J.D. Rhoades

 

Howdy, Graveyard Shifters! J.D. Rhoades here. Thanks for having me here, and thanks to Lee for inviting me to guest blog.

I’m the author of three (so far) novels featuring bail bondsman/bounty hunter Jack Keller: THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND, GOOD DAY IN HELL, and SAFE AND SOUND. My newest book, a standalone called BREAKING COVER, comes out July 22.

I’m also a practicing attorney, and since this blog concentrates mostly on the questions of real-life crime and punishment, I assume that’s what ya’ll want to hear about.

If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend the post “They’re Not All Monsters” by my sister at the Bar, the fierce advocate Jessa Lutz. If I may, I’d like to expand a bit on some of the topics raised in that post and give you another perspective on the question that we in the law biz always get asked: How can you defend those people?

What I want to talk about today is the real definition of that word “defend.” Sometimes, there’s a lot more to it that trying for a “not guilty” verdict.

In some cases, you’re lucky enough to have what we call a SODDI defense. You won’t find SODDI in any law book, but most defense lawyers know what it means. It stands for “Some Other Dude Done It.” Those are the cases you take to trial and show the jury the holes in the State’s case. And that’s kinda fun.

But that’s not every case. SODDI cases aren’t really as common as they appear to be from TV and crime novels.

More often than not, your guy is the one who done it. He knows it, the State knows it, and most importantly, they can prove it.

How do you know when you’ve got a case like that? Well, one of the steps in a felony prosecution is what’s called “discovery.” That’s where the State has to turn over whatever information they have to you. Not only the stuff that they plan to use at trial, but also anything they have that might be “exculpatory” to the Defendant; i.e. anything that might tend to prove either that your client didn’t do the deed, or that his culpability was somehow lessened.

Some, thankfully very few, prosecutors will play games with discovery, either telling the investigating officers not to give them anything that doesn’t help, or simply sitting on exculpatory evidence to try to get your client to plead. This is the sort of thing that got Mike Nifong, the D.A. in the Duke Lacrosse Team trial, not only disbarred, but briefly jailed. And a good thing, too. Because a prosecutor, under the Rules of Professional Conduct, has a responsibility beyond racking up convictions. “The prosecutor’s duty,” the rules say, “is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” The consequences of a prosecutor forgetting that provide enough material for another rant for another day.

A lot of the time, you look over the discovery and you realize that the State has a pretty damn good case: the crime was witnessed by an SUV full of nuns, the lineup was done according to accepted protocols and the good sisters independently pegged your client as the perpetrator, and oh, yeah, just to make your day complete, your guy validly waived his Miranda rights, confessed, and showed the officers where he hid the loot. (The SUV full of nuns is a bit of hyperbole, but that confession thing happens all the time. Whether or not it shows an admirable return of conscience or utter boneheaded idiocy will be left for discussion by the readers of this blog. All I know is it gives me heartburn).

Long story short, you look at the facts, you look at the admissible evidence, you pick and prod and research and think it over, and after a long while, you have to grudgingly admit that your guy is in deep kimchee if you take this case to a jury of twelve.

So how do you defend a case and a client like that?

Well, if by “how” you mean “why,” you do it because it’s your job, it’s an important one, and you took an oath before God and everybody that you were going to do it to the best of your ability.

But if by “how’ you really mean “what do you do,” well, that’s the time when you broaden the definition of what “defense” means.

Sometimes it means mitigating the damage. But sometimes it means tackling the underlying problem.

As Jessa pointed out, the vast majority of your criminal clients aren’t monsters. More often than not, a crime is just a stupid and pointless screw-up by someone who didn’t start the day out thinking “I’m gonna do me some evil today,” but rather one who started that day with one bad choice that cascaded inevitably into another, then another, like a snowflake that turns into a snowball that turns into an avalanche.

Some of them have substance abuse problems. A stunningly large number have undiagnosed mental health conditions, ranging from bipolar disorder to depression to post traumatic stress disorder. I’m seeing a tragic number of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan who end up in the criminal courts because their PTSD caught up with them and they went off on someone. Or they’re trying to self-treat it with drugs and alcohol. The deficits in mental health treatment for our warriors are a scandal, but again, that’s another rant.

For people in that situation, jail isn’t the answer. If you don’t address the underlying problem, they’re going to keep offending, hurting everyone else as well as themselves in the process, not to mention ruining a life that could be productive.

So you look for resources to help them: drug treatment, mental health, AA, what have you. Sometimes, “defending” involves playing social worker. In my district, though, we’re very lucky to have a dedicated Sentencing Services coordinator who’s a wizard at finding constructive alternatives to warehousing people in already overcrowded and expensive prisons. With these alternatives, you’ve got a better chance that, when the defendant get out, they don’t go right back on the street, more screwed up than ever. And, when you do get before a judge and say those difficult words “he pleads guilty, Your Honor,” you’ve got a better chance of keeping your client’s feet on the ground, as we say. Sometimes the best advocacy you do is at sentencing, and it requires as much preparation and groundwork as a trial to verdict.

Does this mean crooks do a brief stint in rehab and walk away scot-free? Not hardly. They know, if we make this happen, that they’re going to be spending time on probation, paying restitution to the victims and costs to the State, rather than taking up the State’s resources in jail. And hopefully, when they’re done, you’ll never see them again, at least in a professional capacity.

Does it always work? Nope. But it works often enough to make it worth trying. And that’s another definition of what it means to “defend those people.”

* You can learn more about J.D. Rhoades at  http://www.jdrhoades.com/

* * *

Crime Report of the Day

(from actual police reports)

A man reported he was bitten by his own dog on Thursday.

Elmo

 

Narcotics officers have a difficult task when it comes to locating drugs while searching someone’s property. Bad guys have become fairly creative when it comes to finding new hiding spots, and to make matters worse, engineers and manufacturers have also joined in to help criminals hide their stashes.

Almost anything you can think of has been, or can be, converted into a hiding place for illegal narcotics, including car batteries, baby seats, baby bottles, diapers, books, lamps, and car doors and tires.

Here’s some examples of items that were used to conceal drugs:

Children’s toys are often used to hide illegal drugs. A little on-the-scene surgery performed by alert agents revealed thousands of dollars worth of cocaine stuffed inside Elmo.

Jars, such as the fake peanut butter jar above, are designed to look as if they’re full to the brim with the contents displayed on the label. Actually, they’re fitted with plastic liners to allow for the hidden storage of valuables or narcotics. The introduction of these items to the marketplace has forced police officers to spend valuable time opening every bottle and jar in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator when serving search warrants.

Statues are often filled with drugs, such as methamphetamine. After filling, the opening is sealed, and the trinket is packaged in cartons for shipping among normal cargo.

Tennis balls have been used to conceal personal drug stashes. A small slit is made in the ball which is used for inserting drugs. The cut is nearly invisible to the unsuspecting searcher.

The open space around a car axle and wheel assembly is a common hiding place for drug dealers who transport their wares along the highways.

Items, such as the hair spray and shaving cream can pictured above, are designed with a screw-off bottom. A shake of the can normally reveals the can’s contents are something other than what’s displayed on the label. Officers also give can bottoms a quick twist during searches.

Larry King shows a prosthetic leg that was used to transport narcotics.

Of course, it’s always difficult to conceal large quantities of crack.

* * *

Crime Report of the Day

(from actual police reports)

A woman called to report suspicious items inside her mailbox. Responding officers discovered the items were mail.

DUI-DWI

 

The driver who turns up a fifth of Jack Black while singing Sweet Home Alabama at the top of his little redneck lungs is obviously driving while under the influence of alcohol. But what about the driver who chugs only three or four drinks before sliding in behind the wheel? What makes a patrol officer zero in on that guy? And, what if our redneck driver eats an onion after consuming his alcohol, or drinks a bottle of mouthwash? Will those tricks fool the officer’s breath-testing equipment?

Let’s start with some of the signs officers look for when scanning the roads for inebriated drivers. Here’s a few dead give-aways:

1) Stopping in the middle of the road for absolutely no reason. This maneuver is normally performed in front of a marked police car.

2) Driving the wrong way on a one-way street. The drunk driver is often seen flipping off approaching drivers.

2) Driving in the center of the road, straddling the center line. Again, this normally occurs in front of a police car.

White line drunk driver

3) Failing to dim headlights when meeting an oncoming car. Older drivers can often be seen stomping the left floorboard of the car (that’s where the dimmer switches were located forty years ago).

4) Traveling well below, or above, the posted speed limit. Note – Exception to this rule is an old guy wearing a John Deere hat. They always drive well below the posted speed limit. May or may not be drunk. This one’s a coin toss.

Exception number two – three-foot tall women over the age of eighty.

5) A car that strikes stationary objects on either side of the roadway as it passes by. Has the appearance of a pinball machine.

6) My personal favorite is the driver stopped at the red light beside a police car. First comes the casual sideways glance toward the officer, followed by a nod and the mule-eating-briars grin. Then, they just can’t help themselves. Down comes the window so they can tell the officer what a fine job he’s doing. The idiot cannot stop himself at this point. He simply has to inform the officer that his third cousin twice removed on his mother’s side of his daddy’s grandmother’s family was the chief of police in Doodlebunk, Kansas. Well, it’s pretty obvious he’s stoned out of his gourd. Of course, the bag of dope hanging out of his shirt pocket doesn’t help his case, either.

As for the onion trick. No way. Attempting to fool breath-testing equipment is a waste of time. The machines don’t measure the amount of alcohol in the air, or in the suspect’s breath. Instead, they measure the ratio between the concentration of alcohol in the blood and the concentration of alcohol that’s in deep lung air, air that’s in the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs).

So, eat an onion if you like, you’re the one who’ll be sleeping in a jail cell with bad breath.

* * *

Crime Report of the Day

(from actual police reports)

The driver of a truck carrying radioactive material was charged with driving while intoxicated after her truck crashed Friday night.

Maui

 

Once again, author Terry Odell has been kind enough to allow us to tag along with her on one of her exciting trips. This week she takes us to Maui and Molokai. Enjoy the view.

* Monday blog will

Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers

 

Deputy Shane Tate

Grundy County Tennessee Sheriffs Office

Deputy Tate, a three year veteran, was shot and killed on June 5, 2008 as he and a reserve officer were attempting to serve a probation warrant. The suspect wounded the reserve officer, and killed Deputy Tate. The killer has not been caught.

This hero leaves behind a wife and five children.

Update – Police located Tate’s killer, Kermit Eugene Bryson, behind his girlfriend’s house last night. During negotiations, Bryson shot himself in the head. He died in the hospital at 12:30 am this morning.

Officer Virgil Lee Behrens

Marion County Iowa Sheriffs Office

Officer Behrens passed away on June 3, 2008 as the result of injuries he received during an automobile accident. He was en route to a training facility when a car traveling next to his struck a deer. The deer then hit Behrens windshield causing him to lose control of the van.

Behrens had served 13 years with the sheriffs office. He was also a 30 year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol. He leaves behind a wife, a son and daughter, and several grandchildren.

Officer Everett William Dennis

Carthage Texas Police Department

Officer Dennis was killed in an automobile accident on June 3, 2008. He was attempting to stop a speeder when he lost control of his patrol car, which overturned.

Officer Dennis, a former deputy sheriff, had been with the Carthage department for just over one year. He’s survived by his mother.

Officer Erik Hite

Tucson Arizona Police Department

A suspect had gone on a shooting rampage, firing into an occupied residence. A Pima County deputy responded and was wounded by the suspect. Officer Hite, a four year veteran, turned into an alley while attempting to locate the suspect, and was ambushed. The suspect shot Hite in the head with a rifle from a vantage point eighty yards away. Officer Hite was killed.

The suspect wounded another deputy sheriff before he was finally apprehended

Officer Hite leaves behind a wife, an adult son, a one-year-old daughter, and his parents.

Lori L. Lake

 

Lori L. Lake is the author of Snow Moon Rising, a novel of survival set during World War II, which received a 2007 Golden Crown Literary Award as well as the 2007 Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award. She is the creator of the “Gun” series, which is a trilogy consisting of romance/police procedurals Gun Shy and Under The Gun and the adventure/thriller Have Gun We’ll Travel. Her first novel, Ricochet In Time, was about a hate crime. She has also written two books of short stories, a standalone romance, and edited two story anthologies. Lori teaches fiction writing courses at The Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation. She lives in Minnesota with her partner of 27 years and is currently at work on a mystery series and a How-To Book about the craft of writing. For more information, see her website at www.lorillake.com.

PART III: Outfitting Your Crooks – and Yourself

The guns that villains carry in well-written fiction can be used to characterize. You don’t have to just give your bad guy a “handgun,” “revolver,” or “Glock.” There are scores of choices available to help make your baddie unique and interesting. All of the kinds of guns I talked about in Part I and Part II are available for crooks to use, and there are a few other considerations as well.

The guns widely available in the U.S. may not be so accessible for residents of other countries. The Germans have their Lugers, Mausers, and Heckler & Koch; Belgium specializes in Browning; and Brazil has the Taurus brand, which are often available here in the U.S. But Switzerland has the Sphinx, Ukraine has the Fort series, Finland has the Lahti line, Turkey the Zigana, and Russian-area states have the Korovin, Makarov, and Stechkin. Most people – even avid gun owners – have never heard of those gun models.

Keep in mind that if you want your crook to carry an unusual gun, he (or she) has to have managed to get it into the country where he does his dirty work. It’s one thing for Lawrence Block’s hit man character, Keller, to travel around the U.S. from state to state, but if he were to travel out of the country by plane, he’s not going to be able to take his favorite guns with him and will have to purchase guns in another country. Even if he bought a gun on the street, he’s more likely to get a weapon widely available in that country. Say he’s gone to Italy for a hit. Perhaps he’ll manage to buy this silver Tanfoglio with the wooden handle:

9x19mm Luger/Para, .40SW, or .45ACP Tanfoglio “Combat” model

But if, on the other hand, he was sent to Spain, he might find an entirely different gun such as this Llama-82:

9x19mm Luger/Parabellum Llama M-82

Price and Availability

Choices of weapons for criminals come down a lot of times to price and availability. Contrary to what you see on TV, poor ghetto youth aren’t going to find it so easy to get an AK47, Uzi, or H&K weaponry. These firearms can cost anywhere from $1,000 for a cheap knock-off to $3,500-10,000.00. They’re used often by crooks in the movies, but in real life, fully automatic weapons are illegal and/or heavily regulated practically everywhere in the U.S. and they’re not that easy to get anyway – especially if you don’t possess a gun license.

 

While high-power micro weapons may be tough to get, your crooks may be able to get their mitts on a bigger gun, a “cheap” AR-15 clone ($400-800).

 

AR-15 is a generic term for a civilian semi-automatic rifle similar to the military M16/M4. It’s a lightweight, auto-loading, magazine-fed rifle that generally takes 30 shells. AR-15s are not fully automatic weapons. You have to pull the trigger to shoot each and every round. But you can buy kits to make them automatic (“automatic” means they’d shoot nonstop as long as the trigger was depressed until they run out of ammo). It is illegal in most states to convert a semi-auto rifle to an automatic without a permit/license, and most states have laws requiring people to register either or both of these types of guns. Law enforcement AR-15s have often carried a stamp signifying those weapons for military/police use only, but with the loosening of some of the federal restrictions on firearms, that may not be the case anymore.

 

Crooks may also be able to find the cheaper 9mm or .45 MAC-10 pistol which is somewhat similar to an Uzi. Like an AR-15, the Mac models usually have a 30 round magazine. (MAC stands for Military Armament Corporation). With a conversion kit, this can be turned into fully automatic, and though it’s bigger than a regular handgun, it’s still a lot smaller than a rifle and is easily concealed, especially if the magazine is not in it.

 

Below is a spendy Steyr ($1295–1800.00) with the magazine inserted. As you can see, that takes up a lot of space, so if your criminal wants to cart the gun around and not noticed, you’ll want him to carry the weapon and magazine separately, then make sure he smacks the magazine in at the last minute before he opens fire.

 

Other “Big” Guns

Rifles are difficult to conceal, but we’ve all seen snipers carrying them in surprising small duffel bags and briefcases. I won’t go into detail here regarding choosing a sniper weapon, but if you want to learn more, this site details many excellent guns from around the world: www.snipercentral.com/rifles.htm

However, I will mention the sawed-off shotgun. These guns aren’t necessarily “sawed-off” (though someone could modify a shotgun that way if they knew what they were doing). This is the term for the federally restricted “short-barreled shotgun (rifle)” which is a conventional shotgun with an unusually short barrel. Usually the stock is also abbreviated so that the weapon is more concealable.

Imagine a shotgun shell a bit thicker than a woman’s lipstick case and half-filled with metal balls, each a little smaller than a pea. The shorter barrel will cause the shot to explode outward in a broad pattern and cover a wide area as if several dozen shots were fired at once. The blast of multiple projectiles can take down a deer, a bear, or a person. One of my instructors said that if the shot is big enough, the impact to a person is like getting hit with a burst from a submachine gun.

So the advantage of a shotgun (besides concealment) is that your crook can walk into tight quarters such as a restaurant or an office, fire once, and take nearly everyone out. With a double-barreled shotgun, if anyone’s still standing, he can load a round into the chamber and take them down, too. At that point, anybody not mortally wounded can be dispatched with his handy-dandy sidearm, and in less than two minutes, your fictional assassin can be away.

Omar Little, the determined drug dealer on HBO’s “The Wire,” often wore a trench coat to hide the high-power sawed-off weapon he carried. Nothing quite equals that metallic sound as the criminal racks a shotgun.

 

Mel Gibson also carried a sawed-off shotgun in the Mad Max movies.

 

The More Common Types of Guns

Besides the “sexy” high-power guns and shotguns that we see a lot on TV and in movies, in real life villains tend to carry concealable handguns, and the cost of those guns will come into play. Obviously middle- and upper-class criminals are going to have the funds to buy whatever weapons they choose, and you’ll be able to give those characters guns using some of the same rationale that you used for your sleuths.

But a Sig Sauer, a Walther, a Beretta, or a Glock semi-automatic handgun may cost in excess of $800 brand new (and often well into the thousands, especially when you add scopes, laser sights, suppressors, etc.) When such high-quality weapons are purchased at gun shows for cheaper prices, usually it’s because they’re worn. Guns do wear out. Parts break, springs wear, barrels lose their bore. What determines how long a gun lasts is simple: the original quality of the gun, how much it is fired, the intensity of the ammunition, and the care (cleaning and oiling, in particular) that the weapon receives during its lifetime.

I would argue that many crooks have a lesser variety of weaponry to choose from in terms of style and make. Because they can’t easily get permits, they’re stuck using stolen or black market weapons, some of which are pretty beat up. They’ve got Saturday night specials, old Colts, revolvers, and the like, some of which are quite battered or have not been cared for at all.

Can you see some creep cobbling this one back together with duct tape just to have something to scare people with? It looks like it got run over by a car!

Broken Revolver

But many guns LOOK like they’re perfectly fine. For instance, the one below certainly looks sturdy, doesn’t it?

 

You would never know the barrel has been damaged by firing the wrong size of ammunition through it. The inside of the barrel is pitted, enlarged slightly in one place, and grooved oddly, making this gun wildly inaccurate. If you can’t tell from looking, then neither will the criminal. And if the wrong ammo is inserted into the gun again, it can severely damage the chamber or the barrel (or the person holding it).

It’s not just the barrel that can be damaged if the wrong ammunition is used. Here’s a better illustration. (Remember that the bigger the gauge, the bigger the ammo is.) You would think that a gun would do all right with the smaller 20-gauge shells in the larger 12-gauge barrel, right? But that’s not so. Without the tight barrel around the shotgun shell (or the tight barrel fitting perfectly around the cartridge in a handgun), the gases and powder have too much room to ignite. Rather than the gases behind the bullet propelling it down the tight barrel and out of the gun, the whole cartridge expands and can explode, damaging the chamber and/or barrel. The shooter – and anyone standing nearby as well – can be injured or even killed.

Other Gun Mishaps and Unfortunate Accidents

Guns can be rendered ineffective or useless by bad sanitary habits. People are surprised to learn that over time perspiration can rust a gun. Purse lint can build up in the barrel and actually cause a squib round. Other objects (a pen or your kid’s color crayon, for instance) could get lodged in the barrel. If the powder inside the bullet or the primer in the firing cap at the end of the cartridge get overly damp, one or the other (or both) may not flare properly to fire the bullet.

Any of these issues may cause a squib, which is where the cartridge case ejects, but there isn’t enough pressure to propel the bullet down and out of the barrel, leaving a bullet clogging up the works. Prayers go out to the person who pulls the trigger next. When the second round is loaded and fired, the barrel is blocked, and the shooter may end up holding a fistful of metal and bits in whatever is left of his hand.

 

When you fire any gun, gradually there is a build-up of oily dirt and gun powder residue. Add a little lint and dust, and voilá! So how often does your crook clean her gun? How careful is he in keeping it properly lubricated? Can she afford whatever patches, tips, brushes, mops, cleaning rods, solvent, gun oil, and preservatives are needed in order to keep the weapon in working order? Is he even smart enough to know that these things are needed?

(I sometimes wonder about Stephanie Plum’s cookie jar crumbs.)

Guns have parts that wear. In particular, semi-autos have a recoil spring that works as part of the mechanism to eject the cartridges as the bullets are fired. The spring is sturdy, as are all parts of a gun, but they can be damaged by improper handling, stepping on them, etc. and they do gradually lose their oomph. How many crooks are going to pay attention to those details?

I’ve mentioned before (and so have Lee and a number of others) that some Glocks periodically have jams, particularly if the gun gets hot in a pitched gun battle. So if you want your crook’s gun to jam or misfire in the course of your story, maybe it would be good to give him a Glock. And keep in mind that many Glocks (and plenty of other handguns) can be converted to fully automatic so they’ll fire 33 bullets in seconds with one trigger pull. For as little as $10 with homemade parts, a villain can quickly convert to weapons to full automatic mode. But the crook has to be fairly smart and resourceful to figure out how to do this. Is he also smart enough to keep his gun free of gunpowder residue and other crud so that in full auto the gun doesn’t jam or even possibly blow up in his hand?

One of my police friends mentioned that many a cop’s life has been saved because the criminal was too stupid to take care of his gun, and at the crucial moment, it misfired, jammed, or actually refused to chamber the cartridge.

Zip Guns

When your crook can’t get a cheap gun, if he’s clever enough, he can improvise a single-shooter made from a piece of steel tube or pipe. The cartridge is held in place by an endcap, with a small hole drilled in the rear to allow a nail or other thin piece of metal access to the primer as a firing pin. The user only has to propel a hammer against the rear of the firing pin using a rubber band or other spring, and the cartridge will fire. Because of the cheap expense, availability, and low operating pressure, Zip guns generally use .22 Long Rifle ammunition.

The picture below shows a crude but effective zip gun made from a pipe. In this case, a spring was inserted inside with a level to pull it back. Pretty fancy – and also effective for a zip gun.

 

Zip guns are up-close weapons. There’s virtually no ability to aim it, and one shot is probably all the shooter gets, so proximity is the key to success.

It’s also important to note that even with a zip gun, the ammunition needs to fit somewhat snugly into the tubing to ensure that the hammer hits the firing pin squarely. If the bullet is cockeyed in the tube, it can misfire or, even worse, explode and turn that tube into scary pieces of shrapnel.

 

Silencers/Suppressors

You’ve all seen TV shows and movies where assassins use silencers, the devices that screw onto the end of a gun and render the gun noiseless. Noiseless? Yeah, right. A better name would be “suppressor” because there is no such thing as completely silencing the sound of a gun firing. However, people tend to use the terms interchangeably.

A fired gun makes a combination of sounds: 1) the hammer or striker being released makes a clicking sound; 2) the muzzle blast; and 3) the ballistic crack we hear as the bullet is propelled out. All of those sounds seem to happen almost simultaneously, but it’s the latter two that are the loudest.

Impulse II-A Pistols Silencer

When gunpowder in a cartridge or shell is ignited, it creates a high-pressure pulse of hot gas with so much pressure (on the order of three thousand pounds per square inch) that the bullet is forced down the barrel of the gun at enormous speed along with a very loud report. It’s like uncorking a tightly sealed wine bottle. You can’t avoid the popping sound, or, in the gun’s case, the muzzle blast.

 

In addition, the more powerful the gun and ammo are, the more chance the bullet will travel at supersonic speed and produce that loud ballistic crack. A high-powered, supersonic bullet can’t be completely silenced because it has literally created a tiny sonic boom as it travels from the barrel.

To illustrate these phenomena, forensic researchers used a special imaging camera. The man in the photo below has discharged a .44 Magnum revolver. Two spherical shock waves are seen. One is a bright flash and cloud of gunpowder combustion centered at the gun’s muzzle (the muzzle blast); the other is centered near the cylinder and envelops the hands of the shooter (around the body of the gun and chamber/cylinder). The supersonic bullet is visible at the far left. This kind of split-split-second photography helps forensics experts understand the transfer of gunpowder traces to the hands when firing a gun. It also allows us to “see” the muzzle flash, the gases exploding out, and the flight of the bullet, all of which aren’t ordinarily visible to the naked eye.

 

Silencers/suppressors screw on to the end of the barrel. Inside, there are baffles to absorb some of the hot gases and powder. There’s a lot more room inside the device compared to the very tight barrel of the gun, so the silencer has 20 or 30 times more room for the pressurized gas to expand into. The silencer decreases pressure from the hot gas, and if enough of the propellant gases are bled away, the bullet can be slowed to less than supersonic speed. When the bullet finally exits through the hole in the silencer, the pressure being uncorked is considerably lower, and the sound of the gun firing is much softer. If the shooter in the picture above had used a silencer/suppressor, the photo would be much different.

So a high-quality silencer may remove most of the muzzle blast and perhaps all of the ballistic cracking sound, but it won’t be completely silent. The best example I have been told is that if you use a pin to pop a balloon, it makes a loud noise. But if you untie the end of the balloon and let the air out in a slower rush, you can minimize the noise. That is the basic idea behind how a silencer works.

Here is a revealing 14-second Video where you can hear how loud the shot is from a suppressed Glock:

As you can hear, there is still some sound. You can see a lot of smoke and gun powder emitted from the barrel and the back of the gun, too. If you look closely, you can also see some of the shells being ejected from the right side of the gun.

If your crook is unable to buy a silencer on the black market, or if he’s just cheap, there’s always the poor man’s version, the Pop Bottle Silencer. Here is another video, “Soda Bottle Suppressor,” that’s well worth taking a look at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAi9JFxLO3k

(I don’t think that’s what Fanta had in mind when they designed their 2-liter bottle!)

Contrary to popular belief, Federal law regulates but does not ban the possession of silencers/suppressors. Civilians must have authorization from the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (BAFTE) to buy, sell, own, or make silencers, but upon application, this is routinely given to anyone who is 21 or older, not a felon, and otherwise allowed to own firearms. State and local jurisdictions may impose regulations, though, so for your law-abiding characters, check with the local police or sheriff.

How To Select a Gun For Yourself

In real life, if you decide you want to buy a handgun for your own use, here are some criteria you might want to use to make your decision:

  1. The gun should fit your hand perfectly and not cause hot spots or discomfort anywhere.
  2. The gun should only be as large and/or powerful as you are comfortable with. This also means that you should be able to manipulate all parts (including the trigger and safety) with either hand alone.
  3. The gun should be reliable, well-made, constructed sturdily, and be of high enough quality to withstand heavy use and rough handling.
  4. You should enjoy firing the weapon, and you should feel like you are in control of it.
  5. After practice and training, you should be able to shoot the gun with a high level of accuracy. The gun and any sights should be accurate enough that you are able to consistently hit a six-inch target at ten yards.
  6. You should be able to carry it or conceal it comfortably and effectively for whatever use you intend.
  7. You will want to know how expensive the ammunition and replacement parts are. Do not select an unusual caliber for which ammunition is not readily available. You may have a hard time finding parts for unusual, rare, foreign, or very old guns, so before you purchase, be sure to check with a dealer to make sure you can get all supplies and parts.

Guns and Ammo magazine has a good article on “Gun Shopping 101” here: http://www.gunsandammomag.com/long_guns/gshop101_031307/index.html


Clockwise from top: Smith & Wesson Model 60 Revolver, North American Arms Guardian Sub-Compact, Glock Model 36, Kimber 1911 Compact Aluminum, Kahr PM9, S&W Model 340 Revolver.

Further Helpful Resources

Every gun manufacturer has a website. Enter “Heckler and Koch” into your browser to search, and you’ll find www.hk-usa.com is their web address. Put in “Colt Guns” and www.coltsmfg.com comes up. If you want to know about a particular brand, Google it.

And by the way, Wikipedia is surprisingly accurate. Gun manufacturers and firearms enthusiasts have done a LOT of work to make it so.

Here are some other websites that you may find helpful.

Glossary of Definitions – www.nraila.org/issues/FirearmsGlossary/default.aspx

Hunting/Gun info & online tutorial/test – www.homestudy.ihea.com/index01.htm

Great Reviews of many types of guns – http://www.remtek.com/arms/

Gun World with tons of information – www.gunworld.50megs.com

Modern Combat Pistols – world.guns.ru/handguns/pistolbook-e.htm

Women & Guns Forum – womenandguns.servertalk.in/womenandguns-forum-1.html

Women & Guns Magazine – www.womenandguns.com/order.html

Holsters – www.sightm1911.com/lib/ccw/ccw_holsters.htm

Laser Sights & Mounts – www.opticsplanet.net/laser-sight.html

Laser Grips – www.crimsontrace.com/

Sniper Rifles – www.snipercentral.com/rifles.htm

Optics, Mounts & Scopes for Handguns – findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3197/is_9_44/ai_57286920

Education and Training – www.nrahq.org/education/training/basictraining.asp

I highly recommend popping for a year (six issues) of the Women & Guns Magazine. For women (or men) who are just learning about firearms, you can’t go wrong for $18 bucks, and just reading six issues will give anybody a lot more information. Besides, the pictures are great and it’s easy to imagine your characters carrying these guns. You can cut them out and use them on your bulletin board as reminders, too.

In addition, there are scores of books out there about owning firearms, safety, history, politics, and for women contemplating gun ownership. Your local library or bookseller will probably have scads. Here is just a brief sample, including my old standby encyclopedia, and a 2007 book geared towards writers regarding the history of firearms:

  • Encyclopedia of Pistols and Revolvers by A.E. Hartink
  • Firearms in American History: A Guide for Writers, Curators, and General Readers by Charles G. Worman
  • Essential Guide to Handguns: Firearm Instruction for Personal Defense and Protection by Rementer and Eimer
  • Blown Away: American Women and Guns by Caitlin Kelly
  • Armed and Female: Twelve Million American Women Own Guns, Should You? by Paxton Quigley
  • The Politics of Gun Control, 4th Edition by Robert J. Spitzer

There is so much more to share about firearms, but my blog time is over, so I’ll have to stop here. Thank you for reading Parts I, II, and III of this topic. Let me know if you have any questions at all, and always remember to keep your eye on the target.

Mindless Super Hero

I’m currently on an actual road trip to the Midwest conducting research for a new book. I hope to back in the office Saturday afternoon and, if all goes as planned, I’ll post the real Weekend Road Trip photos at that time.

Enjoy your weekend.

Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers

Seargent Leslie (Les) Wilmont – Kiefer, Oklahoma Police Department

Sergeant Wilmont, a 30 year veteran and former police chief, was killed when his patrol car struck a tractor trailer.

Deputy Sheriff Michael Sean Thomas – Bibb County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Thomas, an eight year veteran, died May 25, 2008 of injuries he’d received in April when his police motorcycle collided with a pickup truck. The driver of the truck pulled out in front of Deputy Thomas as he approached an intersection.

Deputy Sheriff James Throne – Kern County, California Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Throne was killed May 23, 2008 when his patrol car collided with another patrol car while responding to assist other officers.

T. Lynn Ocean

 

Unsure of what she wanted to be after college, T. Lynn explored various careers including commercial tread rubber sales and retail management. For one summer, her job was to scare people at a haunted house, but that was a long time ago. Most recently, she was a television producer for several years before leaving the corporate career world so that she could make stuff up on a fulltime basis.

She also writes freelance and her articles appear in regional magazines across the country. (To read a few, click on the ‘Musings’ tab.)

When not vacuuming up pet hair, T. Lynn enjoys photography, doing absolutely nothing anywhere with a terrific view, and taking impromptu road trips in the name of research.

T. Lynn is also a certified firearms safety instructor and shooting sports enthusiast. She lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with her husband and a few furry critters.

T. Lynn Ocean:

Put most any man (who is not a seasoned gun collector) in front of a gun counter, tell him to pick one, and chances are good that he’ll go for the largest caliber thing he sees. It must be a guy thing. Take, for example, the 2007 NRA Gun of the Year: a Smith & Wesson 460XVR revolver that uses magnum loads. (Friends of the NRA hosts fundraising banquets around the country and they always choose a gun, knife, and print of the year, which become collector items.) FYI, if you haven’t seen one, this gun is huge! Of course, the NRA goes out of their way to be female friendly, but I’d guess that it was an all-male committee who chose the .460 SW Magnum as their coveted gun of the year.

Touted as the highest velocity revolver in the world, this gun has an extra large frame, weighs more than 5 pounds when loaded, and has an overall length of 15″.

I’m no ballistics expert, but generally speaking, the higher the caliber, the more recoil. And the more recoil, the less controllability a shooter has, especially anything beyond the first shot.

Why on earth would any woman (fictional character or otherwise) carry a weapon that will beat her up when she shoots it? Many law enforcement folks—including my local PD—use .40 caliber Glocks for their duty weapons. I shot one at the indoor range last month and literally stopped before I even emptied the magazine. Can you say, ouch! I shot with a firm, two handed grip and well balanced stance. But my wrist really hurt after only six or seven rounds. My shooting buddy, a guy, agreed that the recoil was rough. But he quickly added that the Glock’s recoil didn’t bother him. Of course it didn’t. His wrists are the size of drink coasters. The ‘kick’ factor might not bother most men, but if I were a female officer toting around a .40 Glock, I couldn’t begin to imagine what my wrist and arm would feel like after target practice. Not only would I not want to practice, but I’d dread doing so. I liken it to asking a marathon runner to train in high heels.

Law enforcement decision-makers must take into account many factors when doing a weapons buy. But for your average private investigator, retail store manager, lawyer, grandma, or jewel thief who carries a weapon, there is absolutely no reason to adhere to the old adage: the bigger the caliber the better.

Like everything else—from golf clubs to passenger tires—improved technology has made handgun ammunition much more effective than ever before. Stopping power IS available with smaller caliber weapons.

Most everyone is familiar with JHP, or jacketed hollow-points. Such bullets, as the name suggests, have a hollowed out space in the nose and are designed to ‘mushroom’ out, or expand upon impact. The development of hollow-point ammo was one giant step in creating good stopping power for lower caliber weapons. As an added benefit, the expanded chunk of lead is less likely to go all the way through the bad guy, and if it does, chances are it won’t have enough velocity to maim an innocent passerby.

9mm fired: A 9mm Hydra-Shok bullet that was fired into water jugs

Even better is the relatively new Hydra-Shok technology, available in Federal Premium ammo. (You’ll hear it called hydroshock among other names, but note that Hydra-Shok is a registered trademark.) Bottom line? Take a hollow-point bullet and add a small post in the center of it. The result is even MORE—yes more—stopping power. It’s something to do with energy transfer and penetration and the fact that the human body is about 60% water. I’m told that, even if the assailant is hit in the arm or leg rather than at center mass, a Hydra-Shok bullet will bring him down. Plus, most shooters in a self defense situation will keep pulling the trigger until the threat has been eliminated. Even cops with .40 caliber Glocks don’t stop after one shot when their life is on the line.

9mm Round: A 9mm Hydra-Shok round. It’s hard to see, but note the center post sticking up in the hollowed cavity. Also note the scored edges–these are the points where the bullet will rip open upon impact.

I just got the newly-introduced Ruger SR9 and love it. It’s slim and sexy and has a magazine capacity of 17 rounds. And loaded with Hydra-Shok, this 9mm has plenty of stopping power for any run-of-the-mill self defense situation. (Meaning you’re not up again terrorists with shoulder mounted rocket launchers.) Best of all, I shot about 200 rounds through the SR9 during one practice session, and went home with a happy wrist.

Ruger SR9: The Ruger SR9’s overall length is just over 7.5″ and its width is a surprising 1.27″. In the interest of safety, I must mention that the early production SR9s have been recalled due to possibly firing if dropped. It’s an easy fix and Ruger is giving a free magazine to those affected. But if you’re running out to purchase one, check the serial number first. You can find recall info at ruger.com.

A good firearms instructor will offer this advice to anyone shopping for a self defense gun: Buy the biggest caliber that you can comfortably and accurately handle. I always add a few additional words of advice: Buy something that you will not only practice with, but enjoy shooting. I’ve found that if a person enjoys shooting a particular gun, they’re much more apt to practice with it.

That means that women—including your gun-toting female characters—might want to forget about “bigger is better” and go with a smarter choice. Let’s face it. We just don’t have the upper body strength that a man does. Our forearms don’t have the same muscle mass, even if we are eating all our spinach. And most of us don’t have wrists the size of coasters. Why deal with uncomfortable recoil when we don’t have to?

Of course, if your character is in law enforcement, they may not have a choice as to what they carry on the job. And on the opposite end of the spectrum is the proverbial professional assassin who carries a small .22 since they know how to administer a well-placed head shot at point blank range. If done right, the low velocity bullet bounces around inside the skull enough to cause fatal damage.

But for the rest of us, a 9 millimeter, a .38, or even a .380 loaded with Hydra-Shok ammo should do just fine.

* * *

You can visit T. Lynn Ocean at www.tlynnocean.com

* * *

We’ve just been informed that Earle Hagen, the writer (and whistler) of the Andy Griffith Show theme song died yesterday at age 88.

Lori L. Lake

 

Lori L. Lake is the author of Snow Moon Rising, a novel of survival set during World War II, which received a 2007 Golden Crown Literary Award as well as the 2007 Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award. She is the creator of the “Gun” series, which is a trilogy consisting of romance/police procedurals Gun Shy and Under The Gun and the adventure/thriller Have Gun We’ll Travel. Her first novel, Ricochet In Time, was about a hate crime. She has also written two books of short stories, a standalone romance, and edited two story anthologies. Lori teaches fiction writing courses at The Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation. She lives in Minnesota with her partner of 27 years and is currently at work on a mystery series and a How-To Book about the craft of writing. For more information, see her website at www.lorillake.com.

Part 2: Size DOES Matter

Everything about firearms indicates that size matters, especially in terms of cartridges, caliber, and bore.

All firearms are designed to take a specific kind of cartridge, and there are scores of different types and sizes of cartridges (or ammunition, which some people mistakenly refer to as “bullets”). You must use the correct ammunition in the firearm. You can be injured or even killed if the wrong cartridge is used. Why is this?

Even if you manage to load the cylinder of a revolver or get a particular cartridge into a gun’s chamber, if you attempt to fire ammo that is too big to fit through the barrel, the gun can literally blow up in your hand. If the cartridge is too small, the gun could misfire, or the bullet could tumble out in a completely inaccurate manner and miss what you’re aiming at.

Every gun has a specific-sized bore that takes a specific-size caliber. The bore is the diameter of the inside of the gun’s barrel through which the bullet travels when a gun is fired.

Caliber describes the size of the cartridge designed for a specific bore. The diameter of the barrel (the bore) is basically the same as the caliber the gun uses. The diagram below (which is not quite fully to scale) illustrates this:

The caliber (size of bullet, left) has to fit the bore (right).

Caliber is expressed in terms of inches or millimeters. A .22 cartridge, for instance, is just a hair under a quarter-inch in diameter. The photo below gives an excellent visual of various calibers:

Common handgun cartridges (left to right): 3-inch 12-gauge magnum shotgun shell (for comparison), size “AA” battery (for comparison), .454 Casull, .45 Winchester Magnum, .44 Remington Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .45 ACP, .38 Super, 9 mm Luger, .32 ACP, .22 LR

As you can tell, a bullet from, say, that wicked-looking .454 Casull is going to pack a real punch. Can you imagine how painful it would be to be shot with a bullet nearly as big as a double-A battery? Ouch! The .22 cartridge is much smaller in contrast.

But Where Does the *Bullet* Come From?

I keep using the term cartridge. You can also call it ammunition or a round. But the bullet is only part of a cartridge. Pistol and rifle cartridges have four basic components:


The case is the brass cylinder that all the other parts fit into.

The primer is the component that the hammer of the gun hits and ignites.

Powder is the chemical compound ignited by the primer that propels the bullet.

The bullet is a projectile, usually made of lead and other metals, that the powder fires out the barrel of the gun.

Pulling the trigger creates a simple chain reaction: the firing pin strikes, primer ignites to flare and ignite the powder, which instantly generates a huge volume of gas that creates so much pressure, the bullet explodes from the case and out the barrel.

And it all happens in a split second.

One More Thing about Ammo

Shotgun shells are different from rifle and pistol cartridges. In addition to a case, primer, and powder, there is also a wad of plastic or fiber separating the shot from the powder. The wad forms a seal to allow the gases from the burning powder to push the shot down the barrel in a uniform manner. Instead of a bullet, shells are filled with “shot” – small, round pellets usually made of lead or steel. A shotgun shell can contain anywhere from a half-dozen ball-bearing-type pieces of metal to 1,300 pellets. It can also contain a slug, which is a solid piece of metal.

Police usually carry a shotgun in their cruisers, so if you have police characters in your stories, it’ll be important to use the correct terminology. If you’d like to learn a lot more about shotguns, this site walks you through all the angles: http://science.howstuffworks.com/shotgun.htm.

Using Firearms to Characterize

If you caught last week’s blog on “Guns, Guns, Guns,” you know that I believe the use of firearms in a crime novel can and should be used to characterize. Your gun choices add telling information about your story people. Some readers will not be able to tell a Kel-Tec from Manolo Blahniks, but for those well-versed in firearms (or shoes), name brands, styles, sizes, and other details do matter.

Lest you think that knowledge of guns and weaponry is not all that widespread, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has well over four million members. How many of them read crime fiction? I’ll bet a lot of them read thrillers, action, mystery, and adventure novels, as might the estimated thirty million hunters in the U.S. or the fifty million other Americans who own firearms. Men, in particular, notice the dearth of (in inaccuracy) of firearms lingo in novels, so if you want to increase your believability – and perhaps your audience – it’s important to have a good understanding of firearms and weaponry if you use them in your fiction.

You definitely do not want to bandy about terminology or firearm effects if you don’t know for sure that the details are correct. For instance, I recently read a manuscript where the author had terrorists carry Kalashnikovs down a crowded New York street on the way to the embassy they’re attacking. She had heard that Muslim extremists would probably use that sort of weapon.

Unfortunately, a Kalashnikov is a big mother of a weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle recognizable by its half-wood/half-steel construction and the curved magazine that holds 30 rounds. It’s also three feet long and weighs well over ten pounds fully loaded. If your terrorists walked through Time Square carrying Kalashnikovs, not only would everybody they encountered run screaming, but very little time would pass before a horde of NY City’s Finest descended and took them out. (More on Kalashnikovs in Part III.)

So, when choosing firearms for our characters, we know we want to be specific, but we also want our choices to be accurate and supportable given the context of the story and the characters’ situations.

I don’t mean to be un-PC or offensive to anyone, but we do have to differentiate regarding size, and one of the general dividing lines is gender. Even though women are certainly taller these days, men still tend to have bigger, more muscled frames and possess larger, stronger hands. Men probably have a greater selection of firearms to choose from because they’re comfortable with the wide variety of BIG guns.

Good Guns For Guys

If your sleuth/detective is a cop (or professional PI working for a large organization), he will be expected to carry a standard type of gun during work hours, usually a large-frame, large caliber semi-auto. But off the job, for concealment purposes, most cops and pros leave their work weapon at home or in their locker and opt for much smaller, lighter guns. (Note: If he’s a police officer, he’s going to have to qualify at the range with any weapon he carries off-duty.)

And if your sleuth is an amateur detective or PI, what might he carry?

A guy who grew up around guns, who hunted game with family members, or who’s always been interested in firearms may own several handguns from which to choose. You’ll have to decide whether your sleuth keeps an arsenal – or just one gun for personal protection.

A fellow who’s not such a gun enthusiast may, indeed, carry exactly the same gun as his department requires. That’s less to keep track of. A Glock 19 or 20 weighs about 28 ounces unloaded. With a full magazine of ammo, you can add another 11 or 12 ounces. That’s 40 ounces – or 2.5 pounds – of clunky weapon to lug around. Glock duty sidearms aren’t the slimmer, smaller version (like the Glock 36, for instance). They’re bulky and hard to conceal. Same goes for all of the full-size, large-frame semi-autos: the Beretta, the Kimber 1911, the various Smith & Wessons, etc., and they’re even heavier than a Glock.

So he may choose a lighter, easier-to-conceal firearm. What’s his personality all about? Is he a tough guy? Unassuming? Mr. Milquetoast in public, but hell on wheels when up against the wall? Does he have money to burn on the most expensive types of weapons? Or does he need to conserve his funds? (Keep in mind that ammunition is not cheap. A box of 50 rounds of .45 cartridges will run you about $40 in most sporting goods stores).

Is he nostalgic and carries a Walther P-38 like the ones used on “The Man from UNCLE”?


Or the .635mm Beretta 418 Ian Fleming had James Bond use in the first several books?

Or maybe the Walther PPK that Bond used most the time as his main gun?


Or the bigger, meaner-looking 9mm Walther – complete with a silencer – used in the latest James Bond

movies?


Robert B. Parker’s Spenser is often armed with a Smith & Wesson .38 Special (or .357 Magnum revolvers). He’s been carrying the .38 for so long that I suspect it might look like one of these older Model M60s:


Spenser’s best bud, Hawk, usually has an arsenal, including his favorite great big stainless-steel .357 Colt Python:

Or how about Indiana Jones’ British double action revolver, a late 19th Century .455 Webley Mk VI, which, by the way, he’s still using in 1957! I just saw the new movie over Memorial Day weekend, and he got this gun out:

In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character used a Winchester Model 1887 10-gauge shotgun in many of the battle scenes against the T-1000. It had a modified loop near the trigger that allowed Schwarzenegger to “flip-cock” the shotgun in a memorable and dramatic manner.

All of these guns characterize in interesting ways, don’t they? Somehow, they seem to *belong* with their user.

Most men have the advantage of an easier time carrying guns on their person. They often use concealment holsters worn under clothing or in front or rear pants pockets. There are holsters made for one or double shoulder, waistband, side, back, ankle, hip, belly, etc. (To see a huge array of examples: http://www.holsterss.com).

Good Guns For Gals

Whether it’s PC to admit or not, women’s upper bodies are often nowhere near as strong as men’s. Granted, some women do have plenty of strength to handle anything the big boys do, but the fact remains that guns and equipment can be problematic for women. My police friends complain about their duty belts, for instance, and often it takes a lot of adapting to get accustomed to firing the department-issue firearm. To make matters more difficult, women have wider hips and bustlines, so holsters can be uncomfortable.

Sigourney Weaver in “Alien”

Not everyone is 5’11” like the actress Sigourney Weaver who pulled off the Ripley character carrying a massive plasma weapon that had to weigh a ton. And no women – and few men! – are anywhere near the size and strength of Lee Child’s 6’5” 240-pound Jack Reacher. (In fact, Reacher’s hand are probably so big, I bet he couldn’t even get his index finger comfortably into .22 or .25 handgun, much less a derringer.)

If I remember correctly, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone are both under 5’4”. Kinsey carries an unspecified .32. Stephanie Plum carries an unspecified .38 revolver in her purse (or forgets it in the cookie jar at home).

Lara Croft, from the popular game series (and in the movie) uses twin 9mm Heckler and Koch USP Match with speed-loader clips. When she ejects the magazines, a rack in her backpack comes out with a new set so she can sweep her arms behind and reload.

Angelina Jolie in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”

But how realistic is that for a female crime fiction sleuth, especially off-duty? Women may not have the advantage of suit jackets, underarm holsters, or big pockets and are likely to have interesting problems that many men might not have. Where doe she carry her weapon if she wants it concealed? On her person she can use ankle or thigh holsters. If she doesn’t mind the gun showing, she can wear it on a belt at her waist, but how tacky is that when you’re out with your boyfriend or taking your elderly mother to the dentist?

Women often carry their weapons in their purses, and this is where Glocks (and other guns without standard safeties) are problematic. There is no standard/external safety on a Glock. Experts will tell you that the “safety” consists of fully engaging the trigger, pulling it a full half-inch, and exerting 5 or 6 pounds of pressure before it fires. Having recently tested three different-sized Glocks by firing multiple rounds from each, I can tell you that the difference between the Glock trigger pull and, say, a .45 Colt revolver or a .40 SIG-Sauer is not great enough for me to have noticed.

So imagine this: Your sleuth sticks her big old bulky Glock in her dainty, evening purse. Along with the extra magazine of 9mm ammunition she might also want to carry, she’s lugging around three pounds of hardware. (Go get three pounds of hamburger, tuck that in your purse, and see how long it takes before your shoulder or arm is seriously fatigued. Of course you can always use the purse as a lethal weapon.)

Now, have your sleuth character sit in a booth with a reputed mobster she’s trying to cozy up to. It’s time to go to the powder room to check in with her handler. She reaches into her purse for her makeup case, accidentally hooks the Glock trigger on the case’s snap, and in the process of trying to disentangle it, the gun goes off. Of course it won’t hit the gangster. She’ll shoot herself in one elegantly panty-hosed foot. Or somebody else will get hit by the ricochet. Not good!

A heftier, bigger man may have less trouble stashing a Glock because he can tuck it into a holster in the back of his pants, stuff it in a trouser pocket, or use a shoulder holster. But nothing looks worse on a woman than that unsightly bulge just below the panty-line of her lovely evening gown.

A woman isn’t going to need the firepower of a Glock (9mm or .45 caliber, that is) anyway. She’s only carrying this gun around with her for personal, close-up, off-duty protection. So why not outfit her with a gun that not only suits her personality, but also has an external safety and is a size that she can comfortably carry? Here are three excellent purse guns:

.32 Beretta Tomcat 3032 – weighs about 16 oz. loaded with seven shells

.32 Bersa Thunder Conceal Carry – weighs about 22 oz. loaded with seven shells

.32 Kel-Tec P-32 – weighs a mere 15 oz. loaded with seven shells

That Kel-Tec is made with of the same kind of molded polymer that Glocks are made of, which makes it very lightweight. And look how much cuter it is!

As you can see, these are all sub-compact handguns, but what more does a gal need out on a date, doing her shopping, or driving around town? Besides, why advertise that she’s carrying? These are easy to hide on one’s person – in a pocket, in a mesh ankle holder, or tucked in a fanny-pack. They’re terrific for athletic pursuits. If your sleuth is a jogger or biker, you can outfit her with a special waist holders that hug them close.

You’ll notice none of the purse guns are under .32 caliber. There are a lot of .22 and .25 caliber guns out there, but I’m of the opinion that they lack stopping power to put down a determined assailant. Also, their barrels are so stubby that they’re hard to sight which makes it difficult to accurately hit anything at more than spitting distance, especially because they’re so light that the recoil causes them to flip around with every shot you take.

But just in case you want to see a really dinky ladies gun that some women swear by and that travels well in a purse, here is one:

.25 American Derringer LM5 – weighs about 18 oz. loaded with five shells

See how there’s hardly any barrel to sight down? This gun – and all of the tiniest sub-compacts – are going to be very inaccurate weapons.

If your female detective – or your male detective, for that matter – wants more firepower and doesn’t mind some extra weight, these are good compacts that are still small and concealable, but that you may find are a lot easier to aim and hit the target:

.380 Walther PPK/S – weighs about 26 oz. loaded with eight shells

.45 Kimber Ultra Carry Pistol – weighs about 31 oz. loaded with eight shells

.380 Taurus Millennium Pro – weighs about 29 oz. loaded with 12+1 shells

You can also get that Taurus Millenium Pro outfitted as a 9mm, .40, or .45.

Lets Talk About Cost

The “purse” guns tend to cost in the range of $350 – $500. That .380 Taurus Millenium Pro was $399 at one website, $419 at another. The .32 Beretta Tomcat cost around $425. Other plain and simple but medium-small handguns range from $450 – $650.

The bigger semi-autos can cost from $550 to $1,500, depending upon workmanship and detailing. For instance, if you want a beautiful gun with character, check out this one which is only seven inches long, weighs 32 ounces, and can come with a laser grip:

9mm Springfield 1911 subcompact

This gun is made of forged aluminum alloy with anodized black metal and a carved wooden hand grip. It’s a “pretty” gun . . . and you pay for that. This one runs around $1,200.

Seems like the bigger the gun or the more detailed, the more the prices rise. One site that shows good pictures and seems to quote representative prices is www.gundirectory.com.

A Note on Laser Sights and Night Lights

Some shooters think the world of laser sights, which can help you shoot with greater speed and accuracy. When you first begin training with a new gun (especially if it’s small with a very short barrel), a laser sight can help your aim as you get accustomed to the gun.


9mm Glock with a Laser Sight

With a laser, you can see precisely where you’ve pointed the muzzle of your gun, and if you’re off, it shows in a very big way. To find out more about lasers, go here: http://www.crimsontrace.com.

You can also get handguns outfitted with a flashlight at the end of the barrel like this .45 Heckler & Koch which is used by a lot of security forces around the world:

.45 Heckler & Koch

Don’t Forget Revolvers

I’ve focused on a lot of semi-auto guns, but rather than one of those or a smaller “purse gun” or “pocket piece,” perhaps your sleuth would do better with a revolver. With only a 3- or 4-inch barrel and a six-round cylinder, a revolver can fit unobtrusively in a lot of places on your person. Two examples would include the Smith & Wesson models below:

.38 Smith & Wesson “Snub-Nose” Model 36

.38 or .357 Smith & Wesson Model 66

S&W also makes this gun with a hammer that’s recessed so it’s less likely to catch on things in a purse or carry bag.

Some of the smaller .38 and .40 caliber revolvers are concealable. By the time you get to the steel-constructed .45s, such as the Ruger Redhawk, you’re getting into some size and weight. Fully loaded, this revolver below weighs slightly over four pounds. That’s some serious drag in your pocket or purse!

.45 Ruger Redhawk

Some Other Suitable Guns

Non-professional sleuths (incidental or amateur detectives) ought to have guns that suit them. Even if the weapon is one they’ll keep squirreled away in a shoebox in the closet (or in the cookie jar), why should it be a boring old Glock?

Maybe a .45 or 9mm or .357 is just too big for a woman with small hands. Take yourself to a gun store and ask the dealer to let you handle a variety of firearms. You’ll soon find a gun that you think is handsome, not too heavy, and that has a grip that fits your hand – or that fits the hand-size of your imagined sleuth.

The Kimber 1911 is a very cool gun and can be outfitted with a laser and night-sight. It’s a little big for an average woman’s hand, but it’d fit a man well.

.45 Kimber 1911 Stainless Pro Carry II

The full-size 9mm Beretta, carried by cops and the military, is comfortable to fire, though it’s a fairly heavy gun.

9mm Beretta 92FS

A durable and much-loved gun often passed from father to son (or father to daughter) is the .45 Colt Commander with the nice wood grip.

.45 Colt Combat Commander

Or maybe you should give your detective a long-barreled .44 Magnum like Dirty Harry carried.

.44 Smith & Wesson Magnum Model 29 – The Dirty Harry Gun

I shot that one, and it had some kick! (Or maybe your gal is like Dirty Harry – giving her a gargantuan .44 would definitely say something about her personality.)

I discovered that I love SIG-Sauer handguns, I have medium-sized hands for a woman, but small compared to the average man’s hand, and the Glock is so wide and clunky. A comfortable gun is one that will allow you to shoot with much better accuracy, and my dream gun, the SIG-Sauer P239, fits in my hand perfectly.

9mm SIG-Sauer P226

It’s smooth to operate and extremely durable (unlike a Glock, which *will* chip; you can slam a Sig around and it will not break), and since the Sig measures 7.7 inches overall and weighs only 29 ounces, it’s one of the lighter, ore compact medium-sized guns around.

For people who are curious about this, go to a gun store and compare the Glock to the Sig, or to any other gun. You will immediately see and feel that the Glock is bigger/clunkier. From side to side, the grip is much the same, but the butt is a bit larger, which is noticeable to women or men with smaller hands. It’s surprising how much a few millimeters in dimension make. The P226 has one of the most compact, comfortable handles of any 9mm featuring a double-column magazine, which makes it far superior to the Glock in terms of firing comfort.

My cop friends say that their Glocks jam periodically, but usually they’re quick and easy to clear. I recently fired a couple of boxes of rounds without a jam from a Glock 19, but my firing partner, a police officer, was firing a lot faster than I was, and with the heat of the gun, she had two jams. So Glocks are no strangers to jams – especially if you’re not religious about keeping them 100% cleaned. The Glock is a perfectly decent gun, but it’s a big, solid handful, and I’d much rather pack a SIG-Sauer P226 if you gave me a choice between the two.

Bottom Line: No woman character in her right mind would willingly carry and use a full-size Glock unless she had VERY big hands or at least quite a bit of finger/thumb spread. The gun is designed for a big, meaty, man’s hand. It doesn’t help that the gun is extra light either. The recoil is MUCH more significant than from some of the tighter, more compact, slightly heavier guns.

How Do You Write An Accurate Book? Research, research!

By now, you can see that there is SO MUCH VARIETY in firearms (and I haven’t even talked about rifles!). Really, if you’re a mystery writer and you’re ever going to have characters use any kind of weapons, you would be well served by visiting a well-stocked gun shop or wandering through a gun show. Ask questions, hold guns, examine ammo, work the slide, take the guns apart and put them back together, get a feel of the weight of various parts. Until you do that, I don’t know that it’s really all that easy to write a scene that feels “real.”

Up next week on Tuesday: Outfitting Your Crooks With Guns