How Guns Work (According to the Movies)

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I am no fan of guns. I don’t feel safe with them unless they’re on display in a museum nor would I wish to be either in front or behind one. Not to mention, I think they’re dangerous since they’re designed to kill. Besides, I’ve never owned one in my life nor do I intend to in the near future. Of course, in fictional outlets like movies and TV shows, guns are everywhere and are seen as awesome weaponry used to defeat bad guys. After all, violence is usually the answer in Hollywood in these kinds of situations. However, guns don’t work in the same fashion in Hollywood as they do in real life. Here I compile a list of how guns work in movies and TV shows you know and love as well as an explanation why some of these concepts wouldn’t  work in real life. Still, I’m going to exempt science fiction or fantasy since they don’t go by the same rules in real life anyway unless otherwise noted.

1. A muzzle-loaded black powder blunderbuss can fire three consecutive shots in under a second, without reloading. (Believe it not, this happens during the “Gaston” number in Beauty and the Beast where Gaston fires three shots in the barrels at the tavern. Perhaps no one shoots like Gaston but while firing three consecutive shots in under a second without reloading may be realistically possible for many of today’s firearms like an AK-47, such feat would certainly not be with a muzzle-loaded black powder blunderbuss. I mean even the fastest shooters (such as soldiers) could only get three shots off in a minute during Gaston’s day. For one, muzzle-loaded weapons can’t fire consecutive shots, which is why one Revolutionary War officer told his troops, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” Second, loading these weapons was a multiple step process such as pouring the powder, dropping the ammo (sometimes ripping the cartridge), securing the contents far back in with a rod, letting the wick in the flint, and lighting the flint before pulling the trigger. And to be a Minuteman in the Revolutionary War, you had to do all but the last in under a minute. Of course, the loading process explains why our Founding Fathers saw no need to mention gun control in the Second Amendment since it was only since the mid 19th century where guns fired multiple rounds.)

2. Almost every firearm in existence has an unlimited ammo only as long as ammunition count doesn’t have anything to do with the drama. (When it comes to ammunition counts, it depends on the weapon. Revolvers and long arms usually hold up to 5-8 rounds. Semiautomatic handguns have magazines that usually hold 10-15 rounds. Detachable magazines for semi-automatic or automatic rifles usually contain 20 to 30 rounds. The classic Thompson submachine guns holds a magazine of 100 rounds but has been retired due to other issues.)

3. Silencers make firing a gun completely silent. (They’re more or less “suppressors” than silencers since they don’t make guns completely silent but and usually only as quiet as “hearing safe.” It’s like more like putting your phone on vibrate.)

4. Homemade silencers are just as effective as real ones. (They are not. On the other hand, real silencers are highly regulated and illegal in several US states, so what does that tell you?)

5. Being in a heavy firing zone won’t bring any kind of damage to your hearing. (If you ever seen a gun range, everyone is wearing hearing protection for a reason. A gunshot is the loudest normal sound a human being is likely to hear. I mean firing one gun can damage your hearing significantly, let alone hundreds. Not to mention, many shooting enthusiast suffer from some degree of sound-induced hearing loss due to their hobby. You can also experience tinnitus as well as feel pain from such a sound. Some high powered guns can still hurt one’s hearing far away even with a silencer. Still, many Hollywood movies today are involve heavy gunfire as well as countless explosions while many of the characters don’t really seem to have any issues with their hearing and yet none of them are wearing any kind of protection. Out of all the movies I’ve seen relating to heavy fire, only Adrien Brody’s character in The Pianist experiences any kind of hearing loss from gunfire {which was temporary and due to a close range explosion that nearly killed him}. Sherlock Holmes may count as well, but only when he’s very close to the gun. Then again, gunshots in movies aren’t very loud to begin with mostly due to movie sound systems not being typically designed to output noises above the human pain threshold.)

6. You can fire a gun and hear tiny noises or whispers at the same time. (No you can’t unless you are at some great distance away. In fact, in a heavy firing zone, you may not be able to hear yourself shout, let alone anything else.)

7. All gunshots go “boom.” (Only shotguns go “boom.” Smaller guns usually sound like a firecracker. Other guns have distinctive sounds as well.)

8. Guns make a clicking noises whenever they’ve run out of ammunition. (Only pistols and some semi or automatics do.)

9. Being hit with a gunshot won’t cause bleeding. (Oh, yes it would, even when shot in the head when it’s certainly not pretty at all. Those shot in pre-1960s movies don’t bleed much because of the Hays Code but many do.)

10. There were no guns in the Middle Ages. (Gunpowder was introduced to Europe after the Crusades while guns were practically invented during the 1300s. The first recorded use of shooter lit wicks that ignited gunpowder loaded in a gun barrel in 1364. It was called the matchlock arquebus.Thus, guns and knights have existed side by side for over 300 years. Still, they weren’t very reliable, were very expensive, and had a limited production.)

11. The recoil will either send the shooter flying or have no effect at all. (Usually the recoil will result in no more than a bruised shoulder or a sprained wrist at least with most weapons. There may be physics involved in this so it’s complicated.)

12. Being shot can cause you to fly across the room. (Please, bullets may be powerful enough to kill you but to fling you across the room, you got to be kidding. When shot, people usually drop. Explosions may do the trick, on the other hand.)

13. One bullet can bring instant death. (The question of whether you’ll die from getting shot depends on where the bullet is or whether the surgeon can get to it, how much time passes between the shooting incident and the arrival of medical assistance, and the quality of the medical treatment. The advancement of technology and medicine at the time is also a factor.)

14. Lethality of bullets is usually dependent on the character’s importance to the plot. A redshirt or mook with no lines will be dead in one shot while it will take flood of bullets to kill the main villain or hero. (Actually bullet lethality doesn’t work that way in which a myriad of factors can play out.)

15. If you’re shot in the leg or right shoulder, you might be in pain but you can otherwise engage in the fighting since they’re pretty safe spots. (It is impossible to shoot someone and know they will survive the wound. When most people shoot, they shoot to kill, not wound or disarm. Still, if you were hit in outside shoulder, the  thighs, or ass, there are good chances you’ll survive and make a full recovery. Also, older softer bullets did much more damage.)

16. Armed henchmen can’t hit anything. (Though Imperial storm troopers may not shoot straight, they are sure to hit something or someone.)

17. Jammed guns are useless guns. (A gun jam is only a glitch that can be corrected within a second or two, though I guess some jams are harder to correct than others.)

18. A dropped gun will always discharge. (Most guns are made not to do this and a dropped gun discharge usually presents grounds for a recall. However, such recalls are voluntary in the US.)

19. Some bullets work like guided missiles. (Most of them don’t and will hit the first thing that comes in their path. However, given weapons technology advancement, this may be subject to change.)

20. Anyone with a gun can remain calm under threat of being shot or under fire. (Just because you have a gun in your hand, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to fire without hesitation. That is, unless you’re someone who’s trained to act this way in such situations.)

21. Good marksmanship is easy to master even in a life-or-death situation. (It is not, especially in a life-or-death situation where high-adrenaline makes accuracy go to pot. Though soldiers are trained to get a decent accuracy rate, but in a war zone, most magazines will empty at a 10% accuracy rate. Most soldiers in battle just fire their guns in order that it will hit somebody who’s not on their side. For instance, the average WWII soldier had to fire about 200 rounds for every hit scored on an enemy. And these guys had pretty reliable guns. Also, conditions on the battlefield was another factor. Not to mention, friendly fire has always been common in war zones.)

22. Anyone can easily recover from a gunshot wound if the plot demands it. (Gunshots will send you on a one way ticket to the emergency room and may take weeks or months to recover from depending on the medical treatment. Some people don’t recover at all.)

23. Pointing a gun at someone and placing your finger on the trigger with no intent to shoot is always a good idea as long as you’re careful and know what you’re doing. (Even those who know what they’re doing will always try to avoid this at all times. Besides, when cops do this, it’s usually in a life or death situation in which they will shoot if need be. Still, most of the time, this will set yourself for an accident waiting to happen. Still, you see cops in TV and movies do this all the time even when it’s not in a life or death situation. Yet, very few end up having an accident with their firearms. Remember, guns aren’t toys.)

24. Having a gun will help you defend yourself in a mass shooting spree. (You’re better off not armed and hiding under a table. Also, those armed will probably be among the first of those shot in a shooting spree.)

25. It’s possible to fire a good shot through the scope of a sniper rifle where the bullet will end up in the sniper’s eye. (It’s unlikely this will happen and will more or less exit through the side at an angle.)

26. Any gun can destroy a lock in one or two steps as well as does a neat and tidy job of it. (It actually takes a high powered gun to do this at close range but shooting a lock off will result in dangerous shrapnel flying everywhere. Only soldiers and SWAT teams ever do this since this task involves a shotgun, Kevlar body armor, specialized ammunition, and full face protection. Seriously, don’t try this at home, this will put you in the hospital.)

27. Shoving a pistol down your pants is a harmless idea. (Just ask Plaxico Burress who accidentally shot himself in the thigh in a night club this way.)

28. Blanks aren’t dangerous under any circumstances. (Well, not as dangerous as some forms of ammunition but can inflict its share of damage when fired carelessly. Just watch the scene in In Bruges when Colin Farrell shoots a guy in the eye with one. Thus, this isn’t 100% accurate.)

29. Bullets ricochet with sparks. (They never spark, ever. Still, it’s said that paint balls filled with fireworks would.)

30. It’s easy to shoot accurately with a handgun. (It’s actually incredibly difficult and takes a lot of training to master.)

31. Firing while jumping is always a good idea and looks awesome. (Firing while jumping reduces accuracy, is a serious waste of energy, and can cause injury to your shoulder upon landing. May look impressive, but please don’t try it at home.)

32. To be shot in the ass is highly embarrassing. (Sure but in a war zone, to be shot in the ass, is actually quite lucky since it’s referred to as “the million dollar wound.” Out of all the places on the body, the butt has the greatest chance of not being life-threatening and causing any permanent damage when treated properly. Also, for someone in the war zone, it’s serious enough to get a medical discharge and shipped home.)

33. Gun duels usually involve both participants who stand back to back, walk ten paces, and turn around to shoot at one another. (Actually almost never used in real duels while distances were usually agreed upon by the participants. You could also fire to miss before drawing blood but you can accidentally shoot a second or bystander. However, I bet there was plenty of cheating taking place in duels. Still, it’s a pretty stupid idea, though congressmen were doing this to each other in early America.)

34. Squeezing the trigger can turn anyone into an instant marksman. (Marksmanship can take years of training and practice.)

35. You can always hear the bullet before it hits you. (You can hear the gun but you don’t really hear the bullet hitting you. You know that you’re hit when you see a bloody gash at the site.)

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3 responses to “How Guns Work (According to the Movies)

  1. “I think [guns] they’re dangerous since they’re designed to kill.”

    There are levels of design starting at the engineering level, and there are sometimes higher purposes behind those that use them that are quite contradictory to the low level engineering design. So it is with many guns, particularly handguns most often used in self defense.

    Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz did probably one of the best studies of defensive gun uses in the U.S. and found that in the vast majority of cases the gun was never fired. In other words if you look at police statistics of people using guns in self defense you would think it hardly every happened, it is so rare in comparison to the number of guns owned.

    According to Kleck and Gertz Americans use a fireams perhaps as often as 2.5 million times a year in self defense and defense of property and upwards of 400,000 lives are saved. Are his results controversial? Of course. But there are other studies that found very large numbers, but not quite so high as them.

    Again, in almost every case the gunowner displays that they have a gun to the bad guy and he leaves to go somewhere else, presumably for a safer target to victimize.

    Another interesting read is “On Killing” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It is first about killing in war, but then goes on to some more general conclusions. The most important is that a large number of humans are not willing to kill another person on purpose (and he talks of how the military worked to overcome that in my generation who fought the Vietnam War and how that led to a lot of what we now call PTSD).

    So here is my take on “guns are only designed to kill,” a popular meme heard everywhere today. No, guns are designed on a higher level to give a weaker, smaller, less physically aggressive person the ability to threaten dangerous people with credible physical force. That appears to be how the majority of people use them. A woman without a gun can be easily raped by a larger and stronger man, assuming she is not a Kung Fu expert, but a small woman with a handgun can defeat a big strong man and not be hurt, or raped (studies show that women on average are less likely to be hurt or be raped if they defend themselves with a gun).

    “…this happens during the “Gaston” number in Beauty and the Beast …”

    One of my favorite movies. Me and my daughter watched it a lot when she was younger.

    “loading [muzzle loading] weapons was a multiple step process such as pouring the powder, dropping the ammo (sometimes ripping the cartridge), securing the contents far back in with a rod, letting the wick in the flint, and lighting the flint before pulling the trigger. And to be a Minuteman in the Revolutionary War, you had to do all but the last in under a minute.”

    Not sure what “letting the wick in the flint” means? At that time they had flintlocks. They put a charge of fast burning black powder (different than the main charge) in the pan and when they pulled the trigger it released hammer holding the flint which struck a lid over the pan, forcing it up and exposing the pan and at the same time the flint generated sparks from the force of hitting the cover which ignited the priming charge. If all went well the flash travelled through a small hole in the barrel and ignited the main charge sending the bullet and patch down the barrel.

    If all did not go well and the flash didn’t get through the little hole (it is fouled from residue of the previous shots) then not much happened but “a flash in the pan,” from whence that saying came (“Oh, he is just a flash in the pan!”)

    “Of course, the loading process explains why our Founding Fathers saw no need to mention gun control in the Second Amendment…”

    There were really two kinds of guns primarily used by Revolutionary soldiers. The regular army types used a smooth bore rifle which was not hugely accurate, but it could be reloaded quickly by the standards of the day. These were the “assault rifles” of the day. On the other hand the militia types with their own weapon _might_ have a true rifle with a rifled bore which were accurate out to maybe 400 yards in the hands of a good shot. The downside was it took quite a bit longer to reload and they fouled up much quicker requiring a thorough cleaning to make operational again. These were the snipers and they were famous in that war for trying to shoot British officers.

    So here is the real meaning of the 2nd Amendment. The right to own “military grade” firearms. Of course the definition of “military grade” changes with the times. If we honored the exact intent then people would be going down to Wallmart and buying fully automatic M16 assault rifles and a M240B machine gun like my son shoots in the Marines.

    For the record some people do own fully automatic weapons and they are registered with BATFE (in states where it is legal). But they are hugely expensive and only one or two have been used in a crime since 1934 when the law was passed to restrict their ownership.

    “…firing one gun can damage your hearing significantly, let alone hundreds.”

    Absolutely true. In Texas where I live I am seeing more and more suppressors being sold at gun stores. You have to pay a $200 fee (which was expensive in 1934, not so much now). I am thinking of getting one for my AR-15. The idea, as I think you really understand more than most, is to save hearing.

    “Guns make a clicking noises whenever they’ve run out of ammunition.”

    Not normally when firing live ammo. But if you cock an unloaded gun and pull the trigger you will either hear the hammer falling or the striker falling and hitting the firing pin (depending on design).

    “The recoil will either send the shooter flying or have no effect at all. (Usually the recoil will result in no more than a bruised shoulder or a sprained wrist at least with most weapons. There may be physics involved in this so it’s complicated.)”

    There is definitely physics involved! Basically covered by Newton’s principles of mass and velocity squared. A 460 Weatherby has been known to break people’s collarbone if held incorrectly. I can assure you from personal experience it is quite “hefty!” 🙂

    “When shot, people usually drop.”

    Not necessarily. Sometimes they just keep coming.

    “One bullet can bring instant death.”

    Depends on the person. Back in, I think the 1980s, some FBI guys got into a major gunfight with a couple guys down in Florida. Those guys took an unbelievable amount of shots from the FBI’s 9mm semi-auto pistols and although fatally wounded they still managed to kill several FBI agents.

    The FBI did a major study on that and went to bigger more powerful round (the “FBI 10mm load”) and that morphed into the 40 S&W which is an extremely popular police round today.

    Depending on attitude and drugs consumed a person may receive fatal wounds meaning that they will bleed out and lose consciousness in a mintue or so and die. But in the time from inflicting the wound(s) to unconsciousness they may kill you. The only sure shot is to the central nervous system. That will drop them “zombie style” like in the movies.

    “Actually bullet lethality doesn’t work that way in which a myriad of factors can play out.”

    Yes, and a neverending topic of discussion among people defending their particular choices! 🙂

    “When most people shoot, they shoot to kill, not wound or disarm.”

    If you want to survive shooting to wound is both more difficult, and foolhardy. What most police and military are trained to do is shoot to “center of mass,” i.e., heart and lungs.

    My son in the Marines was taught in CQB (close quarter combat) training to shoot twice to center of mass and if they didn’t immediately drop follow up with a shot to the head.

    “A gun jam is only a glitch that can be corrected within a second or two…”

    The Marines do a trememdous amount of training in clearing jams. It is incredibly important to be able to do it by feel in the dark even. A lot of Marines died in Vietnam when they first got the M16 as it was prone to jams (actually the ammo was bad for a while).

    “Anyone with a gun can remain calm under threat of being shot or under fire.”

    It can’t really be trained very easily. It is literally a “baptism under fire.”

    “For instance, the average WWII soldier had to fire about 200 rounds for every hit scored on an enemy.”

    Read “On Killing” by Grossman which I mentioned earlier. He will explain to you what really happened.

    “Pointing a gun at someone and placing your finger on the trigger with no intent to shoot is always a good idea as long as you’re careful and know what you’re doing.”

    The NRA instructors and police instructors teach you to not put your finger on the trigger until ready to shoot. But all guns are not the same. For example, the Glock has several stages in its pull. First there is a light easy pull that goes for distance until it reaches a definitely discernable harder pull. During that first pull you are disengaging and important safety built into the trigger system. If you pull through that second stage the gun goes off.

    A technique with the Glock that I use is on firing the first round I hold the trigger back and do not let it go forward and til the recoil is coming down and the gun has cycled. Then I let the trigger go slightly until feel it reach that second stage point I mentioned before and then can pull the trigger back again for another shot.

    But you’re right – you shouldn’t probably attempt that on the first shot because with lots of adrenaline you can easily pull through it the first time. Been there, done that. 🙂

    “Having a gun will help you defend yourself in a mass shooting spree. (You’re better off not armed and hiding under a table. Also, those armed will probably be among the first of those shot in a shooting spree.)”

    That last part about being the first shot is not necessarily true. You are imputing a lot more skill and situational awareness to what is usually an untrained shooter.

    If you have time and interest here is a link to a really good article by a former Marine and police officer that talks about this in great detail:

    Everything that’s wrong with the argument against protecting schools with guns

    http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/09/03/everything-thats-wrong-with-the-argument-against-protecting-schools-with-guns/

    “It’s possible to fire a good shot through the scope of a sniper rifle where the bullet will end up in the sniper’s eye.”

    This all comes from a real life incident with the famous Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock in Vietnam. He killed a Vietnames sniper that way.

    “Any gun can destroy a lock in one or two steps”

    Police and SWAT use a shotgun for this. Forget what load they use, probably something like 00 buck.

    “Shoving a pistol down your pants is a harmless idea.”

    Also called “Mexican Carry” in Texas and other places. Depends a lot on the gun. Definitely not a good idea with many semi-autos. But a S&W snub nose revolver can work like this really well (very long, very hard pull, hard to do accidentally) and can be super well concealed this way. Been there, done that. 🙂

    “It’s easy to shoot accurately with a handgun. (It’s actually incredibly difficult and takes a lot of training to master.)”

    Depends. A lot of people can be taught to shoot with acceptable accuracy at “spittin range” where the vast majority of gunfighs with handguns occur. For that purpose practice at ranges no longer than 7 yards. So in concealed carry classes in Texas almost everyone passes easily. And that is not unreasonable. Police and military have to be prepared to engage offensively at greater ranges, but in a real self defense scenario you could probalby literally spit in the guys face and lots people can get good hits at that range if they don’t panic.

    What is actually a lot more important, and you will see that in Grossman’s book, is the _willingness_ to fire at another human being and maybe kill them.

    “Marksmanship can take years of training and practice.”

    The Marines can do the job in a lot shorter time in boot camp. It is basic principles. The problem with a lot of people is they don’t get good training right off the bat and instead learn and practice bad mistakes that have to be unlearned. Personally I think it ought to be taught in schools (along with a very heavy does of gun safety). We had .22 rifle teams back in high school and college in the 1960s.

    “You can always hear the bullet before it hits you.”

    Nope. Rifle bullets will typically, unless at very long range, be supersonic when they get to your range. What you will hear – if not hit – is the sound of their passing which is definitely something that will tighten the old sphincter.

    I guess must have been something interesting about your post. Hence long reply.

    Keep safe!

    regards,

    lwk
    free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com

  2. Guns are also quite heavy, which I would imagine may affect the shooter’s accuracy.

    Side note to #28: Blanks are definitely lethal. Actor Jon-Erik Hexum accidentally killed himself that way by playing around with a gun loaded with blanks. Such a waste.

  3. “Guns are also quite heavy, which I would imagine may affect the shooter’s accuracy.”

    Within reasonable bounds heavy is good in terms of accuracy due to less felt recoil. At least it is one factor. A very lightweight snub nose revolver like the S&W 642 with +P rounds is a bitch to shoot due to the extreme felt recoil even though it is only a .38 Special. People become “gun shy” when the gun hurts them every time they shoot it.

    lwk

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