I grew up in a house filled with guns. Not like, stacked on top of the hutch, or leaning against the wall in the corner of the living room full of guns, but we had multiple weapons. Shotguns, rifles, pistols. Bolt action, lever action, pump action, revolvers, I once even owned a slingshot.
My father was a veteran of World War 2, and two of my brothers fought in Vietnam. Most of my uncles served during World War 2 as well, so hunting and guns were just a part of our culture. Hell, half my friends I grew up with enlisted, and more than one friend I have now is either Law Enforcement, or still active duty. We went target shooting, clay shooting, and ate what we killed. Guns were tools in our family. You were entertained by them, you found food with them, and God forbid… you defended the family with them.
No one was ever shot. We took gun safety seriously. We did our homework on them, and treated them with respect.
Sometimes writers respect the guns they write about. Sometimes they don’t do enough homework and I include myself in that group. Despite being a gun owner and carrier of one at times, when I write about guns, I still risk making small mistakes. Sometimes, I make mistakes, and sometimes, those mistakes pull readers out the stories I’m writing, or illustrate that I don’t do my homework.
Can’t have that.
So here I am, and I’m going to outline five bits of advice I can give writers about using guns in their stories.
- It’s a magazine, not a clip. Bullets (or rounds, or in some cases shells) for a semi- or fully automatic weapon typically come in magazines. They are spring-loaded little boxes of danger that feed fresh rounds into the weapon’s chamber as the gun is fired. You can shorten magazine to mag if you like, and no one will get angry, or think you’re an idiot.
But God help you if you say ‘she loaded a fresh clip into her pistol.’ Clips are open metal devices that hold a small batch of rounds physically close together. Typically just a few rounds. They’re antiquated, and rarely used in weapons that a modern character is likely to bring to a gunfight.
Think of this when you write; No one would load a paper clip into a gun.
We can get into belt-fed ammunition in a different article.
- No one who knows how to shoot uses two guns at the same time, unless…
Asian cinema loves to feature some Kung Fu knowing badass with two pistols. Or, if it’s available, two sub machineguns. Or, they’re available, two rifles, two bazookas, or two thermonuclear weapons. No one who knows how to aim anything uses two guns at the same time. It’s a function of vision.
You can’t aim down the sights of two weapons at the same time. Our brain won’t cooperate. Ergo, if you’re shooting two guns at the same time, only one can accurately be aimed. The other might be close because of muscle memory, or just plain old luck, but it just isn’t being aimed properly.
Shooting two guns might be used as a last ditch effort for suppressing fire (shoot so many bullets anyone shooting at you has to duck so you can run) but the reality of it is this; shooting a few times, accurately, is almost always better than spraying and praying. That’s a huge part of why regular infantry troops aren’t issued fully automatic weapons across the board. Most are semi-automatic, with an option for a short three round burst.
Think of this when you write; You can’t reload two guns after they run out of bullets. One has to get put away. Might as well leave it put away in the first place.
- There’s no such thing as a silencer. Guns are devices designed to create small explosions to power a projectile intended to pierce a target, or flesh if need be. Think about that. Can you silence an explosion?
No, not really. And you certainly can’t do it with a tiny metal tube screwed onto the end of a weapon. In actuality, there are a few weapons that when combined with special ammunition (subsonic, but there’s an exchange you have to make in power) can get the firing down to a pretty low level, but the vast majority of ‘silenced’ weapons aren’t silent at all. They’re still loud. Like, jackhammer loud. Go Google a jackhammer and get back to me.
In fact, ditch the word silencer. No gun aficionado uses it. They use the correct word; suppressor. Which is what it does. It suppresses the noise somewhat, to gain a slight edge in surprise, or to cut down the distance the sound travels. And… there’s a loss in accuracy and power associated with most suppressed weapons. You won’t find many suppressed shotguns (though they exist, and some are pretty quiet) sniper rifles, and if you do… they’re going to be insanely expensive, loaded with custom ammo, and shot by someone who really knows how to shoot.
Think of this when you write; You can suppress evidence, but not silence it.
- Full auto is almost never used.
Remember above when we talked about firing two guns at the same time, and how infantry folks aren’t issued many fully automatic weapons? You know why? There are a few reasons why…
They’re pretty inaccurate. When a rifle/carbine/machinegun is fired in full-auto, the muzzle (tip of the barrel) steadily climbs up with every shot. This is called muzzle lift. Combating that lift to keep the sight on target is a big part of firing accurately. Sadly, it’s hard, and even good machine gunners miss a whole helluva lot on full-auto. When you fire full-auto, you’re attempting to control an area with your bullets. Not just trying to kill someone. You’re trying to deny movement, or space to the enemy. Think they might run across an alley? Spray it with a steady stream of bullets so they don’t cross.
They’re super, super wasteful of ammunition, especially in long engagements. The M249 SAW machine gun (a military staple for decades) fires its ammunition as fast as 800 rounds per minute. The gunner typically carries about 200 rounds of ammo in belts in pouches. Do the math on how long they can fire on full auto before they’re out. It isn’t long, which is why most decent machine gunners learn how to fire short bursts of 3-10 rounds over time. Just as effective, far more efficient.
Oh, and if you fire too many rounds too fast, you’ll melt the barrel of your weapon.
Think of this when you write; Full-auto isn’t a default. It’s a tool. If your character isn’t using full-auto to suppress movement, it better be as a last ditch effort to stay alive.
- Guns need cleaning.
This is more of a pet peeve I know I share with gun enthusiasts, and especially veterans. Guns get dirty. Really, really dirty. Just firing them makes them filthy on the inside. Build-up clogs the finely machined parts, and if you don’t clean those parts after almost every firing, the gun will jam, misfire, fail to feed, you name it. It WILL malfunction. Maybe that’s a hook for you. A character that doesn’t know to clean their weapon…
Also, when you’re out and about, shooting up bad guys or monsters, or whatever, guns get dirty from their environment. Did your character dive into the grass? Gun got dirty. Did they dive under a pool table to avoid enemy fire? Gun got dirty. Did they draw their weapon? Gun got dirty.
Military service members and law enforcement people clean their weapons after they’re fired, periodically if they weren’t, and sometimes… when they’re bored.
Have your characters clean their weapon. Could be a nice background activity under some dialogue, and worst case, you character will seem far more realistic to people who know guns.
Think of this when you write; Their language might be dirty, but your character’s guns should be clean.
I hope you readers and writers out there found this amusing if not educational. I know it’s fun to write exciting gunplay, but it’s also a little terrifying knowing that there are so many experts out there who are ready and willing to tear your writing up.
Do your research, ask around, and write because you love to.