What I Learned From Shooting Guns

Today I took advantage of the fact that I live in the southern United States and went to a firing range. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever fired a gun, and it was a pretty different experience than what I knew from movies and novels. I figured since there are probably other writers and designers and RPG fans who have also never fired a gun, I would share a few things I learned that are different from what you might expect.

(For reference, I shot two guns: a .22 caliber Luger and a 9mm Glock. I don’t remember the exact model numbers, however.)

They’re a little heavier than expected. The guns themselves are about what I expected, but putting the ammo into the clip magazine1 added a bit of heft that was noticeable, even in these smaller guns, and I’m told it’s more noticeable for bigger guns. It’s not like carrying a bowling ball or anything, but it’s distinct.

The springs in magazines are really firm. Loading bullets into a magazine isn’t as simple as thumbing them in like candy into a Pez dispenser. There’s a spring in it that’s very firm, and it requires some pushing to get each bullet in. For the Glock you had the added difficulty of trying to push down on a round bullet with another round bullet to get it into the magazine, which resulted in the top bullet always sliding to the left or right before I could get it in. The Luger had a slide on the left side, but it was still hard to hold the slide down with your left thumb and chamber the round (I’m right-handed, and the other option was to try to load the bullets in with them pointing at my chest, which I’m sure qualifies as a Bad Idea.) It took me several minutes to fully load a magazine, but I expect even an experienced person would still have to take a few moments to fill one up.

Guns are much louder than expected. I have partial hearing loss. I was wearing those noise-cancelling headsets you see on every American cop show ever. They effectively made me deaf, to where I was taking instruction with sign language and visual cues, because I couldn’t hear anything. And the 9mm shots in the lane next to me still were loud enough to make me jump the first time. Really, it sounds like just what it is: an explosion.

Recoil is a real thing. The Luger had very little recoil — I barely felt it move when I fired. “Barely felt,” however, is not “did not feel.” The Glock was more noticeable — my first shot caused my hands to move up in the air a few inches. Holding the gun steady for successive shots took a moment to get used to, and it did make my right arm ache a little once we were done. And to note, while I am certainly not a muscular guy, I do weight training a couple times a week, so it’s noteworthy.

Also, people who shoot 9mm guns sideways are fucking idiots. The recoil would at best pull your gun way off with each shot, and probably slam into your opposite shoulder.

Shells go fucking everywhere. When we put on our eye protection, I really thought “Oh, this is in case something crazy happens — it’s just a liability thing.” Then I fired the Glock, and the first shot caused a shell to bounce off my safety glasses. After that, I’d say one in four or five flew near my face, and one hot shell landed on my arm. I’m told that it varies by gun, but certainly the Glock left shells just all over the place, and I certainly had to keep an eye out for them during my session.

Six yards is about right for reasonable accuracy for untrained people. I started out at ten yards, and was kind of all over the place. David suggested I try six, and I had better results. Twenty yards is just ridiculous: for an untrained person like me, I might as well just throw the bullets at the target.

That being said, training does matter: David has had some training, and at ten yards his first 9mm shot was right in the middle of the target’s head. I know who I want with me when the zombie apocalypse hits.

Dropping a gun doesn’t cause it to suddenly go off. I admit I didn’t actually try this, but when reading up on the safety guidelines, it turns out that most modern guns have a triple redundancy system of safeties, only one of which is the little safety switch on the side. The safety engages when the trigger isn’t depressed, and immediately after the firing pin strikes, so it’s very difficult to drop a gun and have it go off accidentally.

Guns do have a smell after you fire them, but it isn’t fucking cordite. When you fire a gun, there is a smell in the air. It isn’t unpleasant — it smells a bit like a campfire, actually. However, despite what some crime novels and TV shows keep insisting, that smell isn’t cordite. Cordite hasn’t been used since World War II. Most modern ammunition uses nitroglycerin (or so the Internet tells me). Further, it doesn’t linger in the air very long at all — with six people firing pretty regularly in a heavily sealed concrete room for half an hour, there was only a very minor smell which I certainly wouldn’t describe as “pungent.”


Anyone else with more experience with firearms have any other gun myths they can dispel?

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  1. I have been told that the correct word is “magazine,” not “clip.” The rest of the entry has been edited to reflect this. Like I said — first time with this stuff.