de grâce with a lighter calibre rifle, such as a 28 Nosler or .300 Winchester Magnum. In my case, the reality is that if I ever did shoot a .600 the resultant PTSD from the recoil would put me off guns for several years.

    This is my contribution to an excellent post and topic by Old NFO. Good job, and here’s how.

    • Many Civ-War cavalrymen preferred carrying 2 or more pistols for just the reason you said. Kinda hard to reload while on the run.

    • Hmm. In Gettysburg Col Chamberlain reloads or changes cylinders. In White Buffalo, Bill Hitchcock made a point of reloading his cap & ball revolvers every day. Those are the only two movies I can think of right this minute…

        • Clint’s character had a belt pouch with pre-loaded cylinders. Kinda cool.

  11. Now do explosives. Nothing ruins my believe when the bad buys set off 20 kilos of C4 or other Plastique and huge, rolling clouds of red flame come out of the windows.

    Window? What about the wall, the roof, the floor, the cat next door…

    Best picture of an explosion is the one by a US Navy photographer who unfortunately took a photo of a Japanese bomb exploding on deck right, I mean, right after the bomb exploded.

    • Yeah, that’s another one that bugs me. I quit reading a novel after the author had a character setting off C-4 with just a lit match….

      • But that just makes a very nice flame, great for cooking as long as one doesn’t breath the smoke. Learned that trick from reading one of David Drake’s short stories, can’t remember which one.

        I want my high explosive to look like high explosive when it explodes.

  12. New Jovian Thunderbolt ran a post about stopping power last week and I pointed out the Moros and the 38 when Tam’s comment pointed out what organs you hit makes the difference be it 9mm r 45. My point is to stop a target be it charging grizzly bear or drugged up human takes either a central nervous system hit or eztreem shock. I take it that’s why the “Old Man” and Jesse like head shots even with the 45 and .357mag.

  13. Don’t forget that a 9mm doesn’t necessarily fire 9mm, either–there’s 9x19mm Parabellum, the most common 9mm round, and there’s 9x18mm Makarov, an old Soviet-bloc round. The two are DEFINITELY NOT interchangeable.
    Yes, one of mine (my truck pistol) is a P64, in 9mm Mak.

    • And the 9mm Kurz aka the .380 ACP.

      Now do .22 cal. .22 Short, Long, Long Rifle, BB etc…

  14. Great comments and I have stopped watching the TV crime shows due to the sheer stupidity which starts with the cop walking up, looking at the one shot dead victim without bending over and saying “Yep 9mm, that’s a powerful 9mm wound.” I always remind my wife that there are so damn many pistols that shoot .38, .380, .357 and all flavors of 9mm with different bullets and loadings. I do understand that the author of a book or screen play has the right to create the world his people live in but they really need to have a few old gun guys to run shootings by to see if they make sense.

    I am offended when the firearms don’t fit the time period in the Old Time Westerns I have been reading lately. Some authors do a lot of research but some are sloppy and just because a Sharps can be deadly out to 500 yards that does not mean your hero can buy one in the next town along with a couple of boxes of cartridges, shoot a half dozen and then start dropping bad guys 500 yards out. I really enjoyed Quiggly Down Under but in the story he was an exceptionally well trained rifleman and the movie was almost believable, I don’t mind a stretch here and there if the movie or book is entertaining.

    And all those wounds that don’t slow down the hero who has to run back out and solve the crime and obtain justice before the sun goes down once more are such bull shit. Those are great comments above.

  15. Don’t forget when the hero cop shoots the bad guy and then immediately returns to work, on the same case that involved his bad guy. And the complete lack of emotional effect on the good guy!

  16. John Wayne, Back to Bataan, holding a Thompson: “Gimme another clip!”.
    I grew up around pistols (and some assert only semi-autos are pistols) that took “clips”.
    If that’s what dad and his brothers called ’em, Greatest Generation all, I’ll agree with them.
    But I understand the difference.

  17. Old – I think most of the comments nailed my quibbles EXCEPT for caliber and shotgun being used together 🙂 oh and Quigley is the correct spelling (I think).
    There used to be a video showing what rifle rounds do to a human wearing what would be considered hardcorps IV level armor – what would now be considered SAPI plates. IIRC it was produced by Second Chance………………it backs up your comments regarding weapons effectiveness. At the end of it there is a comment regarding jabbing someone in the a$$ with a hatpin.

  18. Best story on the myth of “stopping power” that I’ve heard.
    Lunchtime story by a big name trainer:
    Army officer in Nam, at an FOB(?) that was under attack by a significant force. Nighttime, of course. He spotted a sapper w/backpack heading for the wire, and directed a Ma Deuce team to get him. The .50bmg gunner lit him up, and he went down. He got back up, minus an entire arm at the shoulder, and again proceeded toward the wire. Everyone was so stunned they forgot to shoot at him. He made it to the wire and threw himself on top, and nothing happened. He was ignored while the fight raged on. Eventually the enemy gave up, and after the sun was up for a bit, the officer went down to see about disabling the bomb. Guy was still alive, 4-5 hours after being hit. The detonator could only be accessed by his missing hand, and he was so tangled up in the wire, he couldn’t do anything further.

    So, if it’s man portable, a hit is not a sure thing, and placement is really important.

  19. Gomez- You’re correct sir! And that hatpin could kill somebody too!!!

    Will- Good point. ACCURATE shot placement counts. And a traumatic amputation like that would cause the veins and major blood vessels to convulsively close, effectively providing their own tourniquet.

  20. Another place where TV and movies have it wrong is that the shooter is unlikely to know if/where they are hitting.

    There you are shooting at paper and you have to lower your weapon and squint to see a high-contrast black hole in a flat, well-lit white target. So how are you going to know if you connected when the light sucks and the bad-guy is wearing clothing?

    You won’t know. Keep in mind that trained shooters might miss three-of-four under the circumstances and a knob might miss nine-of-ten. Your only option is to keep shooting until the bad-guy falls down or you run out of ammo.

    That is the same reason why concerns of over-penetration on human targets is a non-issue. The vast majority of rounds sent downrange never touch the human target.