Watching a movie requires a certain “suspension of disbelief.” In other words, you don’t question how a radioactive spider can give you super powers, how all spaceships suddenly have gravity or how a 50-something Tom Cruise can still be a field agent and look as tall as his co-stars. We just have to accept it.
What we don’t have to accept is the stupid myths that movies present about firearms. Too often movie gun myths are presented as fact. This includes how ceramic guns that can bypass airport security or anyone can get a machine gun. We have to deal with politicians making inane statements about guns, so it is downright annoying when we’re watching an action film and the details are just so bad. Here is a round-up of movie gun myths and outright lies on the big screen.
Shooters Don’t Know When the Gun is Empty
We’ve seen this way too many times. The hero and villain pull their semi-automatic pistols on each other and instead of either backing down, each squeezes the trigger and “click.” Wait, how did that happen? These are semi-automatic pistols not revolvers. While it was cool in Dirty Harry when Clint Eastwood makes his whole statement about losing count of how many rounds he fired and all, this doesn’t happen with pistols, which lock with the slide open when out of ammunition.
Instead of Wesley Snipes facing off against Gary Busey with their respective Beretta 92FS and SIG Sauer P226 looking ready to fire in Drop Zone, the slides would be locked back and each would know the gun was empty. Some movie fans say it made for a cool standoff with a twist. However, it was simply lame when we heard a click not once but twice. After all, the Hong Kong action films of the 1980s made such standoffs passé.
Movie Gun Bullets Send You Flying
In video games, developers created something called “rag doll physics.” This concept allows bodies to react to explosions, falls and gun shots much like an actual rag doll. At least most game developers admit this isn’t realistic, but rather cinematic. That’s an important distinction because “cinematic physics” are what we typically see in movies when a bullet hits someone.
A bullet sending someone flying might look impressive but it is cinematic to the extreme. Real world physics say that for any action there is an opposite and equal reaction. In other words, if a bullet can send someone flying, then the recoil from the gun would also send the shooter flying backwards.
Yet, many movies love to play this up. In fact, it is common in over-the-top action films like Smokin’ Aces and Last Man Standing to have bullets launch someone across a room. However, those wildly unrealistic physics even show up in films like the fairly realistic Open Range.
Fully Automatic Weapons in Civilian Hands
Former President Obama recently spoke at a conference and made the bold — but completely erroneous — statement that machine guns can be easily bought in the United States. Perhaps Mr. Obama confused what he saw in movies with reality. The sad truth is that many people believe machine guns, or at least fully automatic firearms, can be easily purchased.
In last year’s remake of Death Wish, much is made about how hard it is for Bruce Willis’ character to buy a firearm. He relies (spoilers) on a handgun recovered from a gangbanger in the ER. That, of course, is what we mean by suspension of disbelief; we’re expected to believe the police wouldn’t have checked the hoodlum’s body beforehand. Yet, at the end of movie Willis is armed with a fully automatic AR-style handgun. There is no scene, though, where that showed up in the ER.
Fully automatic firearms are routinely seen in movies. The Terminator even buys an Uzi 9mm right off the shelf and is spraying away on full auto in practically the next scene. To actually buy one, though, requires obtaining special licenses and background checks by both federal and local police. Additionally, full-auto firearms are extremely expensive, as civilians are banned from owning any fully automatic weapon made after 1986.
You Hear the Clip Exit the Gun
Fans of WWII video games, such as Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, love the “ping” sound made when the last shot from an M1 Garand is fired and the clip exits the gun. It was a sound heard in Saving Private Ryan and has been the subject of debate for the past 20 years. The sound isn’t really the myth, but rather outrageous suggestions that U.S. soldiers threw the clips to fool Germans into thinking their guns were empty or similar nonsense.
While it is true that the clip will likely make a ping, few are likely to hear it, especially in battle where gunfire, explosions and the cries of soldiers will certainly drown it out. Now every video game and too many movies add that ping sound, even though most WWII vets will tell you they certainly didn’t hear it; even if they did they had more important things to worry about.
Two-Handed Shooting is Better!
While Hong Kong cinema didn’t invent the idea of two-handed shooting it certainly took it into the modern era. It is true that in many westerns characters often carried a pair of revolvers. The reason for doing so, however, was because the guns were slow to reload. Then in the modern day it became a common theme for characters to draw a pair of pistols and somehow be accurate with both.
Bruce Willis (he’s mentioned a lot in this list) used a pair of Colt 1911 .45 pistols in Last Man Standing. This is somewhat ironic given that the movie is a remake of sorts of the Japanese samurai film Yojimbo — a film remade previously as A Fist Full of Dollars.
In that version, Clint Eastwood’s “Man with no Name” didn’t need a pair of revolvers. So, why does Willis, in basically the same role, need to two-fist it? Perhaps because Quentin Tarantino had Harvey Keitel wield twin pistols in Reservoir Dogs — a film that is itself a remake of Ringo Lam’s City on Fire. And let’s not even go into the whole Tomb Raider thing. The point is few people can accurately aim two pistols; other than wasting ammunition, it would be silly to try.
Glocks and Airport Security
OK, so this one isn’t really that common in films, but because of Die Hard 2, it just won’t die. Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds himself in yet another Christmas from hell. He’s, once again, battling terrorists, but at least with shoes this time. Along the way, he kills a bad guy with a Glock 7, calling it “a ceramic gun made in Germany,” which can somehow get past airport x-ray machines.
The truth is the film’s armorer knew all this was nonsense but it sounded good to the producers and director. There is no Glock 7; it is a fictional movie gun. Also, the real Glock 17 was made in Austria, but many in the media picked up on this myth. The truth is that the Glock still has a steel barrel and slide. It also contains no ceramic parts (that wouldn’t work well), and metal bullets that would light up any x-ray machine. In the real world, John and Holly McClane would have made Christmas dinner and the bad guys’ plan would have been foiled before you can say, Ho, Ho, Ho!
Sniper Rifles — Some Assembly Required
This iconic sequence of many films just screams highly trained, highly paid assassin. The shooter in question opens a stylish case and assembles a sophisticated looking rifle. Just mere minutes later the shooter takes aim and, in many cases, hits the target. To the casual viewer this seems logical.
However, there is a small problem with this scenario and few, if any, movies address it. If the rifle needs to be assembled and the scope mounted, chances are it isn’t properly zeroed. Few, if any, rifles can be assembled in such a way and be as accurate as what most films require. Sure, having the shooter remove a fully assembled rifle with the scope locked down loses some of the impact; it would be a lot more realistic.
The Silent and Deadly Movie Gun
Finally, comes the “silencer.” This device is often used by cinematic hit men, spies and gangsters. In the movies, these simple tubes somehow muffle a gun to an audible level on par with a BB gun. Movie gun silencers live up to the name, which is why in real life the very serious Hearing Protection Act has all but been silenced.
The Chicago Sun Times recently offered an editorial that stated, “Silencers put us at a greater risk” because, “Silencers, which act like mufflers on a car, put innocent people at a shooting scene at greater risk because they don’t hear the sharp crack of a shot that tells them to get out of the way.”
Clearly too many people think this is how silencers work. The problem is that this is far from the truth. First, these devices are more commonly known as “suppressors.” Second, and more importantly, these devices don’t silence a gun. Instead, suppressors only bring the sound level down by about 30 decibels. A gunshot at 100 feet registers 140 decibels. This means a suppressor lowers it down to the level of a chainsaw.
However, most movies continue to spread this dangerous myth, one that could cause real harm to shooters. Suppressors aren’t silencers, but thanks to decades of movies suggesting otherwise a law that could protect shooters is in fact being silenced instead.