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Writers and Firearm Mistakes

Updated on September 14, 2014

I’m a gun owner and a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. I own five firearms and have my permit to carry concealed (which anyone living in California can tell you is not easy to come by in this State). Still I’m more than willing to admit that I’m no expert. Whenever I have a character using a firearm with which I am unfamiliar, I do research and/or to the range or a gun store and ask questions.

The problem I see is that many writers seem not to bother. Because of this they often make glaring errors. I don’t mean simple incidents of editing mistakes such as having a character put out their cigarette twice in one and a half pages (happened in a book I’m reading now). I mean things that are physically impossible like thumbing back the hammer on a Glock. The hammer on a Glock is encased in the slide (see photo) and can’t be thumbed back.

My Glock 17. No visible hammer.
My Glock 17. No visible hammer.

These types of mistakes can easily pull a reader with even basic gun knowledge out of the world of your story and into a “Seriously? You don’t know FILL IN THE BLANK” moment. The worst part of it is that the vast majority of these mistakes could be avoided with a simple Google search. I’ve listed some of my pet peeves below.

The Click of An Empty Semiautomatic: When you fire your last round from a semiautomatic, the slide locks back( see photos). The chamber is wide open and obviously empty. Heck a big part of the barrel is exposed. Unless your character is blind there’s no way they can’t tell the weapon is empty before the dramatic “click” moment so many writers have used. If you feel you MUST have this moment in your story, at least have the character use a revolver. You can click on the chamber of one if it is empty or the round has been fired.

Glock 17 with the slide forward (loaded position)
Glock 17 with the slide forward (loaded position)
Glock 17 with an empty magazine (slide locks back) Pretty obvious, right?
Glock 17 with an empty magazine (slide locks back) Pretty obvious, right?

On a side note: Filmmakers please stop adding a muzzle flash and gunshot sound FX to your scene when the slide on the weapon is locked back. It just looks stupid.

The Smell of Cordite After a Gun Fight: Cordite hasn’t been used in gunpowder for several hundred years. It will not be heavy in the air after a gunfight. Black powder, or gunpowder, is a mixture that contains potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. Have the smell of sulfur in the air. At least it’s actually used.

Clicking the Safety Off of a Glock: The Glock, love it or hate it, is a popular firearm. As such it is often used in stories. The thing is that the safety is built into the trigger. When you put your finger on the trigger, you’re “removing” the safety. There isn’t one to flick off prior to this. It's just one of many examples of firearms without an external safety to "flick" off, but, since I own two and could provide pictures, I used it as my prime example.

The "extra" piece on the trigger in the picture below is the safety on a Glock. Once your finger is on the trigger the safety is off. There isn't anything to flick.

Carrying An Unlimited Supply of Ammo: Bullets have weight and mass. A single bullet is not heavy, but having a character carrying so much ammunition that they could start their own store isn’t plausible.

You Won’t Find a Spent Casing In The Wall Near Your Victim: A bullet and a casing/cartridge are not the same thing. I once read a book where the M.E. dug a “spent cartridge” from a victim. I’d like to know just how the murder managed to fire the casing from their weapon rather than the bullet? I haven’t tried it myself, but I don’t think it’s possible.

These are just a few of the common mistakes made in writing. A few that I seem to catch a bit more often than others. Based on these I think it’s important for every writer to at least make a trip to a gun range and/or gun store. Even if you are honestly too afraid of firearms yourself to fire one, you can ask questions of people who are very, very qualified to answer them. Feel free to list any I’ve missed or that bother you in the comments section.

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