Sunday, 19 August 2012

Problems with guns

In the post-apocalyptic world of my WIP, the villain wants to get hold of a gun. With no police or legal system, a man with a gun is top dog and can get away with murder. So I did some research on guns. 

London's Metropolitan Police authorized firearms officers use Glock 17s. As my novel is set in London, that's the most likely gun to be available. A Glock 17 is semi-automatic, and has seventeen cartridges in the standard magazine. They are extremely reliable and don't go off if dropped. Pulling the trigger deactivates the safety catches. Fine so far. Then I did more research (so easy with Google - writers are spoiled these days).

When a gun is fired, the noise is 140 - 160 decibels. Loud enough for one shot to permanently damage the hearing of the firer and anyone close by. (A silencer will bring that down to 120 - 130, not actually all that silent as it is in movies.) I found some worrying forums where young men had fired a friend's gun a few times and were asking whether the tinnitus and muffled hearing they now experienced would ever go away. Watch any action film, and you can understand why people don't realize the danger; heroes without ear muffs/plugs shoot away like mad, are shot at, then don't spend the rest of the film with most of their dialogue consisting of, What was that you just said?

I also discovered that you need hearing protection if you are going to spend more than fifteen minutes on a snowmobile (100 decibels). My characters do that. So I have a choice between irresponsibly promulgating the idea that guns and sleds don't require earplugs, or holding up the action with a Health and Safety message. 



  1. I think the anti-firearms lobby should be making more use of these fascinating facts. A lot of criminal types would seriously think twice about owning a handgun if they knew that firing it even once would half-deafen them for life, and leave a permanent ringing in their ears. I've just put my AK-47 on eBay.

  2. Course, you could have kept the AK-47 and bought some ear plugs...

  3. Pro gun lobby peeps would argue that it's their free right to be deafened the way they want to, darn it!!!

    Maybe you could go halfway? Whoever fires the gun(s) and rides the snowmobile may suffer deafness but is cured when a bomb goes off (I'm sure that;s medically possible!) or cured when in a fight and gets smacked across the head! Is that possible too!?!?

    Golly I could really think up things in a most violent way!

    Take care

  4. I can feel a James Bond parody coming on...

  5. Kitty, be reasonable. I've already got Mixed Martial Arts, Semtex and a Glock, I can't add bombs just to please you :o)

    Spin, let's keep James Bond (about the least secret secret agent ever) out of it too.

  6. But fanfiction is so in at the moment. Isn't it?

  7. True - this may be what Spin should be writing instead of her Book Two or Book Three - James Bond as a vampire fighting zombies. Then once it has collected a few thousand fans, deftly change his name and publish!

    I see no flaw in this plan.

  8. There is no flaw in that plan! It's foolproof.

  9. Well you could just give them tinitus, it's not the end of the world. I've had it since I was in my twenties- from using an electric sander boatbuilding, rather than shooting guns.
    Mostly I can ignore it, if it keeps me awake at night I find Terry Pratchett audiobooks work just fine.

  10. A lot of ex-soldiers have to put up with hearing problems, too - something I hadn't realized till now. People are stoical.

  11. An interesting post, Lexi.

    You say it is easy to research on the internet but a writer has to know that a subject needs to be researched. Some writers might just have the gun fired and be pleased with themselves if they've remembered to add a silencer. But you don't take things for granted, and that gives your readers confidence.

    Members of rock groups also have hearing problems in later life, as do their fans.

    At this rate there will be few people able to hear well. This could drive them to reading more.

    Ve haf vays of making zem read.

  12. Rock groups? The answer is Hearos Rock & Roll Reuseable Ear Plugs, 'specifically designed for musicians and concert goers to protect their hearing and dramatically reduce the chance of tinnitus and ringing ears the morning-after':

    As used by Ric Kealey :o)

  13. Ah so that's why the sergeants in army films scream at their troops - they are all deaf from firing guns.

  14. Good research Lexi...

  15. I assume that the firing of the gun will happen at a moment of high tension in the story. Will the reader really care about the auditory side effects of gun shots in that context ?
    Put another way, will the tension that you create not act as metaphorical ear plugs for the reader ?..... and of course, far more concerned about what will happen next !

  16. Fair point, Mick. In the thrillers I've read, it's not an issue. Nothing wrong with Jack Reacher's hearing. And you might get away unscathed after limited exposure to gunfire. Also I'm writing entertainment, and though readers can get picky over tiny things they think are wrong, this is not something likely to strike them.

    If I remember rightly, at the end of A Tale of Two Cities a character grabbed hold of a villainess with a gun, the gun went off and the character was stone deaf thenceforth.

  17. Ironically, most of the thriller writers I've come across would throw a fit if you described the smell of "gunpowder" in a scene because they all know it's not gunpowder anymore, it's cordite. But the volume thing... Most of 'em don't even think to mention the character's ears ringing, much less the true deafening characteristics of medium caliber gunfire (not to mention the cannon-like blast of a .308 or a 30.06.).

    When it comes to accuracy in a scene like that, we're probably our own worst critics. Do readers actually care about the potential long term effects of gunfire? Do they care about the difference between gunpowder and cordite, or a magazine and a "clip"? I guess it depends on who you're writing for.

  18. Readers do tend to swallow a camel and strain at a gnat. But the writer still has a duty to get it right as far as possible, I think.

    I've set scenes in the WIP in a specific London block of flats. The man in charge very helpfully showed me round them, and I took photos. I'm still having to make bits up, which worries me, though only someone who lives there will notice if I get it wrong...

  19. Swallow a camel and strain at a, not heard that one before.
    Glad you raised this topic though. Jack Reacher is one thing. But what if the protagonist has never fired a gun ? What if she/he fires the gun and finds herself stunned by the blast and the villain gets away...adds more drama. Being realistic adds depth - thinking of Dan Brown here in Angels and Demons.

    Lexi, would love it if you would leave an insight or two at my blog
    ...all writing related.

  20. It's from the Bible, though unlike Bertie Wooster I've never won a Scripture Knowledge prize. My villain is not familiar with guns, and will be having problems with the recoil. It's a good idea of yours to make him stunned by the blast as well. Depends how hyped up he is at the time...

    Will mosey over to your blog and mooch.

  21. Thanks for mooching, Lexi !
    Mucho obligado.

  22. Is it not also a matter of where the gun is fired? In a room with reflective walls and little in the way of furnishings the noise would very likely be much louder. In a home with soft furnishings they would absorb some of the noise. Outside it would not appear as loud.

    I have to admit I'm not an expert at firing modern weapons.

    In my youth I was a member of an English Civil war re-enactment society and used to fire a cannon - about 8 oz of real gunpowder at a time. We were taught to open our mouths and breath as the cannon was fired to equalise the pressure.

  23. 8 oz of gunpowder sounds rather a lot. I bet that was noisy.

    At the moment the action happens in the concrete shell of a building. But I'm beginning to think the noise/hearing impairment thing may be useful to the story...ho ho ho.

  24. Late to the game here, but if anyone reads this:

    I've been a martial artist for over twenty years and have recently been studying handgun combat. I had the same question about gunfire affecting police officers, particularly indoors.

    Turns out that there is a protective mechanism that kicks in under highly andrenalized conditions, like life-and-death combat, that partially shuts down your hearing. It's an odd aspect of the fight-or-flight response.

    I think that's why law enforcement is not filled with hearing impaired officers.

    Now, if one of your characters is SURPRISED by a nearby gun going off, and they're in a calm state, that could be a problem.

  25. That's encouraging information, writenow. One doesn't like to think of policemen and soldiers being hearing-impaired.

    I finished my first draft a few days ago, and have addressed/used the hearing damage thing.

  26. You are greatly overestimating the damage from the noise. The noise is the greatest problem inside, in areas (like a firing range) where there is a lot of noise bouncing around the concrete.

    Even so, in construction they use a type of small fire arm to bang nails into concrete. These are small charges (usually a .22) but the "gun" is fired with the barrel right up against the concrete.

    I have been around these nail drivers on construction sites many many times. The ringing goes away pretty quickly. Obviously you want to wear ear plugs, but sometimes people set them off without giving forewarning (nice).

    Also, the main reason you need to hold the gun straught out is to make it easier to sight down the barrel. The two handed grip came about because it presented the bullet proof vest dead onto the perps. Earlier stances used an odd crabbed position, but put the shoulder (and the vests armhole) facing the target. Since in real life the targets shoot back that is not good. A shot in the shoulder would be very bad.

    I have a Glock 22. It is the same frame as the Glock 17 (kits will allow you to change out the frames and barrels) but fires the slightly larger .40 S&W cartridge at the "cost" of only having 14 rounds in the magazine. It is very easy to use the classic duelist one arm shot, and is considered by some to be a more natural shooting position. If you don't have body armor, it also overs a smaller side-on target.

    One mistake you did not make is calling your magazines "clips". That will drive people crazy. Stripper clips were used to fast reload WW2 era bolt action rifles.

    You might know better, but I would think the shotgun would be the most common easy to find weapon in Britain. As best I understand, firearms are heavily regulated in Britain, but not illegal. Can you not get a permit for hunting? A shotgun would have been a much better weapon for Mike. Even Wyatt Earp, who used to entire competitive shooting matches, had it as his preferred weapon. At the O.K. Corral, he didn't have it because he had leant it to his friend Doc Holiday, who was (oddly given his reputation) without a weapon when they met up to go find the Clantons.

    The effective kill zone for most one handed weapons (knives, pistols, etc.) is as a rule of thumb 20' If you let some get within that zone with a hand weapon, you have a lot of problems. Outside of 20', particullarly if you are moving, and your chances start going up dramatically. Still 17 (or 14 rounds) is a lot of chances.

  27. Thanks, Russell, that's interesting. Can I contact you with queries the next time I write about guns?

    I got the two-handed grip thing from John le Carré's Little Drummer Girl when Becker shows Charlie how to shoot. Perhaps he was allowing for her having less strength in her arms than a man?

    I don't think people hunt much/at all with guns in this country the way you do in America. Farmers sometimes have licensed shotguns for shooting foxes, and there is pheasant shooting which tends to be quite formal and very expensive.

    I think if civilization broke down, anyone with a weapon would hang on to it, so they'd be quite difficult to come across. And of course, most of us know almost nothing about guns, only what we pick up from the movies.

  28. Yes- you may contact me. I am only a "relative" expert, but I also know some people who are very deep into those woods, so what I don't know I can ask.

    When I took a handgun class (at shooting range owned and open by the County I live in- talking about different cultures), a number of very inexperienced women were in attendance. They seemed to like the relatively large revolvers, with relatively small cartridges best because they have very little recoil. The .22 to my mind sounds like a slightly loud squib firecracker.

    I would get vociferous arguements in some corners, but to my mind the two-hand grip has almost becomre traditional. Evidence of its effectiveness over the one-hand traditional grip, I am not aware of. You are better at what you train at in any case.

  29. Having whizzed quickly round the internet, it seems gun stances have fashions like everything else, and once upon a time a man would be called a wuss for using two hands, and now it's usual.