Best Handguns for Detectives in Fiction

It’s my pleasure to host the first of two posts from “Adam” of Writer’s Detective. He’s an active law enforcement detective in California, hence the quotation marks. When he’s not on duty, Adam offers advice to writers about police work on his website and Twitter handle.

He graciously accepted my invitation to talk about the handguns he uses. Watch for an upcoming post on the firearms criminals use. I think you’ll enjoy them both.

~Ben


Best Handguns for Police Detective Characters

Adam Writers Detective

Adam of Writer’s Detective.

Every law enforcement officer is bound by his or her department’s policy on firearms. If you’re seeking accuracy in your portrayal, research the firearms issued by the officer’s agency.

While some only allow their officers to carry the government-issued firearm, many agencies will permit officers to carry personal firearms.

For a primary firearm, most agencies require the handgun to be at least a 9mm for a semi-automatic pistol or a .38 caliber for a revolver and made by a reputable manufacturer (Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, etc.) for reliability reasons.

Dirty Harry Gun

Note how Adam cited the .38 as the benchmark law enforcement caliber for revolvers, despite how the Dirty Harry movies popularized the .44 magnum. Yes, law enforcement characters could carry a .44, but in my (admittedly non-law enforcement) experience, hand cannons aren’t easy to shoot. That means it’s more difficult to be effective with them. ~Ben

If you need to dig a little deeper, try Googling the agency name and the terms “firearm policy” or “Lexipol.” You might even consider searching through city council minutes to look for large police department expenditures, such as the purchase of a few hundred firearms.

In my experience, the most common calibers used by law enforcement are .40 S&W, 9mm and .45 ACP. The police agency often dictates the specific ammunition officers are allowed to use in their firearms. The agency I work for issues Winchester Ranger SXT Law Enforcement ammunition, which is based on the famous Black Talon ammunition design.

Best Handguns for Private Eye Characters (or Police Detectives Carrying a Personal Firearm)

Artillery Writing Fiction

Bigger is better, right? Sometimes, but not always. This piece of artillery will evaporate a character, but it doesn’t exactly fit into a hip holster. Choosing a gun for a character is all about finding a balance. (Image by Colin Brough via sxc.hu)

If your detective opts to carry his or her own personal handgun, there is a lot to consider. Choosing a firearm is no easy task and is most often a matter of compromise between many factors. Your detective is likely weighing the importance of stopping power, ammunition capacity in the magazine (not clip), ease of concealment and even the weight of the weapon when loaded (which becomes a factor both in the holster and when you’re keeping your sights on the bad guy…possibly for an extended period…while waiting…for back-up to arrive).

Pancake Holster

This style is called a “pancake holster.” It’s designed to slip inside the waistband of a pair of pants. That style is commonly called “IWB.” Maple syrup not included. (Image via GunDigsestStore.com)

Once you’ve decided on your character’s firearm, you have to decide how he or she will carry it while working in plainclothes. Again, deciding how to wear a concealed handgun is a matter of personal preference and compromise. If you Google “concealment holster” you will see everything from Miami Vice-style shoulder holsters to Thunderwear. From ankle holsters to fanny packs to paddle holsters, it’s just as confusing for new cops as it is for unfamiliar authors to decide on what style of holster to wear.

Many “older” cops will have a cardboard box full of holsters in storage, left over from the learning process of finding the right holster. I freely admit that I am guilty of this.

What I Carry

Rather than go over the pros and cons of a thousand different carry options, it would be easier to explain what I carry and why.

I believe that simplicity is key. I carry my full-sized, department-issued .40 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol in a Bianchi 6 inside-the-waistband holster. It’s essentially a thin piece of leather with a strong metal clip. It is a simple open-top design. Most importantly, it’s on the “strong side” of my waist (side with the dominant hand), which is where I always carry my handgun. Whether I’m off duty, working plainclothes or on-duty wearing a Sam Browne duty belt, my handgun is always in the same place: on the right side of my waist.

Sig Sauer P226 Nitron

The Sig Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol comes in 9mm, .357 SIG and .40 S&W calibers, and is similar to the one Adam uses. (Sig Sauer photo)

If I need my weapon, I don’t want to be thinking about where my handgun is located. Is it under my left armpit in a shoulder holster or on my ankle?

Glock Model 27 subcompact pistol

The Glock 27 is what’s known as a subcompact pistol. This means it’s ideal for concealing in an unusual spot on a character, such as on the ankle. (Glock photo)

That said, I do occasionally carry a .40 caliber Glock 27 in an ankle holster on the inside of my left ankle. I carry this as a back-up to the gun on my waist.

I’m six feet tall, so getting to a gun on my ankle while seat-belted into the driver’s seat can be a lot quicker than the one secured in my duty belt’s holster or one sandwiched between my waist and my jeans.

On Writing Explosives: How to Blow Up a Boat in 1889

on track for murder stephen childsToday’s guest blog post comes from Stephen Childs, author of the forthcoming On Track for Murder. It hits shelves on Sept. 1, 2015, and from the description it sounds pretty cool.

With her father stabbed to death, her brother caught with the bloody murder weapon, and her stepmother suspiciously missing, 18-year-old Abigail Sergeant is forced into a dangerous cross country adventure to uncover the truth and bring the real killer to justice.

What makes this crime novel stand out is the late 1800s setting. I invited Childs to contribute a post about selecting weapons for that period.

I think you’ll enjoy how he came to, as the title says, blow up a boat in 1889.

~Ben


How to Blow Up a Boat in 1889

Tips for Writing Explosives

Hint: Steam needs somewhere to go. (Shutterstock photo)

  1. Plan your timing so that the criminals will be on board at the right moment.
  2. Decide how much time you need to escape.
  3. Find some stiff wire.
  4. Use wire to securely hold closed the safety valve.
  5. Make sure the boiler is stoked to excess.
  6. Wait for the explosion.
StephenChildsHeadshot

Stephen Childs, author of On the Track to Murder, coming Sept. 1, 2015. (Author photo)

This was the solution to a problem I had created, in allowing my lead character to get abducted.

Abigail Sergeant is an 18 year old who has been endowed with a knowledge of machinery and scientific principles from her father, an engineer from northern England. It is this knowledge that gets her out of several sticky predicaments.

While writing, I found myself with a problem. Abigail had been kidnapped and held captive aboard a steam boat about to head out to sea.

I toyed with the idea of allowing her to find a stolen Webley police revolver and overpower her captors. After much consideration, it seemed more in keeping for her to use her skills to sabotage the boat. This task she performed admirably.

In choosing to write with a young female lead, I wanted to create a character with the greatest opportunity to grow beyond expectations. In giving her the knowledge and tenacity to undertake such feats, it enabled me to offer the reader thrills and suspense while allowing the character to grow and mature.

Following on from her escape, Abigail is plunged into yet more taxing situations. Does she succeed in finding justice?

~Stephen

Gripes About Guns in Movies from a Retired Law Enforcement Officer

Scattergun Joe HefferonThis guest blog post is by Joe Hefferon, the author of Scattergun: A Reckoning in Two Acts, the forthcoming Alice and other crime fiction works you can check out here. He also served 25 years in law enforcement, which flavors his fiction with a heavy dose of realism.

Hefferon originally commented on my post about guns over at Jane Friedman’s blog, where he offered some interesting insights. I invited him to flesh them out with a proper post. Although he tells me he doesn’t want to be seen as a guy you can’t watch movies with, I think his gripes about guns in movies are worth the risk. Enjoy!

~Ben


 

Joe Hefferon

Joe Hefferon

I spent 25 years in law enforcement in Newark, New Jersey, and 10 years (part-time) in the emergency departments of two local hospitals. I’ve loosely assembled a few peeves my former cop buddies and I discussed over the years and well, OK, maybe it is a little annoying to watch movies with us.

Question: When someone is shot, do they really fly back through the air as though they’ve been sucked into a poltergeist? Answer: No.

Remember Isaac Newton? No, that was Isaac Hayes. Newton was a really smart guy and a physicist who developed laws of motion/opposition and other axioms about the way things work in the physical world.

If a blast from a shotgun were powerful enough to lift a full-grown man off his feet and propel him out a window, where he crashed two floors below into the family pool, that same blast would also send the shooter flying backward with relatively equal ferocity, assuming the shooter could hang on to the weapon.

Here’s the dull truth. When a human is hit with a fatal gunshot, the brain ceases to function. The electro-chemical signals that tell the muscles to hold the body upright stop functioning immediately. The body simply slumps where it stood, like cutting the strings from a marionette. Here’s a particularly graphic depiction of what happens when someone is shot.

The Endless Magazine?

No, not Cosmo. I’m talking about the oft-cited ability for characters to fire far more rounds than their guns are designed to hold, without reloading.

Marlin 45-70

The Marlin 1895 lever-action rifle used in the movie, “Jurassic World.” (Marlin photo)

Case in point? Jurassic World. In this story, the cool, good guy carries a lever-action, Western-style rifle. Two things stand out as wrong with the manner in which the character, Owen Grady, handles this weapon.

First, he fires the rifle repeatedly without racking a new round into the chamber. That’s what that lever is for, Mr. Handyman. Second, he has extra rounds (not bullets) in the sling. However, after firing the weapon numerous times throughout the movie (more than the six-round capacity of the rifle’s magazine) the number of rounds in the sling miraculously remains. It’s the loaves and fishes of ammunition.

Too Much Rack

Not hers, the gun’s. And by that I mean racking the slide (aka chambering a round) to up the drama. Sarcasm aside, if characters didn’t already have a round in when an emergency arose, they could be shot while prepping their weapons for the gunfight. Weapons are racked in movies and television for one reason: it sounds cool. But it isn’t cool. For more on this, buy Benjamin’s book and read it.

“Stop or I’ll shoot.”

Police-Officer-Stop-or-I-Shoot

(Shutterstock photo)

No, you won’t. It’s a rare case when the police are justified in shooting at someone running away or considering it. It happened in South Carolina recently and the cop was indicted for murder. It also happened in New York state (Matt/Sweat escape) and the cop wasn’t, and won’t, be charged. Some disagree, by the way. (Note from Ben: Read Lee Lofland’s article about this here.)

The difference is primarily predicated on the scope and immediacy of the threat the fleeing suspect poses. This is covered by US Supreme Court case law in Tennessee v. Garner [471 U.S.], which states, in part, “…such force (deadly) may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” But we’re in the weeds here.

My real beef is that cops are always pointing their guns at people in order to look serious about the orders with which they want the suspect to comply. Think CSI Miami. Pointing a gun at someone is a level of force which is justified under a swath of circumstances. However, most big-city cops know that they can’t, or aren’t supposed to, shoot unarmed people, especially those whose hands are visible. The big-city bad guys know this and often, very often, don’t comply with the inexperienced cop who pulls his weapon as a show of superior ballz-hood. Sometimes they dare you to shoot and other times they run, which causes the frustrated cop to holster his weapon and commence a foot chase to run the asshole, um, alleged asshole, down.

Should Entertainment be Accurate?

The Writers Guide to WeaponsI’m sure most pros laugh at the way the entertainment world portrays their profession; cops, doctors, lawyers, potato farmers and those people who work at SETI listening for aliens. I get it. It’s entertainment. But in style or art, you must first know the rules before you can break them. If writers wish to be seen as professionals, they should apply the same level of rigor when fact-checking guns and police procedures as they do when researching historical or medical data. So, in case I haven’t mentioned it, buy Ben’s book.

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.

~Ben

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:

revolver-Moon-Clips

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.


Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

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 sxc.hu)

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

UK_police_stab_vest

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, 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.)


Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

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 sxc.hu)

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).


Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers: