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Posts Tagged ‘gun control’

Those of us who spend much time arguing the question of gun rights on the Internet often run into examples of Markley’s Law in action. What is Markley’s Law, my non-gun-enthusiast readers may be asking?

Markley’s Law: The adage that any Internet discussion regarding firearm owners will eventually mention male genitalia.

Generally, this takes the form of someone who supports gun control claiming that gun owners are compensating for small anatomy. But obsession with penises isn’t the only defect of personality to be found in those who yearn to violate the rights of others. Submitted for your consideration is a new law, based on many observations:

As t (time) increases, the probability that a gun control supporter will make a sexist or homophobic remark about a gun rights advocate during a discussion on guns approaches 1.

This observation is all the more interesting since gun control supporters tend to be on the left of the American political spectrum, and thus such language would be unacceptable by their fellows in any other context.

probability

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Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to look at how things are done wrong. With that in mind, today I present to you Hollywood guns, in which we find out that Tinseltown is peeing on our shoes and calling it a submarine movie.

1. Racking the action

800px-US_Navy_110406-N-ZS026-156_Logistics_Specialist_2nd_Class_Jermaine_Jackson_reloads_a_9mm_pistol_while_behind_cover_during_a_small_arms_practical_we

In this picture, we see the slide on a semiautomatic pistol pulled back to allow a round to be loaded into the chamber. That’s as should be. That’s what has to be done. But once that’s done, the gun is ready to go. But Hollywood can’t avoid having characters perform that action repeatedly. Every time they want to threaten someone, they whip out pistols and point about the room until the intended victim mouths off, at which time every gun from a snub-nosed revolver to a howitzer produces a clack-clack sound.

What that means is that unless a shell is ejected, the gun didn’t have a round chambered beforehand, and the victim could have waltzed over and taken the weapon. Yes, the Israelis teach their commandos to carry without a round loaded, but I suspect that’s because they had to take whatever kind of gun they could get their hands on in early days, so rules about safeties on some guns but not others would have been confusing. But most people carry their guns ready to go.

2. Suppressors

800px-Suppressors

These are often called silencers, but that’s wrong. They only reduce the volume by a few tens of decibels–enough to save the shooter from hearing damage, but not enough to make the firearm whisper. And if the ammunition is supersonic, the bullet going down range will create a sonic boom.

But in film, every gun can be made to sound like a cat sneezing with a quarter-inch tube on the end of the barrel. That includes revolvers, even though most such guns have a gap between the cylinder and the barrel, allowing the cylinder to turn. Gases escape from that gap–a significant source of noise that can’t be suppressed. Suppressors also change the point of impact and the velocity of the bullet, which means that the sights have to be set for suppressed firing.

The truth is that some guns can be made very quiet, but the size of the suppressor needed makes carrying the thing inconvenient. And if it’s a self-loading firearm, the operation of the machine itself makes a lot of noise.

3. Sound

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When not suppressed, guns are loud. We’re talking a rock concert with the speakers turned up to eleven. And for some reason, Hollywood thinks that setting off firearms inside concrete buildings isn’t bad for one’s hearing.

Huh?

4. Magazine size

451px-9mm_pistol_magazine

Gun control freaks go on and on about how many rounds should be allowed in a magazine. It’s fifteen here, ten there, and seven in New York. That’s until they decide to demand only one at a time. I suspect that’s because they see movies in which bad guys have firearms with infinite capacities. Sometimes, the good guys do as well. And they keep shooting on full-auto for minutes at a time without having to reload.

But that’s plain wrong. Typical pistol magazines run from seven rounds in older M1911s to fifteen or seventeen in many Berettas and Glocks. Revolvers have five or six. Even the banana magazine of the AK-47 holds only thirty. And the rate of fire on those guns, even the semiautomatic only versions, is several hundred rounds a minute. A magazine can be emptied in seconds, if emptying your gun is the only goal. Now there are things like this:

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But those have a habit of jamming. And they’re hard to carry, especially if you have to conceal them.

5. Aim

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Guns have to be aimed. Yes, if you plan to spray and pray, you can hold your grease gun at your hip and let go, but to score one-shot hits on a desired target, you have to use the sights. Or practice every day with lots of rounds and get really close. Just blasting away is a fine method for wasting ammunition and hitting bystanders, a technique practiced by the NYPD. This is especially true if you hold your handgun sideways, gangsta style.

6. Knockdown power

38_Special_mushrooming_side_view

Newton informed us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That means that if your bullet knocks down the guy you’re shooting at, you get knocked down when you fire the gun. Now it is true that some people get hit while they’re running and off-balance and thus fall over when shot, and others drop to the ground out of surprise, but the bullet itself cannot shove someone over.

Along the same lines, the more powerful the round, the more punishing it is to shoot, especially in lightweight guns. And unless the shooter has exceptional luck, one shot from a pipsqueak handgun isn’t going to stop an assailant.

7. Sturm und Drang

800px-NTS_-_BEEF_-_WATUSI

When a bullet hits something, what happens to the target? It explodes, naturally. Well, actually, no, it doesn’t. Unless it’s made of nitroglycerin. Even if it’s drenched in gasoline, it’s not likely to flare up. So no, you can’t make a car go up in a ball of fire by shooting its tank.

8. Carry

800px-DesertEagle_50AE

Remember Agent Smith in The Matrix? Or Ivan Chekov in Boondock Saints? They were big guys. But even so, those Desert Eagles they carried are huge guns. We’re talking about a foot long and more than four pounds in weight. You ain’t hiding one of those in your sock. It’s not even going to be concealed under a tailored suit coat. You’re going to need a big cape or a tent-sized shirt to hide one of those. We’ll talk about how to carry a gun in a sensible manner in the future, but understand that if it looks huge when you draw it, it’s going to feel huge when you’re carrying it.

9. Anachronisms

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John Wayne is the quintessential western character. But in just about every western he starred in, he carried an 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver and a 1892 Winchester rifle. But The Searchers, for example, starts in 1868. That’s a neat trick. But it’s not unique to westerns. In Titanic, David Warner’s character packs an M1911, though at that time, such pistols were just getting going as a military firearm. It would have been more accurate to give him a Colt Pocket Hammerless, but that’s a small gun and doesn’t look as impressive.

What’s the point here? Surprise, surprise, surprise, Hollywood engages in trickery when it comes to guns. And that’s part of why I’m writing this series. You, dear writers, need to know what the truth is about firearms. What’s possible, what’s reasonable in how they’re used, and what’s just blowing smoke.

For stories involving gunplay and a whole lot more, visit here.

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In my series on guns and gun information for writers, I’ve mostly stayed away from political matters, since the emphasis here is on what a writer needs to know to get gun facts correct in stories. But today, I’m wading into the thick and smelly. The subject is assault rifles.

First, let’s dispose of another term that shows up in the media and elsewhere, the assault weapon. This is plainly silly. Any weapon can be used to attack. Any weapon can be used to defend. In fact, most weapons are good at both functions. That’s especially true about most firearms. Some have advantages in one or the other area, and we’ll get to those in a moment, but calling something an assault weapon is generally redundant. Certainly, this term has been exploited by advocates of gun control. Note in particular what Josh Sugarmann, currently the head of the Violence Policy Center, had to say in 1988 in a position paper:

Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons.

But my job in these articles is to inform writers so as to remove confusion.

Moving on then. Have a look at the classic military rifle at the start of the twentieth century:

800px-Gevär_m-1896_-_Modellexemplar_tillverkat_1896_-_6,5x55mm_-_Armemuseum

That’s a Swedish Mauser that shoots a 6.5mm round. The rifle is fifty inches long. The Russian Mosin-Nagant was forty-eight inches. And that was typical for the standard primary arm of the day. Yes, the Americans and the British were using rifles of around forty-four inches, but that’s still lengthy.

There are advantages to this. As I mentioned before, a longer barrel gives the powder time to burn, thereby increasing the velocity. A greater distance between the front and rear sights creates a longer sight radius. This doesn’t affect the inherent accuracy of the gun, but it does make lining up a shot easier for the shooter–at least that’s the idea. And military doctrine of the day expected soldiers to hit targets at considerable distance. Remember that generals always come prepared for the last war. The belief was that the common soldier should be able to fire aimed and effective shots at targets way over yonder. Consider, for example, the mad minute, a requirement of British soldiers to land more than twenty shots in a twelve-inch circle at three-hundred yards in less than sixty seconds. The story goes that during the Christmas peace in World War I, German officers remarked to their British counterparts that they were surprised about the Brits having so many machine guns, when actually the men were just firing the bolt-action SMLE.

But World War I bogged down into trenches, and the leaders needed a way to break out. Winston Churchill loved the idea of the tank, while Americans used the trench broom, a short-barreled shotgun, and the Germans toyed with this:

300px-Bergmann_MP18.1

the Bergmann MP-18. It fired the 9mm Parabellum cartridge and thus was a submachine gun. We developed our own in the form of the Thompson, known as the Tommy Gun. We’ll talk about this type of gun later.

The Russians tried this beast, the Fedorov avtomat from 1915:

800px-Fedorov_avtomat

It fired a full-power rifle cartridge, but its design was complicated.

A battle rifle cartridge is as powerful as it is for the purpose of penetrating armor and hitting targets at long ranges. But firing a lot of those rounds in a hurry isn’t conducive to accuracy without a gun mount, and military thinkers were coming on the idea that when a lot of people are running at you quickly, you need to shovel the lead out. The distance involved won’t be that much–under three hundred yards.

The need for this became apparent especially in World War II on the Eastern Front between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Germans had the Mauser K98, a shortened version of the Gewehr 98, their long battle rifle from the First World War, firing a full-power round, and the MP-40:

800px-MP_40_AYF_2

a submachine gun or machine pistol that shot the standard 9mm used in German handguns. But battle rifles are good for a thousand yards, and handguns do their best work at talking distances. What about in between?

Introducing the MP-44:

800px-MP44_-_Tyskland_-_8x33mm_Kurz_-_Armémuseum

It fired a bullet of 7.92mm from a case that was 33mm in length. The Mausers used 7.92 x 57 rounds. The notion there is that it’s easier to retool if you’re not changing the barrel diameter. But the reduced power of the cartridge allows for easier control of fully automatic fire necessary to stop mass attacks inside of three hundred yards. Hitler got a look at the gun and declared it a Sturmgewehr–an assault rifle. He loved adding “assault” to everything, but even though the thought about this weapon was defensive, being able to send a wall of bullets down range is useful in storming (the other translation of sturm) through an enemy’s line, particularly in urban combat.

Are you thinking that the MP-44 looks familiar? How about this weapon:

AK-47_type_II_Part_DM-ST-89-01131

If you think that the AK-47 looks a lot like the German rifle, you’re not alone. In fact, lots of people other than Mikhail Kalashnikov have said the same thing. The Russian gun shoots a 7.62 x 39 round, their battle rifle round being 7.62 x 54, has a detachable magazine with the distinctive curve required by the shape of the cartridge, and is made for the same purpose as the MP-44. The Russians declared, Oh my Marx, no, we didn’t copy the German gun. Uh huh. It’s length, by the way, is around 35 inches with the stock extended.

Americans, loving plastic and high-tech widgets, went for this ray gun:

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the M-16, designed by Eugene Stoner, a man who had been working in the aircraft industry. It’s made of plastic and aluminum and so forth, all with the purpose of reducing its weight. It shoots a 5.56 x 45 cartridge. In English units, that’s a .22, a tiny round. General Curtis LeMay tried an early model out and figured it made a good primary weapon for air base security police, and some of our special forces units operating in Vietnam in the run up to our full involvement there liked it, so Robert McNamara and his bean counters–I mean whiz kids–decided to inflict the M-16 on everyone. (Do you get the idea that I don’t like it? We’ll discuss it’s mechanism in the future.)

Today, the lines between submachine gun and assault rifle are getting blurred:

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This dingus, one of the stars of Stargate SG-1, shoots a pistol round that acts a lot like a light-weight rifle round that can’t decide what it wants to be.

But what is an assault rifle? Remember that the goal of such a weapon is to facilitate rapid movement in close-quarters battle or to stop an enemy attempting such. That being the case, it has to have the following characteristics:

1. Intermediate cartridge

I’ve explained that here and there in this article, but the round is intermediate between the power of a handgun round and a battle rifle cartridge. It’s not a .45 ACP, and it’s not a .30-’06, but it wants to be able to do what both of those can do.

2. Detachable magazine

Changing out magazines is easier than pulling out stripper clips of rounds and shoving them into the fixed mag.

3. Selective fire

The weapon must be capable of semiautomatic fire–one trigger squeeze, one shot–and full-auto–keeps shooting till the trigger is released or the gun runs dry. Many of them also have a three-round burst setting. But without full-auto capability, it’s not an assault rifle.

And that’s the key point. In America, unless you have a Class III firearms license and all the paperwork and tax stamps, you can’t legally own a full-auto gun. The AR-15, the semiautomatic only version of the M-16, is no different from any other semiautomatic rifle in its basic functioning, except that it looks funny. People who say otherwise are simply trying to cloud the issue. If your character is a chief of police who has to kowtow to the mayor, that person may refer to a gun as an assault rifle. If your character has an anti-gun agenda, the same is true. But you need to know the correct definitions so as to be aware of when you’re creating characterization.

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