Bullet Points: Gun Myths

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Few subjects are wrapped in such fantasy as guns in movies. Because of how they are shown in media, the majority of people have an understanding of guns that is grossly out of tune with reality. It’s time to put that to an end. Read on. You’ll learn something, we promise.

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Myth 1: Got a shotgun? Just point it in the general direction of the target and shoot.

We’ve seen in almost every movie and TV show that a shotgun will blast a doorway-sized hole through a bad guy with no need to aim. The truth is, shotguns are just like any weapon. Even with the very loose rule-of-thumb estimate of one inch of spread per yard adds up to about a foot-wide spread in 12 feet. Real world tests with modern ammo and chokes make that significantly tighter. Sure, I wouldn’t want to get hit with 00 Buckshot, but there’s no magic. You still have to aim it. And before you intend to use your shotgun, take it to a range and pattern it, so you know what you have to work with.

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Myth 2: You can “point shoot” a firearm and nail the target without having to use the sights.

Point shooting, which is running your index finger along the frame of a weapon and pointing at the target while using your middle finger to pull the trigger, seems like a solid idea at first. Even kids have the innate ability to point exactly at something they are looking at.

This actually works, but only at very close, almost touching ranges. Any farther, and you’re likely going to miss. A lot. The tried and tested method of acquiring a flash sight picture, focusing sharply on the front sight and breaking the shot when the front sight is reasonably within the rear sight takes just a fraction of a second longer, but has a much higher chance of hitting the intended target.

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Myth 3: Coating bullets with Teflon increases their penetration against Kevlar vests.

Firstly, Kevlar is a trademark owned by DuPont. The generic term for the material is aramid fiber. Now, Teflon-coated bullets, in their original form, did offer increased penetration because the bullets in question were aggressively pointed, and made of harder materials. The reason for the Teflon coating was to reduce barrel wear due to the harder bullet materials. The Teflon coating had little to do with the penetrating power of the round.

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Myth 4: The Geneva Convention prohibits the use of expanding bullets in warfare.

This oft-repeated bit of information has been going around for probably as long as the convention itself. Let’s set the records straight: The Geneva Conventions deal with the ethical treatment of prisoners. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, on the other hand, deal with prohibiting the discharge of projectiles and explosives from balloons, banning the use of projectiles that release asphyxiating agents, and, most relevant to this discussion, prohibiting the use of bullets that expand or change shape in the human body. And just to be clear, the one that permanently removed the use of chemical and biological warfare was the Geneva Protocol, also part of the Hague Conventions.

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Myth 5: Sniping is a matter of lining up the crosshairs and pulling the trigger.

Well, yes, and no, though mostly “no.” There are so many factors in play. You have range, the weapon, the cartridge, elevation, wind, movement, and basically all of physics to contend with. If you have actually seen the inside of a scope, all those lines, pips, and chevrons have purposes from range-finding, calculating bullet drop, compensating for movement and a lot of other things. On a good day, at a known range, with no wind, hitting a target a kilometer away would be a challenge. Add all the variables present in the outside world, and you’ve got a lot you need to make up for with practice.

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Myth 6: You need fully automatic fire to make a weapon really useful.

While I cannot stress just how fun firing in full-auto is, it bares saying just how tactically advantageous it is in a firefight, so here goes: It’s not that useful. Sure, if you’re the guy behind the M60 or 249, then it will be appreciated, but otherwise, it’s a much better idea to stick to aimed singles. Riflemen don’t usually have the luxury of many hundreds of rounds of ammunition, so switching over to fully-automatic dries up your supply pretty quickly.

The M4, for example, has an average rate of fire of about 800+ rounds per minute, depending on how hot the chamber is. That empties magazines uncomfortably quickly—something around the number of two seconds per magazine. That’s an awful waste of ammo, and the returns in terms of positive hits just aren’t worth it.

Heat also plays a factor. You can’t constantly fire off rounds without the barrel overheating, which causes a loss of accuracy, or catastrophic failure.  Military manuals are careful to state that the M16/M4 series of rifles is meant to fire 12-15 rounds per minute indefinitely without overheating. You’re way better off sticking to shots that you can actually make.

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Myth 7: Racking the slide on your shotgun is a great way to use it for home defense.

I have no doubt that racking a shotgun’s action will instill fear into the hearts of people who wish to do harm to you and yours, so if that’s the heart of the myth, then technically, it passes. The problem with relying on this, though, is that this means you have just brought your shotgun to the fight with an empty chamber. Sure, you could have the chamber loaded, and then cycle it, but that means you just dumped a perfectly usable round out of an already small magazine. If you’re going to bring a weapon with the intention of using it, please use it as intended.

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Myth 8: The one-shot stop

This might be one of the more dangerous myths if you intend to use your firearm for self-defense. This is also going to be a little rough to read, so continue only if you are ready. In movies, we frequently see extras drop dead after taking a single bullet. In reality, this is not likely to be the case. Sure, getting shot might faze your assailant and cause them to stop, but a physiological stop will only happen if you do enough damage to physically stop a human being. Pistol rounds generally do their damage with crushing force, and cause a drop in blood pressure to stop an attacker. This takes time. There is enough oxygenated blood in the brain to allow a person up to 15 seconds of action, even if you stopped circulation. That’s more than enough time to shoot back.

The human body is quite a resilient machine, and short of taking out a few key structures in the nervous system, the best you can hope to do with a single shot is to mechanically disable an attacker. A single shot is unlikely to stop them in their tracks. Plan accordingly.

So there they are. Some of the most pressing gun myths we encounter on a regular basis.