Category Archives: Firearms

Firearms Test: Bullets versus Plastic Chair

For the September 2015 segment of Righting Crime Fiction, I’ll be responding to a question asked by Writer Nina Mansfield over on Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Yahoo Group. She asked if it was possible for a handgun fired from ten to fifteen feet away to knock over a “flimsy” plastic chair. My immediate response was going to be to explain how plastic offers little resistance and bullets travel at a very high rate of speed, so the bullets (any bullet) would zip right on through without even budging the chair. I was going to support my opinion with examples of things I’ve experienced and prior tests I’ve done over the years, but then I suddenly remembered I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, and writers are supposed to *show* and not *tell*. Thus, I decided I would show her—and everyone else who might benefit from the information—what happens when one shoots a flimsy plastic chair with various firearms.

First thing this morning, I drove out to the local Dollar General store and bought a flimsy plastic chair for $8.00. I then headed to the shooting range with five handguns, a rifle, a shotgun, and a camcorder to put her question and my opinion to the test.

I set the chair out to about fifteen feet and fired one shot from each of the firearms I’d brought, with the exception of my .308 Accuracy International sniper rifle. I met a guy named Charlie who was shooting a .308 Savage precision rifle, and I let him shoot the chair twice with his rifle.

Here is a list of the weapons used, and the order in which they were fired:

  1. Plinkerton .22 caliber single-action revolver
  2. Beretta 92FS 9 mm semi-automatic pistol
  3. Gloc k 22 .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol
  4. Ruger GP100 .357 magnum double-action revolver
  5. Uberti 1875 Outlaw .45LC single-shot revolver
  6. Savage .308 bolt-action rifle
  7. Benelli Nova 12-gauge pump-action shotgun

I set the camcorder up on a tripod and it remained trained on the chair during the test shots, so as to record any possible movement of the chair when the bullets struck it. My course of action was as follows: I loaded and fired a shot from the .22 revolver, activated the zoom on the camcorder to get a close-up view of the bullet hole, zoomed out, and then followed the same procedure with all of the other weapons, with the exception of the .308 rifle (as described earlier). In order to increase the odds of knocking the chair over, I aimed at the top of the backrest.

Without further ado, here is the video containing the test results:

As you can see, the bullets zipped right on through the plastic without even causing the chair to flinch. The bullet causing the most damage was the 12-gauge 1oz slug, which is a fearsome round. The football, which has more volume and travels much slower than a bullet, “pushed” the chair over onto its back, as would be expected.

Note about the football: I’d love to be able to say I called Drew Brees over to throw the football at the chair for this experiment, but he was in Arizona trying to win a football game.

I’d like to thank Nina for asking the question, as it gave me a great excuse to head out to the firing range (like I really need one:-) and it was great fun. Check out her bio below and visit her website to find out what she’s been up to.

Nina Mansfield is a Connecticut based writer. Her debut novel, Swimming Alone, a young adult mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA in August 2015. Nina began her writing career as a playwright; she has written numerous plays, which have been published and produced throughout United States and internationally. Nina is a member of, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Dramatists Guild.  Please visit her at

Until next time, write, rewrite, and get it right!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016), and BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (Amber Quill Press, 2016).

Copyright © 2015 by BJ Bourg. All rights reserved.


A Rose By Any Other Name

Welcome to the January 2015 edition of Righting Crime Fiction. I’m going to change gears a little and talk about terminology. I received an anonymous message from someone suggesting I write a blog about the difference between a “clip” and a magazine, because, Anonymous surmised, “Many writers do not seem to understand this distinction.” Anonymous may be correct, so I’ll explain the difference for those who don’t know. However, it is also possible many writers do know the difference, but they choose to call a magazine a “clip”, because the term is widely accepted as being synonymous with “magazine”.

I am not bothered by the use of slang to convey a message, especially when the term used is universally understood, but Anonymous’ comment reminds me that some folks are rigidly opposed to substituting slang for gun terminology. Thus, I will seek to explain the difference between a magazine and a “clip”, while offering a word of caution, along with my own opinion on the matter (because I am, by nature, a very opinionated person—just ask my wife).


Quite simply, a magazine is a container that stores ammunition and feeds it to a repeating firearm. The feeding mechanism is usually a spring or coil that applies pressure to a follower that pushes the stack of ammunition toward the opening. The bullet closest to the opening is stripped away and “fed” into the chamber when the slide or bolt is released, and the next round is then moved into the “ready” position.

Magazines come in different shapes and sizes, can hold from as little as a few rounds to as many as a hundred rounds of ammunition, and can be fixed or detachable. Examples of firearms that have detachable magazines are the Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Glock 22 semi-automatic pistol, and the Accuracy International AE bolt-action sniper rifle. The following photograph depicts these magazines as they appear when detached from the weapons (earlier blog posts depict these weapons with the magazines attached):

Magazines are preloaded and carried on an officer’s person, usually on his or her gunbelt. In order to load firearms with detachable magazines, you would remove the magazine from the magazine well, and then hand-feed each bullet (or cartridge) into the magazine. Once the magazine is full, you would return the magazine to the magazine well and you are ready to load the chamber and begin firing. In the following video, I will demonstrate how to load a magazine by taking the following steps: 1) load fifteen rounds into a magazine, 2) draw my Beretta 92FS, 3) insert the magazine into the magazine well, 4) manipulate the slide to strip the top bullet from the magazine and load it into the chamber, 5) de-cock the Beretta, 6) flip the safety “off”, 7) remove the magazine from the magazine well, 8) holster the Beretta, 9) “top off” the magazine—which now contains fourteen rounds, because I removed the top round and placed it into the chamber—by loading one last round into it, 10) draw the Beretta again, and 11) insert the magazine into the magazine well, giving me a fully-loaded Beretta with sixteen rounds at my disposal.

Once your fictional officer has shot the magazine “dry” or empty, she would remove the empty magazine and replace it with a full magazine. Most officers typically carry three magazines on their person while on duty, and many of them have extra magazines and boxes of ammunition in their cruisers in the event of an extended gunfight.

In the following photo, a much younger me is pictured at a scene (background removed) immediately after an arrest that resulted in a fight with several suspects (hence, the mud). On the front of my belt is a magazine pouch that housed two fifteen-round magazines for the Beretta 92FS that I carried. There was one round in the chamber of my pistol, fifteen rounds in the magazine seated in my pistol, and fifteen rounds in each of the two magazines in the magazine pouch on my belt, which gave me a total of forty-six rounds. (Where’d all that hair disappear to?)
A clip is a device that holds multiple rounds of ammunition together as a unit, in preparation for being inserted into an empty magazine on fixed-magazine weapons, or into a cylinder on revolvers. Clips also come in different sizes and shapes, such as the moon clip for loading revolvers, the en-bloc clip for loading the M1 Garand, and stripper clips for loading the SKS semi-automatic rifle. The following photograph depicts five empty stripper clips and one fully loaded clip:
When I shoot the SKS until it is empty, I basically have two loading options: 1) start hand-feeding individual bullets into the magazine or 2) use a stripper clip to load the magazine more rapidly. (Once you’ve done this a few hundred times, you’ll really start appreciating detachable magazines.) In the following series of photographs, I illustrate how stripper clips work to load a fixed magazine on an SKS semi-automatic rifle.

Insert the stripper clip into the pre-designated notches:

Begin pushing down on the string of rounds, forcing them into the magazine:
Continue pushing until the last round has made it into the magazine:
 A fully loaded fixed magazine with the empty stripper clip still in place:
Remove stripper clip and bolt is ready to be released for firing…

Show of hands…how many of you writers have called a “magazine” a “clip” in your fiction? Don’t be shy. Get ‘em up. That’s right…reach for the sky. Okay, so, there’s you, you, you, and you. Oh, and there’s me. That’s right. While I use “magazine” nearly every time, I have used “clip” once or twice in a short story. Do I know the difference? Absolutely…I teach the stuff. As a writer, do I care if some “terminology nazi” doesn’t like it? Nope. As a reader, do I care if other writers call a “magazine” a “clip”? Absolutely not. I know what they mean when they say “clip”—and so does the rest of the world. Despite a strong resistance from some, the word “clip” has become synonymous with “magazine” out here in the real world. Thus, if it is commonplace in the real world, it is absolutely realistic to have your characters use the term in fiction. In fact, it would be unrealistic to have every fictional character use the term “magazine” instead of “clip”, because that’s not what happens in everyday life.


While I might not be offended or turned off when a writer uses “clip” instead of “magazine”, there are some who feel very strongly that it is incorrect and that it displays a certain “level of ignorance or laziness” on the part of the person using the term. (Don’t take my word for it—Google “magazine vs. clip” and you’ll find lots of places where people “chastise” those who dare to misuse the term.)

But do we even care what these people think? Personally, I don’t. My focus is on keeping things factually fictitious and helping writers avoid having their characters do things that are physically or technically impossible, such as having their hero pull the slide back on a revolver or having their bad guy kill someone instantly with a shot to the heart. However, bear in mind that your use of the word “clip” might turn off potential readers who care about such things, just like my use of the word “bullet” instead of “cartridge” might turn off some people. Yep, there is a difference.

A bullet is technically one part of a cartridge—the business end, which is also known as the “projectile”. I do this consistently in my police reports, in my everyday life, and in my fiction, because it is widely understood that when someone says “bullet”, they are referring to the combination of casing, powder, primer, and projectile. When I would use the technically correct term “cartridge’’ to people I would teach, I would usually receive blank stares—and understandably so. In their defense, I could have been referring to an ink cartridge, an adhesive cartridge, a faucet cartridge, a game cartridge, etc., and an explanation was usually always required. However, when I said the word “bullet”, it would paint an immediate picture and no explanation would be needed. So, instead of trying to change everyone around me, I simply changed my own approach and accepted that the “times, they are a-changing”, and I now use a word that is more widely understood and avoids confusion.

So, if any of you did not know the difference between a magazine and a “clip”, you do now. If you decide to continue using the word “clip”, you might ruffle the feathers of a few potential readers, but the vast majority of us are fine with it and we know what you mean. If you would rather not risk losing even one reader or you would simply prefer using the correct terminology, then you can forever refer to it as a magazine.


As this blog post was taking shape in my head, I bounced it off of one of my friends, Damian Ourso, a former Marine and former sniper on my team. I showed him a comment on a forum where this guy said he was selling magazines at a gun show and a man walked up and asked to buy some clips. This guy went on to describe how he made fun of the man by digging in a bag and handing him a pack of stripper clips, when the man was obviously interested in the AR-15 magazines he had for sale. He said the man was “dumbfounded”. I don’t know if it made this guy feel like a hero for trying to embarrass the poor man, but there was no need to make fun of him or give him a hard time. (I hope the man spent his money elsewhere.) There is a way to educate without being condescending, and it takes so little effort to treat people with respect and be nice.

In any event, Damian and I began thinking up different terms that are technically incorrect, but are so commonly used (or misused) that we all know what they mean. It makes me wonder if some of the folks who claim to be “bugged” by people who misuse “clip” have ever committed any of these “violations” while sitting in their glass houses:

Used the “hose pipe” to water the garden.

Had to light the “hot water heater” because the pilot blew out.

Made a “Xerox copy” on a Canon copier.

Had to provide their “VIN number” to the insurance company.

Put the milk back in the “ice box”.

Grabbed a “Kleenex” out of a box of Puffs facial tissue.

Offered someone a “coke” when all they had was a pantry full of sodas made by Pepsi.


In closing, I have a twofold question for everyone:

Do you have any pet-peeves that will make you put a book down and refuse to keep reading? Are these pet-peeves bad enough to cause you to boycott that author in the future?

As for me, I’ve already mentioned some of the things that give me pause during movies, television shows or books, but they aren’t enough to cause me to boycott an author or program, because I understand that we all get it wrong from time to time, and I want to be as forgiving as I hope readers will be with me when they catch one of my errors.

Alas, as my wife was just proofreading this post, she reminded me of the movie we watched last night and how I was ranting and raving because an intruder touched a dog and a girl with a stun gun and it rendered them unconscious. (The movie was otherwise awesome.) This is a fallacy I’ve seen repeated over and over in movies and television shows, and my wife says I call them out on it every time. I guess I’ll have to devote a blog post to this subject one day, but, for now, that will wrap up Righting Crime Fiction for January. I hope all of you are off to a great 2015!

Until next time, write, rewrite, and get it right!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
©BJ Bourg 2015


Comparing Casings to Firearms

For the December 2014 segment of Righting Crime Fiction, I will continue talking about how you can use firearms evidence to solve your fictional crimes that involve guns, with a focus on spent shell casings and the link between casings and firearms.


A bullet casing can be scarred in a number of ways upon being fired and ejected from a firearm, but the most beneficial and telling “scar” would be from the firing pin. When a firing pin strikes the primer (on centerfire bullets) or the rim (on rimfire bullets), it leaves a unique mark similar to a fingerprint. What happens is this: the firing pin strikes every bullet it fires in the same way each and every time (unless there is damage or some other change to the weapon), which leaves the exact same imprint each and every time. This “fingerprint” left by the firing pin is extremely helpful in determining if a particular firearm fired a particular bullet casing.


What’s the difference between centerfire and rimfire? Quite simply, the firing pin on a centerfire weapon will strike the center of the casing’s head (the primer), while the firing pin on a rimfire weapon will strike the rim of the casing’s head (where the priming compound is located). Most modern firearms are of the centerfire variety. However, there are still numerous rimfire weapons available, many of which fire the very popular .22 caliber bullet.

Plinkerton .22 Caliber Single-Action Revolver

NOTE: The following two photographs demonstrate the difference between a centerfire bullet and a rimfire bullet. In both photographs, the unfired bullet is to the left and the spent shell casing is to the right.

Centerfire Bullet/Casing

Rimfire Bullet/Casing


If your detective only has spent casings in her possession and no firearm to which she can compare them, the casings are nearly useless. (They might make for a cool-looking necklace, but, other than the benefits previously described in the November segment regarding caliber identification, etc., they won’t help her solve her case.) Of course, there are at least two ways to use the lone shell casings without an accompanying firearm (I will discuss one in a later post and the other at the end of this section), but in most cases it is imperative that she recover the firearm used in the commission of the crime. In real criminal cases, we have to work with what we have and there are many times when we are unable to recover the firearms used in the crime. However, you control your fictional world and you can work out creative ways for your detective to recover the firearm—unless it suits your story to keep the firearm hidden.

With the casings and the firearm in her possession, your detective is now ready to attempt to have the two linked together. The first thing she would do is submit the spent casings and the firearm to the lab. Once at the lab, these items may be processed for other evidence (DNA, fingerprints, etc.) before the ballistics examination begins. When these other tasks are completed, the firearms examiner can begin comparing the spent casings to the firearm.

The examination is not carried out by directly comparing the spent casings recovered at the scene to the suspected firearm. Instead, the firearms examiner will compare the spent casings recovered at the scene to a “known” spent casing fired from the firearm. In order to obtain this “known” casing, the firearms examiner would test fire the firearm under controlled conditions (usually by firing into a large water tank located at the crime lab), and then compare the firing pin marks on the recovered shell casings to the firing pin mark on the “known” casing by viewing them side-by-side under a microscope. If these marks are the same, the firearms examiner can conclude that the casings were fired from the same firearm. In addition to these firing pin marks, or “fingerprints”, the examiner will search for other unique “scars” left on the spent casings, such as the ejector or extractor marks. These additional marks will aid the examiner in bolstering his conclusion that the spent casings located at the crime scene were fired from the firearm in question.

Now, when your detective links a spent shell casing she recovered from a crime scene to a particular firearm, she has linked the crime scene to that weapon. She must then link the firearm to the suspect, and I will discuss that in a future post.


If your detective does not have the suspected firearm in her possession—as mentioned earlier—the casings are nearly useless. However, certain casings can be entered into a database called IBIS (Integrated Ballistics Identification System)/NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network), where they would be compared against other casings recovered in connection with other crimes around the country. If the system identifies two casings that are similar, a firearms examiner would then compare the two to make a final determination. Now, this would indeed be a long shot, and you should seek out more creative ways (I’ll discuss one in a future post) to have your fictional detective link the casings to a particular firearm.


Unless you are writing your story from the point of view of a firearm’s examiner, you only need a very basic knowledge of the examinations process, as described above. As a detective, I simply recovered my evidence in the proper manner and submitted it to the crime lab utilizing acceptable procedures (also to be discussed in a future post), and then I would sit back and wait (doing other things on the same case or working new cases, of course, but my work was done for the moment as far as that evidence was concerned). I would later receive a report from the lab detailing their conclusions. If more information was needed, I’d simply call the examiner and discuss his or her findings.

In the following example from one of the first short stories I ever wrote (A COLD MURDER, Detective Mystery Stories Magazine, February 2004), the firearms examination takes place off-page and the results are communicated in dialogue:

Cade knelt outside the driver’s door of the truck and looked under the seat. There was a Burger King bag and a couple of compact discs. He pulled the bag out and something rolled across the floorboard and came to rest under the brake pedal. He felt for the small object and, when his fingers found it, he knew instantly what it was—a nine-millimeter shell casing.

“Les, stand in front of the truck,” he said, excitement starting to course through his veins. He stood outside the open driver’s door and pointed his finger at Leslie. “If I’m shooting at you, my casings are gonna eject to the right and back. Most of the casings will ricochet off the side of the truck and fall to the ground, where we found them. But one—that missing one—found its way into the truck. I’ll bet my left foot this is the casing that we couldn’t find at the scene.”

Leslie kept the Cassells preoccupied while Cade raced to the crime lab. He stopped first at the firearm examiner’s office and then hurried down the hall to the fingerprint lab. Within the hour he was back at the station house with the results.

When he and Leslie were seated in his office with Joseph Cassell, he held up the casing and said, “You see this?”

Joseph nodded.

“This was found under the driver’s seat in your truck.”

“I have lots of fired casings around the house and in my truck. When I go deer hunting I usually throw my empties in the back of my truck. I clean them up later. I must’ve missed that one.”

“You hunt deer with a pistol?”

“No. I have a nine millimeter carbine that I use.”

“Well, this is a special casing.” Cade set it on the desk in front of Joseph. “This casing matches four other casings that were found at the scene of Jeffery Stokes’ murder. And that’s not all. We found Jeffery Stokes’ fingerprints on the hood of your truck.”

Joseph started in his chair. “Are you saying I did this?”

“If you did, I wouldn’t blame you much. Had I just learned some sick pervert was taking nude photos of my daughter—”

I’ve also worked actual cases where the firearms examiner processed the evidence as I waited, and I detailed such a scene in another of my early short stories titled A BADGE LIKE MINE (The Writer’s Hood, October 2003):

I drove to the crime lab and gave Willie the chrome pistol. “Check this against the bullets from the Wilson murder . . .  I’ll wait.”

“Oh, you want it done now?” Willie asked.

“Please. It’s kind of important.”

Willie took the pistol and fired it into a large water tank. The casing ejected from the pistol and bounced off the wall and rolled under the tank. Willie fished the projectile out the tank and asked me to get the casing from underneath. “My back ain’t what it used to be,” he said.

I had to use a broom to get it out and then handed it to Willie. He marked it and then stabbed it onto a piece of clay opposite the casing that was recovered in the Wilson murder. Muttering to himself, he hunched over his microscope and turned this knob just so, adjusted that one a little, moved the casing ever so slightly . . .

“Yep,” he finally said. “This is a match.”

So, it’s as simple as that. You can have your firearms examiner come to the conclusion that will move your story in the direction you want it to go. Bear in mind, though, that in the majority of real cases, firearms evidence will take days, weeks, or even months to be processed at the lab, especially if submitting to a state crime lab with a heavy workload. However, if you need ballistics evidence to come in quickly for the sake of your story, that is also realistic. I worked several murder cases where time was of grave importance and the firearms examiner processed the evidence on the spot while I waited.

Well, that’s all for the December post, folks. I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year filled with lots of writing success.

Until then, write, rewrite, and get it right!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).  
©BJ Bourg 2014


Spent Casings and Crime Scenes

Welcome to the November 2014 edition of Righting Crime Fiction. As I mentioned last month, I’ll discuss how your fictional detective can use firearms evidence to solve crimes that involve guns. If you know next to nothing about firearms and you want to write a murder mystery that involves a gun, it might seem a daunting task. However, with just a basic understanding of the types of evidence that firearms can leave behind and how to link those pieces of evidence to each other and to your bad guy, you’ll be able to easily write convincing scenes involving guns and ammunition.
I’m going to break this up into a few blog posts, because it can turn into “information overload” if I’m not careful. For this month’s edition, I’ll discuss what a spent casing can immediately tell your detective at the scene and I’ll demonstrate how shell casings are deposited at crime scenes.
If someone fired a single shot into the air on a desolate road at night and then disappeared, leaving behind nothing but one spent shell casing, that single shell casing will offer your detective some valuable information. The most obvious and immediately helpful thing it will tell her is the caliber of the bullet, and, from that one piece of information, she can deduce a lot.
Spent Casing vs. Live Round
First, the reason it’s “obvious” is because most detectives can recognize the more commonly used calibers by sight. If they can’t recognize the caliber by sight, all they need to do is look at the face of the casing, where the caliber information will have been stamped onto it during the manufacturing of the casing. The above bullet and casing are .223 caliber.
Second, the reason it’s “immediately helpful” is because she can instantly rule out every weapon that could not have fired that round. If she didn’t know the caliber of the firearm used, every gun in the world could be a potential suspect. Armed with the caliber information, she could then narrow down her search to only the firearms that could’ve fired that round.
Let’s imagine she locates a spent .357 magnum shell casing on that lonely road. She can then rule out every type of semi-automatic handgun (except for those few that can fire a .357 magnum bullet, such as the Mark XIX Desert Eagle), every type of long gun (except for those few that can fire a .357 magnum bullet, such as the Marlin Model 1894), and every type of revolver that is not chambered in .357 magnum. She can now concentrate her efforts on the finite number of guns that could have possibly fired the bullet, rather than on every type of gun ever made.


Writing spent shell casings into your story is easy to do and it can help you plant clues for your readers along the way. If you mention early in your story that a spent nine millimeter shell casing was located at the crime scene, every person you mention thereafter who owns a gun capable of firing nine millimeter bullets could be a possible suspect.
If you’ve been a writer for five minutes, you know we’re supposed to “show” rather than “tell”. Thus, I’m not simply going to “tell” you how easy it is to write spent shell casings into your story—I’m going to “show” you.
Here’s an excerpt from my current work in progress:
I scanned the immediate area and spotted two spent shell casings on the floor just inside the door.
See? It’s that easy. How do we let our readers know the caliber of the casings? Here’s another excerpt later in the same chapter:
Susan crept along the living room floor toward the hallway and called out when she found another spent casing against the baseboard of the back wall. “That makes four.”
“Are they all nine millimeters?” I asked.
“Yeah.” Susan’s brow furrowed. “How’d you know it would be here?” 
Now, what happens if your detective locates two different types of spent shell casings at the scene, such as five nine millimeter casings and six .357 magnum casings? This could mean that there were two shooters or that one shooter had two guns. You can experiment with this to add some degrees of difficulty to your story and make it harder for your detective to figure out “whodunit”.
Casings don’t magically appear at a crime scene. Some action has to take place for the casing to leave the firearm and end up on the scene. If you fire a semi-automatic or fully automatic weapon, the action of pulling the trigger would be enough to eject the casings, because the recoil-action from some weapons (Glock handgun, Beretta handgun) and the gas action of others (AR-15 rifle, AK-47 rifle) will automatically strip the spent casing from the chamber and “spit” it out.
Colt AR-15 .223 Semi-Automatic Rifle
Romarm/Cugir AK47 7.62×39 Semi-Automatic Rifle
I went out to the range the other day and made a video to demonstrate how a semi-automatic firearm deposits spent casings at the scene. It depicts me firing a few rounds at regular speed, one round at slow speed (so you can watch how the pistol works), and then I fire a couple more rounds until the slide locks back. I discussed in a previous post how the slide locks back on an empty magazine on certain pistols—well, here it is in action:
Live Fire – Semi-Automatic Pistol
Did you notice the flashes of copper-colored metal flying in the air above me each time I’d shoot? Those were the shell casings. I’ll discuss in a future segment what the location of casings at the scene can tell your fictional detectives.
In other types of firearms, some manual action has to take place in order to eject the shell casing. A few different types of actions include pump-action (Benellli Nova 12 gauge shotgun), lever-action (Mossberg 30-30 rifle), and bolt-action (Accuracy International Model AE .308 sniper rifle). In order to leave a spent casing at the crime scene, your bad guy would have to fire a round and then manipulate the action. In addition to ejecting a spent casing, this action would also push a fresh (live) round into the chamber.
Benelli Nova 12 Gauge Shotgun

Here’s a video of me working the pump action on my Benelli (it’s a sound that can strike fear in the hearts of anyone who recognizes it, especially if you’re a boy knocking on your girlfriend’s window late at night):


“Pumping” a Shotgun
Accuracy International Model AE .308 Sniper Rifle


Here’s a video of me bolting my Accuracy International sniper rifle:


“Bolting” a Sniper Rifle


Revolvers have a repeating action. As your bad guy pulls the trigger, the action of cocking the hammer, rotating the cylinder, and dropping the hammer is repeated until all of the live rounds are fired. The spent casings remain in the individual chambers until your bad guy reloads.
Keep this in mind: if your fictional detective finds casings that were fired from a revolver at the scene, it usually indicates the shooter reloaded at the scene. I’ve only witnessed this once. A man killed another man and then reloaded his revolver when he saw headlights approaching his location. It turned out to be a police officer. The suspect fired on the officer and, in the exchange of gunfire, the suspect was killed.


Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum Revolver
How does this information transfer to fiction? Consider this excerpt from my short story SNIPER’S CHOICE (Static Movement, August 2009), where I detail a sniper manipulating the bolt on his rifle:
The instructor began the countdown. When he said, “Fire!”, I dropped to the ground and pulled the butt of the sniper rifle snug into my shoulder. When the crosshairs locked on the lemon at one hundred yards, I squeezed off the shot. It exploded. My body went into autopilot. I bolted a fresh round and took out the next target. My hand was like a machine. I fired until my rifle was empty and my targets were only a misty memory.
I didn’t detail every step of the bolt-action process, because it’s not necessary and would be too technical. With the few words, I bolted a fresh round, I show readers that something has to happen to get a live round into the chamber. Instead of repeating that phrase four times, I try to paint a picture to let readers know the sniper fired multiple rounds in rapid succession by simply writing, My hand was like a machine. I fired until my rifle was empty.
That’ll wrap up Righting Crime Fiction for November. I’ll continue the discussion about shell casings in December. Until then, write, rewrite, and get it right!
BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
©BJ Bourg 2014

Semi-Automatic Pistol Basics

Welcome to the October 2014 edition of Righting Crime Fiction. This month I’ll pick up where I left off last month and continue discussing handguns—more particularly, semi-automatic pistols.
Quite simply, and without getting technical, a semi-automatic pistol is a handgun with a single barrel and chamber that uses the energy from the previously-fired bullet to load a fresh bullet into the chamber. The amount of times it can reload itself depends on the capacity of the magazine. If the magazine holds fifteen bullets, you would be able to pull the trigger fifteen times before having to replace the magazine.
Before delving too far into the subject, we need to familiarize ourselves with the parts of a semi-automatic pistol. I have created a diagram using my Beretta 92FS 9mm pistol to assist us in accomplishing this goal. There are plenty of parts, so follow the arrows closely to ensure you are identifying the correct one:
Just like there are single-action revolvers and double-action revolvers, there are also single-action semi-autos (Colt Model 1911-A1) and double-action semi-autos (Beretta 92FS). Like revolvers, many double-action semi-autos can be fired single-action and double-action, but single-action semi-autos can only be fired single-action. Most double-action semi-autos are double-action for the first shot, but then they revert to single-action afterward, because the hammer automatically remains in the cocked position after the first shot, unless it is “decocked” by manipulating the safety or “decocker”.
Colt Model 1911-A1
Beretta 92FS
There are hammerless pistols that possess internal hammers or internal firing mechanisms. The Glock 22 is an example of a hammerless pistol. While we’re talking about the popular Glock, it’s important to note that they possess safety mechanisms such as the trigger safety, firing pin safety, and drop safety, but they do not possess a manual safety. Thus, it’s important that you not have your heroine “flip the safety” on her trusty Glock.
Single-Action Pistol
Double-Action Pistol
Hammerless Pistol
Before I go any further, let’s talk about the four parts of a bullet. Understanding how bullets work will make it easier to understand how semi-automatics operate. Here’s a picture of a bullet that is intact:
The next four pictures depict the same bullet disassembled, with arrows pointing to the four major parts:
The “casing” houses the other parts of the bullet. The “head” end of the casing is closed, with the exception of a tiny flash hole, and the “mouth” end, which is where the projectile is seated, is open.
The “primer” is an impact-sensitive cap seated in the face of the casing that’s used to ignite the powder.
The “powder” is a fast burning compound that’s used to propel the projectile forward.


The “projectile” is the business end of the bullet—the part that kills. Most projectiles are made from lead and are covered in part—or in full—by a metal “jacket”.
Quite simply, when you pull the trigger on a firearm this is what happens to the bullet: the firing pin strikes the primer, which creates a spark that shoots through the flash hole, which ignites the gunpowder within the casing, which causes a small explosion and generates lots of energy, which propels the projectile down the barrel at a high rate of speed.
Terminology Note: A bullet that has not been fired is commonly referred to as a “live round”, while the casing from a fired bullet is referred to as a “spent” casing. Some folks call a live round a “cartridge” and a projectile a “bullet”. For the sake of consistency, I try to always use “bullet” or “live round” and I call the killing part of the bullet a “projectile”. I do this in my police reports and in my fiction. Either way is acceptable, as long as you remain consistent in order to avoid confusion.
So, the energy from the fired bullet is what operates the semi-automatic pistol. Without getting technical, this is what happens to the semi-automatic pistol when it’s fired: 1) the counter-energy from the fired bullet forces the slide rearward, 2) the slide grabs the spent casing on its way rearward and ejects it (throws it away from the pistol), 3) an internal “recoil spring” forces the slide forward, 4) on its way forward, the slide strips a live bullet from the magazine and pushes it into the chamber, and 5) the sequence is repeated until the magazine is empty, at which time the slide locks to the rear.
The following “action” photograph depicts a semi-automatic pistol (Beretta 92FS) with the slide in the rearward position immediately upon being fired:
Notice the spent shell casing in mid-air as it is ejected from the chamber. Semi-automatic firearms spit out these casings like you would spit out the shells of a sunflower seed—except much faster. Also notice how the pistol is positioned at a slightly upward angle. This is from the recoil.
The following photograph was the next in this series of “action” shots and was taken in rapid succession. It depicts the slide in the forward position and the hammer cocked, ready for a follow-up shot:
To understand how instant the slide returned to its forward position and the shooter (my son, Brandon) got his sights back on target, notice the car in the background and to the left of the pistol in both photographs. The speed limit for that highway is 65 miles per hour and the car traveled approximately two short car lengths in the amount of time it took the slide to move forward and Brandon to get the front sight back on target.
The following photograph shows what the same semi-automatic pistol looks like from the top view with the slide in the rearward position:
As the slide moves forward, it strips a live round from the magazine and pushes it into the chamber, readying the pistol for another shot. Again, once you’ve fired the last round, the slide will lock to the rear, indicating it’s time to feed the pistol another magazine, or “clip”.
Since your heroine may need to load or unload her semi-automatic pistol someday, it’s important that you know how to perform these tasks, as well. If you’ve never done this, viewing a video of it might help. I’ve created a video of me loading my Glock 22 and another of me unloading it and will post them here, along with written instructions.
Note: The demonstrations will be for right-handed folks. It’s similar for left-handed folks, but with slight variations. Contact me for more information.
Step One: Holding the pistol in your right hand, ensure that the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction.
Step Two: With your left hand, insert a fully loaded magazine into the magazine well until it locks. It’s a good idea to give the magazine a little tug to ensure it’s seated properly.
Step Three: With your left hand, retract the slide fully to the rear and release it. Once you release the slide, it will spring forward and strip a live bullet from the top of the magazine and push it into the chamber, loading the pistol. If you had a fifteen-round magazine, there would now be fourteen rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber of the pistol. If you want to “top off” the magazine—meaning you want to replace the live round that was stripped from the magazine, in order to allow yourself the maximum number of bullets at your disposal—you would move on to Step Four.
Step Four:With your right thumb, press the magazine release button and remove the magazine with your left hand. Place your pistol someplace where it’s secure, such as a holster, and then “top off” the magazine by loading another bullet into it.
Step Five: With your left hand, reinsert the magazine into the magazine well until it locks into position and give it a tug to ensure it is seated properly. You now have sixteen bullets at your disposal.
Bear in mind, if your hero were in a shootout, he would not have time to top off his magazine. He would have to reload his pistol quickly and get back into the gunfight.
Loading the Semi-Automatic Pistol


Step One: Holding the pistol in your right hand, ensure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction.
Step Two: With your right thumb, press the magazine release button and allow the magazine to fall to the ground. This part is very important! Picking up—or catching—an empty magazine during a gunfight could prove deadly. Since folks resort to their training under pressure, it’s important not to develop any bad habits during training. Thus, always have you heroine allow her empty magazines to fall to the ground during training.
Step Three: With your left hand, retract the slide fully to the rear and lock it in the “open” position by pushing the “slide release button” upward with your right thumb.
Step Four: Visually inspect the chamber and magazine well to ensure they are clear of live rounds.
Unloading the Semi-Automatic Pistol
Well, that wraps up Righting Crime Fiction for October. I plan to discuss the type of evidence firearms leave behind at crime scenes and how they can be linked to suspects in the November installment.
Until next time, write, rewrite, and get it right!

BJ Bourg is the author of JAMES 516 (Amber Quill Press, 2014), THE SEVENTH TAKING (Amber Quill Press, 2015), and HOLLOW CRIB (Five Star-Gale-Cengage, 2016).
©BJ Bourg 2014