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27 August, 2010

Firearms Movie Myth #1:

by Hal Carlisle

"You must work the action of your firearm at the beginning of any confrontation."

For a good recent example of this, see popular movie "Knight and Day", or virtually any other film that involves firearms. This is my Number 1 movie pet peeve and can easily ruin an otherwise good movie. Not only does this make the movie industry look uninformed and uneducated about firearms, it sets a bad example for moviegoers, because while actors and actresses on the big screen uselessly pull back the slide on their firearms, they're often failing to clear their weapons when they should do so. You've seen it a hundred times. It goes like this:

1: Good Guy sees Bad Guy and a short verbal confrontation ensues. Good Guy racks slide on his pistol or rifle. I think pump shotguns used to be more popular for this but are now seen less frequently, according to the informal poll of the movies I've seen recently. I guess a good ole' 12 ga. pump isn't good enough for Hollywood anymore.

2: Good Guy and Bad Guy usually don't have a shoot out at this point. Frequently one of them evades so they can prolong the plot.

3: Good Guy and Bad Guy encounter each other in another scene. Both rack the action on their respective firearms. Please note that live rounds do not fly out the side of their weapons at this point in time, though they should. Does this mean they are clearing their weapons off-screen?

4: Note that Good Guy and Bad Guy rack the slide on their firearm prior to any possibility of a confrontation throughout the duration of the film.

5: It's also advisable to rack the slide on your weapon before leaving your base of operations or loading up in a vehicle, mostly to show the other members of your team (and the audience) how serious you are. When you encounter Bad Guy, racking your weapon makes sure HE knows you mean business, too. Be sure to have a mean, serious look on your face whilst chambering a round.

I understand it's theatrical to see the characters racking their actions in preparation for a confrontation. I know it's good action-movie-mojo to hear that "chck-chck!" back and forth of a pump shotgun. But why, oh why do they have to do it so many times? Just once, I'd love to see someone in a movie pull back on the charging handle or slide just enough to peer into the chamber and visually confirm there's still a round chambered from two scenes ago. Is this too much to ask?

Let’s face it, there aren’t too many fancy or dramatic things to do with a firearm, so it's understandable when the film industry injects a flourish or two. You can rack the slide or unload and reload a weapon. You can do a parade drill with your weapon or spin it on your finger like the old Hollywood Western cowboys. Lastly, you can darn well shoot somebody, but this tends to end a movie in a very final way that falls short of the normal two-hour duration of a film and can also make sequels tricky to pull off. When Bad Guy is dead you have to expend more Hollywood creative genius to come up with another antagonist if you want the sequel revenues, and Hollywood genius is not growing on trees. It’s just so much better for the film industry if Good Guy and Bad Guy rack their slides a lot and expend several cases of ammo in each others’ respective direction.

Hollywood, if you're listening (I know you're not), please, give us more realistic use of firearms in movies. There are ways to work this into the plot. For example, if Good Guy has to scavenge an arm off of a fallen Bad Guy, this is an appropriate moment to work the action, just to be sure it's functioning and loaded. Who knows, Bad Guy might be lying dead there because his weapon jammed up on him and he couldn't clear it, or because he ran out of ammo. So when Good Guy grabs a weapon from dead Bad Guy, he should rack the slide to check function and to check ammo supply in the magazine (yes, Hollywood, magazines hold a finite number of rounds). Besides, it's a good rule to always check the chamber and magazine when picking up a firearm, even if it's your own and you "know" what condition you left it in. This applies doubly to any weapon found in the field or in the heat of battle, so please, feel free to rack at this time.

A jammed weapon would be another great, realistic moment to have a slide rack. Jams happen from time to time and I'd love to see a movie where the fight was interrupted due to malfunction. Now Good Guy has to find cover, clear jam, and continue the fight (yes, the use of cover IS preferable to standing in the line of fire like an idiot). This would be a good queue to those of us who try to be serious shooters: jams can and do happen, and malfunction drills should be a part of your regular practice at the range or when dry firing at home.

Moral: Racking your slide should be done once prior to firing, not to show someone you're serious. It should be done once more after a reload. It should be done in order to clear a jam, whether in the field or as part of practising your malfunction drills. It should be done as part of checking a weapon you just picked up, either to make sure it’s loaded, or to make sure the opposite is true.

Before signing off I feel I should address briefly the issue of chambering a round before entering a vehicle (mentioned above in movie step 5). All the experts I have read agree, and I agree with them: If you’re travelling in a vehicle with a weapon, it should not have a round in the chamber. You will have time to chamber a round when it’s needed, whether it’s at the time you’re deploying from the vehicle or if you have to engage a threat from within the vehicle. In the meantime it’s easier to avoid shooting your buddy if you keep your chamber empty and your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

So instead of holding our breath waiting for the industry to catch on and inject a little more realism into movies, just make note when you witness this silliness on the silver screen. Make note and remind yourself that no matter how many times a star does it on the screen, it does not make this practise proper or advisable. And don't let yourself forget that the first thing to do when take possession of a weapon is to check function and check if it's loaded. These are not matters you should leave to faith.

More movie peeves to come.

1 comment:

  1. Good points! This cycling probably bugs me more than bottomless mags.

    On the other hand, I was curious what experts you spoke to about carrying an empty weapon while in a vehicle and why they feel you should do so.

    Police certainly don't carry empty chambers. Think about taking rounds while coming to a stop in a vehicle. You've got several things to operate to safely return fire: gear shift, seat belt, possibly radio your position and need of assistance, door handle, defeat retention holster (possibly while partially seated)and THEN you can rack the slide?

    You could eliminate some of these by remaining in the vehicle, but then you may be trapped by traffic, your rounds are crippled and partially redirected by firing through a vehicle, and you may now be belted into your coffin.

    Just some of my thoughts.