This is the third in a series of guest posts by my colleague Steve Allen, a soldier-turned-editor who specializes in firearms and military-particulars editing. Here are five more tips to consider when writing about firearms in fiction.
1. Thumb-safety Glock
A thumb safety on a Glock pistol is the most common firearm mistake I see.
There is no manual safety on all common models of Glock pistols.
Confusing matters even more, for military pistol trials, Glock just released two versions of pistols with thumb safeties.
Whether the thumb-safety Glocks will be sold to the public is yet to be determined.
2. Bonus features
Here are some additional features mistakes that I see:
3. The sound of silence
Unfamiliarity with suppressors causes frequent writing mistakes. Movies and video games misrepresent suppressor efficacy.
Seeing Special Forces (SF) units in the news, in video games and in movies, where every weapon is suppressed, has increased the appearance of suppressors in fiction. In uberguy lit, suppressors are quite common.
The movie No Country for Old Men is a horrible portrayal of suppressor use by a criminal. Shooting video games such as Hitman and Call of Duty also fail to portray suppressors correctly.
Commonly called silencers, suppressors excel at quieting gunshots. Most suppressors shooting supersonic (greater than 1,126 ft/s or 342 m/s) ammunition reduce the sound of the gunshot to barely below 85 dB, the hearing-protection safety threshold.
Suppressors fail to silence the sonic boom or crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier. People close by may not be familiar with the crack of a bullet, but something out of the ordinary happened and they are unlikely to react as if nothing occurred.
Usually the crack of the bullet is lost in the gunshot. Suppressors sound similar to a loud nail gun or a car door being slammed shut, followed by the crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier.
To get the ridiculous mouse-fart sound from the movies requires specially loaded, subsonic ammunition. Some guns will not shoot subsonic ammo very well, increasing the likelihood of malfunctions.
Despite common perception, with proper paperwork, suppressors are legally owned in most US states. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), very few legally owned suppressors are used in crime.
Possessing a suppressor in the US without proper paperwork is a felony. If your hero breaks federal laws, he or she had better have a very good reason.
The specific legality in the US of Title II devices, such as suppressors, short-barrelled rifles and machine guns is outside the purview of this article.
4. Is machine gun – no?
Now we’re onto confusion between what is a machine gun and what is not. As an author, know if your character uses an illegal weapon such as a machine gun.
An AR-15 is not a machine gun according to the BATFE. An M-16 is a machine gun. The AR-15 and the M-16 look exactly alike because they’re based on the same gun platform, but with very different internals.
The few semiautomatic rifles able to be converted to full auto require extensive firearms knowledge and machining.
Converting a legal weapon into a machine gun is generally not worth the cost and effort. Unless required by the story, I suggest staying away from illegally converted weapons.
The BATFE ensures that weapons sold in the US cannot be easily converted to machine guns. Easily convertible older gun models are either banned by law or covered under Title II and treated as a machine gun.
5. I fought the law
If your character possesses an illegal weapon, there has to be a very good reason why. The vast majority of firearms enthusiasts are law-abiding people who would never commit a felony by possessing an illegal weapon.
The saying goes, ‘Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six’. Twelve people sit on a jury; six people carry a coffin.
If your characters use illegal weapons, they should also understand that there will be severe legal consequences later.
There are firearm scofflaws, most of them extremists and felons. Your law-disregarding hero falls into this category.
I don’t expect writers to be experts on the myriad gun laws. In the US, the BATFE lists illegal weapons on its webpage. Most other countries have similar law-enforcement agencies; a little internet research goes a long way.
Next time, we'll be looking at back stories, toys and shooting skills. Feel free to put your questions to Steve in the comments.
Steve Allen is a retired soldier living north of Seattle, WA, with his lovely wife and daughters, and a neurotic terrier and a goofy black Labrador.
When not editing, Steve wanders the Pacific Northwest on roads less travelled, searching for good books and very cold beer.
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with crime, mystery, suspense and thriller writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
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