Equipping Writers for Success
HOME   |   ABOUT US   |   CONTACT US   |   SITE MAP   |   MASTER ARTICLE INDEX   |   ADVERTISE WITH US!
HELPFUL LINKS   |   EDITOR'S CORNER (Ramblings on the Writing Life)

Getting Around...

Career Essentials
Getting Started
Queries & Manuscripts
Market Research

Classes & Conferences
Critiquing

Crafting Your Work
Grammar Guides

Research/Interviewing
Writing Contests

The Writing Business
Income & Expenses
Selling Reprints
Collaboration
Pseudonyms

Negotiating Contracts Setting Fees/Getting Paid
Rights & Copyright
Tech Tools

The Writing Life
The Writing Life
Rejection/Writer's Block
Health & Safety

Time Management
Column: Ramblings on the Writing Life

Fiction Writing - General
General Techniques
Characters & Viewpoint
Dialogue
Setting & Description
Column: Crafting Fabulous Fiction

Fiction Writing - Genres
Children's Writing
Mystery Writing
Romance Writing
SF, Fantasy & Horror
Flash Fiction & More

Nonfiction Writing
General Freelancing
Columns & Syndication
Newspapers/Journalism

Topical Markets
Travel Writing
Photography

Creative Nonfiction
Memoirs/Biography

International Freelancing
Business/Tech Writing

Other Topics
Poetry & Greeting Cards Screenwriting

Book Publishing
Traditional Publishing
Self-Publishing
Electronic Publishing
POD & Subsidy Publishing

Promotion/Social Media
General Promotion Tips
Book Reviews
Press Releases

Blogging/Social Media
Author Websites

Media/Public Speaking
Booksignings

Articles in Translation

Search Writing-World.com:

Google:
Yahoo: MSN:

This free script provided by
JavaScript Kit


Don't Fire Blanks: Aim for Accuracy in Your Mystery!
by Stephen P. Rogers

Return to Writing Mysteries · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

If you plan to introduce firearms in your mystery, you want to aim for accuracy. Readers and editors who may forgive slight characterization or a contrived plot will positively bristle if your hero thumbs off a revolver's safety.

The information which follows is USA-centric and I apologize in advance to writers from elsewhere in the world. I will also not address gun laws since they differ so much between states.

The Basic Handgun. There are three handgun types: single-shot, revolver, and semiautomatic pistol.

Single-shot handguns such as the Derringer are small, easily concealable guns for those times when surprise counts for more than the ability to spray the countryside. (Some single-shot handguns are actually multiple-shot.)

The revolver is named for the rotating cylinder which houses the cartridges to be fired. The shooter removes the empty cartridges before reloading. Revolvers do not have safeties. They also can not be silenced by attaching a suppressor to the barrel since the sound of the shot comes from the cylinder.

The semiautomatic pistol is loaded from a single magazine which contains the cartridges (up to fourteen in some models). The empty shells are ejected as the gun fires. Many law enforcement agencies are changing from the revolver to the semiautomatic pistol for the higher cartridge capacity and faster rate of fire.

The Basic Long Gun. There are two long gun types: rifles and shotguns.

The rifle, with a longer barrel than the handgun, is used for precise, distance shots. Rifles can be bolt-action or semiautomatic. Because bullets fly in a trajectory, the range to a target affects how much a shooter must correct line-of-sight aim to counter the effects of gravity.

Instead of bullets, a shotgun fires a number of pellets, which disperse once they leave the muzzle. Shotguns are thus most effective at short range. The barrel can be sawed-off for easier concealment.

The Basic Machine Gun. A machine gun is fully automatic gun which can fire rapidly and continuously so long as the trigger is pulled. Examples include the Israeli UZI and the American MAC-10.

What's Available; What's Used

According to the "Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report" produced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (AFT), following is what was added to the mix of available weapons by American companies in 2000:

  • Pistols: 962,901 (28,636 were exported)
  • Revolvers: 318,960 (48,130 were exported)
  • Rifles: 1,583,042 (49,642 were exported)
  • Shotguns: 898,442 (35,087 were exported)
  • Machine guns: 47,400 (11,719 were exported)

Some percent of these weapons are not available to the general public. On the other hand, foreign manufacturers not included in these numbers account for a fifth of the total US weapons pool, according to the US Department of Justice.

According to the "1999 Crime Gun Trace Reports" produced by the AFT, firearm type by possessor played out as follows.

  • Semiautomatic pistol: 49.6% (the 9mm semiautomatic accounted for 17.7%)
  • Revolver: 27.4% (the .38 caliber revolver accounted for 12.3%)
  • Rifle: 11.0% (the .22 caliber rifle accounted for 4.6%)
  • Shotgun: 10.4% (the 12-gauge shotgun accounted for 7.7%)
  • Other: 1.5%

The report summarized crime guns traces in 32 of the 79 US cities with populations of 250,000 or more. I imagine the numbers would differ in suburban and rural areas.

According to the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) for 1993, only 25% of the rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault cases involved a gun.

According to the FBI's "Supplemental Homicide Reports" for that same year, 57% of all murders were committed with handguns, 3% with rifles, 5% with shotguns, and 5% with unknown guns. That leaves 30% of the murders being committed with something other than a firearm.

It's worth noting, however, that according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, "No national collection of data contains detailed information about all of the guns used in crimes." ("Guns Used in Crime," July 1995.)

Firearms Identification: If a bullet can be recovered in good enough shape, unique markings can be matched to another bullet fired from the same gun. (The same is not true of shotgun pellets.) While the identification is as solid as fingerprints, the gun must first be recovered to perform the test.

Guns and the Senses: The sight and sound of gunfire is no stranger to anyone who watches television or goes to the movies. If you want to make your use of guns stand out from the crowd, don't forget touch, taste, and smell.

Most guns are metal and wood and rubber. They weigh anywhere from half a pound to almost ten. When a shot is fired, there is a kickback, the strength depending on the specific gun and its muzzle velocity.

Gunpowder blown into the air has a taste and a smell. You may wish to visit a firing range so you can experience and describe the particulars yourself.

Movie Magic to Avoid: There are three accepted movie-isms that shouldn't find their way into your fiction:

  • Look Mom, no kickback: the hero shoots a machine gun designed to be fired on a tripod from a prone position one-handed and standing.

  • Look Mom, no bullets: the shooter pulls the trigger of the automatic and is surprised when the magazine is empty.

  • Look Mom, no aim: the hero shoots on the run with the gun held low so that the shot can't be lined up.

Additionally, warning shots are banned by most law enforcement agencies for any number of good reasons.

Before you choose a weapon, pick up one of the many books or magazines devoted to guns. Research basic types and specific models for accuracy. Many firearm manufacturers have an Internet site which will give you further specifications and links to available accessories. Once you have determined the setting of the story, check that locations's local and state police departments for their crime and gun statistics.

While the bulk of gun information available on the Internet is geared towards the pro/con arguments for and against gun control and the right to bear arms, even this can provide useful flavoring for characterization.

Find Out More...

Don't Shoot Holes in Your Credibility, by John Rains
http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/guns.shtml

Copyright © 2002 Stephen D. Rogers
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Stephen D. Rogers has published mysteries in magazines ranging from Plots With Guns to Woman's World, multiple anthologies, and several non-mystery markets. He is a graduate of the Framingham Police Department's Citizen Policy Academy and a member of Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Visit his website at http://www.stephendrogers.com).

 

Copyright © 2017 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

Organize your writing
and save time. Click here for a free download