On Writing Guns: .9mm or 9mm? .30-06 or 30.06?

How to write ammunitionI was reading an otherwise excellent crime novel (it will remain anonymous) that used “.9mm” to describe a handgun. It also called a rifle a “30.06.” Both stopped my eye as a reader and took me out of the story because both are incorrect.

The right way is “9mm” and “.30-06.”

It can be confusing, so here are three rules of thumb when writing any firearm.

1) If there’s a “mm” after it, there’s no “.” before it. Common examples would be 7mm (a rifle) and the 9mm (a handgun). The rule applies even with convoluted calibers like the 7.62x39mm.

2) For handguns and rifles when there isn’t a “mm” (that stands for “millimeter,” by the way), there’s always a “.” before it. So it’s .22, .223, .270 and the like. If the number is busted up, it’s divided by a “-” and not a “.” as in .30-06.

3) Shotguns are a little different since they’re sorted by gauges. They’re written like “12 gauge” or “12-gauge” and “20 gauge” or “20-gauge.” Just be consistent. The .410 is different since it’s the runt of the litter, and is actually identified as a caliber.

Make sense? Yes? No? Leave me questions in the comments.

Fourth of July 2015 Weekend Update: America!


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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:

2 thoughts on “On Writing Guns: .9mm or 9mm? .30-06 or 30.06?

  1. Can’t imagine getting hit by a .9mm gun would be all that noticeable. But one can easily see the confusion, with .45 and .38 cartridges being used in other pistols. Just one more instance of the rest of the world not realizing they should be using inches instead of that old-fashioned metric system. : p

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    • The lack of consistency with firearms in general certainly doesn’t help. For a while in the late 1800s and early 1900s, manufacturers would name models by the year produced. It’s pretty easy to track the Tommy gun over time with model names like the 1921, 1928, etc. But somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that that was too simple. I don’t know who got to decide which calibers were inches and which were millimeters, but I think the joke was on us.

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