I have a treat in store for you today! Our guest, Tom Adair is a former forensic scientist from Colorado who left the world of crime to pursue a writing career in 2009. He is triple board certified as a senior crime scene analyst, bloodstain pattern examiner, and footwear examiner and has served as President of several regional professional organizations, including the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, an international group of scientists and detectives. Tom to continues to conduct and publish research in forensic sciences but devotes a majority of his time to his fiction writing. Tom created the blog forensics4fiction to share information about the forensic sciences to the fiction writing community. He’s prepared an informative post for us on getting the guns right in our fiction!
Describing the Condition of Your Gun
Firearms can be a little confusing to authors who have never shot one. Even for those who occasionally shoot guns, there are details that may affect the accuracy of your writing. We’ve all seen those movies where the cop or bad guy will yank the slide back on their handgun before pointing it at someone. Have you ever seen a cartridge case fly out? Me neither. This means the gun wasn’t loaded. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a cop who didn’t have a round in the chamber. Without it the gun is just a really expensive paperweight.
Whenever criminalists examine a firearem at the crime scene there are a number of things we want to determine about its condition. Is it loaded? If so, how many cartridges? Are they all the same brand or are they mixed? Are they all the same caliber? Some guys like a .357 revolver can hold both .38 caliber rounds as well as .357 ones. The new Taurus Judge revolver holds both .45 Long Colt cartridges or .410 shotgun shells.
Does the gun have a safety and is it on or off? If you have a bad guy staging a suicide and the put the gun in the victim’s hand with the safety engaged, it’s going to look suspicious. Similarly, if the victim used a pump-action shotgun there should be an expended shell in the chamber (dead guys can’t work the slide). If the semi-automatic gun has an external hammer, it should be in the rear position after the shot is fired.
Characters can also get themselves into trouble if they don’t understand how a gun will function. For example, to properly unload a semi-automatic handgun you first remove the magazine and then pull back the slide to eject the live round. If your character pulls the slide back first the live round will be ejected, but a new one will be stripped from the magazine and loaded into the chamber. So even though the magazine is taken out there is a still a live round in the chamber. Some guns must have the magazine properly inserted for it to fire, but others don’t.
In any event, it will benefit you to do some hands on research with whatever firearem you put in your character’s hand. If you aren’t proficient with firearms, go to a gun store or find a club that might give you information. A call to our local police public information officer might also be helpful.
Tom’s background as a CSI technician means he has a wealth of knowledge about all things evidentiary! Turn your imaginations to the dark side. Surely there’s a question you have about blood spatter, entymology, firearms, crime scenes… After all, when will you have another chance to ask an expert?