Tag Archives: firearms

Q&A: Plastic Gun Myths

Apparently there seems to be a wild consensus about guns that don’t have enough metal in them and sneak past metal detectors. Yes, no, in between. It seems all the fictional stories I’ve seen with such guns seem to be stretching plausibility or have enough sci fi or magic in it to make someone gloss over accuracy for cool mechanic. But what is it really?

It’s a myth. Or at least, it used to be, and now that it’s less of one, it may not matter anymore.

The major origin for this seems to have been the early Glocks. The Glock was not the first handgun on the market with a polymer frame, but it was the first to try to make that a serious selling point.

This lead to panicked speculation that the Glock could be taken through metal detectors. You can even see the extreme version of this in Die Hard 2 (1990), where the scriptwriters had it in their head that the Glock was manufactured from “porcelain,” and was invisible to metal detectors. The entire, “Glock 7” dialog is downright painful for anyone with passing familiarity with firearms.

It’s worth noting that the polymer frame does make the Glock considerably lighter than a steel framed pistol of that size. The other major solution that was being used were aluminum frame pistols, (like the SIG P226.) We’ve said it before, but weight is an important consideration for any weapon, and use of lighter materials like aluminum and polymers can be beneficial.

Also, while I’m not an expert on polymers, it’s worth noting that the Glock, technically, isn’t plastic. It’s a high-impact polymer that’s more closely related to nylon. Now, plenty of people (myself included) do sometimes use polymer and plastic interchangeably, but that’s not accurate. All plastics are polymers, but there are many polymers (both naturally occurring and synthetic) which are not plastics.

By weight, the Glock is over 80% steel. That’s a little misleading, because the polymer components are quite light, and the steel isn’t, but when you remember that the foil in a pack of cigarettes, or even your belt buckle can set off a metal detector, it illustrates how misunderstood the early polymer frame pistols really were.

For the time, the steel components in a Glock were necessary. You couldn’t replace them with polymer components and get a firearm that performed to the desired specifications. In particular, trying to use a polymer barrel would have resulted in a gun that would explode when fired. Even today, creating a polymer barrel is an engineering challenge. Creating one that will survive regular use is (probably) not possible with current technology.

Now, what really does exist are polymer combat knives. These will hold an edge, can go through a metal detector, and you can buy them for less than 20USD. (Less than half of that if you shop around.) Which part of why you probably haven’t been through a metal detector in the last decade.

As a technology, metal detectors are on the way out. Like many pieces of security technology, the metal detector came with a shelf life. They were designed to prevent people bringing contemporary weapons into secured areas, which lead to people developing weapons that could circumvent them.

In the last 20 years, there’s been a steady shift towards full body scanner technology. The big two are X-Ray scanners (both backscatter and direct transmission), and Millimeter Wave Scanners. These will detect polymer weapons.

Supplementing them is the old standard of a pat down search. It doesn’t matter if you have a space age gun that can go through a metal detector when someone can find it with the back of their hand while checking you for weapons.

Similarly, even if you did have a space age plastic gun, bullets and shell casings are still metal. They’ll still set off a metal detector, and they’d still show up under backscatter.

This also leads to the Defense Distributed Liberator. The Liberator is a 3d printed, single shot, firearm, which takes it’s name from FP-45 Liberator.

So, some quick history: The FP-45 Liberator was a single shot firearm designed by the US Military in World War II. These were crudely stamped steel pistols. They were intended to be air dropped into occupied France, where members of the French Resistance could capture them. The entire goal was to provide Resistance members with a weapon that could be used to kill an enemy and take theirs. To best of my knowledge, actual deployment of the FP-45 was extremely limited, and the only confirmed use of one was to assassinate a German police officer.

The Defense Distributed Liberator was designed around the idea that if you had access to a 3D printer, you could make a gun. The gun’s existence was more of a political statement than an actual tool for rebellion or defense. The end result is a firearm that could, theoretically, get through a metal detector (though the ammunition can’t), but it is also only as reliable as the material you print it out of.

When the AFT was testing the Defense Distributed Liberator, they used a variety of materials. Their tests with ABS-M30. resulted in a gun that was successfully test fired eight times. At which point, they declared the Liberator a lethal weapon. Some of their other tests resulted in catastrophic failures on the first shot.

While considering the Liberator a lethal weapon entirely valid, firearms usually measure their lifespan in tens of thousands of rounds fired. Breaking in a gun frequently involves putting a thousand rounds down range. Right now, it’s not possible to make a polymer barrel that will stand up to that level of stress while also delivering an acceptable lifespan. A gun is not useful if it explodes in your hand before you can empty a magazine, and that’s the problem with polymer internals.

So, the short answer is, even though there are examples, the plastic gun is mostly a myth. Even if you have a plastic gun, the ammunition would still set off the metal detector. Even if you could get around that, the gun would still be found with a simple pat down, and would show up in Millimeter Wave or Backscatter scanner.

The myth is real only in the sense that people believed it. It started with a misunderstanding about the Glock’s engineering by people who didn’t understand guns (and weren’t willing to listen to those who did understand the engineering), and it all went downhill from there.

-Starke

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Q&A: Honey Badger

I have a character who is concealing a aac honey badger under a trench coat. What type of sling would be best in allowing them to quickly bring it up on target when needed?

bobbyboson

Given they’re trying to conceal the Honey Badger, a single mount quick sling is probably the best option. This has a mounting point just above the pistol grip or on the stock itself. So you loop it over your shoulder, and the rifle hangs down under your arm. Effectively, the sling is simply tethering the rifle’s butt to your shoulder, so you can simply bring it up and be ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Because the rifle hangs under the arm, it will be more concealed than with any other common sling type.

The one downside to trying to conceal it is, if you’ve got a full size mag, that’s going to result in an odd bulge under your coat. There’s not much you can do about this. It does mean that there’s a marginal advantage for carrying a shotgun, but hiding an assault rifle or SMG under your coat can get tricky. The Honey Badger can still be concealed, but there will be signs that your character has a rifle under their coat if someone looks closely.

If you’re asking for a brand recommendation, I can’t help you there. Slings are not something I deal with.

I have reservations, but that’s about the Honey Badger itself. For those unfamiliar with it, the Honey Badger is a PDW patterned off the AR-15. (So, think the M4 or M16.) The major differences are that the Honey Badger is chambered in .300 AAC Blackout, has an integrated suppressor, and is much smaller.

Like all AR 15 pattern rifles, the buffer protrudes out the back of the receiver, and is shielded by the stock. This means, if you have AR-15 pattern design, you cannot go without a stock, nor can you fully collapse it.

PDWs, or Personal Defense Weapons, are a family of compact rifles that don’t comfortably fit into either the assault rifle or SMG families. Some other examples would be the H&K MP7, and the FN P90.

Finally, .300 Blackout is a proprietary cartridge. This is pretty common among the PDWs. Both of the examples I listed above also use their own ammo types.

So, here’s my problem. If a characters is operating covertly, firing a rare and distinctive ammo type is going to make it easier to source. If your character is using a KRISS Vector, they’re probably firing .45ACP. That is a very common ammo type, and if you started to pull ammo sales for a major metropolitan area, you’d have the phonebook. You can’t tell who bought it. If someone opens up with a Honey Badger, they’re leaving brass behind that says, “this is an unusual gun. This is an unusual shooter.” Add that the gunshots were suppressed, and sourcing that gun will become much easier.

Actually, the suppressor is a larger problem than it might seem initially. US laws regarding suppressors are (arguably) excessive. The laws were driven by fears based on seeing silenced guns in films. there are real applications for suppressors, and they’re nowhere near as effective as their Hollywood counterparts. This leads back to the Honey Badger because there is a mountain of paperwork if you want to buy one. This is an automatic weapon, it has an integrated suppressor, that means an extended background check, and a hefty NFA tax stamp. Short version, unless your character has a very specific background, they probably wouldn’t have access to this gun. Figure the sticker price will be over three grand.

If the response is, “but my character is a spy/part of a paramilitary operations group,” the ammo problem stays. For the spy, it’s the problem above; a distinctive ammo type will help tie multiple killings together, and give law enforcement (or hostile agencies) an easy link to tie their shootings together. Again, they’re better off bringing ubiquitous ammo to the fight. Even if the guns themselves are exotic. (There’s the KRISS Vector example above, though the War Sport LVOA-C also comes to mind.)

For the paramilitary operator, the problem is about logistics. For an organization that runs an armory, it’s far more convenient to minimize the number of ammunition types the armorer needs to manage. You could have an organization with a whole array of specialized weapons, but would lead to situations where, “you can’t take the Five-Seven, we don’t have any ammo for it.” If you’re limiting yourself to five or six ammunition types, this is less of a problem, but when we’re talking about the Honey Badger, there isn’t much that fires .300 AAC Blackout. (At least, not in comparison to the standard NATO rifle rounds.)

The irony is, if keeping the gun quiet isn’t absolutely critical, and you were looking at .300 Blackout because you wanted more firepower than 5.56, I’d actually look at the carbine variants of the FN SCAR. It’s bulkier, but it’s also a full on battle rifle. That 7.62 NATO will blend in with the commercial ammo sales. (Ironically, there is a SCAR-SC variant chambered in .300 Blackout.)

Having said that, .300 Blackout does have a wider range of firearms than the last time I checked, and it is used by the UK’s military. (Though, it’s not clear what they’re doing with it.) However, it’s still an unusual round, and it will stand out at a crime scene.

Also worth knowing that there is a 5.56 variant of the Honey Badger. So, if that’s what you were thinking of using, it’s like any other AR-15 platform at that point, with the same consideration that it’s going to be tricky to conceal.

If your character needs the weapon to be visually hidden, and isn’t concerned about keeping it quiet, a semi-auto shotgun (like a Benelli M4) might be a better option. Unlike the Honey Badger, it will hang directly down from the arm, without the magazine protruding. You might even be able to get away with optics. Buckshot does not leave usable ballistics, 12 Gauge is an incredibly common ammo type, and (if you’re lucky) comparing wear patterns on shell casings might tell you the model of firearm, but it’s basically impossible to match it to a specific gun.

Now, it’s worth remembering, if your character has what they have, and they didn’t pick their weapons, it’s entirely reasonable for them to be using something that’s not ideal for the task at hand. The Honey Badger was designed to be a replacement for the MP5SD. If your character is trying to use that for anything else, it’s not going to be the best option.

On the other hand, if your character is SAS, operating in a hostile city, then the Honey Badger makes a lot more sense. (I’m singling out the SAS here because we know the UK is using the round.) From what I know, it’s an excellent weapon for that kind of wet work. Concealing it is a little tricky, (though it’s easier than hiding an MP5SD under your coat.)

It is important to think about the guns you want to use in your story, and how that relates to what your characters are trying to do with them. I’ve just said all the reasons why this isn’t a good choice, but I’m approaching this from an optimal perspective. If your character thinks that the Honey Badger is the right tool for the job, that’s what will drive their behavior. As a writer, the forensics matter because it can tension your character, and additional threats.

-Starke

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Q&A: IMI Desert Eagle

Just out of curiosity, why did you class the desert eagle as idiocy on the last post?

bruciewayneisbatman

Because it is.

The longer answer is that the IMI Desert Eagle is an interesting firearm that serves no real purpose beyond bragging rights.

Designed in the late 70s, the Desert Eagle entered production in 1983. It was not the first semi-auto .44 magnum to hit the market. I believe that recognition goes to the Auto Mag Pistol which entered production 12 years earlier. (Thought, there may be an earlier example I’m not aware of.) By the time the Desert Eagle was in full production, there were a number of other .44 automatics on the market.

If you need, or want, a gun for anything, you can get one for a fraction of what you’d pay for a Desert Eagle. Expect to spend at least $1,600 (USD.) You can sometimes find them cheaper than that, but these are very expensive guns that fire very expensive ammo.

There are two, plausible, uses for the Desert Eagle. The first is recreational shooting. You can do that, and if you’re the kind of person that wants a Desert Eagle to go out on a range and show off that you have a Desert Eagle, cool. At that moment, one of the major downsides of the gun actually becomes an advantage.

Desert Eagles are very heavy guns. This means, they can soak a lot of recoil. If you don’t control it, you’ll get a face full of chrome and stainless steel. If you do control it, it will be a more comfortable experience than, pretty much anything else chambered for that cartridge.

On the range, the Desert Eagle is a luxury gun, and it’s priced to match.

The second plausible use is big game hunting. For that, you are better off using a long arm. It will be cheaper and significantly more accurate.

There’s no real application for using the Desert Eagle as a combat pistol. The capacity is low, the weapon is heavy. You will get more value out of a high capacity 9mm or .45 service pistol. Carrying extra magazines only multiplies this difference.

For a simple example, carrying a .50AE Desert Eagle with two spare mags will leave you with 21 rounds. Carrying two spare mags for your USP .45 will see you with 36, and if you’re just dropping mags into a pocket or pouch instead of a mag carrier, you’re going to be able to carry more magazines than if you’d gone with the Desert Eagle.

Now, I do need to clarify something, there’s no value in the Desert Eagle as a combat pistol today. When it was designed, the prevailing perspective was that bigger bullets with higher grain loads were better. The 9mm was seen as an under-powered cartridge, and the .44 magnum was viewed as more effective than the .45. A lot of things have changed. There has been a lot of ballistics R&D, (the 10mm research comes to mind) and that has changed perspectives on cartridges like the 9mm.

Similarly, it’s much easier to conceal a normal sized service pistol, for those times when you really don’t want to announce you’re carrying around a hand cannon.

I’m going to point this out again, the Desert Eagle is a huge gun. These are over a foot long. They weigh over four pounds. (Coming in just under 2kg.) This is double what you’d expect from a full size handgun. It’s a big gun, you buy because you want to be able to brag about how you’ve got a big handgun.

(Worth noting, there are smaller versions. However, the differences are not that significant. The 6″ barrel still results in a gun that’s over 10″ long.)

Also, I’m going from memory here, it’s been a few years since I handled one, but my recollection is that the grip is borderline uncomfortably large for me. I say this as a guy with relatively normal size hands. Like the rest of the gun, the grip is huge. This is, strictly, an engineering consideration. The magazine is large, so the mag well needs to be large, meaning the grip needs to be larger.

Now, I’ve said that I like firearms from an engineering perspective and an aesthetic perspective, and this is the one place where I do have to hand it to IMI and Bernard C. White. The Desert Eagle is a beautiful gun. Much like 1950s muscle cars, it’s impractical as hell, but visually very appealing when covered in chrome. It’s also a very mechanically unusual gun.

Most semi-auto handguns operate off of various blowback designs. It relies on the force generated by burning powder to cycle the bolt. This works best for lower power rounds, and is a natural fit for most handgun cartridges. There are some variations, ranging from short recoil, to roller delayed systems which will allow pressure to build before cycling the bolt (usually giving the bullet time to leave the barrel before the action cycles.) This is not a good fit for rifle cartridges. Most of the time because the chamber pressure is too high for these designs.

The Desert Eagle borrows elements from rifle designs and uses a gas operated system. This is something you’d usually see on rifles, and as a result, the Desert Eagle is very unusual. As with being a .44 automatic, it’s not the first gas operated pistol. The oldest example I’m aware of was a .45 prototype dating to 1919.

Internally, the Desert Eagle is the unholy lovechild of several different rifle designs. So, it’s interesting, or at least, novel. It was also an approach being taken by other weapon designers who were trying to create magnum automatics at the time. So this wasn’t just a flight of fancy.

The result is that this is a massive, expensive, handgun; who’s only real purpose is to show how much money you spent on it. In fairness, the line about the gun being stupid reflects more on its owners than the weapon itself. This is a gun that appeals to people who think a bigger gun is always better.

It also also appeals to collectors, for a number of reasons. I’m going to badmouth someone for thinking the gun looked good. It does. However, if you’re thinking you want a gun, and you’re looking at the Desert Eagle, it’s just not worth the money.

-Starke

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Q&A: Gun Tropes

Not sure if this is your domain, but I will still ask a general question: Using guns. What are some common tropes that people get wrong/right? For example, I heard that dual wielding has no use in real life and let’s not forget about the villains who never seem to run out of bullets.

Poor trigger discipline drives me up a wall. Poor barrel discipline is probably a close second. I’d lump in general gun safety issues, but those two are the biggest offenders.

“Trigger discipline,” is a central rule of gun safety: Do not touch the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Usually you’ll keep your trigger finger straight, or rest it along the frame when you’re not about to fire. In some cases, and depending on your hand, you might rest it against the trigger guard. Regardless, do not touch the trigger until you are sighted in and prepared to fire.

The problem is a generation of directors and photographers have insisted on poor trigger discipline for their films and photo shoots. Often with the justification that, “it looks more dangerous.” Of course, this is because it is significantly more dangerous. It’s a recipe for an accidental discharge.

Barrel discipline is another of these. The safety rule is, “never point the gun at something you don’t intend to shoot.” The full implication extends a bit further than that; you want to maintain awareness of where your gun is pointed at all times, and don’t point it at anything you’re not okay with putting a round into.

I’m a bit touchy about these because I have been around people who didn’t take them seriously. Mercifully, I’ve never seen these go horribly wrong in person, but these are central rules to gun safety for very good reasons. If they’re not respected, there’s a very real danger of a catastrophic accident. I still have a .gif around here of someone playing with a laser sight and accidentally putting a round through his hand, as a bit of schadenfreude.

Related to both is a problem where characters are way too happy to draw their gun, long before its warranted. This is the same reason, it communicates danger to the audience. However, this actively dangerous behavior. It’s reasonable if someone’s going to open fire if they see you, but someone who wouldn’t open fire on someone simply for being there is more likely to start shooting if they think that person is coming to kill them.

Threatening someone with a gun is illegal. It doesn’t matter if the gun’s real, fake, if you really meant it, or if it was a bluff, it’s brandishing, and that is a crime.

I’ll confirm the dual wielding thing for you, it doesn’t work. Modern pistols are two handed weapons. You stabilize the gun with your off-hand. While you can hold one in each hand, the result is going to be messy, and you’re not going to hit what you want. The entire philosophy of, “but I’m firing twice as many bullets,” doesn’t really play because you can’t put those rounds where you want them. Also, trying to manage mismatched pistols is just distracting. If you’ve got different ammo counts, you’re going to be staggering them out or running one dry much faster than the other. Reloading is disproportionately more cumbersome. I get that it looks cool, but it does not work, and is not as fun as it looks.

The other example you’re coming up with is a little more complicated than it sounds, so we’re going to be here for a minute. Also, some of these numbers might be a little off, I haven’t thought about film production in years, so I’m spitballing numbers from memory.

Ammo accounting while filming is hard. The more rounds a weapon loads, the harder it will be for the editor to ensure the weapon isn’t firing beyond its capacity. Especially given that the editor is probably not a firearms expert. They had a consultant on set who can quote off the specs, but it’s unlikely the editor and armorer ever met.

You have a film where the protagonist carves through people with a shotgun before running dry, discarding it, and switching to their sidearm. They have two spare mags for the sidearm, and it carries 15+1 rounds. The shotgun carries 8+1, with a 4 shells in the carrier.

As fights on screen goes: this is a pretty easy set up.

They shoot the initial sequence. Everything goes well, except a squib pack fails to deploy on one of the stunt performers. At this point the pistol hasn’t been used at all, the shotgun’s run through 11 rounds.

The armorer restocks the shotgun, and they shoot the initial sequence again. This time it goes to plan.

The armorer restocks the shotgun, and they collect a set of insert shots. Close ups of hands. The protagonist moving shells from the carrier into the shotgun. The protagonist is filmed dropping the, “empty,” shotgun three times. The second time, the shotgun is scuffed when it lands, and is replaced by another rental of the same make, model, and modifications. (These are called hero props, by the way. If you get a closeup of it, that’s a “hero prop.” If you’re seeing something it wide shots, it might actually be a facsimile. Hollywood uses a lot of plastic guns for scenes where you’ll never get a good look at it, and it’s never fired.) If they have to go back and do some pickups of shots they did earlier, it will now be with a different shotgun, because the first prop has now been visibly altered by that scuff.

Second sequence is shot, this more elaborate, it involves involves a lot of insert shots, a lot of cuts. There’s a wardrobe change midway through, as the protagonist’s jacket is damaged by gunfire. They’re also, “injured,” requiring a makeup change.

The shooting schedule says that everything after the injury was shot last week, along with a couple dialog scenes and some shoe leather for the post fight wrap up, so that’s already done. Everything after the wardrobe change will be done in the afternoon. Wardrobe says they have four copies of the “damaged” jacket on hand. (Same reason you have the extra shotgun: If something happens to one, you need a replacement on hand immediately.)

So, shooting begins. Each of the shots on the schedule for the day have to be done repeatedly. Again, I’m being generous here, but we’ll assume a few go on the first take, and some require a few tries. An easy way to make sure it works as intended is to carve up the shots into the smallest pieces possible, so if something does go wrong it doesn’t cascade out, they can call “cut,” and redo that specific component.

So an individual shot may just be the lead firing a couple rounds, or reloading. One of the henchmen getting shot, taking a dirt nap. Some of this may be arranged by who’s available at the moment, and some of the shooting may get slightly out of sequence if something malfunctions, or they have to swap out props.

Still here?

Six months later, an editor is handed the film, along all of that chaos. They now have roughly 10 hours of footage, of which they’ll use a few minutes. Remembering they’re not an expert on firearms, they do not know what the handgun can hold, or how many rounds you can put in a pump action shotgun. They now need to construct a coherent fight scene from yards of film that are partially out of sequence, and were shot on different days.

When the film gets to theaters, someone who sits down and carefully counts will note that the protagonist just fired 19 rounds from a SIG P226 without reloading.

Oops.

This even happens with films that are very careful about this stuff. I may be misremembering, but I could swear there’s a scene in John Wick 2 where he fires 11 shells from a Benelli M4 without reloading. For reference, a military variant of that shotgun will usually carry 7+1.

On the downside, some directors and editors really don’t care. So you won’t have any shots of reloading or the reloading inserts will get dropped by the editor. (“Left on the cutting room floor,” used to be literal, not a figure of speech.) There’s a lot of things that can happen here. I don’t generally hold a grudge about it. “John Woo clips” are their own kind of joke at this point. That said, when you see director and editor who are being careful about this minutiae, it’s always a nice touch.

“Clips,” and, “magazines,” are both correct terminology, however, they’re not interchangeable, and most of the things non-gun users refer to as clips are magazines.

Every repeating firearm will have a magazine. It’s where extra rounds are stored before being loaded into the receiver. In the example of a pump action shotgun, it’s the tube below the barrel which holds shells in reserve. Magazines do not need to be removable, though it is convenient when they are.

A clip is a device which holds lose rounds in place and assists in feeding them into the magazine. On many rifles with integrated (non-removable) magazines, a clip will be used to quickly feed loose rounds.

The easiest rule of thumb is, “if the object mounts into the gun and stays there,” it’s a magazine. “If the bullets are removed, the object is emptied and discarded, during the reload process,” it’s a clip. I can think of a few oddball counter examples to those specific descriptions, but the basic idea is there.

So with that in mind, “John Woo clips,” is technically incorrect, because the weapons in his films used detachable box mags, however, that’s the idiom.

Extremely rare guns will sometimes raise an eyebrow for me. The Pancor Jackhammer comes to mind. It was a fully automatic shotgun developed in the late 80s and has a very distinctive look. That said, it never hit commercial production, and only three prototypes were ever built. At least one of these ended up with a Hollywood Armory, and was rented out extensively in the 90s.

The handheld minigun from Predator and Terminator 2 is a similar situation. There’s one prop, and it keeps getting reused in films. The real M134s are mounted weapons, not handheld.

Conversely, I’ve got a soft spot for the M91, because the gun never existed. A Vancouver gunsmith rigged the thing up in the early 90s to fire blanks. I’m not sure how many were made, but they pop up intermittently, starting in the early 90s.

There’s an inverse example where production companies will simply use standard firearms as advanced sci-fi hardware. I still hold a grudge against the BSG reboot for handing out unaltered Vektor CP1s and FN P90s. Firefly, is another egregious offender here.

In contrast, there’s stuff like the M41a Pulse Rifles in Aliens, which were actually Thompson SMGs, with mounted underbarrel SPAS-12s. Good luck realizing that while watching the film.

Star Wars is infamous for kit bashing existing firearms, and I do really wish people would stop modifying surviving Mauser C96s into “BlasTech DL-44s.” That’s a fairly rare antique they’re destroying. When they could just get a non-firing replica for a fraction of the price. Fun trivia: If you watch carefully, you can actually see the Stormtrooper Blaster Rifles ejecting 9mm shell casings in some scenes from ANH.

I’m not wild about Desert Eagles. They’re simply not worth the price. I get why they’re used in film. It’s a very distinctive looking gun. It’s a very intimidating design. But, it’s not a good weapon, and every time I see someone who’s supposed to be some kind of special operations badass pull one, I’m immediately gone.

Bullets pass through objects. If you’re shooting at someone, and they “take cover,” behind a couch or an interior wall, just shoot through it. Those won’t stop a handgun round. You need solid barriers to protect against gunfire. It will punch through things. Taking cover behind the engine block of a car or the wheels is an option, but hiding behind the body won’t work. The bullet will simply pass through that, and you.

You cannot snipe with a laser at long ranges. Lasers can be useful at very close ranges. If you’re in the same room, it can help you get a bead on where your round will go without having to sight in. However, a laser is still a focused beam of light. It gets wider the further it lands from you. Meaning, as an aim point it loses its value. Second, and more critically, your bullet is a physical object, your laser is a stream of photons. Your bullet is affected by gravity and wind. Meaning, at range, you’ll need to adjust for bullet drop. It is not as simple as lining up the crosshairs and pulling the trigger. At extreme ranges (over a mile) it gets really complicated. Short version, a sniper with a laser gets nothing from it, except the ability to inform their victim a bullet’s about to hit.

Suppressors do not silence a weapon. They can significantly reduce the sound from a gunshot, but it’s still going to make a lot of noise. The sound of the gunshot is the rapidly expanding, burning gasses. If you could fully capture those, you would dramatically reduce the noise a gun makes. This is somewhat possible with purpose built firearms designed to be as silent as possible, however it takes a lot more than just screwing a can on the end of your barrel. Suppressors do let you fire a gun without alerting the whole block, but everyone the immediate area will still hear the (quieter) gunshots.

Related bit, threaded barrels on firearms are a little unusual. Most commercially available guns in the US cannot mount a suppressor without modification. Variants with threaded barrels do exist (for many), though getting access to those will take extra work.

When it comes to silencing a firearm, the magic number is 343m/s. If your bullet is traveling faster than that, it is faster than sound, and the bullet will create an audible crack as it travels. This is, literally, a mini-sonic boom and the only way to prevent it is to keep the initial velocity under that. Incidentally, if you’re using a modern 9mm pistol, your muzzle velocity will be at least 360m/s, unless you’re using subsonic ammo.

“Gangsta Style,” shooting, where the the gun is held horizontally, doesn’t work. You can’t hit anything. You need to be able to use the sights of your weapon.

Do not close your opposite eye while aiming. You might squint a bit, but you need that eye to help judge distance, and improve awareness. This might not hold true when you’re firing a .50 into an adjacent zip code, but, 99% of the time, keep it open.

Magazines aren’t disposable. Those are actually fairly expensive ($15-$20 USD on the low end for common magazine types.) You really don’t want to just drop them on the ground and forget about them. You want to swap a partial mag for a fresh one, depositing the partial in a convenient pocket, pouch, or whatever. Restack your mags when you have time, after the shooting is over.

Related to that, you don’t want to run a gun dry. Reload when you have a moment and are starting to run low, not after it’s empty. The only time you want to empty your gun is when you’re doing practice shooting on the range. The last thing you want to is drop a hammer an empty chamber when someone’s trying to kill you.

Firearms magazines aren’t cross compatible between weapons, except when they are. Handgun mags are, very rarely cross compatible. If a weapon is built to a specific pattern, like the Beretta 92/M9 knock offs, Then magazines built for that pattern should be compatible with other pistols of the same pattern. The entire point is to allow multiple manufacturers to supply military contracts.

There’s one major exception with handguns: Glocks are very cross compatible. If the magazine is sized for the correct cartridge, you can cross load any magazine from a larger, compatible Glock. For example, the Glock 26 is a subcompact 9mm. It will accept magazines from the full frame 9mm (the Glock 17), the compact 9mm (the Glock 19), and (I assume) a few of the more recent 9mm variants like the Glock 46. Conversely, your Glock 17 can not load any of the smaller magazines.

When it comes to assault rifles, there’s a couple standards, and a lot of rifles that aren’t interested. In the early 80s, NATO adopted the STANAG format. This isn’t a single magazine type, it’s standards on how the magazine should interface with the weapon, so that they are cross compatible. The entire idea behind NATO was transnational joint operations, and the STANAG was adopted along side the selection of 5.56mm as the standard assault rifle cartridge. Having a shared magazine format would make logistics easier to manage in situations where multiple armed forces were operating together. The Warsaw Pact had a similar standard, it’s used in the AK, though I’m unaware of what the formal name is.

Ammunition names are more than a little idiosyncratic. Generally speaking there are three different conflicting measurement systems.

Metric is the simplest, this is the diameter of the projectile, expressed in millimetres. Sometimes this comes with a qualifier, or with the length also expressed. So, 9mm Parabellum and 9x19mm are the same round. This is often abbreviated to 9mm without qualification, but that’s actually a problem, there a lot of common 9mm cartridges. So, 9×19, which is “the standard” 9mm cartridge you’d think of. There’s 9mm Makarov (9×18) which was the Warsaw Pact 9mm pistol round, there’s .380 (9×17), there’s .357 Magnum (9x32mm though you’ll rarely see the metric measurement for this one.) If it’s a .38 (including the .357 family), it’s a 9mm round.

Caliber is where the wheels come off. In theory, the caliber is the diameter of the bullet in hundredths of an inch. In practice, it sometimes adjusts that value as a ratio against the length of the cartridge. This is probably why a .38 and a .357 are both the same size, even though the .38 should be significantly larger if it were just hundredths of an inch. (And, unless my math skills are worse than usual, 9mm should work out to around .36, so probably .357, meaning the .38 is the one messing with us here.) I say, “probably,” because sometimes the caliber changes on a whim. The .30-06 comes to mind. It’s a .30 round but the “06” refers to 1906.

Gauge is used exclusively for shotguns, and this one is a really goofy measurement system. The size of the bore is calculated based on a lead sphere weighing one pound divided by the gauge. So, a 12 gauge is the diameter of a lead sphere weighing 1/12th lb. So, a 12 gauge has a bore diameter of 18.53mm (and yes, I had to look that up.) This means, as the gauge goes down, the size goes up. It also means looking a metric measurements for shotguns is really messy.

If that’s not confusing enough, there’s also one shotgun shell (the .410) which uses a caliber instead of a gauge. It’s also the smallest commercial shotgun shell.

While we’re on the subject of shotguns, it’s worth noting these things have a lot of range to them. This is very dependent on the individual shotgun, but figure a “normal” 12 gauge pump loaded with buck will have a six foot spread at 100 yards. There’s two implications to this. First, it kill someone at 100 yards. Second, you need to aim. It’s not a scatter gun that will paint everything in the room.

There’s also a very specific consideration with shotguns, slugs or shot. A shotgun can put a monstrous slug down range, and if you have rifling, that’s going to be fairly accurate, and lethal, beyond handgun range. Shotguns are a little weird here, because there’s multiple roads to rifling. You can have a rifled barrel, you can have rifled slugs, or you can have a rifled choke. Firing shot down a rifled barrel will widen your cone (not sure exactly how much, I haven’t done this personally.) If it’s a slug, you want to make sure you’re getting rifling somewhere, or the slug will tumble in flight, and your accuracy will suffer.

I’m not sure when this transitioned from a list of gripes to a firearms primer, but here we are. I hope you enjoyed.

-Starke

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Q&A: More Gunfire

Hi. Yet another gunfire question, actually two: 1) While ricochets can be just as lethal, are they more realistic for “flesh wounds” that don’t break (shatter) bones? 2) Looking at stats like muzzle velocity, many late 19th-century rifles seem roughly the same power as modern handguns of the same caliber. Can we use this to estimate what the bullets can or can’t do?

cathreese-blog-blog

I’m going to focus on a minor, but critical part of this question: Grazing hits from direct fire and ricochets are equally realistic. Both of these things occur. It’s not that they’re particularly common, but it’s no more or less realistic for a character to suffer a superficial injury from a gunshot than from shrapnel or a ricochet. These things happen.

With gunfire, a graze is one that doesn’t penetrate deeply. It may skim across the surface, though in some circumstances a bullet will skate across bone. The victim walks away with a minor injury

Of course, a bullet doesn’t need to break bones to kill you. A through and through that ruptures an artery is immediately life threatening. A shot to the lower abdomen is an excruciating way to die. Either of these can occur without any skeletal damage. If you get shot, you can bleed to death and die from, “a flesh wound.”

This is before you get into, “fun,” concepts like hydrostatic shock, which holds it’s possible to cause neural damage from suffering a gunshot elsewhere on the body. (Though, last I checked, hydrostatic shock was a disputed phenomena.)

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth reminding people that it’s quite easy to miss the fact that you’ve shot in combat. The adrenaline means your pain response is dulled, and your body doesn’t know what to make of a gunshot wound. This has a few implications:

First: You don’t know if you’ve received a grazing hit. You probably won’t find out until afterwards.

Second: It’s entirely possible to end up with shrapnel in your body that you don’t know about. This is unusual, but not particularly noteworthy.

Third: It’s possible to suffer a terminal injury and not realize it. You can’t feel the injury, and in the adrenaline fueled state your only warning is if you realize you’re bleeding heavily. It is entirely realistic for someone to just keep fighting until they lose consciousness and bleed to death.

The exception to that final point is if the gunshot does shatter bones. That is something you cannot ignore. It’s not a pain issue, you need your bones to function, break them and you’ll be unable to use those limbs.

As for 19th century weapons? No, not really. I’m not going to say it’s completely impossible to take a 19th century weapon and find some modern analogy. Physically, it’s the same principle; you’re ejecting a chunk of metal at your target, so, if the math lines up, all things should be equal. However, the engineering is entirely different. That engineering meant that 19th century weapons had a lot of issues we just don’t see anymore. Rapid fouling (the buildup of unburnt powder) isn’t an issue. Overpressurizing the chamber causing the firearm to explode is still technically possible, but you’d only see that with sloppy hand loads, faulty weapons, or loading the wrong cartridge into a weapon.

There is a significant difference in how you’d use a 19th century firearm compared to a modern one. Because reloading took significantly longer, you couldn’t afford to spray and pray, the way you can with modern box magazines. This means less bullets in flight, more focus on making sure those rounds connect.

So, can we compare 19th century firearms to modern ones? Not really. Even stuff like ballistic gel tests are going to be somewhat suspect. Just remember that any bullet can kill if it hits something vital.

-Starke

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Q&A: Gunshot Wounds

When it comes to gunshot wounds, are there any places that are “less lethal” than others to be hit or is it all fair game for ending up fatal? Like, would a shot to the shoulder be less serious than a shot to the knee or something like that?

I know what you’re fishing for here, but no. There is no, “less than lethal” way to put a bullet in someone. There are more dangerous places to get hit, but there’s no way to safely shoot someone.

There are less than lethal munitions, such as beanbag rounds and riot slugs, but these are still dangerous.

Shooting someone in the limbs tends to permanently mangle that limb. So, while getting shot in the hand is less immediately dangerous than a round center mass, it will destroy that hand, without surgical reconstruction. Same goes for that knee example; you can kneecap someone, but they’re never walking again. That’s, “see, my character isn’t a bad person, they’re just a sadist,” territory.

Gunshots can kill. The bullet will rip apart tissue in ways your body can’t really handle, and, without medical attention, you will bleed to death. Getting shot in the hand or foot can still kill you, it’s just easier to cram a rag in the wound to staunch the bleeding.

There are places that are more lethal. Center mass, so your torso, primarily your heart and lungs. Take a bullet there, and you’ll quickly die. It is, technically survivable, but you need immediate medical aid. Shot in the head and you’re dead (most of the time.) (Technically, head shots are only fatal about 98% of the time, so there’s a chance. I’ve called this, “surprisingly survivable,” before, and it is.)

Of course, when bullets travel together, the results on a person are far worse. The real metric here is how much blood you lose. Lose to much and you die. So, if one hole gets you bleeding, several will speed up the process. Multiple gunshot wounds are no joke. Even with paramedics on the scene, you might not make it.

Also, because, again this about blood loss, nicking or severing an artery is very bad news. That’s your limbs. Take a hit in the shoulder and you could be fine, or it could nick the axillary artery, and you’re dead in minutes.

Guns aren’t safe. There’s no safe way to shoot someone. Bury a slug in the meat, and people can survive. There’s no one shot and down, outside of maybe a headshot, but there’s no such thing as shooting to wound. You shoot someone, you’re taking a real risk that they’ll never get back up.

Now, I alluded to this with the comment about head shots, but humans are remarkably resilient. Stuff that should kill us, sometimes doesn’t. So, while there’s no safe way to shoot someone, it’s entirely possible someone might manage to cling to life after taking five or six shots in the chest. Or they could bleed to death from a shot to the wrist.

It’s not possible to predict where a bullet will end up, at least not in real-time. Bullets can ricochet off bone and bounce in unexpected directions, or shatter spraying shrapnel around inside the victim. This stuff gets messy fast.

Best circumstance is the bullet goes in, and comes out “clean.” It doesn’t hit bone, doesn’t destroy anything vital. A wound like that is very manageable. Not, “good,” it can still kill you, but you have the most margin for error. Everything else goes down hill from there.

-Starke

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Q&A: Blanks

How harmless or lethal are blanks? Would they still hurt you if you were to fire them from a close enough range at someone?

It depends on the ranges, but blanks can kill.

So, when we’re talking about injuries and deaths from firearms, the focus is, somewhat obviously, on the bullet. That’s reasonable, the bullet is the most dangerous part of the equation, but it’s not the only danger.

Gunpowder doesn’t, technically, explode, it simply burns very energetically. This means there’s a lot of hot gasses, and burning particulate matter ejected from the barrel. Anything that doesn’t make it out of the barrel (called fouling) needs to be cleaned periodically.

This is an important, and often overlooked detail, conventional firearms are dirty and messy weapons. Modern powders burn cleaner than black powder, but this is still nasty, corrosive, stuff. This is why cleaning your gun is important, and why guns became significantly more mechanically complex after the invention of cordite. As well as after each new iteration of propellants.

Gunpowder at the point of ignition burns somewhere north of three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. (Above 1800C.) Now, it doesn’t stay at those temperatures for long, but it does release rapidly expanding, extremely hot gasses. Those can result in severe burns, at extremely close ranges (read: several inches.) Pressing a gun, loaded with blanks against someone and firing it will result in some pretty horrific wounds. This is because the expanding gasses will be forced into the victim, resulting in a star pattern tear in the victim’s skin, significant internal disruption, and burns.

Second, the bullet is not the only projectile a gun will eject. Wadding will also be sent down range. In the case of shotguns, wadding is critical for getting the shot moving. However, in the case of blanks, the wadding is vital for keeping the blank from simply dumping it’s load out the front of the cartridge. This isn’t usually much of a consideration because it’s fairly light weight, and doesn’t tend to go very far before physics catches up with it, but if you’re struck by it when the gun is an inch or two away from your body, it’s still moving quite rapidly, and while the mass is quite low, it will still have some significant force behind it.

All of this is short range, gunshot burns usually end around 3 feet from the gun, though stray particles of burning powder can travel father. So, generally, blanks are, “safe” if you’re more than a few feet from the target. However, for something like a mock execution (where someone puts the gun to the back of another’s head), they can kill.

Unfortunately, there have been more than a few on stage deaths that were the result of actors fooling around with blanks. One example is Jon-Erik Hexum, who started playing Russian roulette with a blank cartridge on the set of Cover Up. The blank blew a hole in his skull, and the resulting bone chip was forced through his brain, killing him.

There are other tools to simulate a gunshot at close ranges, but it’s not as simple as loading blanks into a functional firearm.

Also worth noting that blanks can propel debris in the barrel with as much force as a normal gunshot. The common example are some nail guns, which use blank cartridges to propel the nail into wood.

The more tragic example is the death of Brandon Lee. While shooting The Crow, Michael Massee’s character used a .44 magnum revolver (a S&W Model 629.) The gun had been loaded with blanks. For the scene where his character murders Brandon Lee’s. The problem was in the prop.

The 629 had previously been used in a series of close ups. The production had created dummy rounds, but dismantling live .44 cartridges, and removing the powder, then reassembling the bullets. This left the primers intact. Something that is not an issue with commercially produced dummy rounds, that exist specifically for situations like this.

After shooting the close ups, the prop master dry fired the revolver before removing the handmade dummy shells, and never examined them to determine their condition. There’s so many things wrong with this, but I’ll condense to the important detail, the primer for the round in the chamber migrated the bullet into the barrel where it came to rest. After that, without ever inspecting the barrel, or really examining the weapon, the prop master loaded it with blanks.

When Michael Massee was supposed to fire a blank at Brandon Lee, the bullet in the barrel was ejected, killing him.

Blanks still simulate a gunshot. It’s, “safe,” if you’re careful. But, get close enough, and these can do some singularly horrific things.

If the point of the question was, “can people screw around with them and live?” Yeah, or they can die. There’s a range of possible outcomes, few of them pleasant.

If the point of the question was, “is there any truth to that, the actor gets killed by a blank?” Yeah, that does happen. With just enough frequency to be depressing. Brandon Lee’s death was tragic, but the number of moving parts that created that tragedy was unusual. There are plenty of actors, like Hexum, who have killed themselves or others by mishandling props because, “it’s just a blank.”

-Starke

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Q&A: Bullet Drop

Where do snipers tend to aim when they are going for a kill? Are they more inclined to aim for the head or do they take the easier shot and try for the heart?

Usually, above the target, and ahead of them if they’re moving.

We’ve talked about bullet drop before, but the basic concept is that the bullet is a physical object, and affected by gravity. The scope will be zeroed to a specific distance. For example, it might be zeroed for 50m, 200m, whatever. If you’re aiming at ranges closer than that, the scope will be slightly too low, if it’s beyond that range, the scope will be calibrated too high. In either case, a sniper can adjust, and this is the entire purpose of the striations in a rifle scope. These will represent the drop over a fixed distance. Combine that with a rangefinder (if the range is not known), and an experienced sniper will, likely, be aiming over their target’s head at long ranges.

How much the bullet will drop depends on the cartridge and rifle being used. This is part of why snipers are very possessive of their rifles.

This creates a situation where, at long ranges, even if you know the exact range, it is safer to go for a body shot if the option is there.

The second part of where they aim is “leading” the target. Again, a bullet is a physical object, and while it’s moving very fast, it’s still going to take time to travel to the target. If the target is moving the sniper needs to account for that and aim where the target’s path will intersect with the bullet, rather than aiming for where the target is currently.

Additionally, wind and other factors can affect the bullet’s flight path, particularly at longer ranges, meaning that the sniper needs to account for those as well.

So, where do they aim? Not at the target. They’re aiming somewhere in the general vicinity of the target, based on the physics involved.

As for where they want the bullet to connect? Headshots are flashy, but center of mass shots are far more reliable. At that point, it’s a personal choice by the shooter, which they’re going for.

-Starke

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Q&A: Parrying Gunshots

I’ve seen this a few times but how possible is it really to deflect a bullet with a bladed weapon?

redironsword

Nope. Or, at least, not intentionally.

There’s two problems: Physiology and Physics.

First, your reflexes aren’t that good. I don’t mean, you personally, I mean it’s well beyond human reflexes. Depending on the bullet, it’s likely traveling faster than the speed of sound, meaning, your brain isn’t wired up to see the bullet itself, to say nothing of intentionally parrying it.

Even if you could, you’d need to accelerate your blade to superhuman speeds to get it into position. Even if you could, you can’t see where the bullet will be.

So, without superpowers, no, not at all.

Incidentally, this is also why you can’t dodge bullets. You also can’t dodge sniper fire because the bullet will get there before the gunshot, if you were wondering. Same problem applies if you wanted to parry a marksman’s bullet.

This is where physics screws you. Strictly speaking, a bullet could deflect off a blade, or other metal surface. This does happen. So far as it goes, bullets will sometimes deflect off of bone or shatter on impact. So, that’s another possible outcome, turning the bullet into a shower of shrapnel still pointed in the general vicinity of everywhere the, “lucky” blade wielder was standing.

The other possibility is that the blade itself fails, turning into shrapnel that sprays your blade wielder. Now, figuring out exactly what would happen depends on a lot of factors, including the exact positioning of the blade, it’s condition, design, also of course the bullet and it’s trajectory. So, I can’t just say, “it’d explode into a shower of shattered metal functioning as an impromptu bomb in their face.” Then again, a bullet isn’t likely to hit their blade in the first place.

Finally, even if this does go to plan, the bullet will still deliver a lot of force to the blade, ruining it. There may be some weird edge case with a super-alloy weapon, and of course, characters with superpowers start to break all kinds of rules, but realistically, that blade is going to suffer some damage in the process.

So, no, you can’t parry a gunshot, but you might be able to accidentally deflect the bullet. Which could be far worse depending on how that plays out.

-Starke

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Q&A: Dual Pistols

Hello, I don’t know if you’ve ever answered this question before but what is your opinion on dual wielding hand guns? Do you think its practical and if someone was to do it, what would be the best technique?

wolf73000

We have, it’s not.

The general problem with dual wielding firearms is that you’re trading accuracy and control for an extra weapon. This is not an efficient tradeoff. You don’t even get a higher, sustained, rate of fire, because reloading will be more cumbersome. Unless you’ve got matched weapons, you’ll be running dry at different times, meaning you’ll either only have use of one some of the time, or you’ll have to stop and reload erratically. It’s technically possible to stagger your rate of fire so both would run dry together, but if we’re talking about a firefight, the odds of being able to add this to the list of things you want to manage is pretty slim.

You can’t aim both, so you’re either alternating between them, which doesn’t really help, or spraying and praying. That doesn’t work out well for handguns where the overall capacity is pretty low to begin with.

In modern day, you’re better off carrying a backup, using one, and then switching over when you run out of ammo. And, yes, carrying multiple handguns is absolutely a thing. If one suffers a mechanical failure, or, again, you run out of ammo for it, you still have a functional weapon to use. Pulling your backup and trying to use both at the same time is not a good idea.

Historically, this made a little more sense. When looking at 19th century revolvers, or single shot muzzle loaders, the idea of dual wielding had more appeal. For one thing, they weren’t especially accurate to begin with, and you were effectively doubling your firepower. Technically, this was more of a variant of the backup routine above. Because you’d use one, and then switch to the other. In the case of flint and matchlocks, it wasn’t unheard of for someone to go into combat with more than two, so that they could get off multiple shots at the beginning of combat. Muzzle loaders were not accurate to begin with, so no worries about stabilizing them.

Generally speaking, dual wielding firearms gets used because it looks cool, not because it’s a good idea. It’s really not. In that sense, the best technique is to put second gun away until you need it.

-Starke

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