S. Bodus

For Writers

Very little makes me toss a book aside faster than firearm or ammunition inaccuracies. If the story is good I’ll read past the erroneous info, but chances are I won’t buy another book by that author.

The trouble with researching firearm information is that it’s labor intensive. The reading can be confusing, and what sounds cool may be inaccurate for your purposes.

The best thing for you to do is to go to a shooting range, rent a pistol or two (or rifle, depending on your needs) and shoot 50-100 rounds. (This sounds like a lot, but it isn’t.) Most semi-automatic pistols have 10-rd magazines–unless you’re in a state that doesn’t have a law against high-capacity magazines–so if you fire 100 rounds, that’s ten magazines-full. Actually, you may find that 50 rounds is enough, but you may find it so much fun that you want to shoot another 50. 😛

Errors that I’ve found in my reading or on TV shows/in movies:

  • Calibers that don’t exist (Dan Simmons did this in Darwin’s Blade, I think) *I’ll give the book and pg # when I find it again.
  • Features on guns that don’t exist (Janet Evanovich’s character, Stephanie Plum, flicks the safety off her Glock.  Glocks don’t have standard safeties.)
  • Characters don’t carry their pistols ready to fire (a round in the chamber)  (on TV and in movies)  Ex: Burn Notice.  I love this show, but their gun handling makes me nuts.  The characters make a show of racking the slide back to put a bullet in the chamber–this makes a dramatic sound, and oooh, we know they’re really armed now–but any bad guy worth his salt could put a bullet in them before they had a chance to rack the slide.
  • Not using a pistol properly.  A Special Forces guy on Dexter pulled a 1911 on a cop, and the cop took the threat seriously–but the 1911’s hammer wasn’t back, so there’s no way he could’ve shot the gun. Period. It’s a single action gun: you have to pull the hammer back or rack the slide before you can shoot it.
  • Presenting gun dealers as slipshod bad guys.  Crash, one of my favorite movies, shows 1) the dealer allowing a person other than the buyer to pick up the firearm; 2)  the customer  taking the pistol without the dealer having secured it in a container and sealing it.  Both actions are against the law.  The fact that the guy behind the counter was obnoxious was, I’m sorry to say, accurate. (My customers have told me about how horribly they were treated in various gun shops in California and other states.)

I invite you to post your research questions here.  If I don’t know the answer, I will find someone who does, and post the answer here.  🙂

  1. What firearm would a character use if she were a Confederate sympathizer/spy? The year is 1864.

    • So I can answer this properly, I need to know a little about your character.

      Where did she live? “The South” is too general.

      Does she travel? Is she a spy up in the north? Or has she infiltrated the Union camps in the southern states?

      What’s her background? How did she come to know how to handle any pistol?

      If she learned on the field, incidentally, it says something different about her character than if she’d been raised to hunt, or if she knew a blacksmith who took up gun-making.

  2. Consider the Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver.
    31 caliber 5 or 6- shot cylinder. The grip is small, and the caliber is manageable.

    Colt 1849 Pocket Pistol (Replica)
    Come into the Shop; I’ve got it at my desk along with a powder horn and a couple of other accessories.

  3. What would you recommend for a ranger traveling the wastes of America and in need of a rifle/carbine for sniping and general purpose. it needs to be durable, simple, fire easy to find ammo, and most importantly inconspicous.

    • Mike-

      what distance does your character need to shoot?
      can it be one he can quickly disassemble, or does it need to be something, say with a folding stock, that he can tote in one piece?

  4. the range i’m looking for is between 200 and 400 meters.
    and i think a folding stock is preferable since he needs instant access to it.

    • one more question: Combat Ranger or Park Ranger? Each has its own special preferences, according to my expert.

    • First–remember that in the hands of an expert shooter, any rifle can be a sniper rifle. Calling it that is inaccurate in the same way that calling some rifles “assault weapons” is. (An argument by definition, really.)

      FYI: I’ll be answering with several replies since I’m consulting different experts in different time zones. LOL

      One expert suggests a 30-06 Thompson Contender. It’s a single shot, extremely accurate, and very simple and quick to break apart so your character could conceal it (the barrel is 26″)–which reminds me, if he wants to shoot long range, a carbine isn’t the best choice because the barrel’s too short.

      I strongly suggest that you hie yourself to the nearest gun store to get your hands on any of the firearms I mention, and if possible, rent and shoot each. This will make your narrative authentic–and it’ll make it easier on you because you’ll have handled the rifle; you’ll be able to picture your character’s movements.

      If you’re a little uncomfortable with that idea, just tell the people there that you’re researching for your character and that you want them to guide you step-by-step through the shooting process and the take-down. If they don’t have time to help you, they will surely know a shooting enthusiast who’d love to help.

  5. combat ranger. you should know that from our talk thursday.
    and i agree with your statement about any rifle being capable of sniping in expert hands. actually the character isn’t primarily a sniper. he needs to gain information firsthand.

    i’m not having a character killing from a half-mile away. it actually needs to be more personal. he’s stealthy and gets around quickly. and a scope is optional. if possible he just needs a rifle/carbine (he’s going to need a moderate rate of fire, he is alone) that has interchangeable parts. something like that.

    • Lightweight concealable. Combat arms usually aren’t, unless you’re talking pistols. Then it will depend on what time frame the Ranger served during. Mid to Late 70’s he’ll be all about the colt 1911 up to about the mid 80’s. Around 85, the army started to adopt the M9 (Beretta M92F) as the side arm of choice. If he served during Dessert Storm up until recently, he may have used an M13, (basically the same beretta but in .40 cal. If he served in Afghanistan, a lot of guys were ‘acquiring’ the 1911 again, for increased punch and barrier penetration.
      If your author is dead set on a rifle, he’ll stick with a m16 Commando if he’s a ‘Nam vet, and if he’s served up to about the early 90’s he’s going to prefer the M16 M4 which has become so popular. HOWEVER, if he served in the late 90’s to recently and was involved in Spec Ops, he’s going to prefer the M4SOPMOD. (Special Operations Peculiar Modification) Which is a standard M4 with a MUCH heavier barrel profile. It keeps heavier bullets stabilized at greater distance, more consistently after full auto bursts because of a better heat dissipation. All three rifles were fairly short, with collapsible stocks. The Commando type usually had a VERY short barrel of about 11.5 inches. (legally this isn’t something a lot of people would carry in a state to state travel due to ATF regulations I can explain more if needed) Both the M4 and M4SOPMOD had completed barrel lengths of 16 inches, which is totally legal for most state travel.
      If he did a great deal of Sniperwork recently, he’ll prefer an M21 EBR.
      I hope it helps.

      If your buddy is looking for a ‘precision rifle’ I would advise going with DMR type set up. This is usually a 16-18 inch medium weight barreled AR designed to fire between 65-79 grain match type ammo.

      The SU16 was never really designed to be ‘accurate’ over distances, and isn’t a very comfortable rifle to shoot repeatedly. As for the Styer Aug, it’s a very good weapon but tends to get pretty pricey. Parts are also not exceptionally easy to get ahold of if the need arises.

      (Thanks to Robert Higgins of Middletown, CT for this answer. Robert has been a Firearms trainer (civilian, LE, and Military clients) for five years, a gunsmith for almost ten, and a shooter in various capacities for 17.)

  6. Perhaps I should know, or remember, but I don’t. I’m not sure who I’m talking to, in fact–did we talk here at the Shop? Last Thursday? Or via email? LinkedIn? Are you one of my English students? A regular customer? *baffled* I know a lot of Mikes.

    —–oooh. I should’ve caught it from “wastelands.” I think I know–but I don’t remember you telling me he was a combat ranger.

    Anyway, another suggestion, this from Morgan here at the Shop: the Steyr Aug in .223–it’s a bullpup, which means it’s smaller; it has various barrel lengths to choose from, and an integral scope. And it’s not hideously heavy. (Calif. Dept. of Corrections uses the Ruger Mini 14, which is .223–to give you an idea of the –usability–, so to speak, of the .223 round.)

    Another option is the Keltec SU16–it can be folded in half; it’s a carbine; .223; and has an integral bi-pod. I just don’t know how accurate it is. I’ll ask around, and if I hear something rancid and gnarly about the trigger pull or accuracy, I’ll post it here.

  7. Question from Kaitlin:
    What weapons would a S.W.A.T. team use?

    Answer: (Thanks to Jerrold Novak of El Centro Police Dept.)

    There are numerous varieties, but I’ll give you some examples. For instance, LAPD SWAT uses either Colt or Kimber 1911 style autos for handguns (45 ACP), HK MP-5 submachineguns (9mm) and M-16 or M-4 assault rifles (5.56mm, also known as .223, and they are full auto). I believe they use Benelli semi-auto shotguns, but I’m not sure. All of these weapons, including the handguns, are equipped with tactical lights, probably the Surefire brand.

    Our own ECPD team uses HK USP45 handguns (45 ACP), HK MP-5 submachineguns, Colt M-4 assault rifles (5.56mm), HK G-36 assault rifle, and Remington 870 shotgun with 14″ barrel, all of these, including the handguns also have tactical lights mounted. We also utilize Defense Technologies 40mm single shot chemical agent (tear gas) launcher, which can also be used to fire bean bag and foam baton rounds for less lethal purposes.

    There are a lot of teams that carry the Glock handgun, usually the Glock 22 or 24 in caliber 40 S&W (the 24 is the long slide version of the 22 and is popular with tactical teams). That style weapon and the 1911 pattern seem to be the most prevalent among tactical teams. A lot of tactical teams have one or two suppressed (meaning they have silencers) submachineguns, usually the MP-5SD.

    Almost all teams also use sniper (sometimes termed “countersniper” or “marksman”) rifles, usually in .308 Winchester caliber (also known as 7.62 X 51mm or 7.62 Nato), almost all of them bolt action, all with high magnification scopes, although a lot of semi-autos are coming out. The brand on the sniper rifles is varied, but a common one is the Remington 700P. We just purchased two H-S Precision rifles in .308 for our SWAT team, which use Remington 700 actions, but with custom barrels, triggers and stocks. Some of the larger teams, especially those with large airports where a shot might have to be made from one end of a runway to another, use larger calibers up to and including the .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) cartridge. These are commonly encountered in both bolt action and semi-auto. Some sniper weapons have adapters to allow use of night vision.

    Another thing most SWAT teams have in common is they wear load bearing vests, usually with ballistic panels built in, ballistic helmets (usually called “Kevlars”), drop holsters (also called thigh rigs) which are most commonly Safariland brand, and use flash-bang “grenades” although we don’t call them grenades, just flash-bangs. These are technically called distraction devices and “flash” with about 6 million or more candlepower and “bang” at about 175 decibels. The most common flash bang is the DefTec 25.

    Ballistic shields are also commonly used to provide portable cover. Another item would be night vision or thermal imaging.

    Long story short, there are a plethora of guns and equipment the tactical team might use.

  8. Hey. If I were going to fake a gun brand like winchester or browning. you know like inventing imaginary guns. what specifications would i need to know. feel free to be general about it. i can ask specifics once i get a better grasp of what i need.

  9. Hi,

    I’ve been planning a series (fiction) around female assassins. While I don’t plan to get too specific about guns, I would like to know what they would use and when: I picture small, easily conceable guns that could realistically kill another character and a different gun used for long range.

    I do plan to research things like how they would load them and how many bullets they would hold, etc…But, do you have any suggestions on types/brands?

    Also, do you know if I went to a gun range, would they have them and can you use them? Or, do you bring your own guns to most ranges?


    • Hi 🙂

      Several guns come to mind off the bat:
      Beretta Tomcat (.32 ACP)
      Beretta Tomcat

      Glock 19 (9mm) or 23 (.40)
      Glock 19 Glock 23
      Kahr CW9 or 40
      Kahr CW9 Kahr CW40
      Taurus PT140 or PT111
      Taurus PT140 Taurus PT111
      H&K USP40
      H & K USP 40
      Sig Sauer P239
      Sig Sauer P239

      The smallest of these is the Beretta (in size and caliber). It’ll fit in the palm of a woman’s hand. It has a tip-up barrel for easy loading, and it holds 6 in the magazine.
      It is the most easily concealed–it can be worn in an ankle holster without restricting movement (like, say, when she is running) unlike a Glock 26 or 27–which are both good guns, but a little on the bulky side for ankle holsters. The Beretta Tomcat also fits in a special holster designed for the North American Arms Guardian–it’s worn on the belt and looks like it holds a Palm Pilot rather than a pistol. If the assassin’s work is up close and personal–if right in the back of the neck is her style, this is her gun. (Or the Guardian)

      However, like the Glocks 26 and 27, the Tomcat jumps in your hand. You must have a strong grip to effectively shoot this gun. If you go to a range (some have a wide array of handguns, others don’t) make sure you discuss holding techniques for these pistols (actually for all of them, but these especially.)

      The other guns, although compact, are bigger and a bit heavier. I know a lot of writers and screenwriters favor Glocks 1) probably because of name recognition, and 2) they don’t have standard safeties, but the Taurus PT111 and PT140 are excellent handguns. (The PT140 got gun of the year a few years ago) The grip is smaller and would be more comfortable in a woman’s hand. They have a couple of safeties–a standard slide safety, and an internal lock that prevents the slide from being racked back and the trigger from being pulled. I know the internal lock is very strong because a customer brought one in that had been tampered with by her felon ex-husband–he’d only been able to move the slide about an inch–the gun was completely disabled.

      A character might choose the PT140 because it’s less expensive (around $400+/-), and because it’s backed by a lifetime guarantee, kinda like Craftsman tools. Furthermore, if the character has any concerns about children or others getting hold of the gun, she might prefer the Taurus over the others.

      The Glocks 19 and 23 are comfortable in a small hand as well. (I don’t know the size of your characters, obviously; I just know that women’s hands are usually smaller than men’s.) These pistols have no slide safety–they have what’s called a “trigger safety” which I think is a bogus name for it. When you get one in your hand you’ll see what I mean. No one’s going to pull the trigger with his fingernail. Seriously. But that lack of a standard safety is what makes the gun attractive–the character yanks it out and shoots with no fumbling with the safety.
      Same with the Sig Sauer, which has a decocker rather than a slide safety.

      There are different kinds of holsters for the guns–shoulder holsters fit near the armpit, waist holsters that can slide on the belt or have a paddle that slides over the waistband, thigh holsters, and inside the pant holsters, and others. (Those are the main ones) What the character uses will depend on her size and what is comfortable to her. (I’ve seen them tucked into the small of the back, something I tried and didn’t find comfortable at all)

      .308 for long range. If you read through the comments here you’ll see info I posted about that. Ask if you need more clarification. 🙂

      about gun ranges: most of them allow you to rent pistols. If you don’t have much experience shooting, I suggest you start small and work your way up. Remember to wear ear and eye protection, and wear a high-neck top. The cartridges can fly into your top and they can burn you.

  10. I’m drooling. How fortunate to have found you. We moved to the country so we could specifically shoot our guns. We kill spoiled milk, strike at tree limbs, and have a target by our entrance gate. (grin)

    The REALLY good news is that our neighbors are gun enthusiasts, too. One even has a regulation skeet field and is a competitive shooter. It’s refreshing to hear shots in the background and know it isn’t a robbery but someone practicing instead. Although during deer season morning or evening shooters have different motives.

    Your site has more information than I could comprehend in one reading so I’ll be visiting from time to time in hops of learning more about guns. Thank you for posting this information.

    I can’t wait until I tell my husband about your site. I’m going to wait until he gets home from work thought. Otherwise, he might stop everything and dive into your site.

  11. oh, wow! How delightful to know you at both sites. 🙂 Welcome!

  12. I think people tend to forget how easy it is to get answers to research questions now. You can just post the question on Twitter or Facebook or a blog and have answers within minutes!

  13. Just found your blog through Stephanie Farris…Gotta say I love it! This kind of thing drives me insane as well!!! A short lived series called “Killer Women” showed our heroine gearing up for a fight with the bad guys. Racked the slide on her 1911 to dramatically load a round…AND THE SLIDE LOCKED BACK!!! She hit the slide release and stuffed it into her holster, ready to go! I told my wife, “Well she’s dead…”
    “Why do you say that?!?”
    “Because she just holstered an empty weapon, that’s why!!!” Lol

  14. I write futuristic crime thrillers and sci-fi both military and non. My question would be how can I realistically predict the evolution of a weapon such as a Glock in one hundred years or even fifty or thirty? I did a tiny bit of research on the Kalashnikov and remember it being almost if not a standard in weapon design and usage and has remained so over the years (I could be wrong & please correct me if I am). I think many, if not most, of us who write crime thrillers and stories incorporating weapons are just sort of guessing at what the logical evolution and progression of current weapons will be in the near future. Would I contact a weapon designer?

    • Hi, Patti.

      I think you should do some hands-on research if you can so that you can first see where the Glock is right now. It’d give your evolutionizing credibility. And there’s nothing like going shooting with a Glock enthusiast because s/he’ll tell you all about why there’s no standard safety, why the Glock is the best gun ever, and what makes it better than, say, a Sig Sauer. (You’ll get as many opinions about guns as you’d get about cars. LOL)

      If you understand the reasoning behind the lack of a safety, you’ll get intuitively that there are certain changes that Glock simply would not do because it’d be against their philosophy. (I cannot imagine Glock ever deciding to put a standard safety on their guns. Ever.)

      You could contact a weapons designer, but I think you’d be better served to find a gunsmith who’s been in the business for a long time. I suggest going to your local gun store and asking them two things:
      1. Who do they recommend for gunsmithing?
      2. Who is, hands-down, the gun expert in the area?
      (It may be the same person.)

      And remember this: just because a person is in law enforcement, it does not necessarily follow that he is an expert about guns. Same goes for military. You need to speak with someone who has global experience with guns rather than specialized.

      The Kalashnikov was designed to work under the brutal conditions of war. There are many variants of the design in many different countries, so it’s the most popular gun in terms of sheer numbers.

      As far as creating guns for the future–I think you have some latitude. (Consider Steampunk: a marriage of the Victiorian age with futuristic gadgets.) But it’s crucial that you understand basic stuff about guns, and honestly, I think the best gift you could give yourself is a personal gun that you can come to know and love.

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