Wednesday, May 03, 2006

So You Wanna Write About Handguns

I'm not a gun expert. But I've fired a few and have learned some things about them. Here's a smattering of definitions, explanations, and notes:


  • Guns are loud. Even little ones. Louder than firecrackers. If you don't have ear protection, it seriously hurts.

  • Silencers aren't real. Nothing can silence a bullet. There are things called suppressors, which can be used to muffle the sound of a bullet firing. It's still as loud as a hand clap. Suppressors are illegal for public citizens. Suppressors work on semi-autos and rifles, but not revolvers or shotguns.

  • A revolver is an old West/Dirty Harry type of gun. It generally holds five or six bullets in a cylinder. Suppressors don't work on revolvers because the cylinder is open to the air, so the noise isn't trapped.

  • Semi-automatics are sometimes called autos, even though they aren't true automatics--those are machine guns where holding the trigger will fire multiple times. Semi-autos are also known as auto-loaders, because when a bullet is fired, the brass cartridge is ejected and the next bullet is forced into the chamber. Instead of a center rotating cylinder, they have a clip that goes into the grip.

  • A clip is not a magazine. A magazine has a spring inside that forces bullets into the chamber, behind the hammer, as the gun is fired. A clip simply holds bullets.

  • Full metal jacket means the slug is encased in metal and doesn't expand when it hits the target. Slugs normally expand into a mushroom shape when they hit something. This flattening out means the bullet stops within a target, transferring the maximum amount of energy. FMJ go through targets. Hollow points fragment within the target, causing lots of damage.

  • Cocked and locked is a term that means there's a bullet in the chamber, the hammer is cocked (pulled back) and the safety is on. The gun won't fire like this. But if you flick off the safety, you're ready to shoot.

  • Double action weapons don't need to be cocked each time they are fired--pulling the trigger will set up the next bullet to be fired and also cock the hammer back. Single action weapons need to be cocked each time a bullet is fired--there is no automatic recocking.

  • Cocking a handgun involves chambering a round in a semi-auto, and/or pulling the hammer back. When this is done, the trigger moves back, making for an easier and shorter trigger pull.

  • Caliber refers to how wide the barrel is, and what bullets it will fire. A .22 is a very small bullet (point twenty-two inches wide.) The slug is about the size of a BB (22LR is slightly longer.) The only part that fires is the top part of the bullet. The bottom part, called the cartridge (often called brass) holds the charge. This brass can be packed with different amounts of grain for faster or slower velocity. Pull the trigger, the hammer releases on a spring, smacks into the back of the bullet (center fire for most handguns) which ignites the powder, causing it to explode and expel the slug.

  • A bullet consists of a slug and a cartridge. The slug is what fires. The cartidge is what stays in the gun, or is ejected. If you've ever seen a movie where the slow-motion bullet looks like a bullet that just came out of the box, it's wrong---only the top part of the bullet is the projectile.

  • Rifling is a corkscrew pattern inside the barrel. When the bullet is fired, this causes it to spin, and become more stable and accurate.

  • Semi-automatics can jam. If a gun isn't clean, it can jam a lot. Jamming occurs when the cartridge isn't ejected properly after firing, or if the next bullet doesn't load properly. Either the empty casing, or the new bullet, gets caught in the eject port. This can be cleared by pulling back the slide.

  • Loading clips is time consuming and hard on the fingers. The spring inside a clip is powerful, and it takes some force and some time to get the bullets in there. For example, a nine-year-old probably wouldn't have strong enough fingers. You can buy speed loaders which pull back the spring, making it easier and faster, but even then, reloading a 13 round clip will take at least 30 seconds to a minute.

  • Guns and bullets are heavy. Sticking a 9mm in your front pocket is not a smart idea for many reasons, one of which is it will pull down your pants.

  • Glocks don't have hammers, or thumb safeties. They have an extra lever on the trigger that needs to be pressed before they fire.

  • Someone unfamiliar with semi-autos wouldn't be able to fire one, at least not quickly. If there's no bullet in the chamber, pulling the trigger will have no effect. The first round needs to be chambered by pulling back the slide. Depending on the gun, the safety may need to be switched off, or the hammer may need to be pulled back if there's a round already chambered.

  • Aiming isn't easy. It isn't unreasonable that a person firing a gun for the first time could miss a target from only fifteen feet away, or closer.

  • Cordite smells like firecrackers.

  • Dehorning a gun means it has all of the sharp edges taken off, so it doesn't catch on clothing or the holster.

  • Bluing, chroming, and Parkerizing are finishes that protect against rust.

  • Teflon coated, or cop-killer bullets, aren't real. Or, more precisely, Teflon isn't what makes bullets penetrate armor and bullet proof vests. Bullets that can do that are armor piercing bullets, made out of harder metals. Teflon simply reduces the wear and tear on a gun.

  • A Saturday Night Special is any cheap gun, usually used to commit crimes.

  • A zip gun is a homemade gun, which usually fires a single shot. All a person needs is a pipe and a striking mechanism to shoot a bullet.

  • Holding a gun gangsta style, sideways, is a really easy way to miss a target.

  • Always treat every gun you encounter as loaded.

Any questions?