This is Not How You Play Russian Roulette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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