Tag Archives: firearms

On Writing: Gun Safety


Few things will tick me off faster than improper gun safety in fiction.  Unfortunately, many authors fail to properly research guns, gun usage, and gun safety.  Guns are so ubiquitous in our culture that many people think that they already know all they need in order to write gun usage into a story, but what one picks up from cultural osmosis is even less accurate than your average summer blockbuster.

Deaths and injuries from gun accidents are distressingly high, and most of them could be prevented by following the three basic rules that every gun user is taught (assuming they go to a professional class). 

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regarding spring-loaded weapons… I was really blown away (haha!) by the spring-launched… derringer that king schultz carried in django unchained. i know you say spring-loaded weapons are laughable but is such a device as used by that character feasible in any way shape or form, barring unrealistic things like magic or ‘sci-fi’ stuff coming into play?

Yeah, those spring loaded wrist holsters were actually real things. They just never worked right. Deploying the pistol had a bad habit of causing it to go off. Because they had to fit up a coat sleeve, they were restricted to very small caliber revolvers and Derringers. Additionally, I think I remember that the mechanism was prone to jamming, catching on clothes, or something else.

The British revived it as a spy tool during World War II, and used custom 9mm and .32 Silenced pistols. I suspect those were related to glove guns, but, my book on spy gear is still missing from the move, so I’m having to run on memory.


I just watched the first episode of Sleepy Hollow, and it showed Revolutionary War soldiers firing flintlock pistols and balancing the barrels on the wrist of the other hand to help with aim. (At least, I think so–it was a quick shot, but they looked too short to be rifles.) Is this historically accurate technique? Either way, do you have any tips for (fictional, of course) use of flintlock pistols?

Well, they were inaccurate as hell, for one thing. Rifled barrels existed in the sixteenth century, but most flintlocks were smoothbore, meaning the weapon was exceedingly inaccurate outside of very close combat. This is why you could line infantry up in melee formations, tell them to shoot at a similar formation, and they wouldn’t all die after the first volley.

Balancing on the wrist? Search me. There’s a rifle stance where you balance across your elbow, and there are some handgun stances where you use the back of your wrist to stabilize your shooting hand, while gripping a flashlight or knife. But balancing the gun on the wrist sounds really odd to me.

EDIT: It hit me as I was editing in the tags. Balancing across the wrist is a coach gun stance. It lets you keep a couple shells for the shotgun in your hand while firing. It’s a really oddball grip, though, no idea if predates breach loading shotguns. But, if that’s the case, then you’re probably looking at either a blunderbuss, (think of them as the ancestors to the modern shotgun) or a gun that really shouldn’t be there.

With smoothbore firearms, longer barrels equal more accuracy, up to a point. Flintlocks came in a lot of different sizes and shapes, so without having seen it, it could be any number of firearms. On a hunch, I’d recommend checking the blunderbuss as a possible suspect. I don’t think Carbines date back to the Revolutionary War, but it’s possible that their arms master flunked history.

Now, advice on writing in that time? First, don’t call it a rifle. It’s actually pretty easy to mess this one up. Rifles have been around since sometime in the early sixteenth century, but they didn’t become the standardized infantry weapons until the Napoleonic Wars. The practice of calling every longarm a rifle is actually very modern. US forces were still transitioning to rifled muskets during the Civil War, so while I know they had some rifles during the revolutionary war, what you’re actually talking about are muskets.

It’s worth pointing out, at least with flintlock pistols, the reloading procedure was to pour the powder, then the ball, finally drop the cartridge paper in, and tap it all down with the ramrod. This was to keep the bullet in place as the weapon was carried. As I recall, reloading took something like ten to twenty seconds, and was impossible in melee.

Paper cartridges did exist. These were premeasured tubes of paper that would contain enough powder for a single shot, and sometimes a bullet. Most of these were not intended to be simply shoved into the gun, though. They’d be torn open (usually, with the shooter’s teeth) and poured in after the bullet.

Though, there were exceptions, where the entire cartridge would be loaded into the weapon in a single piece. That usually involved paper treated with potassium nitrate. Nitrated paper would burn almost completely. As far as I know, the nitrated paper cartridge came into use with percussion cap firearms, so the 1820s at the earliest.

Anyway, I’m still working through our backlog. Sorry about the wait.


Not sure if this has been asked before, but how do you write a scene that involves a gunfight? Obviously engagements happen at beyond point-blank so how does that work?

First off, I’m sorry this took so long to write up, this is a much deeper topic, and there will be some full articles on the subject coming in the near future.

But, to your question, the short answer is; not much, really. Fights at close range are very short, and will involve characters firing as quickly as they can at one another.

Some of the same assumptions also hold true, characters who have training and experience will win out over characters that don’t know what they’re doing.

The biggest difference is with guns, there is no playing nice. Any character that’s injured from getting hit will be seriously injured. Healing from a gunshot wound will probably involve months of recovery.

As with other weapons, guns are unique to one another. A character that’s used to using a USP .45 will be at a serious disadvantage if you hand them an M1911. Some of the basic theory and practice caries over, but the way you operate one is different from the other.

Bullets will penetrate light cover. If you’ve played a lot of recent military themed shooters, this should be a familiar concept, but games tend to undercut how severe this can be. If your character is opening fire with a handgun, there’s a real risk the bullets will blow through walls, cars, and whatever else, and hit someone they didn’t intend to.

In most residential or business settings, you won’t find cover thick enough to stop a handgun round, meaning the whole “take cover behind that couch/upended table/car door/lawn chair” tactic doesn’t actually work. Throwing a conference table on its side may look cool, but it won’t save your characters from getting perforated.

Military combat is a completely different animal. It focuses on long range fire, suppressing a target (keeping them from moving or firing back), while other squad members move in to eliminate them.

This tactic makes its way back into gunfights involving trained characters. In a firefight, their primary goal should be getting out of sight, and moving around to the side or behind their attackers.