On Weapons and Crime Fiction

Coming from a family of sportsmen and women, I got to know firearms and knives at an early age. This has benefited me when writing about them in crime fiction. This also made me a picky reader when it comes to depictions of weapons in fiction. It seems some have either never handled a weapon or based everything off Hollywood movies.

For example, most modern pistols and revolvers are double-action. This means once the safety is switched off, the operator can either pull the trigger outright or cock the hammer back and then fire.

I see in novels, and movies, the ol’ “Cock the hammer back for effect” line again and again. If you’re pointing a handgun at someone you intend to kill, cocking the hammer does nothing but waste time. If it’s a single-action handgun that does require cocking the hammer back first, why on Earth would you not do that before you pointed it at someone?

And unless you’re a trained shooter with a top of the line handgun, I doubt you could hit the broadside of a 747 further than 20 yards out. The shorter the barrel, the more likely the bullet will fly anywhere but straight. That’s why these drive-by gangsta punks end up shooting bystanders instead of their intended targets – it’s difficult to hit anything with a handgun.

Shotguns are another misappropriated prop. For effect, the shotgun is pumped at an opportune time. In reality, this ejects an unspent round from the shotgun, and no one in their right mind would do that during a fight. Conversely, if the shotgun is pumped for effect and there isn’t a load in the chamber, why didn’t the operator put a round in when the fight started?

Then there’s the “Rambo” effect. This is where a machine gun sprays rounds over and over again. I challenge anyone to find a portable, fully-automatic firearm that fires consecutively for longer than five seconds. Short bursts are much more accurate and effective, given the massive recoil these firearms carry.

Knives are another animal altogether. Most switchblades around are either old or expensive. Your everyday modern criminal is unlikely to carry one. What they gain in effect (the quick deployment of the blade), they lack in practicality. Switchblades do not have a full tang, meaning the blade cannot support a lot of weight. They also lack a secure locking system, which could result in a total blade failure.

A fixed blade or assisted opening unit are much more likely choices. A fixed blade lacks the opening effect, but at least it’s a sturdy item that won’t fail. An assisted opener still has the opening effect, and the heavy-duty models come with double locks or a sturdy locking liner.

I understand not everyone has access to learn about weapons. But if you’re going to write, you’d do yourself a favor to get to know them. Or at least ask someone who’s knowledgeable. It makes the reading experience that much better.

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:

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