Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What kind of gun to use?

Another question I see pop up quite often on forums is “What kind of gun would my character use?” The answer to that depends on a lot of different factors. Here are some common ones.

When and where does your character live?

If your story is an American Civil War epic, the gun will be much different than a modern police drama. So, that’s the first thing to consider. What guns actually existed when your story happened?

Here is a general timeline of the various types, and the years they became common. I didn’t verify these dates, but it should give you a basic idea of the major types of actions and when they became available.

Where presents other issues. If your story is set in the modern world, is it in a city where guns are even legal? If they are not legal, where does character get them, and how. Gun laws in the US vary from state to state. The laws also change rather quickly in some cases, so the way things are “now” might be different than they were five years ago.

Outside of the US, gun laws are far more restrictive for the most part.

Next, we need to look at what the character plans to do with it. Do they need a sniper rifle, or a combat handgun? Do they need an assault rifle or a close contact covert assassination weapon?

For a close contact weapon, the long time favorite, and possible urban legend, is a Ruger Mark II in .22 long rifle. Just about any Internet search will show this weapon is the “most used by professional assassins.” It’s hard to say just how true that really is because not a lot of professional assassins are willing to go on record listing their weapons. Still, its use in fiction is well documented and for head shots out to a few yards, it is a perfectly plausible choice. For a John Woo style running gun battle, not so much.

For a combat handgun, just about any modern one will do. Most are semi-automatics, but there are some people who do very well with revolvers.

Do they need to carry it concealed for protection, such as in a purse, or in a hidden holster?

If you need a good semi-auto you can use any of these for the default:
Sig Sauer
.45 auto (also called a model 1911, the year the US adopted it, and yes, they still make them, and they are still viable.)
Many people on forums will also mention the Desert Eagle. These are good guns, but they are large and heavy. As a combat handgun, they are not practical. As a hunting handgun, they are great.

For revolvers, the most common will be a Smith and Wesson for double action, and Ruger Blackhawk for (modern) single action. Both come in a number of calibers and styles, but as model names, both are at or near the top of their field.

There are also a number of very specialized single shot handguns, which would be the pistol equivalent of a sniper rifle. These include the Thompson Center Contender line and the XP-100 line of target pistols.

For shotguns, my default answer is the Remington 870, Ithica Stakeout, or Mossberg 500 Pump. All three are pump action shotguns and come in a variety of styles. A shotgun is also the best choice for a person with minimal training to use for home defense. In a combat situation, a handgun is actually very difficult to fire accurately. A shotgun requires far less precision, and the sound it makes being cocked is enough to stop most people who are not already committed to an act of violence.

For an assault rifle, the AK-47 and variants will be available nearly everywhere. They were designed to be easy to make and to function in the worst conditions. That makes them cheap and desirable, and very successful. On the other hand, those same strengths make it weak in other areas. It’s not as accurate as other rifles, for example. Still, if your character needs a rifle in just about any country on earth, odds are good that one of these would be around. Note that the 47 refers to the year it was introduced. This is an old design with few changes. Mainly because none were needed.

For a more modern assault rifle, you can look to anything used by the modern military forces of the world. In the US, the M-16 and M-4 rifles are the most often used. In Britain, it’s the L1A1, which looks really cool, unless the guards at Buckingham Palace have them. They just don’t look right to me. I know appearance isn’t really a factor, but I can’t help it.

For a submachine gun, the options are very open and very dependent on style. The HK MP5 is a solid choice and available in many styles. The uzi has been around since the 50’s and has not really changed at all. Use those as your default unless you need something specific.

For a 1920’s gangster, neither of those would be available, so you’d want the classic Tommy Gun. This was used by both sides of the law and carried by US forces in World War II, and even in Korea.

For a sniper rifle, just saying “sniper rifle” is good enough. The options, variants and styles are so vast, and the specific application so unique, that having a general one is almost silly.

Almost. Any hunting rifle can be a passable sniper rifle. One of the most often used is the Remington 700, which is a bolt action rifle used to some extent by the US military, but also used by thousands of deer and elk hunters across the United States.

The ones made with being a sniper rifle in mind will have modifications and special scopes, but the basic action is the same. They are available in a wide range of calibers.

Now, just because that one is mentioned by name does not mean that any other hunting rifle is inferior. Some are, but some are better. Nearly all of them will be up to the task.

How do I arm my own characters?

Raymond Jaye, my noir-style private eye carries a Smith and Wesson revolver in .41 magnum. Yes, .41, not .44. I chose it because he’s modeled after the detectives of the 30’s and 40’s, who generally carried a .38 revolver. He’s also got a physical limitation that prevents him from using an automatic. The .41 was a nice choice because it’s big, but not a Dirty Harry rip off. It’s also a little known cartridge that’s been clinging to life for some time. Maybe that says something about my character and his attitude.

Another character is a waitress who used to be an Air Force Security Forces member. Basically, the Air Force version of the Military Police with some infantry duty and counter sniper training as needed. When she left the Air Force, she got a concealed weapon permit and carries a Sig 230, which is a small automatic pistol in .380 ACP. It was chosen for some very specific reasons as well, but one of them is that I have one of these, and I’ve used in IDPA style fun shoots. It will be a very simple matter for me to write about her use of the gun, because I’ve used one just like it extensively.

One of my killers uses a .22 caliber target pistol. In that instance, the gun was chosen for very specific reasons relating to its design and function, and the solution for the case wouldn’t work with any other type of gun.

Other times, when it’s not really that important, I’ll just pick one at random. Most of my police officers carry Glocks, because most police officers do. My Thugs will carry a .45 when they need a gun. Generic thugs may carry anything. Another story starts off with a sniper attack. In that case the type of rifle doesn’t matter, but the trajectory of the bullet does. Where he hits a target after the person has moved a significant distance is a clue that the shooter is not a sniper, or a hunter, but still skilled with a rifle.

My number one recommendation for anyone wanting to get into specific guns for specific characters is to buy a book or two that show a lot of types broken into classes. Learn how they work in general terms, then used the book to zero in on the specific versions you want. Role Playing Game books are very good for this. Ignore what they say about damage for the most part, but range and operation tend to be good enough to get by.

For those living in area where it’s possible, go to a gun store or gun show and actually lift some of the guns that interest you. Some ranges will allow you to rent one so you can test fire it.

If you have specific questions, you can ask me here, or on Twitter where I’m @BillTheScribe. I’ve been having some issues replying to comments left here though. Just a heads up.

Thanks for stopping by.

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