Tag Archives: firearms

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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Q&A: Pistol Whipping

How effective (or ineffective) is “pistol whipping” or bashing someone with the butt of a rifle or a similar weapon in real life? Is it a load of bullshit (I imagine most guns being hollow) or can it actually work like in the movies?

flowerapplejacks

You imagine incorrectly, except on a technicality. Turns out, “technically correct,” isn’t the best kind of correct after all.

The barrel is hollow. That’s a necessity, otherwise you can’t fire the bullet. The receiver needs to have a void, so that’s another technicality. Beyond that? It varies.

Most handguns store their magazine in the grip. This means that while the grip is technically hollow, under most circumstances it will be filled with bullets. This can significantly increase the weight of the gun, and make being on the receiving end of a pistol whipping unpleasant.

Rifle butts are a similar story, but this gets into more complex engineering considerations. The short answer here is that you are “sometimes correct.” Some rifle stocks are hollow, some are not, depending on the exact weapon, this might be a relevant consideration, or might not.

Some rifles do use full wooden furniture. Getting struck by this will not be fun. Again, there’s some variation here depending on the wood. Doesn’t matter if it’s pine or walnut, getting tagged will suck. Probably less than if they connect with a polymer stock, but still, would not recommend being on the receiving end of that hit.

Any rifle patterned off the AR15 has a recoil spring in the stock. This is, mostly non-negotiable, and the only exceptions I’m aware of moved the recoil system above the barrel, like an AK. This means any AR pattern rifle will technically have a hollow stock, which is pretty cold comfort, because it’s still the stock, and as a result, still a stable, heavy, chunk of polymer you don’t want to see used as a blunt weapon on your face.

I mentioned AK rifles a moment ago. In this case it really depends. The stock could be wood. It could be polymer. It could be a simple collapsible wire construct, in which case, probably not the best thing to use as an improvised melee weapon. Or it could be absent entirely, in which case, you’re not going to get hit with a stock that doesn’t exist.

I’m bringing up those two examples because the vast majority of assault rifles are based on one, or the other. (Technically, the AK was based on the StG44, but the AK is the one we all know.)

When it comes to other rifles, it will depend on the specific weapon. So, it’s kind of hard to generalize. If the gun has a stock that can clock you in the face, it can clock you in the face.

The thing that is “bullshit,” is getting knocked out. Taking loaded handgun to the back of the head will suck. It might even put you on the ground. But, it’s not going to magically knock you unconscious. Striking someone with the butt of your gun can create distance to allow you to open fire on them. It will not knock them out safely. That is a myth.

So, if that was your question, “can my character clock someone across the back of the head with their handgun to knock them out?” then, “no.” They can do that, but it’s just going piss off and knock down their opponent.

Generally, I would not recommend this. You never want to take a handgun into melee if you have the option. So, if you have functional handgun, shoot them, don’t walk over and slap them with it. Similar situation with a rifle. This is large, easy to grab, object. It’s far more effective when your foe is not close enough to wrestle with you for control.

-Starke

In a strange moment, while writing up the tags, I’ve discovered that we answered a similar question two years ago. The auto-import from Tumblr messed things up a little, but you can find the post here.

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Q&A: Handgun Accomidations

How can my character who is missing a thumb use a handgun? Can some kind of handicap device to built? Or would you recommend using their non dominant hand that does have a thumb?

So, this kinda depends on a couple things. In general, the first suggestion would be to learn to shoot off hand. It’s easier, and you don’t lose much accuracy with practice.

Normally, first metacarpis creates a natural resting point for a handgun grip (and most firearms), allowing the weapon to transfer recoil into the user. If your character is completely missing their thumb (as in all three bones are missing), this resting point will be absent, and without some kind of careful accommodation (such as a completely custom grip, or surgery), it would probably be impossible to control recoil.

If the thumb had been lost as the result of trauma, it’s likely that the first metacarpal would still be intact, meaning their grip would be less secure, but recoil would be manageable. Again, using the off hand would probably be preferable, but it would be possible for them to use a firearm with the thumbless hand.

There’s an additional consideration here. Some firearms are not designed to be used in the left hand. This isn’t a unique issue for your character. How ambidextrous friendly a handgun is varies by the individual models, sometimes even within different generations of the same gun.

Generally speaking, there’s three tiers of ambidexterity in handguns. Firearms that cannot be reversed at all, ones that are normally ambidextrous, or mostly ambidextrous, and ones that can be easily converted depending on the hand.

What this means for you is, you may need to check the specific firearm you’re thinking of.

The issues to look at on a handgun are the grip, magazine release, slide release, and safety.

Asymmetric grips are a little unusual in handguns. They’re more common with sporting rifles. In cases like this, you’d need an entirely separate replacement grip to fit the off hand. In a few rare cases, it may not be possible to replace the grip at all.

Asymmetric magazine releases are more common. This includes things like the 1911, Glocks, Beretta 92, and some SIGs. These use a simple push button magazine release, which is mounted at the bottom of the trigger guard. It’s easily accessible with your thumb, while holding the firearm with your right hand. However, depending on your grip in your off hand, you may need to adjust the pistol significantly to kick the magazine out when holding the gun left handed.

Additionally, because these magazine releases rest under the middle finger while holding the gun with the left hand, it’s possible to accidentally drop the magazine when firing, due to recoil on some models, for some shooters.

There are several, semi-common, magazine release methods that are ambidextrous. A pair of levers located in line with the trigger guard, which can be pressed down to release the mag. Sometimes, instead of a single push button, there will be one on either side of the frame. These usually will work if either button is pressed. Finally, an older style is a simple mechanical catch at the base of the grip which holds the magazine in place. Pressing this back will allow the user to reload. This last variation poses a unique challenge to your character, because, you press the catch back with your thumb, then pull down on the magazine with one of your other fingers, without a thumb, it would be significantly harder to reload a firearm that uses this style of magazine release.

To be fair, reloading may pose a unique challenge to your character, as you use your thumb to manipulate the magazine. This might be less significant if they’re simply discarding partial and spent magazines, but that’s expensive.

The slide release is a lever or button which will allow the slide to close after it’s been locked open. Usually, it will lock open after cycling with an empty magazine. This significantly speeds up reloading on an empty firearm, and provides useful information to the user that the gun is dry. In many cases, this is mounted along the slide, and can be accessed by depressing it with your thumb. However, if you’re holding the firearm in your left hand, you may need to reach over the slide to close it and cycle the first round into battery.

Swapping the slide release over to the opposite side is sometimes possible, but requires the user to replace the slide, and release lever in most cases. Now, some manufacturers do release entire kits, or mirrored versions of their pistols for left handed shooters. Though, fully mirrored weapons are something of an oddity.

It’s also worth noting that, replacing the slide will sometimes also reverse the ejection port. This isn’t a huge thing most of the time, but can make the gun more comfortable for a left-handed shooter, as the brass will be ejected away from their face rather than towards it.

Also, as a bit of random trivia: Many first person shooters feature reversed ejection ports on their firearms, so that the gun ejects brass in front of the user. There’s no technical reason for this, it’s done to make the gun more mechanically interesting when fired.

Ambidextrous safeties are more common, but it’s entirely possible a left-handed shooter will have to reach over the weapon to adjust these controls.

Now, I’ve been saying left-handed, on the assumption that your character is right handed. If your character is left handed, it will probably be easier for them to operate a firearm with their right hand, and stabilize with their left. Reloading would still be a challenge, however, simply because of the size, and weight of the magazines.

So, it depends on the exact condition of your character’s hand. If they’re right handed, and only missing a digit or two from their thumb, it might still be easier to use it in that hand. If they’re left handed, firing right-handed is probably the way to go. If they’re right handed, and the thumb is completely missing, down to the wrist, then the left hand is probably the way to go. Though, it is possible there might be some kind of custom wrist locking grip, I’m unaware of, that would allow them to operate it in their dominant hand without issue.

-Starke

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Q&A: Firearms and Advertising

A woman asks her lover to show ask her how to shoot because „good w a gun can stop bad guy w a gun“. He is a soldier & will say no, he thinks someone unexperienced with a gun is someone potentially dangerous. Iho it‘s much more likely she will hurt someone unintentionally than anything else, because she can never get enough training to become comfortable a& accustomed to a gun. Is that a realistic opinion for someone with an army background, or should I think of something else to deny her?

Yeah, that, “good guy with a gun,” statement is bullshit. It’s an advertising slogan masquerading as policy.

So, let’s talk about the most basic element of advertising for a second. When you’re selling someone to someone, your first goal is to create a need, then you provide a product to fill that need. Most people aren’t going to spend 20 bucks on something they don’t have a use for. Some products generate their own need, food for instance, while others, not so much.

Selling someone a gun requires you create a need first. Most people don’t work in occupations where a firearm is useful, to say nothing of necessary. If you’re working middle management, or as a retail cashier, you’re never going to be in a situation where your job will be improved by going strapped.

If you’re in law enforcement, a soldier, a handful of other occupations, then yes. Having a firearm is an important tool for being able to do your job. It’s necessary, and your job will either provide one, or point you in the direction of where to obtain a weapon.

Unless you need a gun for your job, you don’t need a gun. Full stop. So, for someone in marketing, their job is to create that need.

Then, in an era of mass shootings, we get this, “good guy with a gun,” line. It’s creating a need. It’s telling you, “hey, you see all those bad things happening out there? You could be a hero and stop them, if you were there, and armed.” It’s a lie. Like a lot of good marketing, it plays off of desires to present an illusion. It’s saying, “you need this if you want to be able to play the hero when the time comes.”

This need is there to get you to spend $400 you don’t have, on a product you’ll never use, because of a hypothetical situation, where you could live out your fantasy… and then shot by SWAT.

So two things: mass shootings in the United States are frighteningly frequent, and you’re more likely to win the lottery. Last year there were 345 mass shootings (which was a record), in a nation with a population of 325 million people. Now, that’s not quite a one in a million chance, because mass shootings do involve multiple people, but at the same time, your odds of ever actually being in an active shooter situation are vanishingly rare.

So, you’re being sold a fairly expensive piece of hardware, and spending more to train on, and become proficient with, that piece of hardware. Ammo and maintenance is not cheap. A responsible shooter could easily rack up a $1200 a year bill on ammo, to say nothing of range fees and other expenses.

You’re being sold this on the idea that, “but, what if,” where the odds of it happening are already incredibly low. Even then, if you carry that, “what if,” to it’s natural conclusion, things don’t get better.

Like a lot of power fantasies, the “good guy with a gun” is dependent on things playing out perfectly, and in direct contrast to how things are far more likely to go.

I mentioned your character getting shot by SWAT earlier, but this is a real risk. If you do find yourself in an active shooter situation, the police will come in looking for a civilian, armed with a weapon, firing at people. If you pull a gun and start firing on the shooter, you will be a civilian, armed with a weapon, firing at people. There is no way for police to distinguish “good guys” from “bad guys” when the bullets are flying, just police and suspects. This, ironically, puts you in more danger because you will be targeted by a better armed, more numerous group than you would if you were dealing with a single lone shooter, and you will be dealt with as if you were one of the perpetrators.

The “good guy with a gun,” phrase survives because it’s effective marketing. It creates a need, and then offers a product to fill that need. “Don’t want to die? Buy this thing.”

The idea that she can never become proficient enough to use it in an emergency isn’t true. It is something that depends on spending a lot of time with the weapon, practicing. So, it’s possible she could learn how to handle it, to the point that she’s able to operate it during an adrenaline rush. Not likely, but it is possible, it just takes a lot of work.

However, the simplistic, “good guy with a gun,” sort of skirts around training and practicing to become proficient. It’s just, “here, if you have this thing,” which would be forgivable if we were talking about selling microwaves or vacuum cleaners, but instead we’re talking about selling firearms to untrained civilians, then actively encouraging them to use said firearms in crisis situations.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with recreational shooting. Something that may get missed is guns are fun to shoot, they’re mechanically fascinating, and there’s a ton of history there. There’s a lot of benign reasons for someone to collect, or even use them. However, when someone takes that recreational or utility element, and says, “okay, but you use those to be ‘a hero,'” everything goes off the rails.

If you’re in an active shooter situation, you can do far more good by keeping your head, finding ways to secure yourself and other survivors away from the shooter, and finding ways to contact the police. Going in playing cowboy is a recipe for tragedy.

-Starke

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