Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Fictional Firearms: Ten Pet Peeves

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 28, 2015

I finally got around to reading Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International, the first of his best-selling series. I enjoyed it a great deal, and I understand the series gets significantly better from there. (Hey, Jim Butcher’s first couple of Dresden novels were a little on the rough side, too).  The story doesn’t shy away from some detailed descriptions (maybe too detailed) about the firearms in the book. Due to the author’s expertise as a former gun store owner, competition shooter, and instructor, the gun stuff all made sense.

That’s not always the case in books, and especially not in movies or television. Games – well, games that even attempt to treat firearms realistically are kind of the exception, so I tend to cheer when they get things right. Not that I’m an expert on firearms by any stretch – I expect Larry Correia has forgotten more than I’ve ever known. But I do shoot, taught my daughters to shoot (and, most importantly, to handle guns safely). I figured I did okay when my girls started getting alarmed when they were watching TV shows or movies and saw guns being handled incorrectly. “She’s got her finger on the trigger!” they’d yell. Yep. Way to go!

Anyway, while I know the subject has been handled before (and probably better), I thought I’d note my top ten peeves about the way firearms are handled in entertainment (and “realistic” games). Again, it seems that TV and movies are the worst offenders – probably because in books, an author who is not familiar enough with firearms can gloss over the details, but on the big or small screens, the actors have hold and pretend to shoot their guns.

Trigger-discipline-Ruger#1 – (Lack of) Trigger Discipline:  In a modern setting, anybody who has supposed to have been well-trained in firearms will have had trigger discipline drilled into their head HARD. That is: Finger off the trigger until you are aiming at your target and ready to shoot. Because it doesn’t take much for a squeeze to happen, and you could end up with Pulp Fiction blowing across your rear window. If a character puts their finger on the trigger at any other time, it means they are a dangerous noob. Or, more likely, the actor / director / writer didn’t know what they were doing. Trigger discipline wasn’t always taught, so if a story takes place in the 1960s or before, having a well-trained gun-wielder keeping their finger on the trigger when “ready” might be historically reasonable, if something that will send a modern shooter’s teeth on edge.

#2 – (Lack of) Muzzle Discipline: This is even more important than trigger discipline, but it is a less common offender in film & TV (and because it’s more of an error of omission, I haven’t ever seen it in a literature, though I could imagine it being put there deliberately to show that a character is an idiot). Basically – someone with even a minimum of training will always be conscious of where they are pointing the gun, and always keep it pointed in either a safe direction, or at a target they are prepared to destroy. Or again, you may get a Pulp Fiction “I shot Marvin the Face!” situation.

#3 – Bullets Aren’t Freight Trains: Newtonian physics apply to guns. There’s really no such thing as “knockdown power” in a bullet – the shooter and the target get hit with exactly the same force on both ends; it’s just that for the target, the force is concentrated into projectile. So if it doesn’t send the shooter flying backwards, it can’t send the target (of similar weight) flying backwards. And if a young girl can fire a Barret .50 without flying backwards twenty feet, then a bad guy on the receiving end won’t either.

#4 – Bullets Aren’t Magical Death Rays, Either: This is rarely a problem in games, where it’s usually the opposite – people absorb an incredible amount of gunfire before the health bar drops to zero. Even a lethal injury may not immediately stop someone from fighting. Once or twice isn’t a big deal, but when an action TV series has bad guys constantly insta-dying from single handgun rounds (whereas the heroes keep getting ‘grazed in the arm’), it gets weird. In a similar vein — guns aren’t magically accurate, either. I remember the first time I tried shooting at a paper target with a handgun. I was only about five yards away. I expected a lot of bullseyes. In five shots, I missed *the whole sheet of paper* twice. Yeah. I’ve gotten a lot better, but it was surprising how easy it was to miss an unmoving, large target at point blank range. Combine these two factors together (not insta-death, not easy to even hit), and a newbie with a pistol in their shaking hands is unlikely to be a major factor in a firefight.

#5 – Racking the Slide: Back when it was all revolvers, films and TV would often show a character cocking the hammer on the gun when they were proving they meant business. That kind of made sense – for a single-action firearm, you have to cock it first, and for a double-action, this made the trigger easier to pull. But with a hammerless design (like the Glock), they’ve now taken to racking the slide (or pumping a pump-action shotgun) to show that the character is serious… even if they’ve been “ready” for the last five minutes (or worse, already shooting…)  All that really says to an experienced shooter is, “That fool’s been threatening with an unloaded gun this whole time! HAR, HAR!” (Just once, I’d like to see them rack the slide – and have a round pop out and onto the floor. Ya wasted a round just to ‘make sure’).

#6 – The Never-Ending Magazine / Cylinder: Yes, this is an old joke. Still holds true. Now, with a full-sized Glock 17, that’s a pretty decent supply of ammo in a single mag. But if somebody’s praying-and-spraying with a fully auto weapon, a basic 30-round magazine will last for somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 seconds before running dry. Well-trained “operators” and competition shooters can reload amazingly fast, but reloading must happen, and all those extra rounds weigh significantly more than nothing.


#7 – External Safeties: Not all guns have safeties. It depends on the manufacturers and designs.  But if a character gets handed a Glock or a revolver and fails to shoot because he forgot to take off the safety… it’s gonna cause some eyebrows to raise and people to wonder what weird bolted-on safety mechanism had been added to the weapon.

#8 – Words Matter: “Semi-Automatic” is not a synonym for “fully automatic.” Semi-automatic means one trigger pull will fire one round, while fully automatic means multiple “bangs” per trigger pull. Also, “Assault Rifle” is an actual thing defined by the military which means a rifle capable of both semi-automatic and automatic fire. “Assault weapon” is a made-up term by journalists and politicians that doesn’t really have an iron-clad definition, but is used to describe a scary-looking firearm to make them sound even scarier.

1911_cycle#9 – That Gun Didn’t Fire: With semi-automatic handguns, when the gun fires, there’s this whole sequence that occurs with the slide blowing back to eject the spent cartridge and reload a new one. With rifles, that system happens internally, but it still has to eject the casing and load a new one. Yet in some really low-budget shows, they add muzzle flash and sound effects in post-production (possibly because they are using prop or Airsoft guns instead of real ones) and call it good. It’s only a hair better than having the actors say, “Bang, bang!” or “pew, pew!” as they shoot, and seems just as silly. If a gun needs to shoot and you can’t use a real gun, hide it or make it shoot off-screen. (When the bad guys use a “silencer”, this is frequently the case…)

#10 – The “Silencer”. Suppressors are really cool, from what I’ve seen. Never used them. They are both cooler and not as cool as the common kind featured in film and TV. But instead of making that cool muffled “pew” noise, they do something else entirely. When the bad guys shoot multiple rounds with a suppressor on TV, I keep waiting to hear the sound of the spent casing landing on the floor next to them and rolling away…


Filed Under: Books, Movies - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • OttoMoBiehl said,

    Bravo & well written! These tropes have always bugged me when watching movies. Enough to pull me out of the story and, on occasion, start counting the errors. Simple rule; if you don’t know how to properly use a firearm then it shouldn’t be in your movie

  • droid said,

    The exception to #3 would be rubber bullets. With a perfect elastic bullet, a dead on shot and no air friction the target would experience exactly twice the kickback of the shooter. Of course none of the 3 conditions are ideal in the real world.

  • Felix said,

    #11 — Guns Are Noisy. I’m reading a comic called Quantum Vibe, and in the latest story arc the protagonist fires an (antique to her) pistol indoors, causing everyone on her team to nearly go deaf. That’s remarkable because most fiction writers seem to think the noise from guns is no big deal, so they’ll have their characters shoot cheerfully inside buildings… while having conversation with everyone around — and sometimes their enemies. Count on a Libertarian writer to know his firearms though. 😛

    #12 — Guns Are Big. There was a shooting spree a few years ago in Romania, an exceedingly rare event in these parts, and in the endless discussions afterwards an ignorant TV reporter kept saying, “have you seen the size of that gun? how did they let him have a gun that big?” (Long story.) The problem? The gun in question was a Glock 26, which according to Wikipedia is their ultra-compact model! Pro tip: objects on a screen always look smaller than in real life, and real guns are nothing like plastic toys sized for a child’s hand.

    Corollary: guns are also heavy, and hard to conceal. “Concealable” firearms exist, but that’s a relative term, and those make a lot of compromises. You’re not just going to fit an average handgun in your pocket or purse, let alone pass unnoticed with it.

    #13 — Guns Kick Back. You’ve touched that some in #4 above, but it’s worth mentioning that kickback from a gun is hardly negligible. You’re not going to shoot a gun from the hip with one hand and expect to keep holding the weapon, let alone hit anything. Gun-fu can only happen in movies.

    P.S. Old West gunslingers may have carried two revolvers at once back in the day, but that was to compensate for slow reloading times. Most likely they did *not* shoot with guns akimbo. It’s hard enough with both hands on your weapon… and your weapon steadied against something solid.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yep. If you don’t wear ear protection, you WILL damage your hearing, unless nobody is firing anything bigger than a .22. Or if they are all using suppressors. It will be very minor, but the damage is progressive and permanent.

    Side note: A Barrett .50 inside an indoor range? You WILL feel the air-pressure. I was really glad to be wearing full-on ear protectors and not just plugs.

    As far as size / weight is concerned: There are some surprisingly small (and effective) handguns available now. Besides the really tiny “mouse guns” (we won’t mention derringers), there are some pretty “subcompact” polymer guns available. The Kahr PM9 only weighs about 14 ounces without a magazine. The trick is that with a fully loaded magazine (and one in the chamber), It will weigh almost half again as much.

    Interestingly, the rise in design & popularity in the really tiny, more concealable weapons came about because of the magazine capacity restrictions of the 1990s. I guess folks decided that a maximum of 10 rounds was a waste in a big handgun, so they became interested in little tiny guns to match the capacity limits.

    Still have to dress to conceal ’em though.

  • Maklak said,

    Thanks for the educational post. I’m from a shitty commie country that outlaws guns, so I can only learn about them what I read and see on youtube.

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