Tag Archives: firearms

This is Not How You Play Russian Roulette

Heya, I want to ask about a guy using a revolver used as an intimidation tactic. As in only loading one bullet and leaving the other chambers empty, guy loads it and spins it before pulling the hammer. (He aims it at himself, shoots, and then spins the cylinder again before aiming it at the person being interrogated, also shoots).

Would it be realistic for him to remember how much force to spin it in order not to get shot? And, how do you suggest him practicing this sort of technique?

So, this is called Russian Roulette, and I don’t recommend ever doing it.

There’s a couple problems with this approach, starting with the part where the least intimidating thing your character can do is spray their brains across the wall.

Yeah, technically, that might be intimidating, but it’s posthumously intimidating. Unless they have some secret way to come back from the dead, this is the kind of thing you do once, and never again. Also the kind of thing you do once, and then proceed to decompose throughout the rest of the scene.

And, if they’re pulling this stunt regularly, they will shoot themselves in the head.

The second problem is, you can’t really do it as described. So, it’s been a minute since I’ve handled a revolver, and I’ve never intentionally spun the chamber, because that’s a really good way to damage the gun, however, when the hammer is down, it’s in contact with the shell casing, this means you can’t really spin the cylinder. The problem is that the firing pin (a spur on the face of the hammer) protrudes into the chamber. This is how the gun fires, the firing pin hits the back of the case, compressing it, and igniting the primer. This means, there is a part of the hammer that protrudes into the chamber. Not by much, but if you tried to spin the chamber with hammer down, you’d either clip the firing pin or the firing pin would completely stop the process… except, you wouldn’t get that far.

The second part of this is that the cylinder has a ratcheting mechanism. This is really important to preventing the revolver from detonating in your hand. When you draw the hammer back, the ratchets will cause the cylinder to rotate a new round into battery. When you drop the hammer that ratcheting mechanism will lock the cylinder in place preventing it from rotating freely. You can spin the chamber on some revolvers by drawing back the hammer to a fully cocked position. It’s still a bad idea because you’re applying wear to the ratchet system, and you really, really, do not that to break.

This means two things: First, like I said, you cannot spin a revolver with the hammer down. If you could misalign the chamber and barrel, which would result in a, “catastrophic mechanical failure,” when fired. Second, spinning the cylinder (even with the hammer back) is actively dangerous. You need these mechanisms working flawlessly for the firearm to be safe, and you don’t want this stuff damaged because you were playing with your gun.

The specifics of this will vary between revolvers, but the basic mechanical concepts are fairly universal. There may be a revolver design where you can safely spin it with the hammer down, but I’m not aware of one. (It actually wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some weird revolver out there that’s specifically designed to allow free movement on a dropped hammer, but nothing I’m aware of.)

Another problem with Russian Roulette is that, eventually, someone’s going to get shot. While it’s not particularly intimidating to watch your captor turn their own head into a rapidly expanding cloud of chunky mist, getting shot in the head is even less intimidating.

This is one of those fundamental problems with coercion. Yes, death is a very scary thing, however, the dead aren’t afraid of much. If you accidentally kill your captive, you’re not scaring them. If you needed them alive, it’s time to come up with a plan B. If you start with putting a gun to their head and that doesn’t work, you have nothing to escalate to. Really, with intimidation, you want to start with vague threats, and gradually escalate. If you get to the point where you’re putting a gun to their head, if they’re not already intimidated, it’s not going to happen.

Additionally, interrogations through fear will get the subject to tell you what they think you want to hear, not the truth. This can be a real problem, if you’re trying to get information out of them.


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Gunshots and Hearing Loss

How do constant sounds from firing guns affect hearing? Do soldiers use some kind of protection?


The sound of a modern firearm discharging is loud enough to cause damage to the ear. This will result in hearing loss over time, it can also result in migraines and tinnitus. Hearing loss is the most common disability among US Military veterans. Basically, if you spend a lot of time around discharging firearms, without wearing ear protection, will suffer some degree of hearing loss.

Soldiers should be wearing hearing protection at all times, but, that doesn’t mean they always do. Same thing is true for people at a firing range. They should be wearing eyes and ear protection at all times, but you’ll see idiots who eschew them semi-frequently (at least, at poorly policed ranges. Some ranges will be a lot more careful about this for liability reasons.)

The US military issues dual use earplugs designed to filter out loud battlefield noises, which could cause hearing damage, while simultaneously not filtering lower volume sounds. I’m not sure how effective these are, as there was a major lawsuit back in 2015, regarding the earplugs produced by 3M.

Either way, if you’re using a modern firearm, you should be wearing ear protection of some kind. This isn’t as true historically. The actual problem isn’t the gun, it’s the propellent. Modern firearms use (variations of) “smokeless powder.” Smokeless powder dates back to the late 19th century, and had a lot of implications for firearms engineering. It burns more cleanly than black powder. This means there’s less fouling in the gun. (Fouling is residual unburned powder remaining behind in the firearm.) This means that firearms built to use smokeless powder cartridges can be far more mechanically complex. The downside is that smokeless powder gunshots are significantly louder than black powder ones. Which is why I’ve been stressing, “modern firearms.”

So, in answer to your questions: Yes.


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How Distance Affects the Sound of a Gunshot

I live near a military base and a wood, and I regularly hear both the training of the soldiers and shooting from hunters. So is it reasonable to assume one would hear a hunting rifle shot from about a distance of 100/200m when inside a house? A friend of mine says no, claiming shots aren‘t that loud and wouldn‘t be overheard. I think otherwise, but perhaps I overimagine?

So, this is actually a shockingly complex topic, and I’ll try to keep it somewhat simple, but there are a lot of factors that seriously skew these numbers.

If there was no environment, and just natural atmospheric fall off, 200m from a high power rifle going off would still potentially be loud enough to cause pain. And you could still hear the rifle going off at a kilometer, at roughly the volume of a conversation. (It works out to around ~40 decibels, so, audible but not especially loud.)

The only time you’re likely to encounter something like this is if a shooter is firing out over a valley. (Worth noting is that atmospheric humidity will heavily affect sound propagation. If I remember correctly, low humidity will reduce sound propagation, while high humidity will increase it. However, I don’t know exactly how much this affects, and I could be remembering this backwards.) However, the valley example is somewhat artificial, because in any real space, the valley’s terrain will affect propagation.

Related to this, sound transmits very well across hard surfaces. So if you’re in an urban environment, sound will echo off the buildings, down the roads, and it will travel farther (or, more accurately, it will retain volume over longer distances.) This is also true for sound traveling across bodies of water. It will be easier to hear a rifle being fired from across a lake, than within a dense forest, closer to the shooter. In fact, using the example above, that rifle shot would still be ~85 decibels after a kilometer over open water.

Then there is the inverse, foliage, and even just grassy meadows will dramatically reduce the propagation of sound. A properly constructed outside range can make use of earthen berms. On their own, these will significantly reduce the perceived volume of a gunshot. Just breaking line of sight between the gunshot and the listener will significantly reduce the sound transmitted to them. So, with grassy berms shielding an outside range, you could easily drop that 127dB rifle shot down to ~85dB at 200m. Add some dense trees around the range, and might be able to drop it low enough that it would be extremely hard to hear over ambient noise in a residential dwelling at those ranges.

I’m not sure exactly how much noise absorption you’re getting from the woods, but it would not surprise me if you can hear hunters taking shots. Especially if the terrain is (mostly) flat, and you have an effective line of sight on the shooters (even if you can’t actually see them.) Similarly, if you have windows open, that’s not going to mitigate the sound of a gunshot.

As for the military range, it’s entirely possible you can hear that as well, depending on how the range is constructed, and the exact terrain between you and them. If they’re on the other side of a river, you could absolutely hear that over the water.

That said, it sounds, from your description, like the shots are fairly quiet (under 40dB), which, yeah, that’s absolutely plausible at those ranges.


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Sniping is a Singular Skillset with Specialized Tools

Hello! I just read that a fatal shot by 1000yd for a killer is a bad tactical choice, because of all the possible variables (mobility of the target, time [1-2s are needed at this distance, is that right?], weather etc.). What do you think about it?

I don’t agree with the, “bad tactical choice,” angle. I’m honestly not sure where that’s coming from.

If your weapon is a .308 or (worse), a 5.56mm, you don’t have the option at all. Those rounds are not effective at that range. On the other hand, if you have something like a .338 Lapua Magnum or one of the 12.7mm AM rifles, it’s entirely possible you could put someone down at over 1km.

So, is it, “a bad tactical choice?” No, it’s a specific choice. It will be a very difficult shot, but it’s not impossible. This is why dedicated snipers are specialists. It is a singular skillset. Travel time affecting where the target will be is ironically one of the smaller considerations. Being able to predict where someone will be in a little over a second is trivial in comparison to accounting for things like gravity, cross winds, air pressure changes, and the earth’s rotation. All of which become real considerations when you’re putting bullets into targets at extreme ranges.

Hitting targets at over 1km are shots that your average shooter would not be able to make, and very few common rifles are even effective at those ranges. This is, quite literally, why rounds like .338 were developed. To give military snipers a round that could penetrate body armor at 1,000 yards.

So, if your sniper has the skill set, the experience, and the weapon, being able to kill someone at 1,000 yards, and then escape before the enemy can locate where the shot came from, is a very sound option.

Having said that, you will frequently see snipers in fiction making pretty egregious tactical blunders. A couple big ones are snipers setting up in locations that leave them very exposed, and don’t give them enough escape routes. Setting up on rooftops ticks both of these boxes.

If you’re on the roof of a building, you’ve got limited ways down and are visible to anyone who looks up. This is fine for security marksmen, who don’t need to worry about being hunted down if they take a shot, but for an assassin it’s a huge liability. If the responding security group knows they were in that building, and can lock it down before the sniper is outside, they’re trapped.

A shot from a lower floor can be just as effective, but harder to pinpoint, and puts the sniper closer to an escape onto the street.

Now, a sniper rifle is a poor tool for a professional assassin, for reasons that might not be entirely obvious. Rifles, even mass produced ones, are still individual mechanical objects. They have quirks, and these will become more noticeable when you’re using them at extreme ranges. A sniper will spend a lot of time working with their rifle and documenting exactly how it behaves, so they can account for that when the time comes to put a round into someone at over 2km. (Yeah, when we’re talking about the .338 Lapua Magnum, it’s worth remembering this round has a maximum effective range somewhere around 2.7km.)

For a professional assassin (who doesn’t want to have all their hits linked together by police forensics), their firearms are disposable. If you used a gun to kill someone, that bullet is on file somewhere, and it’s time to slag the gun and get a replacement. Obviously, extremely expensive rifles with long acclimation periods are not a good fit for this approach to firearms. Something like a SIG 716 would still run a couple grand, but if you’re only putting a 7.62 round into someone at 500m, it’s a lot easier to build your proficiency to that point, and as a semi-auto rifle, it’s a lot easier to quickly account for errors and idiosyncrasies of the rifle.

But, yeah, if your situation is one where you can set up and wait (possibly for days) until you can take the shot and escape undetected, snipers are a valid tactical option. If you’re asking about getting into close range firefights, these kinds of precision rifles are going to fair much worse.


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Q&A: The Physics of Recoil and Science Fiction Guns

I’m creating sci-fi guns. Is it possible to simply say this gun is pretty much has no recoil? In fact, what causes recoil? Could some advance tech simply doesn’t have recoil or recoil cushion kind of thing? Also is it ever possible that huge guns have little recoil and tiny guns with huge recoil? Or big guns with little power and tiny ones with huge power?

So, as the second question, it’s Newtonian physics. Specifically, “for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” Recoil experienced by the user is the result of the powder burn in the chamber. Often times, it’s partially mitigated by mechanical considerations in the gun, but at the same time, bolt travel can also contribute to experienced recoil.

Recoil compensation systems exist. These can include gas vents designed to counteract climb, mechanical buffers, and counterweight systems. Part of the problem with recoil management is, simply, the technology we’re using (and have been using for over a thousand years at this point.) When gunpowder burns, it causes gasses to expand rapidly in all directions. This is what propels the bullet down range, but also applies force to the user.

(And, yes, that over a thousand years. The first firearms date back to the 12th or 13th centuries, but the use of gunpowder in China dates back to the first millennia.)

So, even with modern technology, you can significantly reduce experienced recoil. Some of this is physics, but you can redirect that force, though you still have to deal with it.

So, can you do away with recoil entirely? Technically, probably not, but you could potentially reduce it to the point that it is undetectable by the user.

High energy weapons, such as lasers, plasma projectors or particle beams technically would probably have at least some theoretical degree of recoil, even if it was just from the user pulling the trigger. But, we’re not talking about enough to be meaningful. Gauss weapons would probably also have some recoil from accelerating the physical projectile, but in comparison to dealing with burning powder, it’s mild enough that t you could (probably) mitigate perceived recoil entirely.

As for the question of big guns that are weak, why would you do that to yourself? A larger weapon will be more awkward to carry, more difficult to use, harder to manage when not in use. There’s really no point here. You can, technically see this, with antique artillery pieces, which are inferior to their modern counterparts.

That’s the one time when I could legitimately say you might something like a big, heavy, gun that’s underpowered. If it’s technologically inferior to more recent developments.

As for powerful small guns? Yeah, that’s a thing that can happen. Especially when you’re comparing more modern weapons to older ones.

This gets a little awkward because there’s no meaningful way to quantify damage output from firearms. Even a musket can kill you. It’s a question of what the bullet damages. The real advancements have been to things like range, accuracy, capacity, the ability to quickly reload, and long range optics.

A modern subcompact Glock is considerably more lethal than a Napoleonic era musket. But, that’s not because the bullet itself does more damage (in fact it might not.) It’s because the pistol is effective at ranges where the musket’s accuracy is unreliable, and it can easily dump 8 rounds into the user’s target while they’re foe is still reloading for a second shot.

In the end, a bullet is a bullet. If it connects and damages something you need to maintain a pulse, you’ll die. More bullets means that’s more likely for that to happen. While concepts like flatness and stopping power have a reality to them, they’re not good comparative tools to determining whether a gun can kill someone. And, quantified, numerical damage, is a fantasy.


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Q&A: Diving into the Path of a Bullet

Is it really possible to jump in front of someone being shot like a shield and take the bullet? This keeps happening in fiction but I always wonder how it’s possible because no one can outrun a bullet. Or is it possible because these characters aren’t attempting to outrun a bullet that’s already fired, but moving in front of the target ahead of the shot, or perhaps idk the jumping in front actually causes the shooter to choose that moment to shoot?

No. There’s a lot of reasons you cannot do this, and they combine together. That said, there is a very specific truth mixed in, which you will see with any competent security detail.

So, the first problem has less to do with the speed of the bullet and more to do with your own brain. This may sound a little strange at first, but you can’t see the world around you right now. Literally, as you’re reading this text, you’re not seeing the world that exists in this moment, you’re seeing snapshot of the world from about 100ms ago. Similarly, you cannot hear the world that exists right now. The things you hear happened roughly 50ms ago. (Don’t take these numbers as absolutely correct because there is some variance between individuals, and I’m also relying on my memory for the sound processing time, so, I could be off by a bit.)

Processing visual data is an extraordinarily complex process. It’s taking data from the rods and cones at the back of your eye and turning that into a picture. It’s also not particularly concerned with being accurate. Everything you see is upside down, your brain flips it. Similarly, you can always see your nose (unless you are extremely walleyed.) Your brain takes that data and intentionally edits around it. All of this comes with a neural cost. It cannot be done instantaneously. So, what you see was the world 1/10th of a second ago. This is not a terrible tradeoff for having vision that can identify objects by outline without needing motion to track your environment. This also means your brain ejects visual data that it doesn’t think is relevant, but that’s a different discussion. (Incidentally, your brain playing fast and loose with data is why you think sight and sound line up. It’s literally your brain screwing with your perception of time. It has a purpose, because it means you can use sight and sound together and can create redundancy in the event that one sense is partially impaired, but your brain is lying to you.)

Technically, there’s a little more time behind what you see and what actually exists. It takes time for light to bounce off of an object and travel to your eye. When we’re talking about close ranges (like within the same room), the speed of light is so high that the travel time is an academic detail at best. This does become relevant when you’re observing objects at great distance. For example, the light you see bounced off the moon hit the lunar surface over a second ago. When you’re looking at Jupiter through a telescope, you’re seeing the planet as it existed 30-50 minutes ago. When you start getting into interstellar distances, then you’re looking at years of travel time. But, as I mentioned, this isn’t relevant when you’re in the same zip code.

If you’re curious, the sunlight you see is about eight minutes old. That’s the travel time from the Sun to the Earth.

Sound travels at 343m/s. Ironically, I can’t quote C from memory, but speed of sound I remember. This is important because many firearms use supersonic ammunition. A 9x19mm cartridge will hit its target before you hear the gunshot. (Assuming both you and the target are at the same distance from the gun. If you’re holding the gun, you’ll hear it first.)

So, let’s crunch a few numbers for a second. That 9x19mm bullet leaves the barrel traveling at roughly 380m/s. If your shooter is 20 meters from their target (so medium pistol range), it will hit the target in ~53ms. It will take ~58ms for the of the sound of the gunshot to reach the victim. It takes ~50ms for the bodyguard to process that they heard the gunshot, meaning that by the time their brain processed that data, it’s been over a tenth of a second since the gun was fired, and 55ms since the bullet struck its target. It could be half a second from the gunshot before they can even react if their reflexes are excellent.

It’s not that you can’t outrun a bullet (you can’t, but that’s beside the point), it’s that by the time you realize the gun has been fired, it’s already hit its target, and your brain is playing catch up.

The situation is a little more complicated with sniper rounds, but it’s a similar story, the bullet has already hit the target before you hear the gunshot (or the crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier, if it’s far enough away that you can’t hear the original gunshot.)

The truth is, you cannot preventatively react to a gunshot. You can react after it has occurred, but your brain cannot process information fast enough to respond before the event is over.

That should pretty thoroughly shut down the idea of someone leaping into the path of a bullet, but we’re not done.

Usually when you have the cliché of someone diving into the path of a bullet, they’re sacrificing themselves to save the other character. Here’s the problem, that 9x19mm example above? They put a round down range and somehow, someone gets in the way. What happens next is that the bullet passes through the unintended victim, and probably still hits the intended target (with somewhat less kinetic force.) Bullets do not care about your heroic sacrifice and will continue traveling until they get bored and bounce off a bone.

So, I said there was a specific truth in this. It’s not jumping into the path of the bullet. It’s the way a competent security detail will create a wall of meat. Meat that is wearing body armor rated to take incoming handgun fire. But they mean it when they say their job is to take a bullet for their protectee. The critical part of their job is identifying any threat before the gunshot, by then, it’s already too late.

A fairly obvious perk of body armor is that if it will stop a bullet intended for the wearer, it will also protect anyone standing behind them.

Most of the time, a competent security detail will be on alert for any sign of a threat when moving through unsecured areas. Ideally they will want to keep the protectee moving, and not linger anywhere that hasn’t been secured, though circumstances may not allow for that. If given the opportunity, they will place themselves between any potential threat and the protectee. So, for example, they would place themselves between the protectee and a crowd (even a crowd of fans or supporters), if they have the option. (In some cases they will not have that option.) In the event of an incident (whether that’s an attempt on the protectee’s life), their priority will become to extract the protectee to safety. They will close around the protectee, shielding them from potential gunfire with their armor. Exactly what is considered safe may vary, but reasonable bet that they’re moving the protectee to their transportation and getting out of there.

There is a very dark version of this: Crowds will soak gunfire. It’s not 100% reliable, some rounds could get through, but it’s better than being out in the open. If your character has absolutely no qualms about civilian casualties, they can use a crowded area as a shield from gunfire. Those rounds will punch through a couple people, but a densely packed area can be an effective barrier. It’s kind of the opposite of what you’re asking, because your, “victim,” is intentionally putting others in the path of the bullets intended for them, but it is an effective tactic. Moving with the crowd as people scatter and disperse can also be a way to lose pursuers. With a sufficiently ruthless character, it’s even possible that once they’re in the crowd, they may fire a few shots to get people scattering and create chaos. Either to expose and eliminate their pursuers, or to cover their escape.

The cliché about diving into the path of a bullet survives because it’s visually dynamic, and dramatic. (In theory) it’s dramatic for a character to die while saving the life of another, but this incarnation is extremely artificial, and more than a little silly.

So, can you dive into the path of a bullet? Not intentionally, and even if you did, the bullet would probably punch through you and hit the intended target anyway.


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Q&A: Spontanious Bullet Combustion and the Wrong Kind of a Cook-Off

I have a character who can trigger and inhibit combustion; I know him using his power to “cook off” the bullets in someone’s magazine would be a bad thing for the person holding it, I’m just wondering as to how bad.


This is going to depend on the weapon, and exactly what your character is doing.

It’s worth remembering that the normal meaning of, “cook off” doesn’t apply here. Under normal circumstances, a gun cooks off its ammunition when the chamber becomes hot enough (from sustained use) to ignite the powder in any freshly loaded round. On most automatic and semiautomatic weapons, this will cause a “runaway gun,” and it will proceed to dump its magazine quite quickly.

However, it’s nearly impossible for this to occur with a handgun. The fire rate in these situations would inversely related to the bolt weight. (The lighter the bolt, the faster it will cycle.) I’m guessing here, but most handguns would cycle at over 1k RPM if they could cook off. (For reference, the Glock 18 has a cyclic rate of around 1,200 RPM, so this number isn’t implausible.) The main issue with this is, that it’s not possible for a handgun’s chamber to get that hot (and it’s nearly impossible on any semi-automatic weapon.) You’re most likely to encounter runaway guns after heavy use of full auto weapons with deep magazines.

The absolute best case for spontaneous powder combustion, are single shot firearms with no spare ammunition. Breach loading shotguns, and some varieties of hunting rifle come to mind. Though, a pepper box style pistol, or double barrel shotgun would be a similar situation. In these cases, spontaneous combustion would basically just produce an accidental discharge.

Of course, if you combine this with poor muzzle discipline, you have a recipe for disaster.

This is also true for any muzzle loaded flintlock design. Though, the odds that a character wasn’t also carrying powder would be low. When dealing with black powder, I’m unsure how much benefit your character would really get from setting someone’s powder magazine ablaze. At least, in comparison to simply setting some of their foe’s internal organs on fire and calling it a day.

More modern weapons can become really problematic.

With revolvers, causing all six shots to cook off at once could have a variety of ill effects, and it would depend on the specific revolver. In particular, any round in line with the frame (specifically the bottom chamber in the cylinder in almost all cases) would cause catastrophic damage to the gun itself. This will render the weapon inoperable. This kind of a failure can result in shrapnel injuring the user (though, that’s usually more of a consideration with the cylinder failing due to overpressure rounds.) Bullets ejected down the barrel would behave (mostly) normally. Bullets ejected from any chamber with an unobstructed exit would tumble after exiting the gun, have relatively limited range (because they wouldn’t have had the entire barrel to build pressure and speed), and poor accuracy (as the round would be tumbling in flight, and not spinning, because it hadn’t passed through any rifling.)

What I’m not sure about with revolvers is, if the bullet strikes the frame (which could happen with all 5 out-of-battery rounds) whether the resulting back pressure would be enough to crack the cylinder. The thought process here is that the bullet would strike the frame and stop (causing some damage), but then the gas pressure behind the bullet would continue to build, and if it couldn’t force the bullet out of the cylinder, that force would then push outward against the sides of the cylinder. It is quite possible, particularly with high power cartridges, for that pressure to be enough to crack, or explode, the cylinder itself, causing the gun to literally explode in the user’s hands.

I’m not sure what would happen with tube magazines. Usually you see these on shotguns, though rifle and handgun examples of the design do exist. My suspicion would be that the magazine would (roughly) direct force away from the user, but I’m not sure exactly how that pressure would shake out. The other thing about shotguns is that they’re relatively low pressure weapons. It doesn’t take a lot of force to get shot or slugs moving, so they don’t. When you get into exotic rounds, such as dragon’s breath or flares, there might not be enough powder to cycle the bolt on a semi-auto shotgun. This means, while I’m not 100% sure, it’s possible if your character cooks off the magazine of a Benelli M4, all they’ll actually achieve is slagging the mag tube itself.

Of course, if you did load your shotgun with something like dragon’s breath shells, cleaning that mag out would be really obnoxious.

Detachable box magazines are norm for most modern firearms. Depending on the magazine, and the cartridges loaded in, this could get bad.

First, I need to explain something about basic firearms engineering. Firearms work off a basic, “path of least resistance,” principle. When you ignite a cartridge’s powder, you rely on the chamber to direct that force into the bullet, and push the bullet down the barrel. The entire mechanical system is designed to direct the force of burning powder. If you don’t do that, then the force will be (mostly) wasted. It will push against the least structurally sound part of the cartridge (which is the shell casing), and will barely move the bullet, (because that is the heaviest part of the cartridge.)

In fact, if you were to replicate the skillet scene from John Wick (which you really, really should not), you would likely end up with the bullets still in the skillet after they’d cooked, while the shell casings would have sprayed brass shrapnel in random directions, and probably bounced out of the pan. The dangerous thing about ammo in a fire is, often, the casings, not the bullets themselves.

With a revolver, bullets are always held in the chamber they’ll be fired from, and the gun rotates those cambers into line with the barrel. However, with autoloading designs, the cartridges are not secured in a chamber until they are ready to fire (and moved into battery.) This means, if you detonate those rounds, the casings will explode, while the bullet will (mostly) remain in place.

Importantly, what will not happen, is the gun firing all of the rounds forward from it’s magazine, tearing apart the user’s hand. Instead, the force will be directed outward, and the it may still tear apart the user’s hand.

Most modern box mags are made from aluminum, steel, or plastic. Which one you get will depend on the gun, and, in many cases, particularly rifles, you can pick which you want. Detonating the rounds within will probably (irreparably) damage the magazine. Possibly blowing out the sides. Depending on the specific example, this may be enough force to explode out of a lighter weight magazine. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s enough to blow out the floor plate on some mags. If the magazine remains structurally sound, there will probably be a minor shrapnel blast out of the feed lips. (This is the only part I’d be seriously concerned about, without knowing what kind of gun we’re talking about.)

If the magazine is loaded into a rifle (so, most of the mag is exposed), the structurally weakest part (the floorplate) would be what I’d expect to see fail, blasting shrapnel down, and probably away from the shooter. If the floorplate doesn’t fail, then you might see the magazine mushroom, expanding with the igniting gasses. Depending on the rifle, this may force brass up into the chamber, jamming the action. But, without knowing exactly what we’re talking about, it could be difficult to know for certain. It’s also possible, depending on the exact mag release mechanism, for the expanding gasses to pop the mag lose, which would forcibly eject it from the weapon. But, you’d need to know exactly how the mags on that specific weapon are retained to judge how this would work.

If the magazine is held in the grip, (so, most autoloading handguns), if the magazine mushrooms, it’s possible that it will also deform the grip, making it impossible to remove. Again, I would expect the floorplate to fail before that happened, but it really does depend on the gun.

There are two special cases that deserve mention.

On some drum mags, it’s possible the front plate would break off, and that the combined force of the tightly packed rounds would direct a significant portion of the force forward. (Of course, once the front or back plate failed, I’d expect the wall to fail as well, so the the whole thing could come apart. This isn’t that outlandish, when you know that drum mags tend to be a mechanical nightmare under the best of circumstances.

The FN P90 is a very unusual gun in where it stores it’s ammunition. The magazine is stored flush across the top of the gun, with an unusual turret design at the back. Fifty rounds of 5.7mm are stored horizontally down the length of the gun, and physically rotated 90 degrees when they’re loaded into battery. It’s a very unique firearm. It also means that the magazine is right next to your face, and the only thing separating you from your ammunition is a sheet of translucent polymer. If those rounds were to spontaneously detonate, it would be very unfortunate.

So, while you could do a considerable amount of damage to the gun, and this dangerous, it’s not like you’d suddenly have all of those bullets spraying all over the place turning everyone in the area into chunky salsa. It just doesn’t work that way. At the same time, getting hit by brass shrapnel can injure or kill you. It’s not a bullet, and doesn’t have the range of one, but it doesn’t need to be.

Ironically, the more valuable thing here might be the ability to suppress combustion. As I’ve mentioned before, gunpowder isn’t, actually, explosive, it just burns extremely quickly. This means, your character could potentially prevent rounds from firing, and while it wouldn’t damage the gun, it would also create an obnoxious situation, as the operator would need to manually clear the dud round. Most firearms rely on the recoil generated from the previous shot to cycle the action, so when a cartridge fails to fire, you have to manually cycle the action.

For a more sadistic bent, this also means that the ideal time to detonate that round would be as the operator is removing it from the gun. As they cycle the bolt open to extract the “dud” cartridge, it detonates in their face.

Though, obviously, that would depend on how fine their control was. If they could simply cause things to ignite in an area, that’s going torch the people there as well. If they can suppress combustion over an area, then they could basically negate firearms when needed.

Q&A: A preventable Tragedy (Children and Firearms)

There seems to be a trope that when a child plays with a gun they end up shooting themselves or someone else. But how about writing when they do so, can they hurt themselves because of recoil or got their fingers caught in the slide? That never tends to happen, but that is totally possible right? Or at least combined with shooting themselves/someone else? Though I can get recoil/slide injuries being ignored and waysided by the seriousness of getting shot.

That’s not a trope, that happens. Roughly thirteen hundred children die from gunshot wounds in the United States each year. Somewhere just under six thousand are treated for (and survive) gunshot wounds. Now, only about 6% of those deaths (and, I assume the injuries as well) are accidental (the rest are a mix of homicides, suicides, and assaults.)

There are a non-trivial number of non-self inflicted, accidental firearms injuries and deaths where the shooter is a younger child.

If I seem hostile, here’s my problem, this isn’t “a trope,” this isn’t, “a plot contrivance.” This is something actually happens in the real world. Much like drunk driving, it is something where it tends to be more lethal in fiction than reality, and I’m fine with that.

Much like drunk driving, these shootings occur, more often than not, from adults being irresponsible, and there is a serious possibility that someone will end up dead.

Note that I did not say the victim’s parents are responsible. In the US, roughly 40% accidental firearms deaths occur at a friend’s house. (Strictly speaking, I’m being a little more general with this, the exact statistic is 40% of unintentional shooting deaths in the 11-14 age bracket.)

So, what do you do? Secure the gun. Do not “just” hide it. Hiding is insufficient, as roughly 3:4 children know where those firearms are concealed in their house.

Securing a gun means, get a gun safe. It doesn’t matter if you have a handgun, or a full arsenal. Get a safe. This goes beyond just the risk of a child getting their hands on the gun, as it also protects the firearm from theft.

Get and use a trigger lock. Yes, this is a belt and suspenders kind of situation, but it doesn’t hurt to do both. Especially if your safe is combination locked.

Store the ammunition separately from the gun, and keep that secure as well. This is just basic gun safety, but still. Also keep your ammo in a cool, dry location, as cartridges tend to degrade over time if subjected to humidity and temperature extremes.

Go by what the TSA says: If it fires a projectile, it is not a toy. That includes 6mm airsoft, 4.5mm air guns (including BB guns) and paintball. These are not toys, and there is a real danger of permanent injury from mishandling. (Fun trivia, I have actually checked an airsoft pistol through airport security. It was treated like a live firearm. I had to fill out all the paperwork, and storage had to comply with TSA regulations.)

Do not assume that a child will not play with a gun, or that they, “know better.” They will play with it. Guns are mistaken for toys in roughly 16% of accidental shootings where the victim is a child.

I said, I’m okay with shootings like this being presented as more lethal than they are in fiction. What I’m less okay with is the disproportionate representation of this as, “accidental shootings.” Most of the time, when a child is shot, they either did it to themselves intentionally, or were intentionally shot by someone else. As I mentioned earlier, only about 6% of firearms deaths among children arise from accidents. The scenario where a kid is playing with a gun, and doesn’t realize it’s not a toy is vanishingly rare. More often, and horrifyingly, they use the gun as designed.

Stepping away from kids entirely, there are a number of minor ways you can injure yourself while operating firearms.

The firearms community has the wonderful term, “Beretta bites,” which refer to injuries on the thumb, resulting from having the slide recoil into that digit during firing. (This will happen with most semi-auto handguns if you try to keep your thumb on the hammer while firing.) Usually, this refers to a specific pair of chunks taken out of each side of the thumb, and it’s immediately recognizable.

In most cases, these are going to be minor injuries. The kind of cuts you’d either allow to clot on their own, or throw a bandaid over. However, in some cases, these can be deep enough to requires stitches.

I’ve never seen anyone get scuffed from having their hand up by the slide during firing. Generally speaking, you’re not going to put your thumb up next to the ejection port simply because of the ergonomics. The way most handguns are designed, it’s more comfortable to put your thumb in line with your index finger. (If you do pull it back, you’ll end up behind the hammer and we have Beretta bites.) Your index finger and the side of your hand shouldn’t be near the slide, because your index finger would be on the trigger. (Technically, you could pull the trigger with your middle finger, but I doubt many inexperienced users would preferentially do this.)

It is possible to injure your offhand if you hold the gun incorrectly. There’s a lot of potential grips here, where, someone who didn’t know what they should hold onto could be hurt. Weaver and Teacup are the most likely grips, but those are pretty safe. Someone trying to emulate what they saw from John Wick could actually mess up their stabilizing hand by wrapping it around the slide. (Don’t do this.)

It’s also possible to snip your fingertips when the action is closing on some firearms. Dismantling some firearms can be hazardous if you’re don’t know what you’re doing, and I can think of a few handguns that can open up your fingers during reassembly, if you don’t where to put them. (Though, these are all pretty rare, and most of these are associated with disassembling the gun for maintenance, something that an inexperienced user is unlikely to attempt.)

Beyond that, it’s quite easy to burn yourself on a recently used firearm, if you don’t know which parts are safe to touch. (The severity of the burn will scale based on how hot the gun got, and how long contact persisted. This isn’t a serious medical issue in most cases, but you can easily suffer minor burns without much effort.)

It wouldn’t happen to a child, but you can pinch your fingers when you’re loading a magazine into some models of firearms. If the mag’s floorplate sits flush with the base of the grip, be careful. (The SIG Pro 2022 is on my shit list for the sheer number of times has clipped my pinky during reload. I eventually learned to either point my pinky straight away from the gun during a mag change, or completely shift my grip on the pistol during a reload.) The P99, and USP are both guilty of this as well. Oddly I’ve never had an issue with a Glock doing this to me. Even the 33, which uses the floorplate to add additional grip length (the exact same thing the SP2022 does.) Worth noting, every pistol mentioned in this paragraph has a polymer frame. It can hurt, it can raise a blood blister, but I’ve never had them draw blood from a fast mag change. (Also, for the record, I put an unnecessary amount of power into my reloads, I blame the 1911 I learned on. This is entirely a function of how much force the shooter uses when inserting a fresh mag.)

Shell casings can end up in unpleasant places. Again, you’re not likely to suffer serious injury this way, but you can end up with burns if it becomes wedged in your clothing, especially if the gun was under heavy use. (It’s the same thing, the risk of a serious burn is almost non-existent, but it can happen.) The only incident of scarring I’ve ever heard of from shell casings came from a service member who ended up with spent brass wedged under their armor in combat. That said, I have had a Ruger M9 knockoff throw casings at my eyes with enough force to damage my glasses. Eye protection is important.

One final consideration of injuries that absolutely can be sustained is hearing loss. Even under ideal circumstances, if you’re not using any ear protection around firearms, you will suffer some damage, and experience symptoms like ringing and headaches from prolonged gunfights. Again, if you’re going out on the range, wear ear protection.

One final danger can be easily overstated, but is worth remembering. Failure to control recoil on fully automatic firearms. There was a famous incident on August 25, 2014, where a 9 year old girl, at a Nevada shooting range lost control of a 9mm Uzi killing Charles Vacca, her shooting instructor. I’ve run across a handful of other similar stories over the years, including a military instructor in a former Soviet state, where one of his recruits had been messing around with his AK, lost control of the recoil and put a round through his head. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, seriously, full-auto is not a toy. It can be fun, but it’s not something you should ever hand to an inexperienced shooter. The risk something going wrong (however minor) is significantly higher.

If you get shot, triage isn’t going to care if you’ve got some minor bruising on your hand. That won’t kill you. There’s a lot of minor injuries that you can sustain from operating firearms, in most cases these don’t even rise to the level of complaining about it in the moment. If you’re bleeding it, clean it and throw something (sterile) on to stop the bleeding. You don’t want the chemical residues getting into the wound (even if it isn’t particularly dangerous.)

Of course, if you’re shooting recreationally and injured, stop and deal with it. Don’t just ignore it.

If you have kids, and you have firearms in your life, you need to take steps to ensure that you keep them separate, and the kids do not get access to the guns except under your direct supervision. It is your job to educate them.

At the same time, it is also vitally important for you to know if your children’s friends have access to firearms. Like I said, roughly 40% of children who are killed, die at a friends house. With that in mind, it is reasonable to require those weapons are properly secured and stored.

So, the short answer is, yes, adult or child, you can suffer minor injuries from operating a gun as intended. You can also hurt yourself in a multitude of ways that have nothing to do with being struck by a bullet.


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Q&A: Overpenetration

Suppose three people are standing in a line: A – B – C. A and B are about two meters apart. If person C shoots at B with a hunting rifle, is there a danger that the shot will pass through B and also hit A? I’m trying to construct a scene and wonder if I have to rearrange the way those three are standing. Thank you for your help!

Yes. There are some situations where a bullet might not fully penetrate, but, overpenetration is a thing.

Anytime you have a gunshot wound that creates an exit wound (which is most of the time), the bullet has passed through the victim and continued traveling. This means it can potentially hit someone else.

Hitting multiple people in a row is possible, with a few important caveats. It’s possible for the bullet to strike bone and deflect off in a new direction. Similarly, it’s possible for the bullet to strike bone and shatter, creating multiple exist wounds, any one of which could potentially strike others. It is possible for the bullet to strike bone (or another solid object), embedding in it and stopping it’s travel. (This can also break said bone.) It is possible, though extremely rare, for bone fragments to be ejected from the victim, causing further injuries down range.

From a safety perspective, expect overpenetration. There is a real risk of a round, especially a rifle round, passing through the intended target and striking someone (or something) behind them. As a result, shooters are advised to keep track of their background, (the area behind their target), when firing in an uncontrolled environment.

However, because of the risk of deflections, and bullet trajectories generally being somewhat difficult to fully predict in the moment, you cannot count on overpenetration doing what you want.

It’s also worth knowing that bullets do lose a lot of velocity when they’re punching through meat, so while overpenetration is a thing, it’s not especially likely that a single shot will just keep going through people. It’s possible the second victim wouldn’t have an exit wound (which can a very bad thing.)

So, yes, it could pass through the target, striking the person behind them. At very short ranges, with a high power rifle, that’s the likely outcome. At 2 meters, this can happen with most handguns, rifles or even shotguns (depending on the load.)

Overpenetration is real, and I’ve been dinged in the past for overstating it. However, from a safety perspective, standing behind the target is not a good idea. From a practical perspective, it’s less of a certainty, but given your scenario, it’s quite likely.


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Q&A: The AK vs. AR-15 Argument and Lingering Cold War Politics

i’m… so sorry for this question, but google COULD NOT give me an unbiased answer. what are the pros/cons and avg “lifespans” of an AR-15 vs an AK-47? kind of a running gag in the story is the two protagonists are buddies and are always arguing about “mine-is-better-because” but also I want to write the weapons accurately anyway when they’re actually getting used.

So, there’s important caveat here, I’ve spent almost no time with either weapon. Most of my firearms experience has been handguns, with some time on shotguns and hunting rifles. Which, ironically puts in, roughly the same place as a lot of the people who take the AK vs. AR-15 rivalry seriously. They’ve seen them on TV, maybe used them in video games, but that’s about the extent of it.

The tricky part about the life-cycle for a firearm is, it’s per component. Off-hand the M4A1’s barrel is rated for ~7,500 rounds. But, that’s just the barrel, and if the barrel is failing, it can be replaced. Which is part of why the weapons will be examined by an armorer annually or bi-annually, to identify issues. The end result is, you’ll see firearms that are still in service for decades, with parts being replaced or repaired over time. The other side of this is that, if you abuse a gun, you can destroy it before you’ve fully broken it in.

The thing about this debate is, it’s kinda bullshit. You’ll see a lot of personal preference, and that’s valid so far as it goes. If you prefer the AK over the AR-15, that’s your choice. The reasoning doesn’t need to go beyond that. But, both are effective families of rifles. Both have family members that are sub-par. Both exist in a variety of calibers. Both have Assault, Carbine, DMR, and LMG variants. Both have been adopted by other manufacturers and gone far outside the range of, “is this gun better?”

So, the thing about both of these is, it’s not about the guns. The AR-15 design was adapted to the M16, the M4, the P416, the H&K 416, the LVOA-C, the SIG516, the LR-300… look, there are so many guns based off this platform that it’s ridiculous to say, “what are the characteristics of this weapon.” What you say about an LR-300 will not be true of an HK 716. These guns are entirely different weapons, with different design goals.

I mean, even the recently mentioned AAC Honey Badger is, basically, an AR-15 that’s been slightly reworked.

What do these guns have in common? From an engineering stance, a lot. Internally, it’s the same gun with minor modifications, but it’s also manufactured by different companies, to different standards, and potentially with their own quirks.

The Eugene Stoner’s AR platform is both very solid and very customizable. It’s widely used because it works. It has the disadvantage that it requires a fixed stock. The recoil spring travels into the stock, and gives every AR-10/AR-15 platform rifle a recognizable profile. You can immediately know at a glance if the gun you’re looking at is based of this design.

The AK-47 side of the debate isn’t any simpler. You have the AK-47… which you probably won’t see, at least not the Soviet one. You have the AKM which replaced in ’59. You’ve got the AK-74, which was chambered in a smaller 5.45mm cartridge as a response to NATO’s 5.56mm. The design was reworked to the Dragunov. There’s even bullpup variants, like the OTs-14 Groza. The irony is, now we have the AK101 and AK102 which are both chambered in 5.56mm NATO, so we’ve come full circle. I’m also pretty sure there’s a main line AK chambered in .308, but I can’t remember the number. If that’s not bad enough, the Chinese versions are all named, “Type #,” so, their version of the AK47 is (I think) the Type 56. Though, I’ll admit, I have a hard time keeping track.

Except, the AK’s history is a little more complicated. A lot of the design came directly from the German StG44. This isn’t calling Mikhail Kalashnikov a design plagiarist, however, the StG44 is the progenitor of many assault rifle designs, including the AK-47.

The irony is, you’ll never hear the same criticisms leveled at the Galil rifles. They’re Israeli manufactured AKs. However, because they’re sporting different externals, they don’t look like AKs, so the “AKs suck” contingent never give them a second glance. (Or, and I’ve seen this a couple times, they actually praise the Galil.)

There were different design goals with the AR-15 and the AK-47. However, it’s also worth remembering, these weapons were designed at different points in time.

The AK-47 was designed in the aftermath of World War II. It was one of the first assault rifles. In some ways, it’s more analogous to the M14, developed 7 years later, or the FN FAL, which was originally prototyped to use the same 8mm Kurz round as the StG44. (Though, by the time the FAL entered service, it was chambered in 7.62 NATO.) Another contemporary would be the H&K G3.

They’re all venerable guns. They’ll get the job done. Yes, they have distinct quirks, but the extensive rivalry ends up more in the range of people who never touch them, rather than something you’ll see from an actual combat veteran. It’s a rifle, it kills people.

I might get a little bit of hate for this, but, frankly, if you’re thinking about using any of those mid-century ARs, there are better options. If you could pick between an FN FAL, or an FN SCAR, the SCAR is probably going to be the better weapon. It represents 50 years of firearms development that the original FALs didn’t benefit from.

Is the AK a good gun? Yes. Without question. Their durability is somewhat overstated, but they are very easy to operate and maintain. You can’t abuse it and expect it to work perfectly, but it’s a solid piece of mid-century hardware. Like a lot of automatic rifles from that era, it’s not the most accurate weapon, but it will put a bullet where you want it at medium range.

Depending on what you’re doing, there are updates. There’s been iteration on the AK design over the years. You can get them chambered in 7.62x39mm, 5.45mm, or even 5.56mm NATO. (Like I said earlier.) The AKs starting at 106 use an entirely different gas system. This isn’t even addressing the AK-12, and I’ll come back to that one in a minute.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the AR-15 platform. It was the product of nearly 10 years of assault rifle design and testing. The FAL, M14, and AK-47 all saw extensive use in conflicts before Stoner developed the AR-10. The AR15 was a second generation Assault Rifle (or, third, if we’re counting the StG44 as it’s own generation.) It was built off of lessons learned. It was chambered in a smaller Remington .223 cartridge to give it better recoil characteristics, because that fit with the way assault rifles actually saw use. Something that the AKs would adapt back with the AK-74. Turns out, you didn’t need the firepower of 7.62 NATO at the ranges where combat was taking place.

The M16 has a bad reputation for reliability. There’s a lot of political history here with adoption process for the M16. The very short version is that the US Army’s tests were heavily biased against the weapon, with the testers deliberately abusing the guns to degrade their performance.

Even after the Army was ordered to adopt the rifle, they issued them without cleaning kits, billing the weapons as, “self-cleaning.” This meant that those M16s would foul and fail at a staggering rate.

Like I said, if you abuse a gun, it won’t work right.

Is the AR-15 platform solid? Yeah. Absolutely. It’s had 60 years of updates and iterations. The modern M4A1 is a very good rifle. It’s reliable if the user doesn’t intentionally abuse and neglect it. It’s accurate. It’s a good gun.

Now, I was going to say, the modern incarnations of the AR platform are very very modular. You can mount a stupid amount of extra hardware to them. Except, modern AKs have also copied that. The AK-12 features a modular rail system similar to what you’d find on a modern M4A1. If you want a red dot sight, and a vertical grip, you can now mount those on an AK, without having to replace the entire lower furniture, and attaching a separate bracket down the side.

Is the AK more reliable than the M4? Probably, but not to a meaningful degree. You should be maintaining your gun regardless. Keep your gun in good working order, and it should outlive you. Is the M4 more accurate than the AK-47? Probably, but I wouldn’t want to wager any money when you’re trying to compare the M4’s accuracy to the modern AK incarnations.

The entire argument between the AK-47 and the AR-15 platform isn’t about the guns. It’s a dick measuring contest left over from the Cold War. Like two people bragging about why their pickup truck’s brand is better.

This is why you’re having a hard time pulling the bias out of the discussion: The bias is the discussion. In the discussion, the guns are distorted to the point of caricature. In reality, they differences are far less significant.

These are both solid weapon platforms. The original AK-47 is dated, but there have been significant updates over the years. The original M16 had some issues, but the modern incarnations of the AR-15 platform are very versatile, and varied.


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