Gun Fiction…Facts vs. Myths for Novices.

In the  first installment of “Crime Fiction”, we talked about gun nomenclature for novices.  I promised to discuss what firearms could and could not do in the hands of your protagonists and antagonists, so let’s get started.

Now, when I talk about guns, please understand, I’m referring to “hand-held” firearms, both long and short.  Since we started with long guns in the first installment, let’s follow that pattern here as well.

Again, long guns refer to both shotguns and rifles.  Starting with shotguns, we mentioned that ammunition could involve multiple projectiles (shot) and single projectiles (slugs) and that “shot” could be birdshot or buckshot, with buckshot being typically used for larger game, human beings included.

Otherwise exceptional writers can often and do often make mistakes concerning shotguns, shot and its capabilities.  Case in point.  I  love the work of John D. MacDonald. Having been a WWII veteran, he had a fairly good understanding of weapons and violence, but I fear he wasn’t much of a shotgunner.  In his wonderful work:  “The Empty Copper Sea,”  he had an antagonist using #12 sized shot for an attempted homicide.  Since its entirely possible for an “inexperienced” antagonist to use the somewhat rare #12 shot for an attempted homicide, one must understand the capabilities of this shot, if one is going to use it for an example.  It’s limited to 4 or 5 feet for snake and rodent control, and short of nearly point-blank contact, would not likely be fatal to a human being beyond that distance.  The shot is only slightly larger than grains of sand.  MacDonald’s mistake was in the damage this particular shot did to a vehicle.  Total fantasy.  This diminished an otherwise lovely book.

For shotguns, hunters going after squirrels will normally use #6 shot for effective lethality.  Squirrels are not people.  If you are going to use anti-personnel shotgun ammunition, #4 buckshot is probably the smallest an experienced shooter would use, with most professionals sticking with #1 or 00 buckshot.  So, depending on who is using it, pro vs amateur, know your shot sizes and know what they will do!  If you have any questions, go to the very informative guys at the Guns And Ammo Magazine forums and pose your questions.  Tell them Dan sent you.

Slugs out of shotguns can be very effective!  Depending on whether the weapon has a specialized rifled slug barrel, or a typical smooth bored barrel, a slug can be “reasonably” to “exceptionally” accurate out to the standard of 100 yards.  Out of a typical 12 gauge shotgun, a slug will normally be sized .72 inches, or nearly 3/4s of an inch.  This is a large projectile.  It does significant damage, even at typically sedate shotgun velocities. However, neither shot nor slugs will accomplish the feat of lifting a human off its feet and/or throwing them back through walls and plate glass windows!  That’s hollywood and any description of such marks the writer as an amateur.  As has been previously stated in past efforts, the impact on the target is no more forceful than the recoil generated by the weapon against the shoulder of the person firing it.

Rifles are generally more accurate.  Keep in mind, a popular rifle/carbine used in today’s literature is the AK-47.  This is a marvelous “Battle” implement, but not particularly accurate.  It is not a precision shooting instrument and should never be considered in literature for professional sniping.  Even with a telescopic sight, 4 to 6 inch groups at 100 yards are typical.  It will easily kill out to greater distances, but let’s not elevate its capabilities to mythical levels in our writing.

For precision shooting, two platforms shine.  The “Bolt-Action” rifle, either of the hunting variety or military sniping variety, and the AR-15/M-16 platform.  Many shooters are discovering that the AR platform is phenomenally accurate, often eclipsing the finest hunting rifles and not taking second seat to meticulously crafted target/sniper rifles either.

Without going into great depth, for purposes of homicide, any rifle will do.   However, understand the capabilities of the rifles/carbines, before going out on a limb as to how far they shoot, how fast they shoot and how much damage their projectiles can do.

It would take too long to explain the effects on tissue for all the various bullet styles, sizes and configurations.  If you have an idea in mind, please leave a comment/question, and I’ll be glad to answer individually.

Now, to my favorite topic.  Handguns.  As I write this article, I have a nice little .38 sitting on my desk.  I have it there for inspiration.  I love little guns.  But then, I love big guns.  What I don’t love, is literature that portrays guns in general, and handguns in particular in inappropriate situations or elevates their effectiveness to levels an experienced shooter would know are mythical.

Hollywood notwithstanding, a “snub-nosed” revolver, typically having a barrel length of 2 to 3 inches, is capable of striking a man-sized target at great distances; however, doing so requires a level of talent that exceeds 99.9% of every cop currently serving, or for that matter having ever served!  I can say this with confidence, having competed against thousands of fellow officers at many different levels.  Beyond 25 yards, the average police officer/special agent is marginal at best, and past 35 yards, next to useless!  Note, I said “average.”  There are those few who actually really love shooting and take it to the degree necessary to make their concealed handguns sit up and sing!

A typical pistol today, shooting a caliber/cartridge combination most often found for self-defense, will  have a barrel length of 4 to 6 inches and be capable of roughly 2″ groups at 25 yards.  Note I said the pistol will be capable of this.  In the hands of a professional, the groups will be between 2 to 3 inches.  In the hands of a typical police officer or social miscreant, one can expect and accept groups in the 4 to 6 inch size when fired from a rest.

As with shotgun and rifle ammunition, pistol ammunition will not lift Dorothy’s house and deposit it in OZ.  Unless a major supporting bone, or a central nervous system strike occurs, it’s unlikely a single projectile will be instantly effective, and certainly not immediately fatal.   People can take a long time to become incapacitated, even with multiple strikes to the thorax.  The general rule of thumb is you continue firing, until the target is down and out, or your weapon runs dry (something a professional never lets happen).  SO, keep shooting!

In the next installment, we’ll talk about what a professional will and won’t do in a violent situation.  This way, you won’t have your protagonist lay down a perfectly good weapon while there are still targets to be engaged.

More to come.



About danielchamberlain

Former Chief of Police. Former Special Agent, AFOSI (Retired). Former Director of Security of multi-national corporation. Currently, Registered Nurse. Father Husband Outdoorsman
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