Sunday, February 05, 2012

That's when I reach for my revolver...

That's when it all gets blown away
That's when I reach for my revolver
The spirit passes by this way...

So, lately I've been reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. I'd call these guilty pleasures, but the sad fact of the matter is, I feel very little guilt over this; sure, they're formulaic, episodic, and fluffy chick-lit, but they're also entertaining, quick reading, and might give me some ideas I can utilize for my own writing. After all, everything's grist for the mill, everything's a tool for the toolbox. Unfortunately, I realized early on that she was going to commit a grave sin - I refer, of course, to Ms. Evanovich, not Stephanie - and yesterday while I was reading Seven Up, it finally happened.

Somebody used the safety on a Glock.

Now, pretty much anybody who knows me knows that I'm something of a gun nut. I know guns; I work with them, not on a daily basis, but regularly enough (as a matter of fact, my job this week is annual small arms training; I get to spend what looks to be a chilly, damp week on a range out in Pungo, shooting guns instead of, you know, actually working for a living. Class doesn't start until nine, and it's a much easier commute for me - not to mention, no searching for parking on the overcrowded Navy base. It's like a vacation, only I still get paid). I didn't grow up with them; my parents don't much like them, and I wasn't allowed to play with toy guns when I was a kid, which is probably at least part of the reason I have a gigantic arsenal of Nerf and airsoft guns now that I'm an adult. They are, however, something that's interested me since my early teens, and something that even before I owned or used any, I had read and studied a great deal about. I'm probably not the best person for this particular rant, and I'm no doubt treading over ground that's been beaten down many a time before, but it's one of those battles that will no doubt continue to be fought over, and over, and over again.

The cause of my frustration is this; Glocks don't have safeties.

Somebody, no doubt, read that last sentence and immediately headed for the comments box to point out the number of intrinsic safeties on the Glock "Safe Action" pistol, to complain about how Glocks have an undeserved bad reputation due to the number of people giving themselves "Glock leg" due to carelessness, or conversely, to complain about how horribly ugly or unsafe Glocks are. This rant isn't about Glocks, safe the above mentioned bit, that Glocks do not have (manual) (thumb operated) safeties. One could advocate that this is pretty much Glock's thing; their lack of safety and long trigger pull strongly resemble the old cop standby, the double action revolver, and their uncomplicated, straight forward method of use (draw weapon, point, shoot) are one of their great advantages. I've heard a gun shop clerk advocate not having a manual safety as a plus for a weapon, since under stress and fear for your life you might forget to deactivate it or fumble while trying to. I don't personally have a dog in that fight; I prefer my guns to have a manual safety because I like that extra step between "inert metal block" and "dangerous bang stick", but I follow the four rules as religiously as I can, so having or not having one shouldn't make much of a difference.

I'll digress quickly into the four rules here, for those who haven't seen them. They are, in no particular order and of equal importance:

1) Treat every gun as though it were loaded.
2) Keep your finger off the trigger until you're willing to fire.
3) Don't point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot.
4) Be aware of your target and what lies beyond it; bullets travel.

The point of the four rules is that you can be breaking one at any particular time, and the other three should be in effect to prevent you from killing someone; you have to break several for there to be catastrophic effects. And yet, people are harmed almost every day through carelessness and neglect.

But to get back to the point of all of this, and end the digression; Glocks don't have safeties. The Glock semi-automatic pistol, in it's many different calibers and loadings, is probably the most popular handgun in America - possibly the world, overall, although I imagine one or another of the Warsaw Pact firearms has that honor, due to sheer number available, in much the same way that the Kalashnikov does. Law enforcement from local to federal levels favor it, private citizens buy them in droves, and probably the only reason the military hasn't switched from the Beretta 92F/M9 to the Glock is that aforementioned lack of manual safety. Uncle Sam likes his Misguided Children (and the rest of 'em, too) to have plenty of steps between paperweight and bang stick; it cuts down on paperwork. Two seconds of research (, wikipedia) could point this out in a heartbeat. Yet writers continue to namedrop the Glock, and continue to have their characters activating or deactivating the nonexistent safety. Before the rise in popularity of the Glock, this was common on revolvers, another firearm that lacks any sort of manual safety; I suppose there might be a revolver out there with a thumb safety, just as there might be a Glock out there with the same. These would be a custom job, and rarer than hen's teeth, and unless one is present at the same writer's college all of these novelists have been going to, I fail to see why this error keeps popping up.

Sure, it's a small thing. But it's a glaring, grating omission, a failure to do basic fact checking, an error that could easily have been avoided - and there's no reason for it. Bad writing, in other words, or perhaps worse, lazy writing.

Back in 1990, a pulp novelist named Michael Newton wrote "Armed And Dangerous: A Writer's Guide To Weapons" It's a cute book, a good though shallow overview of various popular weapons of personal destruction, with a couple of errors that are mostly only of importance to the real nitpickers among us. Sadly, though, it's dated; the field is ripe, especially after the developments of the last ten years, for a new edition. This blog doesn't have the scope to cover all the ground a book of that caliber (forgive) should, and I doubt I have the knowledge to do so, but I figured I'd throw out a couple of the most egregious offenders here really quickly, and hope that somebody, somewhere, might learn something. These are as they occur to me, in no particular order.

Number one, Glocks don't have manual safeties. We've covered this, but I'll repeat it again, simply because it's so often repeated. If there's a round in the chamber and you pull the trigger, using a proper grip with your finger engaging the little second trigger inside the primary firing trigger, the gun will go bang. If your finger's not on the trigger, the gun is not supposed to go bang.

Number two, you can't put a suppressor on a revolver. First off, suppressors don't silence a gun; they merely lessen the sound to, as they say, a dull roar. Two, firing normal bullets out of a suppressed gun still results in a sonic crack as the bullet breaks the sound barrier. Bullets go very fast, in case you missed it, most things propelled by an explosion do. And third, most revolvers (all but one, actually, the Russian Nagant revolver, which is a curiosity) don't form a gas tight seal between the cylinder and the barrel when firing, so there's still a bit of gas and noise leakage from the gun, thus allowing sound to escape.

Number three, it's not a clip. It's a magazine. With again rare exception (the WWII era M1 Garand for example), you use a clip to put bullets into a magazine, the magazine is what actually goes into the gun. Clips are generally optional, a way to speed feed a magazine; unless you're fond of single-shooters, magazines are not. More on this here.

Number four, with the caveat that it's generally television that's guilty of this particular sin, the slide on a semiauto and the pump on a shotgun are not drama switches. Trying to use them like cocking the hammer on a double action revolver or a SA/DA pistol like the M9 doesn't work; they don't suddenly make the situation more serious, they mean the guy was threatening someone with an unloaded pistol before that. I illustrate what I mean with this scene from The Big Lebowski (warning, naughty language ahead), but I can think of scenes from Psych, Supernatural, and a couple other shows.

My friend Jared pointed out one I'm going to use for number five here, the slide lock/reload phenomenon. The bad guy has the heroes on the ropes, with gun aimed, and when he goes to pull the trigger - click! He's out of ammo and didn't realize it. Except the vast majority of semiauto pistols (and inevitably the one they're using in this scene is among them) have their slides lock back when the magazine runs empty, a handy visual cue that it's time to stick in a fresh one and get back to work. This one is growing less common - at least, I haven't seen it quite as often. Still, if you're a writer and you'd like to use this particular cliche - use a revolver.

Number six, any gun wherein the impact of its projectile will send a man flying will probably have the same result on the person flying - something along the lines of the "Noisy Cricket" from Men In Black. Newton's Third Law. It should be pointed out that most of the energy in a kinetic projectile is spent penetrating the thing it hits, or else ricocheting off; not much is transferred to the media, hence the reason you don't generally see people sending milk jugs or pop bottles flying when they shoot them (they tend to explode, instead). If the target is wearing an armored vest that stops the bullet, the force will transfer over and knock them back; otherwise, the main reason people tend to fall down when they get shot is because of shock/pain, not because they're getting blown off their feet. Consult your local physicist for more info on this.

I'm rapidly approaching 2,000 words here, and I'm sure I could go on for hours - but the key thing here, the really important thing, is that most of these errors are simple. They're things that could be picked up in a matter of moments with a Google search and some free time, and they're mistakes that could be avoided with a little thought. They're little things; but they're so obvious and glaring to those in the know that they can easily remove you from the mood the story is trying to set you in, disrupt your chain of thought, and nag at you. A hair in your soup isn't horrendously insanitary, but it's digusting, and it ruins your enjoyment of the soup; these little errors are the same thing, and there's no excuse for a published author, with the back up of editors, prereaders, and a score of previously published books under their belt, to make them.


Dani California said...

I believe I would hold the author and editors in equal blame for those sorts of mistakes. Makes me want every editor's office to have a little "gun fact" sheet to refer to with things like,

1. Glocks don't have safeties.
2. Revolvers (except special brand XYZ) cannot use silencers.

Etc. Not long laundry lists, but simple, direct, no-nonsense statements about guns that will help keep readers in the story.

Last Knight said...

And, honestly, a fact sheet in general could be handy - it's just as grating for a car person to read about a Corvette's powerful V6 hemi (I'm not a car person, but I'm pretty sure that's an error) as it is to read about somebody's ".38 Special automatic." Just something with common errors and applicable facts for whatever the genre in question might be.