A Course in Weapons for Writers – PART 1: FIREARMS – by M. C. Torrent (Aka Chief)

So a lot of mistakes I see made in books/film are weapon-related and are increasingly, painfully obvious now that I’ve somehow gotten dragged into the D&D universe (for those who are curious about D&D, it really does your head in). You might have seen in those action movies where a guy gets shot with a 5.56 x 45 NATO round and they carry on limping around as if nothing’s wrong, or maybe someone gets stabbed with a measly little pocket knife and instantly dies.

That…doesn’t typically happen in either case.

Okay, I’ll grant that there are exceptions, as with everything, but the purpose of these posts is to help y’all set some realistic expectations when dealing with weapons knowledge and injuries. Below we’ll be looking at some firearms for those not entirely familiar with them, with subsequent weapons posts dealing with a range of other weapons.

(First things first, before we jump into the fun stuff. I say firearms because a gun could mean a lot of other things, including artillery, cannons and rocket/grenade launchers. And while I’m here, I’d like to mention that it’s physically impossible to curve bullets like they did in Wanted or dodge a bullet because they travel REALLY FAST.)

Revolvers – Your typical wild-west shootout weapon of choice. Usually contains 5-6 rounds in a revolving barrel (hence the name), comes in single-action and double-action. Single-action means you gotta cock back the hammer after each round. Real slow compared to most other firearms. Double-action is kinda sorta like semi-auto, where each time you squeeze the trigger, you fire a round. Pretty cool to look at, but not my weapon of choice unless you’re writing in a wild-west or late-1800s setting.

Semi-automatic handguns – They’re your James Bond style weapons and the firearms of choice for thriller movie protagonists, but they’re really not much better than revolvers. Sure, they hold more rounds and they take magazines for quick reload. Their range and accuracy are also terrible unless your character is some sort of top-notch expert marksman like Deadshot. They’re mostly carried by military personnel as a last-ditch, secondary weapon or by civilians for concealed carry, and the fact that they don’t hold nearly as many rounds as a rifle or SMG makes them kinda useless in combat. The upside though is that they are easy to hide, so if your character is sneaking around trying to blend in with a weapon, handguns are your best bet.

Shotguns – You might have seen in video games where you’ve got a shotgun that does an insane amount of damage at close range, but aim at anything further than a few metres and the weapon does next to nothing. That’s…actually not entirely true. While it’s true that birdshot and buckshot do spread more the further they travel, even taking a few pellets to a vital region can be fatal. I actually saw a video some time ago where someone tested the effectiveness of shotguns at long range; needless to say, it worked fine.

SMGs – For those who don’t know, SMG stands for sub-machine gun. They are much smaller and lighter than assault rifles, and their short barrels don’t give too much speed or accuracy, but they are much easier to carry and conceal, should the occasion arise. They’re not as common as the other guns listed here, but their high magazine capacity and weight make them pretty decent weapons. To my knowledge, many SMGs take 9mm Parabellum rounds, the same calibre as most handguns.

Assault rifles – Some of these are pretty damn heavy. In any case, assault rifles are your typical ‘bad guy’ weapons, like you see in literally any action movie ever. All the bad guys have rifles, yet the protagonist still beats them all armed with a little pistol (it’d never happen in real life). Assault rifles were made to be military weapons. They have great accuracy and range, and a full-auto setting that can easily pump someone full of bullets. Assuming people don’t have Stormtrooper aim, your action movie bad guys could easily gun down that pistol-wielding protagonist.

Sniper rifles – I love ‘em. Full stop. Sniper rifles are probably some of the most powerful firearms in the world, with their long range and extreme accuracy. They typically take slightly larger rounds than assault rifles, but that’s a necessity due to their need to function well at long range. Most sniper rifles nowadays are semi-automatic, but you can still find a good number of highly deadly bolt-action rifles out there. For those who don’t know how bolt-action works, the rifle is fitted with…well, a bolt…that you have to work to manually eject the empty cartridge and load a new round after each shot. The only drawback to sniper rifles is that they’re mostly useless at close range due to their length, and they don’t hold nearly as many rounds as most of the other weapons here.

LMGs – LMG stands for light machine gun, and it’s…pretty self-explanatory. LMGs are fully-automatic, belt-fed weapons of doom that can run through quite a significant amount of ammunition before overheating (provided you’re not holding that trigger nonstop the entire time), and while it has the word ‘light’ in its name, these things are fairly heavy. They can weight upward of ten kilos when fully loaded, making them very cumbersome, but they are the best weapons for holding ground or laying down cover fire.

That’s it from me for now with an intro to firearms. Next time, I’ll be putting my history knowledge to use in a master post on medieval weaponry, but until then, Chiefy out.

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