Like it, not, firearms play a crucial role in our lives. Serving hero and villain alike, they are companions and tools in many a work of fiction and in real life as well.
But often times, writers get guns wrong. It could be something as simple as terminology, to operation, and even downright myths created for television and political agendas that don’t play out in the real world. But who cares?
The audience will care. They might accept some degree of stretching the truth for the sake of the story, but it has to be within the confines of belief and fact. Without it, you have a jumbled mess of words that look uninformed. Even in fiction, that’s a loss of credibility. Also, as writers, we take advantage of every opportunity to create realism to leave our audiences in awe. Often times, the truth creates opportunities for drastic twists, turns, and conclusions. So without further adieu, lets take a look at a few widely believed gun myths that could taint your work:
1. Hollow Points Are The Devil
Quoting quite literally from writer James Patrick, hollow point ammunition is indeed the devil in some works of fiction and has leached into common culture today. The premise being that hollow points–or ammunition with a hole at the nose of the bullet designed to expand in flesh–are inherently more deadly than regular rounds.
Also known as “dum dum” rounds, hollow point ammunition is the go-to round for self-defense today. Depending on velocity, the bullet begins to expand when it enters the body. In theory, this makes the bullet dump all its energy into the target, creating more shock and damage to stop the attacker without the bullet going through and injuring anyone but the intended target.
But this does not make the hollow point, deadlier. The vast majority of gun shot wound deaths are due to blood loss. The greater chance of a hollow point bullet staying inside the body, means there is just one hole to bleed from. Not two. This leaves your target more likely to survive than needing to shoot multiple rounds of lead round nosed or full metal jacket bullets to get the attacker to stop what they are doing.
Hollow points. They are the devil.
2. Silencers Silence
The staple of every covert operation and spy novel, the silencer allows for a gun to be silent upon firing. A more technical term is “suppressor”. The trouble is that silencers don’t really silence. Suppressors muffle the sound of a gun shot and they go a long way of keeping the volume down on outdoor shooting, but inside, the sound is amplified. Better than shooting a gun without the device, but still pretty obvious. Not to mention, it takes special “subsonic” ammunition to fully take advantage of a suppressor. The sonic crack of bullets whizzing past 1080 fps breaking the sound barrier are what makes guns so loud. The slower the bullet, the better it is for a suppressed gun. But using this weaker ammunition creates reliability problems with the gun and a poor impression on target.
3. Flintlocks Never Work
This caveat doesn’t seem to be so prevalent today except in period pieces written by modern authors. In my on going “The Devil’s Dog” series of mystery thrillers, the main players are wielding flintlock muskets and pistols. Primitive weaponry is a subject all to itself, but flintlocks and other primitive firearms have been criticized as being unreliable and cantankerous at best. Keep your powder dry! But in the minds of modern people who don’t really use them, that’s a bit unfair. People who lived in the 17th through early 19th centuries knew their business if they had a gun to use and the battle casualties of those times suggest the flintlocks went off just fine. Not to mention the countless early pioneers who survived all the hardships.
Check us out as we put one of my custom flintlock pistols to the test:
4. Stopping Power
In many a Hollywood flick and crime novel, one shot is all it takes to take someone out . They crumple over dead, or even better, fly backwards causing massive property damage. The truth is far less dramatic. In short, stopping power doesn’t exist, especially when it comes to handguns, which are by design, weak. Physics tell us that for a gun to have the power to knock someone off their feet, the gun would have to do the same to the shooter. Equal, opposite reactions. The shock and realization that one has been shot is the main reason for someone deciding to give up and stop what they are doing right away. Hitting someone just anywhere won’t stop a determined villain, either. Anything short of a shot through the spine or brain wouldn’t physically stop a determined attacker. Even shots to the chest and heart could leave the attacker with seconds to do more harm before succumbing.
5. Revolvers Always Work
Where would Sherlock Holmes or Clarice Starling be without their trusty revolvers? Revolvers are as old as dirt and there is a good reason they are still around. They are reliable, accurate, and very user friendly. They tend to be much less sensitive to the type of ammunition put into them. But that doesn’t make them perfect. Very light revolvers with substantial recoil, or kick, can pull bullets forward out of the brass cases, locking up the cylinder. Primers, the explosive cap that sets off the round, from high pressure rounds can back out, also locking up the cylinder. If dropped hard enough, the internal mechanism responsible for turning the cylinder could be damaged as well. Revolvers are great, but not infallible.
6. The Magical Shotgun Rack
Shotguns are the do it all type of weapon. Utilitarian to the extreme, they work well for hunting, sport, and home defense. The pump action shotgun is probably the most popular today. The sound that is made when you rack the action is downright scary and it makes the bad guys know you mean business. Right? Well, maybe. Its a cliché trick and it means your hero just brought an unloaded gun to a fight.
7. The Shotgun Blast
Shotguns can fire a variety of ammunition, but the shotgun blast we all know and love involves buckshot. Buckshot is a shotgun shell loaded with several large balls that spread out over an area once fired. The myth that you don’t have to aim a shotgun or it could clear a room with a single shot is just that… a myth. On average, the size of the pattern where the balls impact spread just one inch per yard of distance. That’s not a lot.
8. Clip vs Magazine
Writers have used clip to describe loading and unloading firearms. This is just a terminology beef, but this list would not be complete without it. Clips are small pieces of sheet metal used to load a magazine. A magazine is a box of some kind with an internal spring that feeds ammunition in a gun. A magazine can be detachable or fixed to the gun and reloaded with a clip.
A clip being used to reload a magazine.
9. Guns Go Off When Dropped
There are plenty of examples involving guns dropping on the ground and discharging. This was a common problem with early revolvers, especially. (Hence the reason why the Cowboys loaded five rounds in their six-shooters and rested the hammer on the empty chamber). But in today’s lawyer friendly world, such a thing would be a liability. There are plenty of reproductions of guns that don’t use drop safeties. But most modern guns, except those deemed defective, are drop safe. There is some sort of bar protecting the hammer or striker from hitting the round unless the trigger is pulled back, causing the device to disengage automatically. I am not saying it can’t happen, but unless your characters have a taste for old guns, leave it to vintage works.
10. Don’t Bring A Knife
Another myth we might be tempted to use is the concept that a character with a knife is at a disadvantage against a character wielding a gun. In general, self defense encounters are extremely close with a mean distance of about 21 feet. In the 1980s, Stg. Dennis Tueller of the Salt Lake City Police Department concluded in a test that a person with a knife can get to the man with the gun by the time the gunman can draw a gun from concealment–a quick 1.5 seconds. This test has been replicated over and over again and is now undisputable fact. A man with a knife is something to take seriously.
In conclusion, this is not the end all and be all of guide to gun myths and this does not mean that some of these myths could not be portrayed and be made believable in your work. But as they say, truth is stranger than fiction. So using some truth in your fiction will raise the stakes and keep your readers on edge.