In the comments section of my most recent gun porn post, our own Jordan Dane gave me the idea of doing a post on how a character–particularly a female character–would go about choosing which handgun to carry. Way to tee one up for the Johnster!
Caliber (and caliber snobs)
As I’ve discussed here before, “caliber” refers to the diameter of a bullet at its widest point, measured in inches or millimeters. (Note: in the parlance of people who know guns, the word caliber is exclusively used in reference to measurement in inches. One would never say “nine millimeter caliber,” but one would say “.38 caliber.”)
If you hang out at some of the corners of the Internet that I visit from time to time, you’ll learn that there’s a very vocal element out there that states without equivocation that any caliber that doesn’t start with a 4 or larger isn’t worth carrying. They’ll talk about “stopping power” and “lethality” and hold in contempt anyone who is not willing to strap a two-pound hand cannon to their belt. I call these bloviators caliber snobs, and believe their claims to fall within the broad category known as Bravo Sierra.
I’ve previously posted on how bullets do their damage. You’re sending a hunk of metal through vulnerable parts of your target’s anatomy. If it hits the appropriate anatomy, the result is reasonably predictable. In almost all cases, a poorly aimed mini-cannonball does far less damage than a well-placed .22. Have your character choose a weapon s/he can reasonably control.
Ultimately, selection comes down to manageability. This leads us to…
My friend Isaac Newton
Newton’s three laws of motion are:
1. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.
2. The acceleration of an object is affected by two factors: the force applied; and the object’s mass.
3. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Sooo . . . Heavier bullets need more force to get them out of the barrel and on their way. Greater force creates greater recoil. For any given caliber of firearm, the heavier the gun, the less recoil felt by the shooter. The greater the felt recoil, the more likely the shot will be off-target. There are lots of reasons for this, but for our purposes here, it boils down to the shooter getting what I call the yips. They anticipate the punch to the hand and they screw up their aim.
There’s such a thing as a Smith & Wesson .500 magnum. Pictured here from the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, this four-pound smoke wagon fires bullets at over 1,800 feet per second (FPS) and, according to the manufacturer, will drop an elephant. I’ve shot this beast. While it’s the kind of pistol that a new Dirty Harry might be drawn to (“the most powerful handgun in the world and can blow your head clean off–while you’re hiding behind the refrigerator in your neighbor’s house“), there’s no practical use for it in the hands of your private detective.
Barrel length matters.
A firearm is a pressure chamber, the sole purpose of which is to contain the pressure of the exploding gunpowder long enough to send a projectile on to its target. As the bullet proceeds down the barrel, the lands and grooves of the rifling impart a spin that stabilizes the bullet in flight. The more time the pressure has to push the bullet, the longer the bullet has time to stabilize from the lands and grooves. Thus, all else being equal, longer barrels equal greater accuracy at greater distances.
So, what kind of gunfight does your character anticipate? Most gunfights play out in less than five seconds at distances of less than ten feet. If that’s most likely your character’s world, then shorter barrels will do.
NOTE: There’s such a thing as the “21-foot rule,” which proclaims that any shot fired at a person from a range of greater than 21 feet–seven yards–is not considered self defense against any threat that is not another firearm. If a bad guy is running at your good guy with a baseball bat or a knife, many jurisdictions will say that threat is not lethal until the bad guy closes to within 21 feet.
Single-stack or double-stack?
Guns for everyday carry (EDC) are getting smaller, but there remains a need for ammunition to feed them. As you probably know, ammo magazines for pistols typically reside in the weapon’s grip. A “single-stack” magazine stacks the bullets directly on top of each other, while a “double-stack” mag staggers the bullets side-by side, with the effect of making the grip thicker and harder to hold for a shooter with a smaller hand. The pistols shown side-by-side in the picture are the Glock 26 on the left, and the Glock 43 on the right. Both are called “baby Glocks”, with barrel lengths within a couple hundredths of 3.4 inches. They’re called compact 9mm pistols. The one on the left (G26) is fed by a double-stack magazine and holds 10 rounds, plus one in the chamber, while the one on the right (the G43) uses a single-stack mag and holds 6 rounds plus one in the pipe. You need to ask yourself what your character’s priorities are. Those four extra rounds cost you a lot in terms of grip size and concealability. (Full disclosure: having spoken to many people who’ve been involved in gunfights, I’ve never heard one complain about having too much ammunition.)
Dress for the day.
How likely is it that your character will get involved in a gunfight? Military personnel in a war zone, and police officers on duty carry full-size pistols because there’s a reasonably high likelihood that they will find themselves in a gunfight. They make no effort to conceal their firearm, so bigger is better. The bigger, heavier platform is less punishing to shoot, and as a result, accuracy tends to be better. But it’s not exactly the right weapon to strap to your tuxedo or evening gown on the way to the opera.
For those highly concealed applications, the firearm manufacturing industry offers lots of options. Just remember that for any given caliber, the smaller and lighter the weapon–the easier it is to carry and conceal–the more punishing it is to shoot. Also, smaller guns mean a shorter effective range.
One of the most popular EDC guns on the market these days is the Ruger LCP (Lightweight Compact Pistol), chambered in .380, shown here in the picture next to the ballpoint pen to give it scale. As presented, the pistol is in a pocket holster, which is exactly what it sounds like–a holster that slides easily into a pocket or a purse. Because of its tiny size–there’s only room for two fingers on the grip–and its very heavy trigger pull, this is a difficult gun to learn to shoot, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty effective. Virtually every gun manufacturer makes a similar weapon, and all of them are hand-breakers till you learn the right grip.
Okay, TKZers, how do you want to arm your good guys? How about your bad guys? What other questions do you have?