Bra Holsters for Female Characters

Concealed Carry for Women

“Concealed Carry for Women” by Gila Hayes is a great resource for learning how female characters can pack heat.

Choosing a handgun for a female character (or a knife) doesn’t need to be entirely different from selecting one for a male. I think some writers get too caught up on how a female’s firearm should look and not on the basics, such as the character’s hand size and firearms experience. But there’s one area where gender definitely draws a line in the sand: holsters.

Female characters have some clever holsters available to them that their male counterparts would probably avoid (at least until the moobs come in). One of them is a bra holster, which tucks under the shirt and fixes to a brassiere. One of the most popular models is the Flashbang holster, which is the one I’d recommend checking out for your character.

Rather than try to pretend like I know something about using a bra holster, I figured I’d pull out a copy of my favorite book on the topic, Concealed Carry for Women by Gila Hayes (Gun Digest Books). Ms. Hayes is one of the best writers on this subject.

What follows is excerpted from that book and focuses on the Flashbang, used with permission from the publisher. I highly recommend picking up a copy if your female character is discreetly packing heat.


What is the Flashbang Bra Holster?

Flashbang bra holster

The Flashbang is the premier bra holster on the market, and it’s perfect for female characters. I don’t know of any legal restrictions related to buying a Flashbang, but know that concealed carry laws in general still. Flashbangs are for sale here if you want to check out the specs. (Photo via Flashbang)

The Flashbang is a Kydex® clamshell holster suspended from the bra band, attached by a small strap going around the fabric between the bra cups. The muzzle of the gun is held tight against the body beneath the bra band or the underwire of the muzzle-side bra cup, and this keeps a small gun like a [small] revolver or one of the ultra-tiny .380s or 9mm semi-autos from flopping out during regular activity.

Ladies report that it takes a little while to become accustomed to the muzzle end of the holster beneath the bra band or underwire, but they also say that they’re surprised at how quickly they adjust and become comfortable with the carry method.

How is it Worn?

With a Flashbang holster the shirt is worn untucked. To draw, the hand slips under the shirt, up to the grips of the gun and pulls down sharply to click the gun out of the clamshell holster.

The Flashbang can accommodate carrying a small gun beneath very feminine clothing that you probably previously thought entirely incompatible with concealed carry.

What are the Safety Concerns?

I have to urge that you use this method only if you can draw and holster the gun without pointing the muzzle at your arm or hand. How tragic it would be if in defending yourself you maimed or injured yourself or a companion by inadvertently discharging the gun while drawing or putting it back in the holster.

~Gila Hayes

Smith & Wesson Model 52: An Unusual Pick for a Character’s Pistol

  • Type: Semi-automatic pistol
  • Caliber: .38
  • Ammunition capacity: 5 in a detachable magazine (not clip)
  • Year introduced: 1961
  • Effective range: 25 yards (greater for more experienced shooters)

Harold Courtright picked up a copy of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons and recently wrote to me about the Smith & Wesson Model 52 he selected for a character. This semi-automatic pistol sports a couple features that make it stand out from run-of-the-mill choices that typically pop up in fiction. I figured I’d highlight them here.

A Semi-Auto Pistol that Fires Revolver Ammunition?

The Model 52 fires .38 caliber ammunition that’s normally reserved for revolvers. The 52 isn’t the only semi-auto pistol to use .38 loads, but it’s not exactly common. The reason why is reflected in that low ammunition capacity of only 5 rounds. The rimmed design of .38 cartridges don’t lend themselves well to being stored inside a detachable magazine.

The tradeoff, however, is that the .38 is pretty easy to shoot. That’s important for characters because…

The 52 is Designed for Accuracy

When the 52 debuted in 1961, it was intended for competition target shooting. That meant designing the pistol for accuracy, from the sights to the grip. The easy-to-shoot .38 was a natural choice.

But there’s something special about that .38 ammunition.

“Wadcutter” Ammunition

The .38 cartridges the 52 uses don’t look like normal ammunition:

Smith Wesson 52 wadcutter

The wadcutter cartridge the 52 uses is on the right. (By user:Malis (Own work (My own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The 52 uses what’s known as “wadcutter” ammunition. This means the bullet has a flat nose that’s flush with the brass of the cartridge, as pictured above. This flat design keeps the bullet’s trajectory stable, which increases accuracy. The tradeoff is that the bullet won’t penetrate a target deeply, sort of like hollow points.

Although wadcutter ammunition is designed for target shooting, it still is a solid choice for a character’s nefarious purposes. The type of ammunition doesn’t matter if the character can’t hit anything. And being accurate is what wadcutters are all about.

It Has a Safety Switch

Unlike Glocks, the 52 actually does use a safety that can be flipped on or off. That’s a little detail that some writers get wrong about the pistols in their stories.

How to Select a Pistol for Your Characters

If you’re interested, I detail step-by-step instructions for assigning characters firearms (and knives) in The Writer’s Guide to Weapons. Not only that, but I’ve cataloged scores of firearms from 1873 through today in a bonus download that comes with the book. Check ’em out!

Do Revolvers Use Clips?

Do Revolvers Use Clips

Moon clips hold ammunition in place for insertion into revolver chambers. (Wikimedia image)

TLDR: Yes, revolvers use clips, but write them specifically as “moon clips.”

As covered previously, 99 percent of the time the right term for “detachable thing that holds ammunition” is “magazine,” not “clip.” That’s despite “clip” being used instead of “magazine” in about 99 percent of instances in fiction. It’s an easy fix – just write “mag” or “magazine” whenever you get the itch to use “clip” – but there are a few exceptions. One of those is with revolvers.

Yes, Revolvers (Sort Of) Use Clips

The word “clip” usually conjures an image of something like this:

Ammunition Magazine

That’s actually a magazine, not a clip. (Gun Digest photo)

But something like that wouldn’t fit into a revolver’s multiple chambers, which look like this:

Guns and Knives in Fiction

Those holes are called “chambers.” That round thing those chambers are inside is called a “cylinder.” (Shutterstock photo)

There are a few ways to quickly load those revolver chambers. One of them is a device called a “moon clip,” which is sometimes shortened to just “clip.” Here’s an example of a moon clip made by Smith & Wesson:

Moon Clip

This is a full moon clip because it forms a complete circle. If it formed a half-circle, it’d be called a half moon clip. (Smith & Wesson photo)

Although there are several styles, what a moon clip is is pretty simple. It’s a metal frame that holds ammunition in place for quick insertion into a revolver, like this:


Notice the variety of styles. (Gun Digest photo)

The ammunition would be placed into the chambers via the moon clip, the revolver would be fired and the moon clip would be removed. It’s similar to how a speedloader works, if you’re familiar with those, except the clip stays with the ammunition.

A Word of Caution

Although it might be technically correct to write a character reloading a revolver with a clip, my sense is that clips are misused so often in fiction that you’re still going to look like a doofus. Make sure to include the word “moon” in there to avoid potential doofifity. (Yes, I made up a word while talking about being accurate with words.)

Cheat Sheet for Describing Characters Loading Revolvers

Clip: Don’t use this term when describing characters loading revolvers UNLESS you’ve already established in a previous instance that it is a moon clip.

Mag/Magazine: Nope. Revolvers don’t use magazines.

Moon clip: Bingo. Tossing the word “moon” in there makes all the difference. Use this one.

Speedloader/Speed Loader (pick one and stick to it): These are a separate kind of device, and are not synonymous with moon clips. They are, however, totally acceptable for characters loading revolvers. The speedloader itself isn’t inserted into the revolver. A speedloader is a device for quickly dropping ammunition into a revolver’s chambers. A speedloader would not be used to remove that ammunition. By the way, pistols (i.e. handguns that aren’t revolvers) do not use speedloaders. The majority of pistols use magazines (not clips).

Speedstrip/Speed strip: A speed strip is similar to a speedloader, except it’s a flexible strip designed for quickly thumbing ammunition into the chambers. Used only with revolvers, not pistols.

Shortcuts: Write Around What You Don’t Know

Of course, a character could always load his/her revolver by hand, too. That way you can skip this technical jargon and move on with the story. A simple “Maynard loaded the revolver” without mentioning how is another shortcut.

Can a “Bulletproof Vest” Also Stop a Knife?

Knives and Bulletproof Vests

At the risk of sounding like a condescending ass, knives aren’t bullets. The only exception is when I butter my toast with ammo in the morning. (Image by imaspy via

TLDR: Most likely not.

Bulletproof vests on walls of corpses sparked the idea for today’s topic. But before I get into that, a point of clarification.

“Bulletproof vest” is a misnomer. No vest, as this post explained, is bulletproof. That’s why it’s better to refer to that gear as a “ballistics vest,” “ballistic resistant vest,” “ballistic body armor” or some variant along those lines. I used “bulletproof vest” in the title of this post because it’s an easy way to get the point across. I suppose this makes me a hypocrite to a certain extent, which is why I write posts like this one.

Anyway. Let’s get into this. Could a ballistic resistant vest also stop a knife or other edged weapon? The answer starts with understanding how body armor works.

Body Armor is Divided into Two Distinct Categories

As the National Institute of Justice (basically the body armor guru in the States) points out, there are two types of body armor: ballistic resistant (for bullets and other projectiles) and stab resistant (for edged weapons like knives). Both of these categories try to achieve the same thing: stop something from passing through the armor. However, they achieve those goals in different ways.

Ballistic resistant armor disperses kinetic energy from a projectile, like a bullet, through a network of fibers (such as Kevlar) sort of like a speeding soccer ball getting trapped in goal netting. Depending on the level of resistance, the armor might also use hardened panels to better redirect that energy. You can watch a video detailing how this works here.

Stab resistant armor is different. It’s made of several layers of strong materials (such as Kevlar) that more or less catch the weapon as it strikes. The edge (slashing) or tip (stabbing) of the weapon is caught inside the material yet unable to make a cut. Here’s how that process works.

How Stab Vests Work

Not all stab vests work with a metal layer on top, but the idea to catch the knife in the material is the same. (Image courtesy TurtleSkin.)

Like ballistic armor, stab armor is separated into levels of resistance: I, II and III. The higher the number, the more force it can withstand.

Both Types Use Kevlar, So What’s the Difference?

Stab vest

Is this a ballistics vest or a stab vest? It’s hard to tell because the vest itself isn’t anything special. It’s just housing for the inserts that go inside. The inserts are what contain the materials that will stop a bullet or a knife. (By SGGH speak! 16:20, 3 January 2008 (UTC).SGGH at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)

It’s true that both types of body armor consist of strong materials like Kevlar, but it’s the way those materials are used that matters.

With a ballistics vest, energy is redirected across the armor. A stab vest is less concerned about redirecting energy, and instead allows the edged weapon to penetrate into the material (that’s a critical detail). That’s where the stab vest nestles the weapon in strong materials that the edge or point can’t completely cut through.

This is a major difference, and you might already see where it’s headed.

Because They Allow for Some Penetration, Stab Vests Aren’t Good at Stopping Bullets

Allowing for a little bit of penetration goes a long way when you’re talking about stopping a bullet. Sure, a stab vest might stop some of the lighter calibers on a good day. But the intermediate and larger calibers? Forget it.

Bottom line: Stab vests aren’t designed for the kind of energy dispersal that’s key to stopping a bullet.

And Vice Versa

The opposite is true when it’s a ballistics vest up against a knife. That type of armor isn’t designed to trap an edge or point in its fibers. Yeah, it offers a degree of protection that could prevent injury, but don’t bank on it.

The Verdict

Nope, a “bulletproof vest” most likely wouldn’t stop a knife. I wouldn’t go so far as to make an absolute verdict, because there are always exceptions. There’s room for creative license, but you might want to highlight why in the story.

How This Impacts Your Characters


The setting can play a part in which type of body armor a character uses. Civilian firearm ownership is highly restricted in the UK. Police officers there typically wear stab vests, as in the photo, because the risk of being attacked with a knife is most likely. (By KRoock74 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re going to assign body armor to your characters, decide which category will be used. Match it to the threats present. For example, prison officers would opt for a stab vest because of the low risk of gunfire. Likewise, a character raiding a well-armed drug lord’s mansion would pick the ballistics vest.

This also means a character with a knife isn’t out of options when an opponent shows up with a ballistics vest, especially given the 21-foot rule. (Read more about that in The Writer’s Guide to Weapons.)

An Update on the Writer’s Guide to Weapons

Plenty is happening since the launch of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons last week. I tried to condense everything into some social posts, but it got too long. Here’s the recap.

Tips for Writing Guns and Knives, Now in Print

Writing Tips Guns and Knives

Pictured: My hand modeling audition.

The Writer’s Guide to Weapons is available everywhere, but only as a paperback so far. The digital version will be available soon, which will weigh considerably less than the one-pound print edition.

Send Me Your Book Pics

A few early adopters already posted pictures of the book on social media. This makes me immeasurably happy. If you receive the book or spot it at a bookstore, and have a penchant for amateur hand modeling, please send me a pic via my Twitter account.

Here are a couple I received already from writers James Duncan and Laura Roberts, two willing subjects in this wacky experiment. Check out their websites, too.

Two Giveaways to Enter

Win Knife and Book

Click to enter the knife/book giveaway.

I’m giving away signed copies of the book at two locales.

Both, for the record, are free to enter. Purchases are appreciated but not necessary.

Two Easter Eggs to Find in the Book

Easter Egg

(Image via

Pro tip: There’s a link inside the book to a bonus download of gun and knife listings to use for research. Don’t pass that up. It’s going to save you a ton of time. The listings are extensive enough that they make up a full third of the copy I turned in to Writer’s Digest.

The second Easter egg is less obvious. I include a maker’s mark encrypted in my all of my work. Sometimes it’s overt. Sometimes it’s coded into the copy. But if you read enough of my books, you’ll get a sense of what it is.

There’s one such maker’s mark somewhere on the copyright page of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons. If you can find it, shoot me a message via my contact form.

Best Place to Buy the Book

I am sometimes asked by well-meaning people what the best place to buy the book is considering my royalty. Don’t worry about my royalty. If you find a good deal on the book, go for it.

Right now, the best place is Writer’s Digest Shop, where you can get it for 50% off retail.

How Well is the Book Doing Anyway?

Glad you asked, hypothetical questioner. I can’t share specific numbers, but I can safely say that after a little less than a week the book is doing quite well. Keen!

What Are Smart Guns?

Armatix Smart System iP1 Smart Gun

Smart guns use a variety of tech to prevent unintentional use. This German-made Armatix iP1 will only fire if its accompanying watch is within range. The semi-auto pistol itself holds 10 rounds of .22 caliber ammunition. (Armatix photo)

TLDR: Smart guns use emerging technology to limit their use to pre-approved people and/or places. Feel free to explore them in fiction, but don’t expect to see them in reality all that much.

There are smart phones, smart TVs and sarcastic smart asses, so why shouldn’t there be smart guns? Well, there are smart guns – sort of. As proposed, these firearms would rely on biometrics, RFID, GPS and other tech to make sure only the right people were able to use the gun. Smart guns aren’t commonplace in fiction now, but it’s a good bet they will be in years to come. It might be a good idea to learn about them before that happens and pop culture does its usual crappy job at depicting things that go bang.

By the way, no, smart guns don’t fire bullets that guide themselves into targets. That’s for another post.

What are Smart Guns and Why Aren’t There More of Them?

Smart guns seek to answer a long-time question: How can society keep guns out of the hands of people who will use them for illegal activities? The smart gun in the image above, an Armatix iP1, offers a solution in its matching watch. Much like car keys that automatically unlock vehicles, the watch must be within a certain distance before the firearm will function. The Armatix iP1 is a handgun, which is the type of firearm most of this smart gun tech is focused on.

Biometrics, such as fingerprint scanners, are another avenue. Other models will only function within certain geographic areas pre-programmed into the firearm. However, there isn’t one piece of tech that’s clearly more effective than the others. It’s too soon to make that call.

Part of the reason for that is because of smart gun laws passed before the firearms had a chance to build consumer demand. New Jersey, for example, passed the Childproof Handgun Law of 2002 (CHL), which put a chilling effect on smart guns nationwide. Under the CHL, if a smart gun is available for sale to a New Jersey resident (meaning it could be for sale anywhere in the U.S.), then all handguns sold in that state must be smart guns. Sales of traditional, non-smart (dumb?) guns would be prohibited.

Since no domestic firearm manufacturer or retailer wants to be the one to inadvertently trigger a handgun ban in New Jersey, smart guns’ progress in the U.S. largely came to a standstill. Most of the smart gun models out there are either made in Europe or just prototypes. I’d be surprised if more than handful of people in the States have ever touched one. (Note: I’ve heard of a place in California selling the iP1, but I can’t tell how that plays into the CHL.)

Smart Guns in Fiction

The CHL isn’t the only example of smart gun legislation, but it highlights an important point: The U.S. is still a ways away from adopting this technology. Much like 3D-printed firearms and knives, I think this makes smart guns a prime avenue for speculation in fiction. Might a character chop off a finger to access a gun? What would it take to get that watch away from someone? Could a gun be “hacked?”

Beats me, but this is a frontier ripe for exploring tomorrow’s technology. That’s why fiction is so important, and why protecting free expression is critical. It allows readers to probe unconventional ideas from a safe distance.

Smart Guns: Real World Examples

My politics aren’t the reason I partnered with Writer’s Digest Books to write The Writer’s Guide to Weapons. I certainly have my opinions, but they’re not the meat of what I write. I’d rather give you information that stands on its own regardless of politics, because the bulk of what constitutes firearms and knives is bound to indisputable physics, technology and history. If I offer my personal POV, it’s to provide context. I think smart guns could use some of that.

I’ve never used a smart gun, but I have some experience with their precursors: smart safes. Unlike smart guns, laws aren’t standing in the way of new gun safe technology. Some use biometrics, like a fingerprint, while others use a watch or keycard that must be within a certain range for the safe to open. Sound familiar?

Most of the models we reviewed at Gun Digest were pretty undercooked. At best, operating the safes was cumbersome. At worst, they failed to function at all. Biometrics have a long way to go on the consumer market, and are far from being as reliable as traditional locks. Those watches and keycards don’t always work, either. That isn’t to say every model performed poorly. We liked one, the Quick Vent Safe, so much we decided to sell it in our e-commerce store. So the potential for this kind of tech is there. But remember, there isn’t an albatross like the CHL dragging down smart safe development.

For reference, here’s how the Quick Vent Safe, works:

However, there’s still the issue of relying on smart guns and safes that require electricity to function. In a critical moment, would you be comfortable with that? That’s not a question I can answer for you, but it’s worth considering.

Smart Guns: My Verdict

I don’t think the tech is there yet for smart guns, and I don’t anticipate it will be so long as legislation restricts their innovation. In a perfect world, only the “good guys” would have firearms. But the reality of making that happen via smart guns, for now, appears out of reach. As it stands, their best use is in the pages of fiction, where writers can speculate about emerging technology without government interference (hopefully).

Perfect for Fiction: Assisted Opening Trench Knife

A trench knife is a like a combination between brass knuckles and a fixed blade knife. This type of knife has been around for quite a while, but it’s only recently that something like this comes along:

Watch a video demo of it here.

It takes the classic trench knife a step further by adding in an assisted opening mechanism. It’s not a switchblade, though, because a button isn’t pushed to deploy the blade. Instead, a part of the blade itself is manipulated, which in this case is a tab you can see in the video.

I’ve only seen this particular knife available at, where it’s simply called the Solid Black Spring Assist Knife with Knuckle Guard. I saw it while researching something else and thought someone out there should stick it in a story. It has fiction written all over it.

Could a Wall of Corpses Wearing Body Armor Offer Protection During a Gunfight?

TLDR: Yes, but not much.

Holy Hannah, what a question. This one came from crime writer James Pierson, who tells me he’s nearing completion of his crime novel. Here’s how he laid it out:

So I have my rogue special forces guy and everyone is hunting him. He’s taken shelter in a cottage where he had to kill some guys, all of whom were wearing body armour. Anyway, the bad guys have reinforcements on the way. I mean a lot of cavalry, all armed with carbines and military-grade weapons.

My guy dons body armour. He then makes a human wall from the guys he killed earlier. Let’s say it’s two bodies high, two bodies wide. He doesn’t strip the bodies of their body armour. So the bad guys’ cavalry charge in, and they’re faced with the hero hiding behind a stack of bodies. The requisite firefight follows. Let’s say the firefight takes place over a distance of say 20 feet, so pretty close range.

So here’s the question. How much protection would dead bodies provide?

To clarify, Pierson said all of the bad guys are military characters.

The verdict depends on two primary variables. I’ll go over each separately.

Question #1: What Kind of Body Armor are the Corpses Wearing?

what are body armor levels

Body armor is sometimes called a “bullet-proof vest.” That’s a little misleading. Nothing is 100 percent bullet-proof. And just because a character is wearing one of these vests doesn’t mean a bullet can’t land in an exposed area, like the face or groin. There’s nothing magical about this tech. (Shutterstock photo)

The first step is to figure out what kind of body armor is present on the corpses of the military members the protagonist is hiding behind.

Generally speaking, body armor is divided into two categories: ballistic resistant (for guns) and stab resistant (for edged weapons). This distinction is important, because the materials and designs in each type aren’t interchangeable. In this case, it’s a safe bet the military characters are wearing ballistic resistant armor.

Within that type are five different levels that relate to how much abuse the armor can take from a projectile:

  • IIA – light handgun ammunition
  • II – intermediate handgun ammunition
  • IIIA – heavy handgun ammunition
  • III – rifle ammunition
  • IV – heavy rifle ammunition

I put general labels on the levels for quick reference. If anyone is curious about the specifics, check out this PDF and this website from the National Institute of Justice. This video does a good job of explaining it, too:

The level of armor used by a military organization can depend on the country, branch of service and mission. At the forefront is the balance between protection, weight and cost. For example, level IV armor offers exceptional protection, but it’s also bulky and expensive.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the military characters are using IIIA armor, suitable for protection against larger handguns like the .357 magnum and the .44 magnum. It just as easily could’ve been level III or IV, but I’m thinking the characters would favor mobility over protection. The verdict will be the same either way, as you’ll see in a minute.

With the type of armor for the wall of corpses in this scene down, it’s time to move on to the next question.

Question #2: What Kind of Firearms are the Bad Guys Using?

How Many Shots Can Body Armor Take

That the bad guys in this scenario are military matters quite a bit to whether the corpse wall will work. Hmmm….corpse wall. That sounds like a great garage band name. (Shutterstock photo)

The next question is whether a 2×2 human wall of armored military characters would provide adequate protection in a firefight taking place at a distance of 20 feet. If the bad guys are decked out military characters, my guess is they’re using 5.56mm or 7.62mm caliber rifles (roughly equivalent to .223 and .308 calibers for those of us not on the metric system). They may also have handguns, but I’d be willing to bet they’re well-trained enough to know they need to use rifles to punch through that human wall. And it won’t take long before they do.

That’s because body armor isn’t designed to be abused over and over again. It’s adequate for a few rounds – say, a half dozen depending on the situation – before the materials and design begin to lose their ability to disperse kinetic energy from a projectile. That’s why military and law enforcement organizations replace armor after it’s been shot.

On top of that, those 5.56mm and 7.62mm rifles are going to punch through that level IIIA armor without too much trouble. Their accuracy will be compromised, but in a firefight odds are at least one shot will find its way to the main character behind the wall. The same would be true if you backed the bad guys up from 20 feet to 100 feet.

The Verdict

I’d say the protagonist hiding behind the corpse wall has about 30 seconds tops in an intense firefight before it’s time for a Plan B. Remember that body armor doesn’t typically cover every inch, either. Some bullets may slip past the armor, through flesh and exit into the protag’s position.

What About the Fact there are Several Layers of Body Armor?

The 2×2 wall certainly adds extra protection, but doubling up on body armor doesn’t work like 1 + 1 = 2.

That’s because of what’s called “back face deformation.” Body armor may stop a projectile, but some of that energy continues traveling through the front armor plate, into the person and against the inside wall of the rear plate. This creates a sort of indentation that’s called back face deformation. It’s an important part of body armor testing, because a lot of it can result in internal injuries to the person wearing the armor.

That rear plate isn’t designed to absorb projectiles coming at it from within the person’s body. In the case of the 7.62mm and 5.56mm rifles, the back face deformation is going to pound through the rear plate and keep going. The projectile may then hit the front plate of the next corpse and end its journey there. But do this over and over again, and the armor is going to fail.

Could I be wrong? Are there examples in the real world of doubling up working? There might be. But I’d bet the verdict is still the most likely outcome for this scene.

Could a Few Tweaks Fix the Corpse Wall?

To offer more flexibility in the scene, the military characters making up the corpse wall could wear level IV armor. That could buy the protag extra time. The point remains the same, though. No body armor on the planet is 100 percent bullet-proof. Even the ones that do stop a bullet won’t continue doing so for long. That’s not saying much given the lead military rifles can put in the air.

How Does Body Armor Work Anyway?

Body armor works by dispersing the energy from a projectile away from the person wearing it. It’s sort of like a soccer ball getting trapped in goal netting.

A Good Knife for an Ex-Military Character to Do Some Serious Damage

TLDR: The military uses many kinds of knives, but few can match the iconic KA-BAR USMC.

BJ Wolf is a crime writer (check out her website here and follow her on Twitter here) working on the first in a trilogy of novels featuring detective Karen Yellowtail. She sent me a note looking for some feedback on assigning an ex-military character a knife for some unsavory work.

Specifically, this character needs to butcher humans at some point in the story. Wolf originally asked whether the knives on this site would make the cut, so to speak. They probably would, but one model in particular popped to the front of my mind as soon as I read Wolf’s message.



The KA-BAR USMC is sometimes written in reverse as “USMC KA-BAR.” “KA-BAR” is also written as “Ka-Bar” or “Kabar.” Its formal name is the “KA-BAR USMC Fighting and Utility Knife.” However, this particular knife can be referenced as just the “KA-BAR” or “Ka-Bar.” Lots of choices with this one, and none of them are incorrect so long as you pick a style and stick to it. (Unaltered photo by Rich Bowen via Flickr. License notes)

From December 1942 through today, the KA-BAR USMC is the iconic military knife. That’s the one I’d assign current or former military characters.

Different branches of service use different knives depending on what needs to be done, but the USMC stands head and shoulders above everything else. It’s an iconic fixed blade knife that was introduced to the Marine Corps in 1942 and never went out of service. A character wouldn’t have to be a Marine, though. All branches of service used the USMC in some respect.

Why? The design is extremely rugged and reliable, which is why many service members keep them after returning to civilian life. (The USMC is available on the civilian market, too, so anyone could buy one.)

When writing the knife, it could be referred to as the “KA-BAR” (or Ka-Bar, just pick one) without even mentioning the USMC model name. It’s so iconic that it’s subject to the Kleenex effect.

It’s this legacy and durability that makes it a great pick for Wolf’s ex-military character.

Need to Butcher a Character? Fixed Blades > Folders

Even if Wolf’s character doesn’t go with the KA-BAR USMC, I’d still recommend sticking with fixed blade knives (i.e. the blade doesn’t move) for that kind of gutting and butchering. Folding knives can become irretrievably jammed with gore, whereas the cleanup on a fixed blade is a lot easier. Folders can also close unintentionally onto fingers during hard use. This is why my primary hunting knife, especially during deer season, is a fixed blade.

I hope this information helps Wolf and any other writer out there with that question. If you’re curious to learn more about the KA-BAR USMC, head to a sporting goods store and check it out for yourself. Chances are good the store keeps a couple in stock.

Want to Win a Knife? Folders > Fixed Blades

Win Knife and Book

Click to enter.

I couldn’t make a post like this without mentioning the knife I’m giving away to celebrate the publication of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons. This folder is a one-of-kind model designed by yours truly. The winner will also receive an autographed book. Keen! Enter daily here through Aug. 31, 2015.

* Must be 18 and a U.S. resident to enter. See entry page for more details.

As Seen in The Godfather: Does a Towel Really Work as a DIY Silencer/Suppressor?

TLDR: No, a towel does not make for a good DIY silencer/suppressor.

Quick note from Ben: Crime writer James Pierson wrote in recently with a question about gun smoke in a scene he’s working on. The questions he sends via the contact form are always interesting, so I’ll turn his latest into a proper post again. Also, check out the crime fiction book review site Pierson runs over here.

In a classic scene from The Godfather: Part Two depicted in the video above, Robert De Niro’s character wraps a revolver in a towel before popping Don Fanucci in a hallway. The idea is that the towel acts as a DIY silencer for De Niro’s handgun. (Pro tip: Use “suppressor” instead of “silencer” in a story if you want to look extra smart, although readers probably won’t know what a “suppressor” is unless you tell them.) Additionally, the towel starts on fire.

How well would this scene hold up in reality?

Would a Towel Work as a DIY Silencer/Suppressor?

It’s tempting to start answering this question by figuring out what kind of revolver De Niro’s character is using, but that actually has nothing to do with it (for now). The answer is no, wrapping a gun in a towel would not do much to reduce the noise from a shot. Hollywood, as I write in The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, is a great way to learn what guns don’t do.

To understand why, check out this post about using pillows as silencers. Here’s the video from that post to save you some time:

The reason the pillow doesn’t work is the same reason a towel wouldn’t, either. Explosive gases created by a gunshot are what causes all that noise. If you can trap that gas, you can trap the noise (insert flatulence joke here). Pillows are porous, so it’s easy for that gas to find a way through the material. Towels are the same way.

There’s a reason silencers/suppressors are made out of metal and screw into the barrel of a gun for a tight fit. It takes something strong and sturdy to capture those gases. They might silence snoring or suppress your wet dog after a bath, but pillows and towels just aren’t up to the job.

However, that Godfather scene isn’t total bunk.

Lighting the Towel on Fire?

As for whether De Niro’s revolver would light the towel on fire as depicted in the scene, there is a nugget of truth there. That’s because revolvers have what’s called a “cylinder gap.” It’s the space between the cylinder (the round thing in a revolver that holds all the ammunition) and the barrel. Here’s what I mean:

what is a revolver cylinder gap

(Revolver image via

When a revolver is fired, some of that explosive gas escapes through that cylinder gap. That’s why it’s a big time boo-boo to wrap a hand around the cylinder when firing. It’s an easy way to lose a finger. Mythbusters actually did an episode on this if you’re curious.

Considering the towel was wrapped against this gap, it’s feasible the explosive heat from De Niro’s gunshot could’ve singed the towel. I doubt it would’ve caught fire as depicted in the scene, though. That would have to be one flimsy, tinder-dry towel. And if that’s the case, it wouldn’t make for a very good silencer/suppressor anyway (by Hollywood standards).

An argument could be made that the fire started from the barrel side of things instead of the gap. Sure, that’s possible I suppose, but we’re still talking about singe levels, not a full on burn.

Someone could prove me wrong with a demonstration in the real world, but I’m not requesting anyone try that out. I’ll bet you enjoy your current finger count.

Oil Filters: A Better DIY Silencer/Suppressor

None of this means there aren’t ways for characters to MacGyver up a homemade silencer/suppressor. In fact, with the right paperwork here in the States, you can make one legally out of a standard vehicle oil filter. No, that’s not a typo:

It’s not as easy as sticking a barrel inside a filter, though. There’s a commercially manufactured adapter that makes the connection. That’s the part that requires all the paperwork. It’s federally regulated the same way as a traditional silencer/suppressor. Therefore, a character quickly rigging up an oil filter for a gun in a pinch is committing a crime. There’s just no way the federal government can turn around paperwork in 14 seconds. How that fits into your fictional characters’ profiles is up to you.

I’ll cover other types of homemade silencers/suppressors in another post. Just remember that any technique or device that muffles a gunshot a la a silencer – from towels to turnips – is subject to federal regulation.

Don’t Try This at Home

I’ll sound lame saying this again and again, but it’s important: I’m only here to give you information for use in writing fiction. Don’t try this stuff at home. Playing around with homemade silencers/suppressors might get you hurt or in trouble with the law depending on where you live. Don’t mess around with silencers/suppressors unless you are 100 percent positive what you’re doing is legal. Check out my disclaimer.