Top Ten Gun Myths (For Authors)

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Shooting the Smith & Wesson M1917 Revolver

There is a lot of emphasis on handgun tactics and usage today, but not too long ago, pistols in military use were seen as a badge of rank and a last ditch defensive tool, not a combat weapon. It was an after thought. But in the terror that was World War I, things changed. Close quarters fighting in the trenches became commonplace and the bolt action rifles then in use were too slow and awkward. The grenade, the pistol, the knife, and the spade were the preferred weapons over the romanticism of fencing with bayonets in the open and long range marksmanship.

The war also singlehandedly made the US into the leading arms maker in the world and Europe had paid for it. The neutral US would make weapons for anyone with money, yet when the US was finally dragged into the war in the spring of 1917, she found herself unprepared for a modern war with not enough weapons for her military. The US military was relatively small and had no tanks, few airplanes, obsolete machine guns, and not enough rifles and pistols. The US would reach back for preexisting designs to solve the small arms shortage.

The M1911 45 caliber pistol was the standard American service pistol, but they were not enough of them. To meet the demand, the government reached out to Colt and Smith & Wesson for help.

Colt’s New Service and Smith’s 44 cal. Hand Ejector were rugged large framed revolvers and they were being produced in quantity in 455 Webley for the British. They chambered their revolvers in 45 ACP, the rimless round used by the M1911, and–in a rare occasion of cooperation– shared a method to allow the rounds to function reliably. The M1917 service revolvers were born and they were headed to Europe with America’s doughboys.

Features

Smith & Wesson’s M1917 revolver is a large frame gun, that would later be standardized as the N frame. This large frame would go on to chamber rounds like the 357 Magnum and 44 Magnum.

It featured a blued, and later parkerized, finish and a 5 1/2 inch barrel topped with a half-moon front sight and a milled notch in the top strap that serves as the rear sight. They were equipped with smooth wood grips and a lanyard loop (though the owner’s elk antler grips are seen here). Other than that, it is a conventional double action revolver.

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What makes the M1917 interesting is the way it is loaded. Since the 45 ACP has no exposed rim, it cannot be held in place in the cylinder of a revolver. It could slide forward, preventing the hammer from giving it a hard blow and setting off the round. Also, there is no rim for the extractor to catch so the rounds would have to be poked out of the cylinder with a handy stick. The problem was solved with half-moon clips. They were little more than pieces of spring steel stamped to accept the cartridges so three rounds could be placed into the cylinder at one time and they would extract and fire.

Both M1917 models had their cylinders rebated to headspace the cartridge in the cylinder in case no clips were available, however the cartridges would still need to be poked out. Later on, full moon clips that allowed for all six rounds to be kept in one handy package was developed, as was the 45 Auto rim round.

Shooting

Smith & Wesson’s M1917 revolver was a pleasure to shoot and it was thanks, in no small part to Murphey’s Muskets, who furnished his own 1918 manufactured example. Shooting was done with full moon clips, commonly used in today’s 45 ACP revolvers, with Privi Partizan 230 grain FMJ ammunition.

Loading was a piece of cake and could be done as quickly as changing out a magazine on a semi automatic pistol. Just push the cylinder release on the left side forward with your thumb, push the cylinder out and drop the clip of ammunition right into the cylinders. Shut the cylinder, and you are ready to go.

Firing one handed in double action mode, I struggled with the heavy, long double action trigger pull. Rapid fire at close range was done in double action and despite the gun’s 2 1/4 pound heft, I found myself pulling rounds high and the miniscule sight picture offered by the sights, did not help.  For precision shooting, pulling back the hammer spur gives a nice, short single action trigger pull. It was easy to bust 2 liters at 25 yards distance in that manner.

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I decided to move up to 7 yards distance and put the gun on paper, firing one handed in double action mode. I put my six shots into about a five inch group. It was a good feat of practical accuracy, but shooting the gun in a two handed manner would help with accuracy at any range. In any case, it was on par with a combat pistol for the day.

Unloading was also rapid. Push the cylinder release and stroke the ejector rod and the clip of now empty brass falls right out neatly.

What the M1917 has going for it, other than loading and unloading, is the feel. The gun points naturally, making quick snap shooting easier. The grips were in the right place, though the reach to the trigger was a little long. The gun recoils a bit snappier than a standard 38 Special service revolver and the exposed, steel back strap tends to come back and smack the web between the thumb and index finger. It stings, but it is a relatively minor gripe.

Final Thoughts

Some 150,000 Smith M1917s were produced between 1917-1920. Colt produced an equal number. The revolvers were retired after World War I and subsequently refurbished and stored. The M1917s went back into service for World War II and the guns floated around in Korea and the Vietnam War as well before finally being retired. That’s a long service life for a stopgap measure of a gun.

On the civilian market, the M1917 stayed in Smith & Wesson’s catalog until 1950 when a new generation of 45 ACP revolvers replaced it.  In that time Brazil ordered a number for their military in 1937.

Smith & Wesson’s M1917 might not be as iconic as the 1911 service pistol, but it retains a cult following to say the least. It was the last gasp of the American service revolver and, as it turned out, the gun served well.

 

Field Stripping the Mauser Rifle

The Mauser rifle was truly the first global weapons system. Most modern bolt action rifles today are derived from the Mauser’s famous action. With many millions of these rifles in their many variations out there, you just might own one.

The Mauser rifle was successful because of its bolt action. It was perfect in terms of ease of use, strength, safety, and relatively low maintenance. With that said, it is nice to know how to take the bolt apart for routine care. The guns are quite universal in the way they disassemble so the following guide is applicable to all smokeless powder Mauser rifles.

So… here is how you do it: