Hollywood Myths About Using Guns That Easily Get You Killed

Movies and TV present seemingly magical scenarios where the good guy always wins and high impact action scenes are over in a matter of minutes.  While these forms of entertainment are designed to make you suspend judgment and go with the flow of the story, they do not accurately portray how guns work in real life.

If you tried to use a gun as they are used in the movies or on TV, it may well get you killed or, at best, seriously injured. There are no shortcuts to becoming a safe, well educated gun owner and user.  If you gain nothing else from this article, at least know that movies, and TV (including reality TV and the news) are not good places to learn about guns.

Seek a qualified instructor and good quality courses.  Now let’s look at some of those misconceptions.

The “Gangster Grip” is as Useful as it is Cool

When criminals shoot in the movies or on TV, they tend to hold handguns so that the magazine port is angled about 90 degrees from the ground.   Two things always amaze me about these scenes.

First, I can’t imagine how they hit the target with the sights so far out of alignment, let alone put enough lead into the other shooter to kill him/her 10 times over.  The other thing that amazes me is that the gun never has a fail to feed problem.

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Shooters that use the “gangster grip” claim that they hold the gun this way so they can shoot faster.  The fact is they aren’t doing more than “spraying and praying” they hit what they think they are aiming at.  In a lot of shootouts the target individuals are missed and simply escape.

Sadly, given the large number of bullets flying around, it is more than likely innocent bystanders will get hurt or killed.

The major problems with this way of shooting are:

  • You can’t accurately measure movement left or right.
  • You can’t get a reliable sight picture because you are aiming down the slide instead of via the sights.
  • There is also no way to know if the pistol is pointing down below your field of vision from the back of the pistol.
  • Even if you do hit your target, it is likely you will not make the same shot again because you are never actually aiming the same way twice.

Big Caliber Guns are Fine for Beginners

In movies and on TV, they often show a complete novice picking up a large caliber gun and firing it with no problems.  This simply isn’t the way to developing good marksmanship and safe shooting works in the real world.

You will need to start off with small calibers and master them before moving on to larger ones.  If you use a gun that has too much recoil, or is too powerful for you to control, you can easily hurt yourself and others.

Case in point. I have personally witnessed people using guns like the 50 Caliber Desert Eagle and winding up with severe head wounds when the gun escaped their hands and hit them after firing.  Aside from that, never forget that you won’t be just carrying a gun for a one or two hour TV show or movie.

You may carry the gun for years on end and never need to pull it let alone get through a problematic situation.  During that time, you will still need to practice and make sure you do not develop problems such as jerking the trigger, flinching, looking away from the target when you shoot, or being totally afraid to handle or shoot pistols.

You Will Shoot Like a Pro from the Beginning

In movies, the good guy always shoots perfectly even if they have never fired a gun in their lives. No matter whether they got a “lucky shot” at just the right moment, or managed to be some kind of genius that engaged in a complex shootout, chances are you will not have the same experience during a time when your life depends on it.

Not only will you have to manage the gun itself, your own adrenaline and stress responses can, and will wreak havoc on you.  It takes years of training and practice to become a master at shooting a pistol.

Getting Shot Looks Obvious

When a person gets shot in a movie, they are lifted up off the ground and thrown many feet behind them into glass window or some other spectacular background.  In reality the victim may only move back a little bit and then fall over dead.

If the gun is of a smaller caliber, the person is likely to remain standing.  In most cases, the impact of the average bullet has about the same force as the recoil.  This occurs mainly because the body has much more weight and mass than the bullet. In addition, remember, the bullet isn’t made to just push the target, it is made to lodge in it or punch through it.

As such, you simply won’t see a lot of movement backwards when the bullet hits a live target. Check with FBI’s Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness Manual for some further insights.

The Ammo Supply is Never Ending

Even though large capacity magazines may seem like they hold a lot of bullets, the fact is  even 18 rounds can go very quickly.  Some researchers have found that even trained law enforcement officers in a situation may fire their gun many times before hitting their target.

In a situation, it is likely you will run out of ammo and still not hit your attacker.  While they never count their bullets in the movies, you must always know how many bullets you have left at every second.  You should also remember to carry spare, loaded magazines and extra ammo.

Treating ammo like they do in the movies is a good way to wind up dead regardless of your experience and skill level.

You Will Always Be Thrown Backwards When You Fire a Gun

New shooters, or those with little shooting experience believe that they will be thrown backwards regardless of the caliber of the firearm.  Smaller caliber guns have less felt recoil.  Unless you are firing  a weapon that is well beyond your capability, it is likely that only your hand and forearm will move out of position.

With proper training and skill development, you should have no movement at all backwards from the recoil of a gun.

Semi-automatic Weapons Fire Like Machine Guns

In a lot of action movies semi-automatic weapons are portrayed as if they are full-automatics.  There is a big difference between the two, which leads to the false claim that semi-automatic weapons are “assault weapons”.

A semi-automatic weapon shoots one bullet with one pull of the trigger even with or without it has a bump stock on it.  Without this type of stock, AK, AR, and other semi-automatic weapons are no different than any other gun insofar as the trigger operation.

A full-automatic weapon, which can be called a “assault weapon” shoots many bullets without needing to pull the trigger again.  This type of gun will only stop firing when the trigger is released.  It takes a lot of training to shoot a full-automatic weapon accurately.

Without this training, all the shooter is doing is wasting ammunition and spraying the area vainly hoping to hit something.  Both semi-automatic and full-automatic weapons must be aimed to get the best target accuracy.

Guns Will Always Fire When Dropped

In the movies, when actors or actresses drop a gun, it always goes off (and more than likely kills someone in the bargain).  Today, guns are designed to not accidentally fire when dropped as required by The Gun Control Act of 1968.

Guns designed before The Gun Control Act of 1968 have no safe guards to protect shooters from a dropped firearm going off.  This one movie myth alone has probably negated dozens of modern alibis to murder made by people that claimed they dropped the gun and it fired “by accident”.

While it is still possible for this to happen, the drop safety test conducted by the manufacturer ensures that 99.999% of the time, a dropped gun will not go off.  If the gun does fall out of your hands, never try to catch it while it is in motion.  It is very easy for a finger or something else to get into the trigger guard and pull the trigger.

There is no Need to Aim a Shotgun

In many movies and on TV, people just point the shotgun in a general direction of the target and fire.  To add insult to injury, once the shotgun pellets hits, everything and everyone is destroyed, dead, or dying.  You can’t just “point and shoot” a shotgun and expect to hit the target.

Good aim maters just as much when shooting a shotgun as it does shooting a pistol.  With a shotgun, the further away the target is, the greater the shotgun pellets will spread.  As such, it is easier than you might expect to completely miss the target.

Even if you shoot slugs out of the shotgun, you must aim at the target and compensate for the weight of the slug at different distances.  The farther away from the target you are, the more the slug will drop.

It is Easy to Buy Firearms and Ammo

Movies and TV often show people walking into a gun store and simply buying whatever they want. Others show people walking in and flashing enough money to buy something “off the books”.  Even worse, there are many other movies and TV that show people buying a whole arsenal from gun shows or off the streets.

The false idea here is that all you have to do is go to your friendly neighborhood gun runner and get everything you need at cheap bargain basement prices. These movies never show the gun blowing up in the buyer’s hands, or all of the problems that occur as a result of buying low quality junk that probably won’t hit the target even if it does fire.

Sadly, these movies and the cultural opinion are also being used endlessly to drive gun control legislation.

It is true that private gun sales can be made in some states without the seller having to do a background check.  Depending on the state, the seller may still have to make sure they are not selling to a convicted felon or someone else that is not supposed to have a gun.

Even in these states, it is already a crime to sell a gun to someone that shouldn’t have it.  As a result, if the buyer does get caught, the person that sold him/her the weapon will also face criminal charges.

Insofar as gun shows, there are some individuals that believe anyone can go to a gun show firearms retailers booth, lay down some money, walk out with a gun, and never file any state or federal forms.  Buying a gun at a gun show retailer’s table is no different from buying from any legitimate gun store.

All firearm retailers in the business of selling firearms must due the following:

  1. Have a Federal Firearms License(FFL).
  2. Perform background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System(NICS).
  3. If you pass the background check, then and only then can you pay for the firearm and then take it home.
  4. If you don’t pass the background check because you can’t legally own a firearm, you will be arrested either right there at the show, or at home.
  5. At all legitimate gun shows you will find local, state, and federal law enforcement officers there to monitor sales and be sure all sales are lawful transactions.
  6. The so-called “gun show loophole” is a completely false construct. It is said that people can simply meet up outside the gun show and sell there; thus getting around straw purchase laws. This is no different from making a private sale in a remote location.

In fact, it is less likely these kinds of sales will be made on the ground surrounding a gun show because the police are actively looking for such sales and will act to put a stop to them.  If anything,outside of a gun show is the worst place to make a private gun sale.

Never forget that gun shows, like most gun stores, utilize cameras and other forms of surveillance equipment.  This includes on the grounds surrounding the gun show as well as inside the buildings.

In conclusion, if you believe everything you see at the movies or TV dealing with firearms you can wind up in some very bad situations. This includes being unable to defend yourself in a time of need as well as being largely uninformed about how gun laws work in the real world.

If you don’t want to wind up dead or on the way to the pokey for breaking the law, it is best to relegate “action” TV and  movies to entertainment purposes only and find a good instructor that will train you properly in gun use and ownership.

This article has been written by Fred Tyrell for Survivopedia.

Written by

Fred Tyrrell is an Eagle Scout and retired police officer that loves to hunt, fish, hike, and camp with good friends and family. He is also a champion marksman (rifle, pistol, shotgun) and has direct experience with all of the major gun brands and their clones. Fred refers to himself as a "Southern gentleman" - the last of a dying way. He believes a man's word is his bond, and looks forward to teaching others what he has learned over the years. You can send Fred a message at editor [at] survivopedia.com.

Latest comments
  • Sorry Fred you are absolutely wrong on items 4 and 5. thousands of people fail background checks each year and very few are ever arrested. police at gun shows are there for security they are not monitoring sales except for an occasional undercover ATf agent.

  • Fred, I like this article as it has some very GOOD points. Especially like the firing the semi auto pistol sideways. I have to laugh at that on the movies. Also, the never run out of ammo unless you are the good guy.

    by the way, “Due” is not the way “do” is spelled.

    //All firearm retailers in the business of selling firearms must due the following://

    Sorry, I get picky at MISSPELLING in articles.

  • Fred::
    Thanks for an interesting article. But, you confused me at the first page, you mention a “magazine port” right after we see a dude brandishing a revolver! How many uninformed readers even know what a magazine port is? and on a revolver? (i always use only double-action revolvers to initially train new shooters., the long trigger pull is great training).. why not just say “barrel” which is more to the point anyway. On the problem of recoil causing injury, in 1964 i took a girlfriend shooting, with a german luger, and showed her how to properly hold and aim the gun on a bench rest. when she fired the first round, it recoiled all the way into her forehead, knocking my new b&l sunglasses of.f. seems she had polio, and was using all her strength to hold the pistol up, not keeping it level with a rigid hand. bad lesson, but no injury. many years later i taught a lot of women to shoot, and eventually discovered they do things with their fingers most men do not. i am now acutely aware of what they do with their trigger fingers, usually flicking the trigger finger totally off the trigger after the shot, or even flicking a middle finger off the grip during the firing.. impossible to get this to result in any good improvement later on. on sight picture training (not merely show-and-tell) i could write a book, because real training in this requires devising some exercise that allows quantitative evaluation of the skill, like training in trigger pull, mere show-and-tell will not work.

  • Kind-of interesting, but ILLEGIBLE, First the text is magnified on the net, second it is “georgian” font, which is a broken-letter type very difficult to read, copying and changing to “arial” made this 10 times more readable. the gangster-grip was ACTUALLY used by one shooting COMPETITOR quit SUCCESSFULLY but it was different than what you say: instead of holding the gun 90 degrees it was about 30 degrees where his index finger was naturally and directly pointing at the target! guess you can blame hollywood for it’s fictional PORTRAYAL of that.. personally i have never seen that grip in any movies , sorry, i USUALLY watch “a” or “b” grade shows.. Nice try.

  • I have no problem with the points that the article makes, but there were a couple of places where i got a little heartburn.

    1. Aiming a gun – it is true that if you want to hit something, you must aim the gun, but aiming can be done in many ways. You do not have to use the sights on the gun! it is a lot like telling a quarterback that he has to aim a football in order to hit the receiver. He throws the ball from over his shoulder or sidearm as the situation demands. The same is true for a baseball pitcher – he can put that ball through a ball-sized hole 8 times out of 10 from the distance at which he practices. it gets more difficult with distance, but it is still possible. Same is true for basketball players etc. The ability to hit the target aimed at does not require aiming in the same sense that you suggest. It requires knowledge and practice.

    Most people can be very proficient at shooting a target with a rifle or a handgun from their waist if that is how they usually practice. especially for short distances – a few feet. I do not believe that the aiming question is well handled by the article. A person who wants to be able to protect himself must not require that the gun be taken to full shooting position in order for them to hit a target – if they have the time and distance in their favor, fine – take the time – be certain of the distance, but that is not always the case – I would bet that having the time is the least normal of all instances for the use of a firearm..

    The other thing was the bs about the shotgun. The obvious thing about a shotgun is that it can take out a lot of people or things at one time. It might not kill them all but it can surely hurt them badly enough that you would not want to be on the wrong side of it. That does not require ‘aiming’ in the traditional sense. A small person – man or woman – should not be given a shotgun for protection unless they are very familiar with it.and how it kicks. That said, the shotgun is good for medium distances without aiming, scary but not effective at large distances , yet stunningly effective close up if you are able to get it into position to fire. – but then it has to be aimed, not pointed (the other situations it may be pointed. and still be effective). The use of a shotgun with slugs is almost insane – even aiming will not get any kind of reliability. You might have a chance at hitting a large animal or a man at 20 feet, but you will get only one try. Aim it? Not hardly. – why reduce a practical weapon to uselessness by putting a slug in it. Might as well use a real slimy slug, it would work as well.

    Sorry – no matter what I tried, my system would not do other than these caps in this box – Very disconcerting.

    • Yeah, Very experienceD shooters can aim in all kinds of ways. I would suggest no less than a year on the firing line, and at least one or two thousand rounds through the weapon that you Intend to do “crazy aiming” with. I personally tend to agree with the author of the (well presented) article, or at least the sentiment…

      • In fact, I would go further to claim that people who are taking courses to get a per,mit to carry a weapon for self defense are really wasting their time. I know, it doesn’t hurt them to have that kind of practice, but that kind of practice does not help much in emergencies. The reason why people tend to miss the target under duress of an attack is that they are looking at the target and not sighting the weapon. However, if a person practices to hit the target without using the sights, they will still be able to accurately use the sights when they have a chance, but when they don’t have the time to do anything other than react, they are better off to know how to shoot the gun without aiming it and still hit the target.. I do not believe that ‘the rifleman’ falsely depicted that man’s ability to hit whatever he aimed at whenever he wished to do so. It is Not trick shooting, either. The same with western gunfighters, their lives depended on how good they were – and those men existed – many of them. They learned how to hit the target without sighting – it is possible and much more useful. Yes, it takes practice, but it doesn’t take long to become good enough – certainly not years.

  • ‘Guns always go off when dropped…’ (in the movies). Not sure what movies you watch, but they never seem to go off…

    • “True Lies”

  • ALSO, in an episode of Frasier. the gun was dropped and went off.

    • It is possible for the gun to ‘go off’ when dropped – in the westerns it was supposed to be because the owner had made ‘hair trigger’ out of their normal trigger’s action. A gun so modified could conceivably ‘go off’ when dropped. The most likely reason for a gun to ‘go off’ when dropped is that something operated the trigger. This type of firing would be nearly impossible, but not impossible. Other ways would require a malfunctioning weapon, such as a weapon that was ‘cocked’ ready for firing prior to being dropped.

      To tell the truth, having a gun ‘go off’ when dropped bothers me a lot less than the suggestion that a trained police or other professional of that ilk would actually allow themselves to be separated from their guns by any kind of blow – short of one that knocked them unconscious – and even then, I think that you would have quite a time to get that weapon out of their hand

  • Don’t tell people that holding the gun sideways is ineffective! It’ll save a lot of lives…. Shhhhhhhh

  • due and do are not the same word. Get an editor.

  • The origin of the “Gangster/Gangsta'” hold: Mario van Peebles starred and directed himself in the 1993 film “Posse”. He wanted to show his expression of contempt as he shot the villain. The screen needed to show his entire face and the muzzle of the pistol as he fired. Mario van peebles tried a variety of screen angles and conventional grip styles before discovering that by holding the pistol sideways his facial expressions were clearly displayed to the viewer. This grip style became popular only because of the movie.
    The Gangster grip is the least effective way to fire a weapon and was created as a movie technique only.

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