Editor’s Note: As a writer of many genres – thrillers, Westerns, mysteries – you’re bound to end up throwing a gun or two into your story, if not a whole shootout.
Certainly, for my Politician’s Pawn and its two sequels, guns factored in repeatedly. And I thought I knew what I was talking about in the process.
Fortunately, I was mostly on the money. Though, judging by the delightfully snarky insights below from fellow writer J.L. Foster, I did mess up a detail or two. As such, the next time I write about firearms, I’m hiring her as my official fact-checker.
After you read the following, you might want to do the same…
Hollywood has a tendency to exaggerate some things and completely fabricate others. It’s the nature of the business, and the results can be riveting.
Hollywood does overuse some falsehoods in its effort to achieve excellent storytelling – sometimes without even realizing it – on everything from vehicles to physics to basic chemistry.
I could easily write a novel on what’s wrong on both the big and small screens; but for now, let’s address 5 firearm myths that writers should be aware of to keep their own writing realistic.
Firearm Myths – #1
I have to scratch my own itch here first and address an inaccuracy I see in many a Hollywood scene where a gun is used as a primary defense or offensive weapon. In Westerns, the hero will begin firing his lever action Henry .22 from the hip.
Dramas might feature someone turning his fist sideways, his hand clenched around a Glock aimed at a convenience store clerk.
Action flicks will inevitably show some hot honey in a vegan-leather bodysuit shooting twin Korth Nighthawks – in a way that would shatter her phalanges if they were more than just props.
Holding a gun any way but the correct way is inaccurate and unsafe. If you want to have your character hold his gun like a Rambo wannabe, you won’t be fooling any of your knowledgeable readers into thinking he’ll hit any of his targets.
Firearm Myths – #2
Here’s a fun one that may shock you. Guns don’t go off when they’re dropped. Not even if they’re loaded. Not even if they’re loaded and have the safety off.
The gun safety act of 1968 requires some pretty strict drop-safety testing. Modern firearms are tested and tested again to make sure they won’t kill people accidentally.
That’s not to say you should go throwing guns around or being casually clumsy. But letting a gun hit the floor isn’t the end of the world.
It’s certainly safer than trying to catch a falling gun – please never ever do that! Catching a falling gun could lead to someone getting accidentally shot in the knee. Or worse.
Firearms Myths – #3
We can all agree explosions are loud, right? That’s why we run exhausts with mufflers on our cars, wear ear protection when viewing fireworks… and why Hollywood movie assassins love silencers.
Hollywood goes overboard here, as silencers do not “silence” anything. A more accurate term would be “suppressors” since they only suppress the sound of the explosion happening in the gun’s barrel. Which is loud.
For those of you who want numbers, I’ll break it down for you…
A Glock 17 9mm decibel rating is 163, while a random 9mm suppressor will only take it down to 134.5dB. In comparison, a riveting machine measures at around 110dB, and live rock music is usually heard at 108-115.
So before you go having your characters get into gunfights in closed quarters with or without suppressors, just remember that guns are really loud! Unless your plot line requires them to be deafened, please give them auditory protection for those scenes.
Firearms Myths #4
I’ve got really bad news for you writers. Cars don’t roll off assembly lines already equipped with bullet-proof doors.
You know the scene where a character ducks behind an open car door to safely return fire? By the end, bullet holes adorn the door, but the character remains unharmed.
Not so in real life. Although a door can slow a bullet, it isn’t dense enough to stop ammunition, even common .22 or 9mm bullets. The engine block and transmission would likely stop them, but they’re hardly a useful bullet-shield.
If you insist on having a character use a car or its parts for protection, at least have them plan ahead and do some bullet-proofing. Or, you can let them get shot. Those are the two most realistic options.
Firearms Myths – #5
Hollywood doesn’t show a lot of “boring” aspects of life like using the bathroom, taking out the trash, or reloading a gun when ammunition’s run out. I can forgive the first two, but something about “unlimited ammo” really grinds my gears.
Deadpool counts his rounds, so I have no qualms with him. Many other movies neglect to even pretend they understand the concept of finite ammunition. That may be more attention-grabbing for movie storytelling, but it’s not so much when reading.
Your character needs to reload eventually, whether he’s firing a fully automatic weapon or a semi-auto. Give him a spare magazine or two in a pocket or bag, but don’t expect in-the-know readers to look the other way when the lazy “endless bullet” gunfight begins.
– J.L. Foster
J.L. is a writer from western New York. She writes short stories and novels in realistic fiction and transgressive fiction. Her website includes the occasional haiku.