Guns are ranged weapons.
No, really, people forget this one a lot. A gun, whether it’s a pistol, a rifle, or a gattling gun, is meant to be used at range. If the opposing person is within eight to ten feet from the person with the gun and the gun is still in its holster, they won’t have time to clear it before they’re reached. The advantage of the gun is distance. If your character is using their gun at close range, then they are making a mistake. If your character is pressing a semi-automatic pistol against another character’s body, then they are (usually) going to be disabling the pistol. On most semi-automatics, pressing the slide back will unseat the battery (the chamber that holds the bullet about to be fired), and it will temporarily disable the weapon.
This is actually one of the main issues with the gun as a self-defense weapon. Most self-defense situations happen within the eight foot range, usually within grabbing distance. Reaching for the gun first is a great way to get killed if they’re too close.
The gun is not some ultimate god weapon or instant win button. In all it’s types, they very effective and dangerous. However, like any weapon, they also come with disadvantages and situations where they don’t shine. This is the main reason for training with and carrying different kinds of guns, and also different kinds of weapons such as knives and training in hand to hand.
There are many different kinds of guns and they all come with their own quirks
“Guns” is a very broad term for a very large variety of weapons. When I say it, I usually think of semi-automatic pistols but really if you’re also thinking assault rifle, shotgun, black powder pistol, machine gun, or blunderbuss, you wouldn’t be wrong. This is long before we leave general categories and get into sub categories like compact, sub compact, automatic, semi-automatic, pump action, and different manufacturer. Many writers (including me when I’m lazy) will use terms like “gun”, “pistol”, or “rifle” to convey a general term and, you know, that works with characters how have no idea how to tell a Glock 17 from a Colt 1911 to a Smith & Wesson. However, if you’re writing a character who owns a gun, then they should probably know what it is.
There’s a wide range of variety amongst the different manufacturers. Not all pistols will carry the same amount of ammunition. Different manufacturers are popular in different areas of the country. While the Glocks are very popular amongst law enforcement groups in the United States, for example, each precinct has their own preferred standard. It varies, sometimes wildly.
So, do your homework.
You want to write about characters using guns, then you need to research them. Find out how they work, find out how to care for them, find out different scuttlebutt, research the different pistols you see characters using in movies and television shows. Research the history behind those weapons, see if the production staff has ever offered up any particular information on why they picked those particular ones and not others. You can use a character’s choice in their weapons to communicate character traits and their combat preferences. Source the real world information on it. That way, you can make executive decisions and you sound more like you know what you’re talking about. (You do!)
Besides, you’ll never know if you never look. One part of being a writer is the acceptance of being a student. Go through gun manuals at your library. Learn about the different kinds. Visit a gun range. Take a few lessons. You don’t ever have to like guns or approve of them, but you should make an effort to figure them out. (Yes, some handguns have a safety that’s a button, some have a switch, and some don’t have them at all.)
Never fire until it’s empty
Continuously firing until you run out of ammunition is a Hollywood trope and a mistake made by people who don’t know how guns work. You don’t drive your car until it runs out of gas. Don’t get caught trying to shoot someone with an empty gun. Also, save those magazines for later, don’t just toss them on the ground, bullets, and magazines, are expensive to replace.
Count your bullets
Your characters can’t really keep track of their enemy’s bullets (and if you’re writing from their perspective you shouldn’t either honestly, not having a full picture of what what the enemy is doing keeps them worrying and tension high), but they should try to keep in mind how many they have.
One bullet is not enough
If you’re going to shoot someone, then shoot them several times. This usually means three to five times to center mass, or until they stop moving. A single bullet is not a guarantee that they are out of the fight. People are durable, they can take quite a bit of punishment and keep going. Guns are not magic, neither are bullets. So, don’t get cocky.
The sign of skill is not in how few bullets a character needs to get their job done, it’s in how efficiently they work and how well they cover their ass. Their ability to close off alternate avenues, to lock their opponent into a predictable path, and finish them off at minimal risk to themselves. A character who is ignoring basic procedure because they think the rules don’t apply to them is an idiot. Yes, the rules still apply to them. Yes, they should probably shoot that guy or girl several times to make sure he’s/she’s down. If they aren’t doing that, then there should probably be consequences.
The bullets have to end up somewhere
So, where are they? Bullets will continue to travel until they hit something. A responsible shooter tries to ensure they don’t hit someone unintended in the process. Bullets go through walls, car doors, and plenty of other objects. Fire randomly into a crowd and you will hit someone, though probably not the one you wanted. Blow through and overpenetration are real issues. Shoot someone with the big ass hand cannon and you may end up hitting someone in the next room. It could be a friend, family member, or random stranger. Manslaughter is still manslaughter. If your character is going to shoot at a burglar, it’s best if they don’t accidentally murder the neighbor’s cat. (Or their neighbor.)
This is all a really fun way of saying: not only do accidents happen, there’s a element of random chance at play no matter who you are. As the writer try to keep track of ammunition spent and where it landed.
Don’t shoot into the sky
What goes up, must come down. Falling bullets can still kill you, protagonist or not, or anyone close to you. This is a real problem that affect real (stupid) gun owners in real life who have watched too many action movies.
If you must fire a warning shot then, please, aim at the ground. It’s safer. Shrapnel will still be a problem and the bullet could bounce, but at least your character has some idea of which direction it went.
Go to a gun range
I didn’t really become comfortable with writing guns until Starke took me shooting. Not until I actually held one (several, actually) in my hands. Practicing on different ones really hammers in the idea that they don’t all feel the same or fire the same, and how loud they are.
In the end, the best teacher is experience. Now, there may be extenuating circumstances for why you personally can’t do this but it’s something everyone should consider.
The best way to develop skill at writing about anything is to learn about it and go in with an open mind. Make an effort. You will be rewarded with knowledge.