This section is intended to be a resource for fiction writers who want to include firearms in their work, but know next to nothing about them. It started because of some questions on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) boards. People would ask questions about something and end up getting a lot of contradictory information. Rather than re-write it all every time it comes up, I thought I’d put it out this way.
- You are a writer that knows little or nothing about firearms and want to expand your knowledge to get accurate, general information for a story or book. Yay! You’re who I had in mind when I wrote this.
- You are someone else. If this is the case, feel free to look around, but keep in mind that this is geared toward general knowledge intended to help those with little to no working knowledge of firearms write about their use in fictional, yet plausible ways. Please, no heckling.
- You came here to fact check me. I welcome this. I really do. If I have inaccurate information, I want to know. All I ask is that opinion be left out of it, and that there be nothing political about the suggested change. This is to help writers. Not lobbyists.
Firearms come in two main types, but a couple of these are different enough that most people class them as three.
Handguns are smaller firearms that can be used with a single hand, have barrels under 16 inches long, and have no fixed part that presses into the shoulder.
Long guns, otherwise known as rifles, are pretty much the opposite of the above. They have a shoulder stock, longer barrels, and are intended for use with two hands.
Shotguns are a variation of a rifle, and are often considered a third main class.
Other, smaller classes, include machine guns, assault rifles, and sub-machineguns (SMG). Another class is black powder, or muzzle loaders. I’ll get into those a bit as well, but they are basically still either rifles or pistols.
Regardless of the configuration, there is one thing that all firearms have in common: the way they do what they do. A chemical is burned which propels a projectile in a specific direction. This means that bows and air guns are NOT firearms. Though technically a cruise missile would be (but it’s not), but work with me a little bit here, okay.
In the case of true firearms, the chemical is gunpowder. This is a mix of sulfur, charcoal, potassium nitrate, and other stuff that gives each powder unique traits. More on that later.
As the powder burns, it gives off gas. It gives off a LOT of gas. This gas has to go somewhere. Ideally, the only place for it to go is out the front of the gun, or the muzzle. It has to push the bullet to do that, but that’s a small price to pay. And really, that’s all there is to it. Further in, I’ll go into more detail, but this will do for now.
As the gas expands and the bullet moves down the barrel, there is an equal but opposite reaction in the form of recoil. This is the gun “kicking”. The bigger the bullet, the bigger the kick. Same with speed, faster bullets kick more. Big, fast bullets make for big, painful recoil.
In the other sections, I’ll go over how to shoot and the terms for different guns, as well as a super slow motion breakdown of just what happens when a gun is fired.
The caliber of a gun is the diameter of the bullet it fires, sort of. A .45 ACP has a bullet diameter of 0.452 inches, hence .45. The .44 Magnum measures 0.429, and could be called a .43 more accurately than a .44. A 220 swift, 219 Bee, 222, and 223 can all fire the exact same 0.224 diameter bullet. The cases are different sizes, not the bullet.
Metric calibers work the same way. A 9mm bullet is 9 millimeters in diameter. This works out to be 0.355 inches, or almost the same as a .357 Magnum, which really is 0.357. When the police look at a hole in a wall and say it was a 9mm, they're pretty much guessing. There are at least five handgun calibers that could make that hole. At least three more exist, but are not as common. You see this a lot in TV shows.
Another general misconception I see a lot is the idea that a specific type of gun has unique traits that place it far above all others of the same type. Usually someone will ask for a powerful handgun and the first few replies they get will be “Glocks!!!”. The truth is that the gun doesn’t do really do anything when it comes to power. It’s the ammunition that does it. A Glock chambered in 9mm is no more or less powerful than a Luger, a Browning High Power, or a single shot Thompson Center Contender.