A while back it hit me that I had never shot a gun. Now, to a normal person that might not be such a big deal but as you may have noticed, I’m not exactly normal. I write mostly stuff that relies heavily on action and I want to get things right. And while movies and action series are cool, I am aware that a lot of them get guns wrong. So naturally I got some friends together, went to the gun-range and learned loads. Allow me to share with you some of the things I learned there.

The 9mm selection

The 9mm selection

... and the rest

… and the rest

Guns are dangerous
This is one of those thank you Captain Obvious -type deals but it bears repeating. And it’s not just that the actually obviously dangerous end is dangerous, which it of course is. The recoil on some guns can be a big deal. One of the “normal” weapons that we got to shoot was Dirty Harry’s gun, the .44 Magnum. That bitch has a kick on her. One friend actually got a bruise just from the recoil on that thing and my hand was also red after just the five rounds we could shoot. And if you’re not shooting with a revolver the shell casings bounce every which way and they’re pretty freaking hot. A friend (the same unfortunate one) got a mild burn off a shell tha flew from a neighbours gun. And that’s just the realistic guns. We also got to shoot one round off each a Desert Eagle and a Smith & Wesson .500 revolver and unless you’re AndrĂ© the Giant you have no business using those guns, they were utterly ridiculous. The .500 I coudln’t even hold properly because my fingers simply weren’t long enough and I can still feel the recoil in my right shoulder.

There’s recoil and there’s recoil
It’s used so often it’s a trope; in noir fiction every single gun kicks like a mule. Total myth. Out of the selection we tried only the last two (Desert Eagle and the Smith & Wesson .500 revolver) and the .44 Magnum actually had a substantial enough recoil to warrant the term. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a definite recoil in any gun that needs to be taken in to consideration if you’re hoping to actually hit your targets, but it’s not that big a deal on the smaller revolvers and especially not on the pistols. Also a Glock, apparently because of its plastic handle, has more recoil than a similarly sized IWI Jericho 941 which has a metal handle.

Headshot is not where you think it is
One of our group joined in as a result of a discussion about the inevitable zombie apocalypse so naturally the topic came up several times during the outing. Our instructor told us that if you really want to stop a human being (or in this case, a zombie) dead, as it were (pun gleefully intended), you don’t shoot them in the forehead you shoot them literally between the eyes. If you do a headshot in that visually appealing way directly in the middle of the forehead, the skull might alter the trajectory of the bullet enough that it might not damage the brain.

A lot of movies get the grip wrong
Turns out, there’s a lot of ways to hold a gun wrong and only two ways to hold it right. One of them (the one we were taught) is explained here. The other is apparently pretty much the same except you tuck in your thumbs. And everything else is pretty much not how someone who’s used to handling a gun would do it.

Guns are loud
Here’s another one of those Captain Obvious deals but it’s hard to realize just how loud they are if you haven’t seen it. We were all of us wearing earmuffs but most of us opted to wear earplugs as well. One guy didn’t and after the first round that people started to shoot bigger than .22 caliber guns, he got tinnitus. So something like that scene in Bad Boys 2 where they’re all shooting inside and having a conversation with each other from across the room (you know the one I’m talking about):

Yeeeeah. Not happening. Not a one of those guys is walking away from that situation without permanent hearing damage, probably all of them will have burst ear drums and be deaf after the first few shots. Even if they were wearing hearing protection, I’m pretty sure that as much as those two shoot, they’d have permanent hearing damage within a year or two. And the odd thing I noticed was that other people’s guns seemed louder than my own. But it all comes down to; guns are really freaking loud.

The fog of war – not just a figure of speech
When you shoot a gun, you get smoke. Modern handguns don’t apparently cause as much smoke as would say a black powder weapon but after a few shots in an enclosed room there’s still a definite haze in the air.

Girl guns are actually harder to shoot
There was a small revolver among the bunch that looked exactly like all noir femme fatale handguns. So naturally that was the first thing I tried after the practice rounds with the .22’s. I did not like it at all. Even with my small hands I couldn’t get a strong grip on it with my whole hand and that made shooting it way scarier than shooting a more substantial revolver or a standard 9mm.

The barrel doesn’t heat up that much
We shot five bullets per round and the barrel did not heat up enough to cause burns (like in that scene in Shoot ‘Em Up). It was maybe sligthly warmer after than when I picked it up but I wouldn’t have hesitated to put any of the guns in a purse were I a noir femme fatale.

Guns really aren’t that different
There’s not much that has changed in gun technology in the last 100 or so years. More accurate sights and some other minor improvements but the user interface is still the same. In terms of science-fiction I would say that it’s likely that even in a considerably far future (say 100-200 years) standard guns would remain pretty much the same or be replaced with something completely different.