Tag Archives: firearms

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

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

Extremely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More modern weapons can become really problematic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two special cases that deserve mention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Overpenetration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Dry Fire

Would firing an unloaded pistol make noise? I have a character who is expected to carry his gun at his workplace provided it is holstered and unloaded until needed, purportedly for “scaring off wild animals”. (The owner of the graveyard secretly deals with vampires and werewolves at his home nearby, and wants his employees to be able to defend themselves if something goes wrong.) My character is attacked by a vampire, and panics, forgetting to load his gun before shooting.

So, on the first question, yes, firearms will make noise when dry fired. Also, “dry fire,” the correct term for pulling the trigger on an empty chamber. The gun itself may be loaded, but if there’s nothing in the chamber, the weapon cannot fire.

The vast majority of firearms either operate off of a hammer or striker system. In both cases you have a firing pin, which is a small metal rod which connects to the back of the bullet’s shell casing.

In the case of a hammer-fired weapon, there’s a (usually external) hammer which is cocked, and pulling the trigger releases that, striking the firing pin, which then connects with the bullet.

Striker fire pistols do not have a hammer. A striker rod drawn back, and then released forward into the firing pin. With striker fired weapons, the firing pin may be a fused component of the striker itself. (There’s no reason to have a separate component, and the “pin,” is just a protruding nub on the striker.)

This isn’t going to apply to everything. Some crude open bolt designs and slam fire weapons have simple nubs fused onto the back of their bolt, and I’ve even seen a carpentry nail used as a firing pin in a zip gun design.

Dry firing a cocked handgun will produce an audible click. However, now we need to talk about single action and double action.

The simplest explanation is that with a single-action weapon, pulling the trigger will not cock the hammer (or striker.) With a double action weapon, pulling the trigger will cock the hammer or striker before releasing it.

When you’re looking at single action revolvers, this means the gun can be fired once, before you need to recock it manually. With a double action revolver you can choose to manually cock the weapon, but you can fire again without needing to do so. (Note that on the vast majority of revolvers, the act of cocking the hammer is what rotates the cylinder, so in both cases, the weapon will chamber a fresh round as part of the mechanical process.)

Single and double action semi-automatics are a little different. If a single action semi-automatic’s hammer is down, the weapon cannot be fired. (This can act as an additional safety, though it should not replace proper safety management.) However, even a single action semi-automatic weapon can be fired multiple times in rapid succession. This is because the act of cycling and loading a fresh round will also recock the hammer (or striker.) A single action semi-auto can be viewed as having an extra safety feature that prevents a single shot, but will not prevent multiple follow-up shots.

Double action weapons can be fired regardless of the hammer (or striker) position by pulling the trigger. Pulling the trigger on a dropped hammer will take slightly more force than on one that is cocked. This is because you’re having to “lift the hammer” with your trigger finger in addition to simply releasing it. This is why you will sometime see a shooter manually cock a double action handgun. They’re lightening the trigger weight, and potentially improving their accuracy.

Most modern revolvers are double action (though some modern single action revolvers exist for sporting and hunting applications.) With semi-automatic handguns, it’s a much more varied mix. There are people who prefer single action semi-autos, because the extra safety element.

It’s also worth noting that some double action handguns (mostly striker fired ones), will not recock after firing. Maintaining a heavier double action pull on every shot. This is not especially popular among people who know their guns, though some inexperienced gun buyers will pick these up because the design is marketed as, “safer.” “You’re less likely to fire the gun accidentally.” Even though there are better mechanical solutions, long before we get to the topic of trigger discipline.

The irony here is, you’ve probably heard the sound of dry firing a pistol. This is something that gets used frequently in TV, video games, movies, and other visual media.

Mechanically, it doesn’t happen exactly the way you sometimes see it presented. On fully automatic weapons, you’re not likely to get a burst of clicks, because without blowback from a bullet, there’s no way to cycle the bolt, and no way to recock the firing pin (unless it’s manually.) On a single action pistol, you’re not going to hear a second click if you pull the trigger again, because the hammer’s down. On double action weapons, you hear multiple clicks if the user tries to pull the trigger repeatedly on an empty chamber.

In the case of a single action pistol, there is some mechanical noise involved in pulling the trigger while the hammer is down, but if the gun is properly maintained, it will be quite faint. Similarly, if you have a pistol where the safety disconnects the trigger assembly there will be a little noise, but not much. (I can’t really estimate exactly what you’d hear, because it’s specific to the internal mechanical design.)

Now, having gotten past all of that, the guy who operates the graveyard is a dick, and they’re going to get their employees killed, drawing more attention to what’s going on.

So, always store your firearms unloaded. Keep the ammunition away from it, in a cool and dry place.

For some applications, you should keep your firearm unloaded until you’re ready to use it. This includes varmint control and hunting. In both cases, the risk of an accidental discharge seriously outweighs the need to have the weapon ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

For combat applications, you’re going to need to keep the weapon loaded in any situation where you may need it at a moment’s notice. The weapon should be carried on safe, with the hammer down. With semi-automatics, the weapon should probably be carried with an empty chamber, though that is a little negotiable depending on the exact nature of the threat (and the specific model of handgun.)

It’s also worth noting that not all handguns have manual safeties. This applies to both semi-automatics, and even some revolvers. The major takeaway here is to research the technical details of any specific firearm you intend to use in your writing.

So, it is entirely plausible that your character would keep their weapon unloaded, because they expected they’d use it to deal with a rabid animal. It’s also entirely plausible they’d panic in the moment and completely forget to load their gun. The only problem with all of this is that if they’re getting jumped by a vampire, they’re not getting out of that situation. Similar situation with a werewolf. If something goes wrong, the employee on the spot is toast.

This digs into a whole thing about having credible villains, but if your werewolf or vampire can’t eliminate an (effectively) unarmed human, it creates huge problems for world building. So, we’re back to the point where the character’s boss is basically hanging them out to die.

Again with world building, “normally,” you’d need specialized ammo to deal with either werewolves or vampires, and handing out silver bullets would tip off nearly anyone that something’s not quite right about this job. Just arming them in the first place would raise some eyebrows.

Some of this is par for the course when we’re talking about urban fantasy. The entire structure is supernatural elements hidden behind mundane façades. So, the entire idea that someone who operates a graveyard is actually doing business with monsters is, absolutely par for the course. The idea that he’d take steps to protect his employees from retaliation makes sense. However, the point that stands out is that lead rounds probably wouldn’t do much to stop a supernatural attacker. If the goal is for someone else to intervene and save your character, then you don’t need the empty gun. There might be a thematic elements I’m unaware of, but independently, the gun raises many questions.

I hope that’s helpful for you.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.