Gun Myths in the Movies Everyone Believes
- In the movies all shotguns make a distinctive *cha-chunk* noise. Sometimes you’ll hear this noise from off-screen and the camera pans to show us a man holding a double-barrel shotgun. Also, in movies all pump-action shotguns must be pumped at every opportunity, because it sounds all cool and stuff. FYI, pumping the action on a shotgun ejects the shell in the chamber. If you fire, then pump the action twice more, you will eject the spent shell and a perfectly good unfired shell.
- In movies guns can “go off” by accident if dropped or bumped. While it is theoretically possible for this to happen, in real life the chances are somewhere between “slim” and “none”. In fairness to Hollywood, this once was very true. Many older guns are notoriously un-drop-safe. In fact the famous British Sten submachine gun was so prone to discharging when dropped that it could be used as an improvised grenade. Toss it through the window of a German pillbox and when it hit the ground it would empty its entire magazine and take out everyone inside. But modern gun manufacturers take great pains to avoid building a gun that can ever “go off” by accident and will voluntarily recall any model found to have that flaw.
- In movies, jammed is broken. If your gun jams it becomes useless and you must throw it away. In reality 99% of jams can be cleared in about 1-2 seconds with minimal effort. In Jurassic Park when the raptors attack Dr. Grant and the kids in the computer lab, Dr. Grant’s shotgun jams offscreen and he drops it when they flee. But in the scene you can clearly see it’s a simple stovepipe jam (a spent shell sticking out of the ejection port) which he could have cleared easily by simply plucking it out. He threw away a perfectly good shotgun.
- Being shot in the movies can blast someone right off their feet, or even across the room. In real life a gun powerful enough to do that would either blast itself right out of your hands or blast you back with roughly the same amount of force. (Ironically Hollywood used to get this one right. In old black-and-white Westerns when someone got shot they would just crumple to the ground. Apparently something went awry in the intervening years.)
- Being shot in the movies kills or at least drops you instantly. There are many examples throughout history of men being shot many times in the chest and barely breaking stride. In movies the only people who get to do that are main characters. On the other hand…
- In movies, being shot in the arm, shoulder, or leg is deemed “a flesh wound”. While this may slow the hero down, it will never kill him. He will not be shown growing weaker and weaker from blood loss, nor will the injury have any lasting effects. The hero may be shown wearing his arm in a sling for a while but once the hole closes up the arm is good as new.
- Guns aren’t nearly as loud in movies as they are in real life. Characters can even have indoor gun fights with no difficulty. In reality guns are very loud and shooting indoors without ear protection would hurt your ears a lot. Hearing loss is not uncommon among soldiers and police officers. And when was the last time you heard a character in an action movie complain about tinnitus?
- In movies, guns can be rendered almost perfectly silent with the use of a magical device called a “silencer”.
- In movies, caliber is power. No exceptions. The larger the caliber the more powerful the gun is. In reality, many other factors also play into the “power” of a gun (which is a bit of a nebulous term anyway). Would it surprise you to learn that actually fires a smaller caliber bullet (.357) than (.41)?
- In movies, characters “dual-wield” pistols. No. This is stupid. You would never do this with any modern pistol. In fact you probably wouldn’t do it with any pistol from any era. There is no advantage to doing this. Gunfighters in the Old West and in the era of black powder sometimes carried more than one pistol at a time, but this was just so they could quickly swap to the second gun after emptying the first one (the so-called “New York reload” technique).
- In historical movies, keeping your powder dry is not a concern for black powder weapons (looking at you Pirates of the Caribbean).
Gangsters holding guns sideways is a trend set in movies
- Cannonballs in movies never bounce, even though historically this was a major strength of cannon warfare. Unlike arrows or catapults, if you undershot your target with a cannon the ball was likely to bounce right into the enemy lines. Hollywood seems to have gotten cannonballs mixed up with exploding mortar shells (also, they seem to think mortars didn’t exist before the 20th century). One of the few things The Patriot got right was when it showed a cannonball skip off the ground and take off some poor schmuck’s head.
- In Western movies movies if two veteran gunslingers notice each other they have to declare “this town ain’t big enuff fer the two ‘o us” and square off for a duel. In reality most veteran gunslingers seemed to believe that every town was “big enuff fer the two ‘o us”, and they would prove the town was big enough by staying the Hell away from each other. Probably because they were afraid some moon-brained city slicker would try to goad them into fighting. Which brings me to my next point…
- In the movies, “dueling” with pistols is a thing that happens all the time, especially in the Old West, and it’s something that everyone does. If anyone so much as made fun of your hat the two of you had to meet in the street at High Noon, stand 10-20 paces apart, and then…draw! *bang-bang-thud* No. That’s stupid. While some “quickdraw” duels are recorded in history, they are extremely rare. Dueling was not something that every common gunfighter was eager to do for the very obvious reason that they might get killed. Even many upper class men despised dueling and refused to engage in it themselves. George Washington famously forbade his officers from dueling because he didn’t want them to die.
- Gun-twirling. This did not happen. Well okay, it might have happened…in the circus. Today there are some entertainers who specialize in artistic gun-twirling routines so there might have been a few back in the Old West, but these guns are NOT loaded and they are usually rendered inoperative as well just to be sure. Twirling a loaded gun is probably the stupidest and most unsafe thing you could possibly do outside of playing chicken with a train or having a staring contest with the sun.