You Shot Him and He Flew Across the Room?

Lately, I’ve been reading a major popular author of thrillers whose protagonist is an “Ex-Military Policeman” – recently discharged from the service after thirteen years.  Finding himself foot-loose and wandering the country, he gets into trouble everywhere he goes.  The protagonist, “Jack” is engaging, bright, tough, magnetic and sensitive but when it comes to investigative techniques and his knowledge of firearms related material, he’s so full of crap it’s nearly laughable.  Still, I find myself reading them to conclusion, just because Lee Child tells a fun tale.  I find myself wondering how neat his books would be if he actually ran them past someone who knew a little about crime solving and firearms before they went final.

In previous essays, I’ve tried to suggest that a vast majority of gun related material that appears in the average book today is simply a combination of Hollywood fantasy and the continual propagation of myths in literature, by authors who love to read other authors in their chosen genre, but have never actually experienced anything they’re writing about…except perhaps the sex part (though some of that has to be fantasy as well). 

Just because one’s chosen genre is “fiction”, doesn’t mean one should eschew reality based technical detail in their writing.  Dramatic effect can be achieved with a little work, and technical authenticity doesn’t have to suffer.  I have several essays on this topic elsewhere on this site that can be reviewed by any and all that are interested.  But, let’s do a little review.

No firearm that can be held in the hands, fires a projectile that can lift a person out of their shoes, or for that matter, even off the floor.  In the vast majority of cases, the target makes no outward physical indication – other than perhaps a flinch – that they have even been struck at all, unless they fall to the floor.  Note I said, “fall” and not “fly.”

Newton’s laws are in effect whether one likes it or not.  Any weapon that DOES possess the power to make the target resist the forces of gravity and fly against a wall or window will make the shooter do likewise.

One does not need the vaunted .44 Magnum to kill, but if one does use it, it will “NOT” blow someone’s head “clean off.” It will make a mess of things, however.

“Silenced” weapons are not silent.  They aren’t even particularly quiet.  For those who don’t have the opportunity to fire such a weapon, visit YouTube and see what “suppressed” weapons actually sound like.  If you’re an author, you should be able to recreate that sound for your readers.  But, if you are authentic and factual, your readers will probably think you’re crazy because everyone knows silenced weapons “whisper” death.

Bullets are not lasers. From the moment a bullet leaves the barrel, forces of gravity are working on it. As range increases, a shooter must compensate for that distance by elevating the muzzle to arch the bullet into the target.  Some weapons have significant velocity and because of this, their “point-blank” range (that range within which the bullet will strike the intended target inside a given set of parameters considered adequate for the purpose) is not infinity.  Do some Internet research.  Look at ballistic tables for your given cartridge.  Use the data accordingly.  Make it interesting.  If you think it’s boring, your protagonist can always have sex afterward.

Shotguns – even short-barreled ones – fire a cluster of pellets that given typical indoor ranges (inside 10 yards) remain fairly tightly packed.  When aimed at a particular target, others in the room, even those standing beside the intended target, are not endangered by the spread of pellets.  It’s a myth that a shotgun can take out several people who are standing close to each other when the shooter is only ten feet away.  The distance is too short for the pellet spread to cause that effect.  Conversely, there is a point beyond which the shotgun’s pattern becomes somewhat iffy in the lethality department.  With typical anti-personnel ammunition or “buck-shot” as it is normally referred to, the pattern at thirty or forty yards may cause one or two or three of the nine pellets to actually strike the target and there’s no guarantee those strikes will be lethal. 

So, you see much of what you may have believed is myth.  You may have even helped propagate some of the myths in your writing.  It’s not too late.  Remember, “fiction” doesn’t mean, “fake.” 

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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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5 Responses to You Shot Him and He Flew Across the Room?

  1. seanmunger says:

    The last book I finished took place in the 18th century, so the weapons of choice was muskets. I did some research on what smooth-bore muskets do when fired, but I’m probably still guilty of a little exaggeration. Great post, though.

  2. I’m writing in the seventeenth century with matchlocks, and I particularly wanted to know this point about ‘flying across the room’ or, as I wanted, spinning around. I knew you would have the answer, so I specifically looked you up again on Twitter and deliberately came to your blog. So no spinning around at a shot!

    • Evelyn, thanks for visiting the blog and asking a question. Keep in mind, 17th Century weapons were of a greater caliber generally, than today’s weapons. You reference a matchlock. This would have fired a round lead ball, at roughly 1000 feet per second, and might be close to .72 caliber or even greater. That’s nearly 3/4 of an inch. Now, in keeping with your question, like I referenced in the blog, the recoil forces against the shooter’s shoulder would be roughly the same as that energy generated by the ball against the target. Of course, the weight of the musket would absorb a significant amount of that force, but keep in mind, the stock of the musket does not penetrate the soft tissue of the shoulder (Thank God), while the ball would. Some tests I was part of many years ago at a time when Clint Eastwood was making a name for himself involved shooting large caliber handguns against impenetrable surfaces which were suspended on hinges, to measure how far the bullet caused the surfaces to sway. It was easy to see that Hollywood was simply overly dramatic when depicting the reaction a body would have to the impact of a projectile. That’s not to say a body won’t jump or spin or fall backward, but those reactions are not due to the force of the projectile overcoming the mass of the body, but the physiological and neurological reactions of the organism to being “struck” by a fast moving projectile. So, your person can spin, but it’s more of a “reaction” to being shot. A writer may be able to convey this in a manner that the reader will understand, or actually, it may not be that important. Being shot has to be an unpleasant experience and if the projectile was a 3/4 inch lead ball, I think your character could be forgiven for spinning a bit in reaction. As long as you don’t have them being lifted from their feet and tossed out a window, you’ll be fine. Best to you. Dan

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