This 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!
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.
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.”
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?
I’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.