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Archive for September, 2013

I read a lot of the writings of people who sit outside the Gun Nut Forest and scoff about the people, regions, and activities inside. Though I’m trying not to be too political in these articles (you may go here for lots on that angle), I do wish that folks would learn the subject before going on at length about it. Thus this guide to guns. Today’s discussion is on safeties.

First off, let’s understand that the most important safety is the one located between your ears. There are a great many mechanical devices that reduce the chances of something going wrong, but fools always find a way around any proofing. Recall that the word, idiot, was ancient Greek for someone not capable of functioning in public. We’ll go through Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules at a later date, but for now, understand that if you would laugh at some guy doing it in a movie, you shouldn’t do it yourself with a real gun.

With that said, let’s talk about what is used to keep a gun from going bang:

First, consider the trigger. I can hear you through space and time, shouting, ¿Como que huh? But have a look:

Pistol_P64_CZAK

That’s a Radom P-64, a Polish knockoff of the Walther PPK. It’s trigger pull weight in factory standard is twenty-seven pounds. If you recall the article about triggers, you remember that pull weight means whatever weight tied to a string would be required to pull the trigger if the gun is pointing upward. I write fiction, but even I have a hard time coming up with a scenario whereby the trigger on a P-64 could get pulled by accident. The typical double-action trigger is around eight to twelve pounds–heavy, but still usually enough to keep the gun from firing unless the person holding it intends for that to happen.

Glocks,

Glock_26

and many other handguns these days, have a lever on the trigger that has to be disengaged for the trigger to be squeezed. Of course, since that lever is on the trigger itself, it doesn’t count for much, but the company calls it a Safe Action Trigger ® anyway.

But safeties typically are divided into two categories, passive and active.

1. Passive

These are safeties that the shooter doesn’t have to think about. They are either switched off by holding the gun or by the natural operation in the process of firing. The Glock trigger is one example. That safety will be disengaged by doing what comes naturally.

Another example is a grip safety.

749px-SAXD_.45_compact

The pistol above has a safety lever on the trigger, but also notice the one along the back of the grip. Holding the gun normally released that one, but if the gun is lying on a table, the grip safety blocks the action from working. M1911s also have this:

800px-M1911_A1_pistol

and gun nuts argue endlessly about whether a comfortable hold on the gun fails to deactivate the safety, but for the most part, these are a gimmie.

The Colt Single Action Army and the M1911 have a half-cock notch on the hammer. One purpose of this is to provide a catch point in case the hammer gets knocked accidentally.

Other passive safeties are to be found inside many guns. One technique is to lock the firing pin until the trigger is squeezed. Another, found on many revolvers, is to separate the hammer from the firing pin, either by preventing it from travelling far enough or by using a transfer bar that stays out of the way when the trigger is forward. On self-loading pistols, some models such as the Browning High Power have a disconnector that prevents the gun from firing if the magazine has been removed. All of these types can add weight to the trigger pull, so they’re not always popular.

2. Active

Walther_PPK_1848

The lever on the gun by the hammer is an example of this category. Self-loading pistols have to have a round chambered by racking the slide. That also typically cocks the hammer. On the model in the picture, a Walther PPK, thumbing down the safety lever works as a decocker, lowering the hammer without letting it strike the primer–if all goes well. That sets the gun into double-action mode. By contrast, the M1911 is a single-action only gun. If the hammer on that model is down, cranking away at the trigger will accomplish precisely nothing beyond exercising your finger. When the hammer is cocked, the safety lever can be engaged, locking the action in place until it’s released again.

Safety levers can be easy to work or a challenge, depending on where they’re put and how they are to be operated. On a gun with a decocker, it’s often best to lower the hammer and then turn off the safety, since the trigger weight is heavy enough to keep things from going off.

Garandparts

On that rifle, the M1 Garand, the safety is a tab on the front end of the trigger guard that has to be pressed forward for the gun to fire. Yet another example is a tang safety, the slider knob on the stock:

400px-ShotgunAction

As always, there are variations to please the tinkerer’s soul. If you give your character a particular kind of gun, you need to know the specific safeties or lack thereof that the model in question possesses. But the common guns carried by police officers, in the present or in many decades of the twentieth century, lack active safeties. In fact, a Colt or Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver or a Glock make up the majority of handguns issued to cops. Unless your detective is carrying a Webley Fosbery, I don’t want to hear about any safety levers being released on a wheelgun. The same is true about the Austrian Wonderpistol. Often, in fact, guns that the police carry are double-action only, without the need for a safety. In New York City, law-enforcement Glocks have a New York trigger, made excessively heavy. This is the product of bureaucrats who fear machines that function easily, and given the lack of accuracy of NYPD officers, this is an example of focusing on the wrong thing.

The take-away message here is to know what you’re giving your character. Look up the particular gun, and know how it works. Research is a part of the process, and your knowing readers will appreciate you for doing it.

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As a non-Christian who was raised by fundamentalist parents and sent to religious schools–creationist, among other things–I look at the debate among Christians over evolution with nostalgic amusement. David Michael McFarlane, a student at Union Theological Seminary, recently wrote an article in The Huffington Post, asking whether Christians could give up creationism. He says that his faith doesn’t need a literal creation event some 6,000 years ago.

But fundamentalists insist that such an event is necessary. First, the text describes it, so it must have happened. But more importantly, without a Fall, there’s no need for a redeeming Christ. I’m sitting off on the sidelines nodding my head and saying, you finally figured it out, under my breath (not always), but there it is.

So let’s work with the premise that Christ is necessary. Let’s say that humans exist in a fallen state and have to be extracted from that.

600px-Fossil_hominids

Let’s even say that until the life and death of Christ some 2,000 years ago, there was no way to elevate humans. Can’t we allow for the possibility that human beings were insufficiently developed before that point? Does it matter how they became that way–either by dropping down or simply by never having risen up? Christians preach that human beings aren’t worthy on their own. Nothing about accepting the science of evolution has to challenge that.

Of course, this would mean understanding that the Biblical stories are just that–stories. That is not meant to reduce the Bible in value. In fact, I regard stories as our most basic way of understanding the world. As I said, on this matter, I’m an outsider looking in, so it’s just a suggestion.

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Just as there are many cartridges in the Gun Nut Forest, there are also many actions. By action I mean the way the firearm operates. The first distinction to be made is between single-shot and repeaters.

1. Single shot

This means that the firearm has to be reloaded by the shooter after each shot. From the first guns in the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, this is how just about everything worked. But such weapons are still with us, as you’ll see.

A. Muzzleloaders

399px-Vladimir_The_Vladimir-Suzdal_history_architecture_and_art_museum_Powder_box_handgun_and_bag_of_bullets_IMG_0206_1725

These are also called front stuffers, and that tells you exactly what loading many of them is like. The procedure for that, whether we’re talking the handgun shown above all the way to the biggest cannon of the period, was to send powder down the barrel through the muzzle–either by pouring it or shoving a packet in–ram home a round, again down the muzzle and often with a cloth wad between it and the powder, and add priming powder to the charge hole at the back of the barrel. The example in the picture is a flintlock, which means that when the trigger is squeezed, the piece of flint in the hammer snaps down to strike a steel plate. The resulting sparks ignite the priming powder, and that sets off the main charge, launching the bullet. Matchlock guns had a burning cord that was brought into contact with the primer, while wheellock guns used a spring-loaded mechanism like a Zippo lighter–and were about as reliable. Once the weapon had fired, the whole loading business had to be done again, often with the addition of running a sponge or patch through the barrel to make sure that no burning embers remained.

If you’ve seen someone in a movie blow across the muzzle of a gun, this is why. Black powder becomes sticky when it burns and can leave behind partially burned residue that is still glowing. Blowing across the muzzle has the same effect as wind moving across a chimney–it accelerates the combustion. But doing so with a gun using modern powders is an act of bravado with no other utility.

B. Breechloaders

Sliding-block-action

If you click on the image above, you’ll see how one type, a falling-block action, functions. That’s one variety of several different means of locking the block in place for a shot, then moving it out of the way for extraction–rolling, falling, and tilting block are the common ones. In cartridge versions of the Sharps rifle–think Quigley Down Under–the trigger guard was also a lever that opened the action to extract the spent shell and allow a new one to be loaded. Falling-block actions can be especially strong, since the limitation on the size of the block and the receiver that it locks into are only how much a person is able to hold, and since no parts other than the hammer or striker have to move during firing, these guns have an extra measure of mechanical accuracy. (We’ll talk about accuracy in more detail in a later article.)

400px-ShotgunAction

Another type of single-shot (or sometimes double-shot) breechloader is the break action. These are often seen in shotguns, particularly older models. It’s also seen in some revolvers, as we discussed before. This kind is only as strong as the latching mechanism, limiting guns using it to lower pressure cartridges.

Other actions can be single-shot, including bolt action, which we’ll deal with in a moment, but most of those are obsolete today.

2. Manual repeaters

Logically enough, this term refers to firearms that can have one round in the chamber and more in a magazine or cylinder. They are cycled by the shooter.

A. Revolver

We’ve already discussed this one. Multiple cartridges are held in the cylinder that rotates around a pin, bringing each round successively in line with the chamber.

B. Lever action

Winchester_Model_1873_Short_Rifle_1495

Think of every John Wayne western you’ve seen. Or every western, period. A lever gun will be the long gun that a lot of the characters carry. The one in the picture is the Winchester Model 1873, the gun that won the West, or so the movies tell us. It certainly did a lot of work in the period. If you’ve seen those films or if you remember the television program, The Rifleman, you know how this gun operates. The loop of metal attached to the trigger guard gets cranked downward to eject the shell in the chamber–straight up into the air, typically, which is why putting scopes on many lever guns is a challenge–and cycle another one in. The bolt here often is of the same type as the falling or rotating block described above.

Notice the tube under the barrel. That’s not another barrel. It’s the tubular magazine. (If your mind jumped immediately to “Tubular Bells” and Linda Blair spitting out pea soup, you’ve one strange character–and I love you for it.) Remember the bullet types?

100G115G130G150G

Pointed bullets, called spitzer rounds (a round point–I know), don’t work in tubular magazines. That point can strike the primer of the next cartridge in line on recoil, setting off the whole lot of them in order. There are some lever guns that use a rotary magazine or other mechanisms, but those aren’t common.

C. Pump action

Winchester_1897

This is commonly found in shotguns and also in some rifles, particularly .22 rimfire guns. The ribbed, brown slider beneath the barrel in the picture is pumped back and then forward, doing the work of ejecting one shell and chambering another. Again, if you watch movies or television, you’ve probably seen someone work a pump gun, accompanied by the clack-clack sound of the action. It’s an impressive display, if you’re impressed by displays. If the slider isn’t brought all the way back and all the way forward, the cycle can hang up. That’s called short-shucking.

D. Bolt action

800px-LA2-Blitz-0150_Infanteriegewehr_M98_side

Here, the bolt, the part that has the firing pin and holds the cartridge on the bolt face, gets cycled in typically one of two ways. The usual type involves lifting the bolt handle up, pulling the bolt back to eject a shell, then pushed forward to take a round out of the magazine and into the chamber, after which the handle is pressed down again. Rifles patterned on the German Mauser design cock the action at the beginning of that process, while the Lee-Enfields of the British cock on closing. Straight-pull bolt actions are just what you’d imagine–pull back, push forward. The bolts on both types have lugs that get inserted into grooves in the receiver–the metal body of the back part of the firearm–to hold the action in place during firing. Because the bolt doesn’t have to move while the round is going down the barrel, that lockup can be strong, allowing bolt actions to fire some freakish Magnum cartridges, such as the .577 Tyrannosaur:

577_tyrannosaur

3. Automatic repeaters

Before we get into the details, I have to clarify that by automatic, in this context, I don’t necessarily mean a “machine gun.” As we discussed in the first of these articles, the names get confused. Automatic, semiautomatic, and self-loader mean the same thing in terms of how the action is cycled. What gets called fully automatic or full-auto these days is a gun that will fire as long as there are rounds in the magazine and the trigger is squeezed, but that’s a different matter.

Automatic repeaters use the energy of the firing cartridge to work the mechanism, either employing the direct force of recoil or the expanding gas from the burning powder. Some part of the gun–the slide, the bolt, or some other part–goes through a reciprocating motion, back and forward again.

A. Blowback

Firearm_simple_blowback_animation

Click on the link to watch the action operate. Friction holds the fired shell in the chamber long enough for the bullet to go down the barrel, and the force of the expanding gas works like rocket fuel to push that shell backward and the bolt along with it. The spent shell is then ejected, and a new one picked up when the spring forces the bolt forward again.

Recognize this gun:

Walther_PPK_1848

Yup, that’s the gun that this fellow

James_Bond_1974

used when he was watching birds.

No, wait, um, that guy’s the ornithologist. The Walther PPK is, of course, the gun used by James Bond, the secret agent. Except that everyone knows his name, his drink, and the fact that his gun shoots a pissant little round. Most blowback actions don’t lock the slide and bolt together during firing, so they can’t stand a lot of force. From zero to .380 (look at that snail accelerate!), the rounds are weak enough to allow this type of action to work.

There are some mechanisms that delay the blowback, such as rollers that lock the action for the beginning of the firing process, allowing for more powerful cartridges. Another option is to make the slide or bolt heavier to delay the cycling. The Tommy gun of gangster fame used that approach, though the .45 ACP that it used isn’t a high pressure round.

B. Recoil operated

Another way of describing this is to call it a locked-breech action.

800px-M1911_A1_pistol

When the slide is forward, the barrel is locked to it by lugs. Upon firing, the recoil force acting on the shell presses the slide backward. The barrel travels a bit with the slide, then is disengaged by a link or ramp that pulls it down. The slide continues on back, ejecting the shell and stripping off a new one from the magazine when the spring pulls the slide forward again.

C. Gas operated

This category takes us into one of the hottest controversies in the Gun Nut Forest: Piston or direct impingement

i. Piston

AK-47_type_II_Part_DM-ST-89-01131

See the tube on top? There’s a tiny hole in the barrel that allows gas to enter that tube and press on a piston that will drive the bolt backward. The AK-47, as shown, the M1 Garand, the SKS, and many other gas operated firearms use this method. The Desert Eagle also uses a variation on this method. It works, but it has several moving parts.

ii. Direct impingement

800px-M16A2_-_AM.016070

In this gun, the M-16, there’s just a tube. The gas itself forces the bolt to cycle. That means one fewer moving part, which means less to throw off the aim, but if that gas is dirty–and it often is–it reminds us of the phrase, don’t shit where you eat. The M-16 in its early days in Vietnam tended to jam. Either the gas tube would gum up or the powder residue would gum up the bolt’s channel, or this, or that, or the other. I try to remain neutral in these articles (yeah, right), but I’ll point out that while I’ve seen piston guns firing away at the range, I’ve also seen many direct impingement guns being disassembled at the range so the owner can find where the thing is stuck.

iii. Gas-delayed blowback

Think back to that wonderous Christmas movie, Die Hard. Remember Hans Grüber’s handgun, the H&K P7:

800px-HK-P7

It bleeds off some of the firing gas to press on a spring-loaded piston that holds the slide in place until the bullet leaves the barrel.

800px-P7_Gas-DelayBBack

As always, there are lots of variations on what I’ve described here, and there are a plenty of other designs. These are the most common actions. The astonishing thing is that these work at all. The weakest cartridges fire at more than ten thousand pounds per square inch. The power only goes up from there. But this is what happens inside the gun, and when you make choices for your characters, remember that what firearm you select says things about the person you’re creating.

Fire at will, and now you know what’s going on inside when you do it.

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In the discussion of classes of firearms, I told you that handguns fall into two subcategories: self-loaders and revolvers. Today’s article is on the latter of those two:

Revolver

This is typical of the breed, a six-shot, double-action Colt New Service revolver, the M1909. Six shot means that the cylinder has six chambers, the typical number for revolvers. Double action we discussed already. It was chambered in a variety of calibers, including .45 Colt, .45 ACP, .38 Special, and .357 Magnum.

This type of firearm goes back to the early days of firearms, such as this model from the 1500s:

Drehling_GNM_W1984_ca_1580

Over the next centuries, other attempts were made, but the first practical and working model was invented by Samuel Colt, reportedly after watching a ship’s wheel:

799px-Paterson

That’s the Paterson model, named for the city in New Jersey where Colt’s plant was located in the 1830s. (Yes, New Jersey used to understand the Second Amendment.) It had a trigger that folded up until the hammer was cocked, and the mechanism for turning the cylinder was complicated, but it allowed its owner to have five shots available, instead of just one, allowing the Texas Rangers to surprise the Comanches in the Battle of Bandera Pass.

A stronger and simpler firearm came after Texas Ranger Captain Walker discussed the matter with Colt:

1847Colt_Walker

Note the loading level beneath the barrel. The Patersons didn’t have those at first, though some came with the addition later on. These are front-loading firearms, requiring powder to be poured into the open chamber and then a bullet to be rammed in by the lever. The rear of the chamber is covered by a nipple onto which a primer cap is placed. The phrase, bust a cap, comes from this period, not from modern gang movies.

And yes, those things were called nipples, though polite people used the term, cone. They are removed for cleaning by a nipple wrench and cleared of powder fouling by a nipple prick.

Have we returned from thoughts of BSDM yet?

Another famous firearms company, Smith & Wesson, came up with a revolver that used self-contained cartridges, instead of loose powder and ball:

Smith_&_Wesson_Model_1,_2nd_Issue

The definitive cartridge revolver of the Old West, though, was the Colt Single Action Army:

Full_cock3

There is a fact about all of these that many have forgotten in our modern age of law suits and histrionics. The firing pin was on the hammer, and nothing kept the it from being in contact with a primer when the hammer rested on a live chamber. This meant that under normal circumstances, the hammer was carried down on an empty chamber, making those six-guns actually five shots in practical terms. I’ve read somewhere that at least some pistoleroes rolled up bills in the top chamber in case they needed to pay for their own funerals.

Modern revolvers typically have some mechanism to keep the firing pin off the primer, often by a blocking device to hold the hammer off until the trigger is squeezed. An old timer in your stories might still load only five in a six-gun, but that’s casting your character as out of step with the modern world (and good on you for doing so). Best practice today is to load a modern revolver all the way and go in health.

Another aspect that comes up when revolvers appear in a story is whether or not they have safeties. I’ve already mentioned the firing pin block. But hardly any revolver has a safety lever that has to be disengaged. Gun nuts refer to these guns as the original point-and-click interface. It’s ready to go, and nothing gets in its way.

There have been some safeties on revolvers, though. One model, the Smith & Wesson Lemon Squeezer, used a grip safety:

800px-S&W_Lemon_Squeezer

This is similar to the M1911, but it’s disengaged when the shooter takes hold of the gun, so there’s no thought involved.

But as always in the gun nut forest, there’s something out there that throws a spanner in the works. Behold, the Webley-Fosbery:

800px-Webley-Fosbery_1837

It’s a semiautomatic revolver. Yup, that means that when one round fires, the barrel-cylinder-hammer arrangement slides backward under recoil, cocking the hammer and rotating the cylinder by means of a stud that works through the zig-zag cuts. Since this was a single-action gun, it had to be carried cocked to be ready for use, thus the lever at the top of the grip–a gen-u-ine thumb safety. Your characters aren’t likely to have one of these, but they have shown up in The Maltese Falcon, one of the greats of detective fiction, and in Zardoz, a thoroughly dreadful movie starring Sean Connery in a diaper when he decided that he was, in fact, not James Bond.

I’ve already told you how the front-loaders got fed. The Single Action Army and some others of the period had a loading gate to the right rear of the cylinder:

Clairgate

that allowed one round to be inserted at a time, once the hammer had been pulled back to half cock. To go off half-cocked, by the way, means to fire when you’re not supposed to. This was a slow process, one of the reasons that figures of the Old West often carried more than one handgun. They weren’t usually firing both at once. The point was to have a second gun available when the first one went dry. (This practice today is called a New York reload, but don’t use that term in a western.)

Some revolvers, such as the standard Webley,

800px-Webley_IMG_6793

broke open at the top and kicked out all the shells in the same manner as a top-break shotgun.

But modern revolvers mostly have a cylinder that swings out when released by the latch:

800px-Colt_Python_IMG_6785

that can be charged with a speedloader:

Speed-loader_side

or loaded one cartridge at a time.

The cartridges used in revolvers typically have to be rimmed, though moon clips:

Rugerspeedsix

allow rimless cartridges to be used.

So here you’ve had a quick tour of Wheelgun Hollar in the Gun Nut Forest. Revolvers are seen by some as old-fashioned these days, but since they don’t require the force of the firing cartridge to operate (minus the Webley-Fosbery), they aren’t sensitive to the power of the round. A light target load and a hot magnum load will both work, so long as the shooter can cock and fire.

Many in this world carry revolvers as backup guns, but if your character packs a wheelgun as a primary sidearm, you’re painting said person as someone who cares not at all about fitting into modern styles. I’ll like you for doing that.

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Writers, throw away your thesaurus. Yes, you read that correctly. You need a dictionary, but Roget’s collection of synonyms, temptingly gathered together like so many loose women on the docks is a good way to catch VD–verbal disease. Consider the following:

Personally, yours truly made a break for the nest egg to countenance a liquid measure of formula.

Ridiculous, right? Except that sentence is the result of hunting through the treasury (the root meaning of thesaurus) to puff up this sentence:

I went to the store to buy a quart of milk.

Of course, it’s silly. But I see writers–mostly college students, but others, too–looking for a fifty dollar word when a five cent word will do. We all want to look smart. And we need to vary our words and sentence structures to keep the reader from falling asleep. But if you grab some uppity group of letters just because it sounds more sophisticated than a one or two syllable word, you’re likely to go astray, particularly if you don’t check the definition. This is because while English has words that are closely related, in most cases, each one has its own elements that it alone means.

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. Don’t let the thesaurus strike you out, or you’ll annoy me.

Cross-posted at OghmaCreative.com.

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In the gun nut forest, you’ll hear lots of terms for the characteristics of the trigger.

We’ll start with what it does. There are two kinds of trigger actions, single:

1956prime2

and double:

Colt_New_Service_1370

Notice that the double-action trigger is in the middle of the trigger guard, while the single-action trigger is near the back? There’s a reason for this. The double-action variety has more work to do, often.

Double action used to be the way of saying that you could fire the gun in two ways–either by cocking the hammer yourself first and dropping it with a short squeeze of the trigger or simply by pulling the trigger back and letting it cock the hammer for you and then drop it. Single-action triggers only drop the hammer. You have no choice but to cock those on your own.

Full_cock3

or to let the slide cock the hammer for you during the firing stroke.

Springfield_Armory_M1911A1

These days, double action is mainly used to describe the firing mode whereby the trigger does all the work–to say that the trigger has twice the number of jobs. Thus we hear about double-action-only guns. Properly speaking, that’s a single action, since there’s only one way to fire the beast, but using the trigger to cock and fire is what people now generally mean by double action. (For my review of one DAO handgun, go here.)

Single-action triggers are easier to work than double action, since there’s less for the trigger to do. This makes the pull weight lighter. But double action isn’t too hard to learn. It just takes practice and a good hold on the gun. When we talk about safeties, we’ll discuss the difference between these two actions again. All rifles and shotguns that I’m aware of are single action. Handguns come in many flavors, from single-action-only to double/single to double-action-only to mix-and-match.

But what do I mean by pull weight? Imagine holding the gun pointing directly up and then picture a string tied to the trigger. (Don’t look into the barrel!) The pull weight is however much weight would have to be on that string to pull the trigger all the way back to break–in other words, the moment when the mechanism inside releases the hammer or firing pin.

Several terms show up at this point relating to what the trigger is doing. Travel is how far it has to go from start to break. Double-action mode gives you a long row to hoe and can show stacking, the build-up of weight as things compress inside the gun. The single-action distance is much shorter. Overtravel is when the trigger keeps going past the let off (the break), and creep or grit is the friction while the trigger is in motion. Then there’s reset, the distance that the trigger has to go back before it’s ready to work again.

Creep and overtravel are things that a trigger wouldn’t have in an ideal world. In our world, they are things that a gunsmith sometimes can correct and that expensive handguns shouldn’t have much of. Travel is a mixed blessing. A long trigger pull can be a safety measure, particularly if the gun has nothing else keeping it from firing, since long gives you more time to realize that the bang switch is caught on something–such as the finger of an owner who’s not too bright–than short does.

We started out with two categories. Now we must go to three:

1. Single-stage triggers

This means that squeezing the trigger either feels the same all the way back or shows a continuous increase in pressure to break. Shotguns have this kind of trigger, as do many rifles. Handguns often do as well, especially in double-action mode. If the trigger is particularly light in pull weight, it’s called a hair trigger, meaning that a hair falling on it is enough to set it off. This is good for accuracy, since having to work at the trigger can shift the direction of the muzzle, but it can unsettle the nerves if you’re walking around with the thing ready to go at the slightest provocation.

2. Two-stage triggers

These have two steps on the way to break. The squeeze is light until a point when the required pressure changes. That first part is the take-up. This is often found in military rifles, since soldiers have to run about on battlefields, and the brass figure that a gun with too light a trigger in one stage is an invitation to friendly fire. Of course, if you keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready for business, things will go better for you.

Two stages, though, isn’t bad on a rifle. A long gun is meant to be held with two hands against your shoulder, and a rifle is typically at least twice as heavy as a handgun. Take-up in a pistol, especially in those with plastic bodies, can throw off your aim.

3. Set triggers

800px-Shiloh_Sharps_50-90

On that fine old Sharps buffalo gun, see the two triggers. Those aren’t for two barrels, as one might find on a shotgun. On the Sharps, the front trigger will fire the gun whenever the action is cocked, but pulling the rear trigger sets everything up to go, leaving the front ready for the slightest pressure. That one is a double-set trigger. Another arrangement is to have one trigger that can be pressed forward to set for light weight, but will go off regardless when pulled to the rear.

The purpose here is to have the firearm ready to shoot but with a heavy enough trigger ordinarily so as not to go bang at every bump, while giving the shooter the option of setting a much lighter weight for precision shots at long range.

If you’re getting the feeling that there’s a whole pile of fuss and bother in the matter of triggers, you’re right. Working the trigger well is one of the fundamental aspects of good shooting. This is the reason that shootists who care about hitting what they want spend a lot of time dry-firing (pulling the trigger on a gun that they’ve checked repeatedly to know that it’s empty) while lining up the sights on a target or practice with a pellet gun. Actually, we often talk about pulling the trigger, but that’s not the best way to describe it. I’ve used squeeze here and elsewhere, and that’s better. The Platonic idea here is one smooth rearward contraction while nothing else moves. That takes practice.

For writers, this long discussion gives you details for building your characters. Is your person nervous or stone cold? Is your person a gun nut or someone who grabbed a gun in a moment of desperation? And on and on. The way you describe your characters’ actions around firearms tells us a lot about their personalities.

Now you know. Sadly, G.I. Joe wasn’t right here, since knowing isn’t even the beginning of the book. And plenty of knowing is left to come.

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