Top Ten Myths About Firearms

Depicted here is a Heckler & Koch UMP 45, a real submachine gun.

Myths abound about firearms and the ‘scene’ surrounding them, and some of the most onerous and persistent ones rear their ugly heads after notorious shooting incidents. As dedicated Second Amendment enthusiasts and defenders of the right to keep and bear arms, it’s our job to (politely!) educate the uninformed masses on the facts about firearms. Without further ado, here are the top ten ones that, for lack of a better phrase, bother me the most…

Myth: Silencers make a firearm whisper-quiet

Not true in the least. Your average unsuppressed firearm clocks in at an ear-shattering 160 decibels or more when firing. That’s louder than a jet aircraft at full power taking off. That’s louder than your favorite metal band live in concert. Exposure to a single unsuppressed gunshot will lead to permanent hearing damage. Knowing this, Hiram Percy Maxim invented the silencer aka the suppressor in the early 1900s, mainly because he wanted to target shoot in peace and not bother his neighbors. While his device was a miracle of engineering know-how, it didn’t truly silence a firearm, and even today’s silencers only knock 30-40 decibels off the sound of a gun shot. So that 160 db blast is “only” in the neighborhood of 120-130 db. Which is still about as loud as your favorite metal band. You guys listen to metal, right?

For reference, here is a video of me firing a suppressed 300 BLK (.30 caliber) rifle in a full-auto configuration.

And here’s how Hollywood would have it. Fast-forward to 0:45.

As you can tell, it’s still plenty loud in real life. Also, a silencer/suppressor does not stop the “crack” of a bullet breaking the sound barrier. In the above video, I utilized subsonic ammunition. While fun as a “range toy”, subsonic ammunition loses it’s effectiveness rapidly and isn’t suitable for much outside of close-quarters defense and some hunting applications. All a suppressor really does is muffle the blast, making shooting safer and more enjoyable for all those who participate. It’s why more than ever, we need to support the American Suppressor Association and the NRA to deregulate these harmless accessories.

Myth: Gunfire is loud, but not unreasonably so

Along the same lines, the media has perpetuated a stereotype of firearms being loud, but not unreasonably so. For example, during a massive shootout indoors, the characters are talking to each other in conversational tones moments after the melee has ceased, a la this scene from the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy.

As was mentioned above, gunshots are loud, registering in at 160 decibels or higher, which is a level guaranteed to cause permanent hearing damage. Fortunately, I’ve never been around gunfire (suppressed or unsuppressed) without proper ear protection, but some of my friends and acquaintances have. It’s deafening, to say the least. You have that ringing in your ears, and then the onset of tinnitus. Not fun. One really doesn’t observe actors in movies dealing with the after effects. Now, grant it, they have dramatic license to pretend nothing happened, but I personally think it would add to the drama if after the shooting, the actors had to “deal” with the hearing loss.

I’ll take a moment to commend ‘The Walking Dead’ for getting it right in the first season though. But Rick had to do what he had to do, you know?

Myth: Machine guns are highly lethal implements of destruction

The hero, or villain, his trusted service rifle as his side, pops out from concealment, and (of course) shooting from the hip, unleashes a fusillade of gunfire, annihilating scores of opponents in one fell swoop. Precision at 600 rounds per minute.

As you can see, noted anti-gunner Sylvester Stallone easily dispatches the opposition. Yes, I’m aware the Ma Deuce is mounted in this case, but recoil and muzzle rise are an issue, even with a mounted weapon.

In reality, full-auto fire is a suppressive function. The operator will typically “coat” (my term) the area with gunfire, hoping to drive hidden opponents out of hiding. If he scores a hit, good. If not, his buddy working a DMR (designated marksman rifle, usually an AR-pattern weapon with either a longer barrel or higher caliber…) dispatches the opposition with precision fire. As a matter of fact, for every insurgent killed in Afghanistan, over 200,000 rounds are expended.

In other words, full-auto isn’t precise, and for “real” work, is overrated in most cases. On the crime side, the usage of full-auto firearms is almost negligible, and was even before the National Firearms Act of 1934. The development of full-auto was a logical evolution of semi-auto, with no specific “murderous” purpose in mind.

Myth: Machine guns are illegal

Along the same lines regarding automatic weapons, it’s a commonly-held belief that machine guns are illegal for civilian possession in the United States. The reality is that, with much in the way of bureaucratic nonsense, a civilian with a clean record can purchase and/or manufacture machine guns in this country.

The easiest way is to purchase a “pre-86” machine gun. Prior to May 19th, 1986, one could purchase a machine gun in the same manner as purchasing a suppressor. Fill out some paperwork, pay the $200 NFA tax, send the works up to the ATF, and wait for it to come back, then pick up your firearm. However, a “poison pill”, named the Hughes Amendment after an anti-gun Democrat from New Jersey, was introduced into the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986. The idea was that the Republicans would vote against FOPA, and it would die. However, in a gamble, the NRA suggested that the amendment be accepted, and struck down later. Unfortunately it is still with us. What the Hughes Amendment did, was prohibit the transfer of machine guns made after May 19th, 1986, to individuals. The first widespread “ban” of a class of firearms in the US was in effect.

Another, more expensive, way of acquiring a machine gun is to be “in the business” of manufacturing automatic weapons for police and military use. To do that, one must file the litany of paperwork to become a Federal Firearms License holder, and pay a special occupational tax to be a dealer and manufacturer of NFA items. It’s not easy, since beyond the licensing, one needs to prove they are in the business of firearms, have an actual place of business, and be in compliance with local zoning regulations. The FFL is actually the easy part - if you can buy a gun at a gun shop, you can become an FFL. After you acquire the proper licensing, you can build and manufacture machine guns for sale to the military and law enforcement, and for demonstration purposes. The biggest requirements, amongst other important ones, are proper logging of all manufacturing and a truly safe place to keep your firearms. A 2-ton vault should do it.

Myth: Certain bullets are “cop killer” bullets

This one irks me a little more than most of the others. Simple fact is, unless one is wearing a significant level of body armor, most rifle and pistol bullets produced in the last century will make short work of any protective gear, especially with sustained multiple hits. The cop-killer bullet myth originated, as usual, with a media hit piece on Teflon-coated bullets, which they theorized “lubricated” the bullet enough to penetrate Kevlar. Ironically, the opposite is true, in which Teflon degrades the penetrative qualities of a bullet impacting on Kevlar.

The true penetration qualities, of course, come from the composition and shape of the projectile. While federal law is hazy on so-called “armor-piercing” rounds, several states have restrictions on the books concerning the manufacture and possession of certain types of rounds. However, there are no specific bullets manufactured with the express purpose of murdering our law enforcement officers. Myth - busted, as they say.

Myth: You can shoot them in the leg

Well, I suppose you could, if the target were standing stock-still, or you were as talented as say, Jerry Miculek.

All kidding aside, one of the biggest critiques of anyone, whether they be a citizen defending themselves, or a law enforcement officer, who shoots someone, is “Why didn’t they shoot them in the leg or something?”

Simply put, in a stress situation, especially where there may be gunfire being exchanged, the first thing to go is your fine motor control. This is why both civilians learning about defensive shooting, and law enforcement, are trained to shoot center mass. It’s the biggest part of the target, and the area where a hit will most likely incapacitate.

That’s right, incapacitate. A center-mass hit doesn’t mean instant death usually. Sure, a round could strike a vital organ, causing death, but if you think about it, those vital organs are protected by all sorts of things. Fat, bone, muscle, clothing, and so forth. All things which can impede and alter a bullet’s path. Regardless, a center mass hit is most likely to at least incapacitate an attacker. A hit on an extremity, especially if the target is excited or under the influence, can actually be “shrugged off” in some cases, at least long enough for a target to respond to a defense.

Center mass is basically insurance - insurance which could save your life. Your target may or may not die, but with accurate shot placement center mass, your chances of survival become far greater.

Myth: Recoil will knock you back, hard

Well, depends on the gun. But even larger calibers will, at most, push you back a little bit. However, your average AR-pattern rifle, chambered in the forgiving 5.56mm, exhibits only a negligible recoil.

Not exactly PTSD-inducing, eh New York Daily News?

Fast forward to 2:30 - I think this is what they imagine.

Myth: You need to rack the slide, a lot

Before the heroes or bad guys storm the scene, they always draw their guns from concealment, and rack the slide.

Probably the worst technique ever. Unless you are in an unusual situation like “Utah Carry”, you should always have one in the chamber. Having to “prepare” your gun in the heat of an engagement costs precious seconds, and potentially your life. Having one in the chamber isn’t dangerous, provided you have sought out proper instruction and training.

In other words, even though it looks cool, don’t do it.

Myth: You can buy a gun over the internet without a background check.

So much fail here, as the kids say. While yes, technically one can transfer money to an in-state person via the internet to pay for a private sale of a firearm, you cannot purchase what the ATF declares to be a firearm over the internet, and have it delivered straight to your door without a background check. The weapon must be transferred to your local FFL, where a standard NICS check is performed. The various websites selling firearms online are not background-check-free arms bazaars. The security theatre remains in place.

Myth: Polymer guns don’t appear on airport X-rays or other security scans

No, those GLOCK 7s that cost more than I make in a month aren’t some sort of mystical stealth gun.

Yes, I know there’s no such thing as a GLOCK 7.

But seriously folks, this one is beyond the realm of even semi-plausibility. While materials science has significantly advanced, the critical parts of a firearm are very much still made of metallic compounds, and easily detectable by even crude scanning machines. Furthermore, on the “opposite” side, technology has continued to advance, with the latest generation of security scanners being able to detect and image hard objects of almost any composition, even a firearm of largely polymer composition. Stealth guns are still very much within the realm of fiction.

A reminder

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