Writing Fiction: Handguns for Criminal Characters

This is the second of two posts from “Adam,” an active duty law enforcement detective in California. Adam offers writers advice about depicting police work on his Writer’s Detective website and Twitter handle. You may want to read Adam’s first post about handguns for detective characters here.



How Criminal Characters Get Their Guns Determines What They Use

Writing Fiction Handguns Criminal Characters

In the real world, the handguns criminals use are often cheap in both price and quality. In other words, they’re basically using one dollar bills folded to look like guns. (Eylem Culculoglu photo via sxc.hu)

What about the bad guys? Again, there are factors to consider.

The first is access. Reality is that a bad guy will carry whatever gun s/he can access. This usually means the gun is one of two things:

  1. Cheap (i.e. inherently unreliable)
  2. Stolen (usually in a burglary and then traded/sold on the street for cash/drugs)
Adam writer's detective

Adam of Writer’s Detective.

Depending on the criminal history or sophistication of your antagonist, s/he may purchase the firearm from a gun store using a “straw purchaser.” A straw purchaser is a third party that poses as the gun buyer in order to conceal the identity of the person actually buying the firearm, usually to get around the background check.

What this all means is selecting a handgun for a criminal character doesn’t need to follow a set of guidelines as it would with one in law enforcement. The options are wide open given the variables of procurement. If the firearm is to fall on the cheap side of things, you might look up inexpensive models for sale online to get a better idea.

What About Holsters?

For some reason, criminals are far less likely to carry their handguns in holsters. Their weapons are usually tucked straight into their waistbands, shoved in a pocket or hidden in a fixed location within arms reach. Another tactic amongst gangsters –especially those subject to search and seizure terms– is to have their girlfriends hide the weapon in their purses or on their bodies.

6 thoughts on “Writing Fiction: Handguns for Criminal Characters

  1. In my Book Half Moon Road my Florida PI is an ex Philly cop. We’re you me, what gun would you think appropriate for my character, and what do you consider to be the most pilar hand guns in use by both sides of the lawful divide?


    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for dropping in. The best rule of thumb with assigning handguns to law enforcement characters is to start with a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol. That’s the set up you’ll find across the U.S., usually but not always loaded with jacketed hollow point ammunition. If your PI is a retired law enforcement officer, sticking with a .40 semi-auto is a good bet for familiarity’s sake. Some solid models we’ve covered on this site include the Smith & Wesson M&P, Heckler and Koch USP, Beretta PX4 Storm, Glock 22 and the Glock 27 (as a backup in an ankle holster).

      Note that that doesn’t mean all law enforcement characters should only carry .40 caliber semi-auto pistols. Check out Adam’s first article here for a rundown. Lee Lofland shares a story about the 9mm he used on duty in the comments, too.

      As for popular handguns that are used by both law enforcement and criminals, it depends on how sophisticated the latter is (and how much money they have to spend). As Adam mentions in the article, your average criminal probably carries something cheap and generally unreliable. Anecdotally, I’d peg that as meaning .38, .25 and .22 caliber revolvers. But if the criminal has some cash and connections, I don’t think you could go wrong with 9mm, .40 and .45 semi-auto pistols from Glock, SIG Sauer, Springfield or Kimber.


    • Thank you. Are referring to the paperwork for a NICS background check? That’s called a form 4473 and you can download a copy from the ATF’s website if you’re curious to see what’s on it. Otherwise a dealer or retailer would provide the form for you.


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