Ignorance about firearms in this country is deep, profound, and often dangerous, with most information coming from the cinema.  Here are a few simple facts to dispel some Hollywood myths.  It is not a definitive list by any means, but you can generally assume that anything you see about firearms at the movies is wrong!

  1. A man is shot and is lifted clean off his feet to fall some distance away.
    Fact - a .44 magnum has only enough energy to lift a 10lb weight about 6 inches.  Even a shotgun cartridge has only enough energy to lift it about 12 inches. 
  2. A pistol is fired (not uncommonly, without being aimed) and people fall ‘dead’ twenty yards and more away.
    Fact 1 - accurate shooting requires considerable mental calm and physical relaxation.  A reasonable target pistol shooter, under quiet club conditions, would expect to hit a 4 inch target at twenty yards consistently.  However, under stress, the fine control needed for this is lost totally, and even good shooters can miss a man-sized figure at 10 yards. 
    Fact 2 – shooting someone, even if you are lucky enough to hit them, is no guarantee that they will stop what they are doing (see 3 below).
  3.  ‘Shoot to kill’ is a useful phrase because it clearly identifies anyone using it as knowing nothing about firearms.  The only way to guarantee killing someone with a firearm is to secure them and then shoot them in the head a few times from an inch away.  The normal intention in using a firearm defensively is not to kill, but to stop someone doing something, very quickly.  For this reason and because accuracy under stress is so difficult, the upper body mass is targeted - it is large and it contains the organs which if damaged are more likely to disable the offender quickly.  If he or she dies subsequently, this is an unintended consequence. 
    ‘Head shots’, ‘wounding/disabling shots’, ‘shooting the gun from the hand’, etc are all pure fantasy - they are impossibly difficult.  Further, dying is a long way from being dead, and even a grievously wounded person can be extremely dangerous.
  4. The crosshairs of a telescopic sight come to rest motionless on a victim. 
    Fact - even when a firearm is resting on something it is never motionless.  It is dealing with this inevitable movement that makes good shooting difficult.  Also, while a telescopic sight might magnify your target 4 to 8 times, it magnifies your dither 4 to 8 times as well!
  5. Sub-machine guns blaze away continuously for minutes. 
    Fact - fired continuously, most sub machine guns will empty their magazines in less than 5 seconds and in any event are prone to jamming when fired thus.


The door opens and someone comes in shooting.   Whatever the cares of your day were they have been reduced to ‘do something and perhaps be killed – do nothing and definitely be killed’.  Here are some thoughts to help you
  1. You will go into ‘this isn’t happening’ emotional shock.  The quicker you can accept the new reality the more likely you are to survive. 
  2. Do not be afraid to be afraid.  Fear is horrible but it is your body’s ‘flight or fight’ response to danger.  It is very ancient and is in your best interests.  It will make you much stronger and resistant to injury.  Change it into rage.
  3. Forget what you’ve seen on the movies.  Real guns are difficult to use – most shots miss and the few that hit do not usually kill.
  4. A gun can only hurt you if it is pointing at you, it can only point in one direction at a time, and it is harmless when being reloaded
  5. If you can, trot away – safety increases with distance.  Do not dash – you may stumble and injure yourself, reducing your chances of surviving.
  6. If the shooter is between you and the door you have no alternative but to attack him.  He is a lunatic and not open to negotiation – he will try to kill you and all around you and the more passive you are, the easier it will be for him. 
  7. If you are behind him, charge into him at full tilt at the same time shouting ‘Get him!’ to galvanize others around you who will be floundering and looking for leadership.  If you can snatch up a weapon on the way – chair, fire extinguisher, say – strike behind the knees but do not waste any time looking for one.
  8. If you are in front of him, shout ‘Get him!’, while throwing your keys, coins (or anything else you can snatch up) very hard at this face and charging directly into him.  If possible grip the end of the barrel with one hand and hold it away from yourself then punch the shooter in the throat with your other hand until you are safe.  Once you have seized the barrel you can mentally dismiss the gun and focus on your enemy – he needs a gun to deal with you, you don’t need one to deal with him.
  9. Such events are unlikely but so is winning the Lottery yet two or three people win it every week.  Explain the above to your children.  They know these frightening things happen and you can give them clear and honest advice on what to do.  They will have no problem with it anymore than they have with fire drills at school.  Children smell the truth and respect it, however grim.  Keep them in ignorance and helplessness and they may suffer the same fate as the 92 young souls who died on Utoya Island in Norway.