Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guns: Fiction vs. Reality

As mystery and thriller writers, we here at TKZ are required to have at least a passing familiarity with firearms. Ian Fleming might have copped to being "rather bored by the whole question of expertise in these (technical) matters", but the rest of us must beware the fact checkers. No one wants to fail the sniff test when it comes to writing about the smell of cordite in the air. (See the excellent post by TKZ'er Emeritus John Ramsey Miller for the lowdown on accuracy).

When it comes to our attitudes toward guns in real life, however, I would guess that writers' opinions vary wildly. My own relationship with guns is complicated. I was raised as a regional hybrid; I spent half my youth in the Deep South, where guns are considered a rite of passage. The other half I spent hanging around Harvard types in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that bastion of anti-gun sentiment.

The South won the first battle. I was shooting skeet by the time I was 14, and target practice was a regular hobby. As a freshman at Wellesley College, I thought it was wildly amusing when I posted one of my shot-up targets on the door of my dorm room (doing that today would undoubtedly get me sent straight to Mental Health).

After college, my interest in guns waned. I didn't want to own them around children. Plus, I'd witnessed first-hand how firearms and flinty Irish tempers can prove a volatile mix, especially when combined with alcohol. (One male relative in my extended clan was shot--twice, on separate occasions--by his then-girlfriend. The couple later wed. I'm still scratching my head over that one.)

Recently my feelings about guns have been put to the test. I'm about to inherit a small arsenal of weapons from a gun-toting relative. I have mixed feelings about this impending bounty; on the one hand, the children are out of the house, and there's been a recent uptick in violent crime in my area. A gun might be useful, especially if I could somehow wrangle a concealed carry permit. On the other hand: owning a gun is still an awesome responsibility. I never can quite relax when there are guns in the house.

For now, I'm simply trying to get familiar with the darned things again. One of my bequests-to-be is a Walther PPK, the gun of choice for James Bond.  With apologies to Ian Fleming, it doesn't seem all that easy to use. When a bad guy's coming at you, who has time to draw and then push back a balky slide before aiming?  Maybe the one I'm getting needs oiling. Or maybe I need training.

For now, I'm just having fun getting acquainted with all these firearms. We took a few pictures--I think the fur adds a certain Jane Bondish je ne sais quois, don't you?







21 comments:

  1. Ha! You look fierce, even in fur girlishness. Love it.

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  2. Jordan, thanks! I'm afraid I actually look more like Cagney and Lacy than Jane Bond. All I need now is a video of me stumbling around on stilettos (grin).

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  3. Kathryn, am I allowed to say that the pic is very, very hot?

    On the issue of possessing the firearms...better to have and not need than to need and not have. And get that CCP if you possibly can. E-mail me if I can help in any way.

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  4. Well, I can tell you it was literally hot in that fur, Joe! We had to photoshop the sweaty hair off my neck, lol.

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  5. Nice post.

    I don’t think an author must be able to field strip a firearm while blindfolded and hanging upside down, but said author should know the basics such as how many rounds does the thing hold and (for goodness sake) get the terminology right. A five minute internet search will give everything you need. It’s no different than any other item. A matter of due diligence.

    That being said, there is no substitute for experience. Knowing how it feels, sounds, and smells to fire a weapon can make for more vivid and credible writing. One thing you can’t get on Google is how darn loud guns are when they are 9mm or larger.

    In an early draft of a book, I had bullets hitting the front of a car and shredding the radiator. I’m not a car guy. Luckily, one of my beta readers was and knew that this particular model’s engine was in the back of the car. The devil is truly in the details.

    Lastly, Joe is right about the picture :)

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  6. Thanks, RA! I was watching an episode of some tv show last night, and they had a young girl fire a shotgun for the first time. There was absolutely no kickback! I couldn't believe it--the very first time I ever fired a shotgun, it knocked me flat on my butt. I'll never forget the humiliation.

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  7. One male relative in my extended clan was shot--twice, on separate occasions--by his then-girlfriend. The couple later wed. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

    Write that story. Please, write that story.

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  8. Lilley. Kathryn Lilley. Looking good.

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  9. Jim, the best quote from that story was from a relative named (I kid you not) "Big Daddy":

    "I worry about that woman, son. She aims higher every time."

    October 30, 2012 10:34 AM

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  10. Nice. I used to pack a pistol just like the one in the picture. Held nicely under my suit coat, small yet heavy enough to good accuracy on repeated shots.

    By the way, the clumsiness of pulling the slide back before firing why most carriers keep a round in the chamber. If you have to draw and chamber a round while a man with a knife charges you, that extra half second means you're dead.

    Keep a round in the chamber, and leave the hammer down and the safety on and it will never go off until you tell it to.

    ...as long as that's leagal in your state that is. In Alaska anyone can carry a weapon concealed or in the open without a permit as long as you're not a felon with very few restrictions (ie. not on school grounds, alcohol establishments, or courthouses)

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  11. The rules as I learned them:

    1. Every semiautomatic is loaded until the magazine has been removed, the action has been cycled three times, the slide locked back, and the breach is visibly inspected.

    2. Never draw unless you intend to shoot.

    3. Never touch the trigger until your sights are on the target.

    4. Never point the muzzle at anything you don't want to destroy (that counts your own feet and your non-dominant hand).

    5. Be constantly aware of your target's background (what will you hit if your bullet goes through the bad guy or if you miss).

    I highly recommend getting some training on handgun safety and operations. As a casual observation, if you shot from the posture in the photo (nice photo, by the way) your left thumb will be very, very sore when the slide cycles, and depending on the load, I give even money that the gun knocks you in the nose on the recoil. (I've never fired a .25 or .32, so I don't know about that last part, but a .380 can have a bit of hop to it.)

    As to your specific Walther PPK, I think the experts will tell you to keep the hammer down, with a round in the chamber. That way, if the bad guy is charging, you only have to cock and fire.

    What other guns will you be inheriting?

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  12. By the way, speaking of guns, I'm building a new educational blog related to Cold Weather Survival and Arctic Warfare. If anyone has or knows anyone who has spent time either in the military, as an outdoorsman, or is an avid and well-learned survivalist with experience in Cold Regions around the world I'm looking for contributors. The blog is called The Arctic Warrior. Just minimal now as I start to build to content, but check it out and refer away.

    I could use some hot pics like yours above too, Kathryn. ;-)

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  13. John, thanks for the tips on proper shooting techniques! I definitely will need to take some training. I'm a nut about safety, and I'd also like to take a tactical course like the one you posted about a while back. Also on my list are a .357 Magnum (which I can barely hold straight), a shotgun, and some kind of gun from WWII. I'll have to get conversant with the terminology. Oh, and there's a cute little Derringer, but it only has two shots. It's the right size, though!

    Basil, I think they allow Open Carry in California, but it does get one tossed out of shopping centers around here! People freak out :)

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  14. Kathryn - The PPK is similar to my Bersa 380. Basil is right about the clumsiness of pulling the slide back, especially under stress. If you don't wish to carry a round in the chamber, my advice is to buy a pack of snap-caps (dummy rounds) and an extra magazine. Practice racking the slide and dry firing until you can operate the mechanism smoothly and without failure. There is a technique called the Israeli Instinctive Combat Shooting Method for chambering a round in a situation. Videos are available on You-Tube.

    John's rules bear repeating, especially about touching the trigger.

    RA is correct about getting the terminology right. Wikapedia is your friend. Always assume someone knows more than you do. Also, there are even more people who think they do. The effectiveness of any particular weapon or type or ammo is always subject to debate. If your character is going to use a weapon, research the strength and weaknesses. Your character overcoming the weaknesses of the weapon can add an interesting element to your story. Also, videos of people firing just about any kind of weapon are available on You-Tube.

    Basil, your Arctic Warrior site looks promising. Winter survival is an fascinating subject. Learning to manage one's temperature when active in a cold environment is a holistic experience. My mountaineering training and experiences taught me more about the basic principles of management than any of my graduate courses.

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  15. Any TKZ'rs who think you've got something to contribute to the Arctic Warrior blog, please contact me offline at basil (at) basilsands (dot) com and we can chat.

    And by the way...Kathryn, you make that Walther sexy... grrrrr, baby...grrr.

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  16. RG, I will look up the Israeli Instinctive Combat Shooting Method video--sounds interesting! Right now I can barely slide back the rack at all, so either I have to get stronger, or the gun needs to get oiled!
    Basil, keep us posted on the Arctic Warrior blog--I love the title. Conjures up images of Liam Neeson and wolves. Grrr! ;)

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  17. Kathryn - I'm not exactly an advocate of the Israeli Instinctive Combat Shooting Method, too easy for me to cause an accidental discharge. But it is a good exercise for dry firing with an empty chamber. The technique should help you learn to rack the slide with ease. Good Luck.

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  18. I just got my license to carry my gun concealed. I don't do so, but I got my license in case I ever have to travel without my husband and I happen to break down somewhere. It's just something I believe you should do if you are worried. That means learning how to handle a gun, learning the laws, and learning your own motivation for carrying one in the first place.

    In fiction, I think it's important for me, the reader, to know why a character has a weapon. That tells me why they have it. But then, I look at how they use it. If they don't properly handle it, I am immediately turned off.

    Anyone who has been through training will aim at center mass and fire off two shots, because when you shoot a gun in order to protect yourself or others around you, you intend to kill. You don't shoot the leg to keep someone from running.

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  19. Dianne, I appreciate those thoughtful comments. One of the running themes in my books is that the main character refuses to own a gun, even though her father (a police captain) wants her to. In the last book he sent her a Taser, which she ended up using. She's working her way up to the real thing!
    In my own case, I have a relative who was paralyzed as the result of injury from a home invasion robbery. Since then, some of my female relatives have undergone training and are now armed. I may be next.

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  20. My *favorite* gun scene is actually in a Romantic Comedy (Who woulda thought?!).

    Mostly I watch body-a-week shows, where only the cops & bad guys carry guns, never "normals," gun-educated or otherwise.

    I'm an Alaska girl, and like the pp mentioned, guns are just more normal here, so seeing the Normals freak out whenver a gun gets pulled bugs me.

    In Mrs. Winterbourne (the movie I mentioned-- *Spoiler Alert*) the MC takes a gun to threaten the guy threatening her.

    Her love-interest shows up, freaking out the MC, who proceeds to explain herself with big arm movements (which meant waving around the gun in her hand).

    Without batting an eye (over the gun itself), the Hero steps to her side, takes the gun and clears it, just like (you'd hope it was) his dad taught him you do when you pick up a gun.

    I cheered at that moment. How often do you see a Normal who knows how to handle a firearm?

    My rules (in addition to those mentioned above) for keeping guns safe in a house with kids:

    1. Only those with permission have access.
    2. Always point guns in a safe direction (Short version of #s 4 & 5 above)
    3. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

    My latest effort is a somewhat steampunkish suspense, and it's been fun playing with various gun-attitudes in different contexts.

    My main gripe with guns-in-fiction is the same as my main gripe with magic in (some) Fantasies-- if you let it be the all-powerful/barely-controllable evil demigod, frequently corrupting everything it touches...

    Kinda kills a story, don'tcha think?

    That said, I do love the feeling a writer did her homework. I always like to think I picked up a new titbit along the trail.

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  21. Oh, and Kathryn, if you're seriously considering CC (or even if it's not serious) You should check out CorneredCat.com

    I think every woman who knows what a gun is should read it.

    And if you dig around, you might find the article she wrote several years back about the womanly way to pull a slide-- she says we (woman) misconstrue that it takes strength b/c most of us were taught by a man, and that's all they know, because it works and they never have to try something different.

    (No offense intended to you menfolk.)

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