“If you’re not accurate, it’s jarring for the reader. It takes them out of the moment. I made a gun mistake in my first book. Worst mistake you can make is a gun mistake — to have all the people write and tell you how you got the gun wrong.” – author Mike Lawson

37 Responses to Quote of the Day: Pistol Pedant Edition

  1. He is totally correct whether its books, TV, or even video games I cringe when I see most of the blatent mistakes.
    Worst is the miss-information. I once had a kid argue with me about how there is no such thing as a fully automatic m-16 because it’s only 3 rd bust on the game.

  2. I know exactly how Mike feels. My debut novel was published in May and so far I’ve received passing marks from knowledgeable shooters, law enforcement and experts on convict culture. I really strove to get the gun play right in particular, although I’m sure somebody will let me know where I screwed up. An occupational hazard I suppose.

    As an avid shooter myself (and crime fiction fan), nothing makes me cringe more than when a writer mentions “the smell of cordite.” I also remember reading a novel not too long ago where the author had his character “thumbing the safety” on his Glock…I almost threw the book across the room.

    • “…“thumbing the safety” on his Glock.”

      With the knowledge of firearms (and in this case, their rules) that I’ve seen in some authors, the character could very well have been thumbing the trigger safety lol.

      • Ditto. Nothing takes you out of the moment quicker. Have to wonder what other trash you are reading.

    • “I really strove to get the gun play right…”

      Same here, but in a painting. I did a picture of a Rev. War character and, knowing there would be “stitch counters” among my viewers, I did my homework and detail work very carefully. Once it’s out there there’s nothing you can do but apologize if you flub it.

      In defense of all the Glock safety clicks we hear in movies I will say that an audible sign of escalating tension does help the narrative, so I feel the license is justified. My wife is a literalist about such things so I’m always reminding her that the story comes first with accuracy following close behind. My two cents.

      • Gosh, this is easily solved….the character didn’t have a Glock. It was a 1911. Or a Beretta. Or a Walther. Or a CZ. Or….

      • Someone pointed something out to me, and it has been a constant source of amusement ever since. When you see a painting of sailing ships, *especially* paintings made durng the age of sail, look at how the flags are flying. You’d be surprised how many of them have the flag flying backwards when the sails are bellied out forwards, ie, as if the sailing ship were faster than the wind pushing it.

        One wrong, one right
        Wrong
        Wrong

        Hope I got those links right!

        • Actually, the flags are correct in all four pictures. All of the ships are tacking, which means the wind is coming from an angle off the bow of the ship. So the flags are indicating the direction of the wind.

          In the first picture, the flags are a little too much toward the stern of the ship, though. In the third picture, every ship is using wind that is coming from a different direction, and that just doesn’t happen.

    • I thought I read that the Brits used cordite for the shells in their rifles in India? Something about it being cheaper than smokeless.

  3. Honestly, I don’t take pity on writers/producers/editors/w.e. who get things wrong with guns. There’s not really any excuse. Firearms are, relatively, simple mechanical devices. Fudging details that are so easy to get right not only makes you look lazy, it also makes me question what else is inaccurate and pretty much ruins the movie/show/book/game.

    But at the same time. I only notice firearms inaccuracies because I’m a gun guy. My sister had to stop watching House and Grey’s Anatomy after she became a nurse because she couldn’t stand the procedural flaws. Same thing with my dad. He’s been a cop for 22 years and him sitting through an entire episode of Law and Order or CSI is a miracle.

    Moral of the story: entertainment media is about 3 gallons of b.s. in a 2 gallon bucket. It’s got just enough realism and accuracy to appeal to the masses and turn a profit and not an ounce more.

  4. Inaccuracies in books really bug the crap out of me. Movies,TV shows and video games not as much. I believe the majority of thugs and criminal types learn from watching the idiot shows and films as well as playing games. Not so much from books.

    Their misconceptions gives us a better chance in a real DGU. It’s not something I would rely on but it might be enough for luck to go my way.

    • Unfortunately, that advantage in a DGU is also a steep disadvantage in our efforts to win over and/or educate non-gun owners. I think the most egregious example I saw of this was the comments section of a story involving a California police officer who was filmed shooting a guy with a pipe bender.

      It was 100% justified, but not only did people *not* get that basic concept, they also screamed “Where was the taser?” “Why didn’t he just disarm the guy?” “He should have shot to wound!”

      I died a little inside.

  5. let’s not forget the art work. once saw the cover of a western that had a man dual wielding 1860 army colts with ejected brass airborne all around him.

  6. This is why I’m such a huge Stephen Hunter fan – a gun nut who writes outstanding thrillers. I once won a bet with a friend when I said that I’d never ran into a mistake in Hunter’s writing – he bet me a beer that there is a passage where the mag capacity of a Rem. 700 is given as 5 rounds. I re-read the book and ol’ Bob Lee crammed 5 rounds into the breech – which I claimed meant four in the mag and one in the chamber, and won the bet. ‘Course a few weeks later I ran into an essay Hunter had written for the Washington Post (he was their longtime Pulitzer-winning movie critic) where the Soviet PPSH-41 was mentioned as a 9mm.

    Of course the later might have been an editor (“ediot” as us newsroom vets put it) who wanted to save three spaces and changed 7.62 to 9. Which is my real gripe about what I call the “safety on the silenced revolver” syndrome – there’s quite a few steps between writer and reader and it’s pretty obvious that quite a few writers of thrillers and mysteries could use a proofreader who is knowledgeable about firearms. I have a real gripe with WEB Griffin (one of my guilty pleasures) – you would think that someone who has written so extensively about the post-1941 US military would have a basic grip on the evolution and dates of adoption of the Stoner creation. I don’t think grunts in Nam in ’69 had M-16A2s, and fer crying out loud it’s either a CAR-15 or an M-4; there’s no such thing as a CAR-16 or a CAR-4.

    As the cop’s son pointed out above – aside from the fact that I expect novels to be a bit more intelligent than TV – this sort of ignorance is far from limited to firearms. I recently read something by a novelist I generally like where four people who needed to get from Los Angeles to Chicago in a hurry hopped in a Piper Cub and flew there. That was either the circus clown-car ride of flying or a writer who is butt-ignorant when it comes to aviation.

    • Stephen Hunter is definitely the gold standard I think when it comes to gun porn in fiction, and even he’s admitted to getting stuff wrong from time to time.

      Another fantastic writer who really “gets” firearms is David J. Schow. His novels “Gun Work” and “UpGunned” have some of the most audacious (and well-researched) gun play I’ve ever read.

    • WEB Griffin is one of my favorite authors, but that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of his faults. I started reading his stuff before I really got into guns, and continued after, and oh, the difference a little knowledge makes. I just kind of gloss over it like I would a typo, because I’m reading for fun.

      Also, have you noticed any difference in the frequency of errors in the later stuff, which is co-authored with his son?

      • Actually, I thought the co-author was the son of his longtime editor, which would make for a second-generation sin of sloppy editing. Basically, when a guy who is 80 or so is cranking out a couple or three very formulaic 800-pg novels a year it’s pretty obvious that there is a ghostwritten factory catering to anyone who will buy a book by a certain author. Clancy and Bond both have “inspired by” spin-off series that are just horrible, beyond long-Greyhound-ride trash, and don’t get me started on James Patterson, who I swear is Nora Roberts in male drag.

        Thanks for the tip on Schow. I’ll keep an eye out for him. I really get a kick out of Lee Child as well… just amazes me that a Brit can write so well about American violence and the American Army.

        • According to Wikipedia, WEB Griffin was born William Edward Butterworth III, and his coauthor is listed as William E. Butterworth IV, so it’s his son.

          A couple interesting facts:
          * WEB IV worked at Boys’ Life for over 20 years, including a stint as managing editor.
          * The picture of father and son on the back of the coauthored novels was taken by Tom Clancy.

          Amusingly, I found a page that listed a bunch of inconsistencies found in his series The Corps, and as I read them, I found several I had noticed, and several I hadn’t. The thing to me about his writing, and that series especially, is a lot of the “inconsistencies” take place because later in the story, up to 10 years later in some cases, one character is retelling the story to someone else (or it’s two people who weren’t there talking about a third, main character who was), and small details change, just like they would when people retell things in real life. I notice the inconsistencies, but I just chalk them up to faulty memory and creative storytelling (both by the characters, not the author or me). Nobody tells the story of “what had happened was” exactly the same for 10 years. Humans don’t work like that.

  7. Well, it’s not that hard to get those aspects correct…just hire a gun nut to go through before release with some input.

  8. western movies where they wear crossed bandoliers full of full metal jacket rounds. pump shotguns being racked repeatedly before they get fired. as i’ve told any number of people, do nothinf with a firearm that you see in the media.

  9. Hollywood in general tries to tell a good story regardless of facts because that is what draws people into watching a movie for 2hrs. They take liberty with everything!

    If you are a car guy, you cringe when you see car stunts because you know it was done with movie magic or mechanical magic (meaning, something in the car or the car tweaked to do something that is not normal); if you read some stories you see they used 24 cars each setup for different scenes. Cars do not burst into flames because they rolled over.

    I am a software engineer, and I laugh at either the incorrect use of computer terms or being able to hack into DoD security in 10 secs. The mythbusters do a fair job debunking the hollywood myths.

    I am not surprised it extends to guns. Who can forget the scene in True Lies when Jamie Lee Curtis drops the machine gun down the stairs and kills all the bad guys because it was firing as it bounced.

    Many movies (and books) are bubble gum for the brain and most movie goers have no clue anyway. I do wish they made some effort, but I am not sure the mass audiences would find it any more or less exciting because few see the tiny details anyway.

  10. Yeah, reading an inaccurate tech detail is annoying – especially when it is on something as easily verified as a firearm or ammo. Not only are there thousands of reference books with correct information (“Cartridges of the World” comes to mind), all you have to do now is type the gun type/caliber into the search function of the Internet and you will get either a verification or a “huh?” response. I think it is mental laziness on the part of many authors – they are non-gun owners, and all of their editors are non-gun owners, and they are “firearms illiterates”.

    My favorite “can’t tell a handgun from a hand grenade” author is Lee Child, the guy who writes the Jack Reacher series. Reacher is supposedly an ex-Army MP, and Child’s portrayal of Reacher’s firearms knowledge is ludicrous. At one point in a book, Reacher is considering “converting a .44 magnum revolver from left-handed to right handed” operation – presumably by magic. Lee Child is the pen name of a British author (Jim Grant) who lives in New Yawk City, so he has probably never touched a handgun in his life. It definitely shows in his writing.

  11. If you think that gun stuff in books is totally FUBAR, ask any lawyer about trial scenes in books and movies. They are absolutely ludicrous.

    I still enjoy movies like “A Few Good Men,” but in order to do so I’ve had to treat courtroom scenes like they were filmed in an absurd alternate universe.

  12. History Channel ‘Shootout’ series.. In a ‘reenacted portion’ of the presentation, our guys are pinned down by the Nazis, and pumping their Garands between shots. Like they were shooting Skeet or something with pump shotguns.
    Authentic footage in the same presentation showed our valiant warriors using the rifles in the correct manner. I suppose the producer didn’t notice.
    Wouldn’t you think one of the actors would say something?

  13. not if they didn’t know better. they may have never handled a firearm before the show.and maybe the blanks they had wouldn’t cycle the action. i do remember hearing one of the people involved in the abortive czech uprising against the russians tell about getting a tokarov from a looted arsenal. this man had never fired a gun and only had what he had seen at the cinema for reference. so every time he fired a shot he manually racked the action before firing again. the uprising failed but this man survived to tell his part in it.

  14. In my writers’ group, a friend and I are the go-to guys for gun information. When one of our fellow writers has a firearm in a passage, there’s always a pause and a quick scan to see if we’re scribbling notes on the manuscript.

    The rule to follow is that facts are facts, and doing research is part of writing. Yes, it takes work. Writing is a profession if you plan to get published. If you’re just in it for fun, let me recommend Scotch. In the end, it’ll save you money and a lot of agony.

  15. There’s a couple of well-known writers who write pretty enjoyable books…good story lines, interesting characters, decent action scenes, and so forth…but their firearms knowledge continues after at least twenty years, to be pathetic. Heroes are constantly pulling out their Police Specials or S&W revolvers and “clicking off” the safeties, and once the good guy shot the black hat with a .357 Magnum and the round knocked the bad guy back against the wall and slide his body up the wall about two feet before dropping it back to the floor leaving a blood smear on the wall behind him. At the time the good guy had been knocked down and was on his back when the bad guy approached to finish him off. Another recent trope you see more and more of in films today is people being shot against a wall and when they collapse there’s always a major blood smear where the bullet obviously exited their back but no bullet hole is ever seen in the wall. Finally, there’s my favorite; I read in some paperback probably forty plus years ago when the main character goes into a gun shop and asks for some special “45/357” rounds and I dearly would have loved to have seen both such a round and the weapon that would fire it. I see larger cases necked down to take smaller bullets all over the place but have yet to figure out how you upgrade a .357 case to take a 230 grain .45 bullet.

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