Humans fear what they do not understand; it is an entirely natural biological reaction. Knowledge conquers fear. Sadly, there is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to firearms. Guns are given human like qualities, and ascribed mythical totem-like abilities to absorb and perpetuate evil. They are a source of misplaced blame, and feared, hated and persecuted. Some individuals and groups hold extreme opinions that have nearly no basis in reality. It seems the entertainment industry might be to blame for this, as it is where the uninformed get most of their “information”.

1. The Knock Down Power myth.Name that Movie

Tv, games, and movies typically depict the person on the receiving end of gunfire as flying off their feet backward and falling limp to the ground. Shotguns in the movies blow people across the room, through widows, blow doors in half, etc. Recoil is never experienced by the shooter unless there is need of comedic effect. But, firearms don’t work that way, none of them work that way. Normal firearms fire small projectiles, shotguns fire several small pellets. You cannot impart enough energy to a small projectile to blow a person backward. Basic physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore the actual physical impact of a projectile must be proportional to the amount of recoil. There are some ways to lessen the perception of recoil but all things being equal…uh…things must be equal…

2.The Guns “Go Off” myth

Television and movies would have us believe that a firearm is volatile. They must be handled like a carton of eggs lest they “Go Off”. Guns are not explosives. Modern explosives don’t even just “Go Off”. What is commonly called gunpowder isn’t even an explosive; scientifically speaking it is a propellant. Which means it simply burns rapidly and gives off a lot of gas. But back to the point, a gun in anything approximating working order does not just “Go Off”. Even old guns can almost always be dropped from a reasonable height without just “Going Off”. Guns do not “Go Off” from anything similar to normal handling. Normal guns do not have “hair triggers”. In most cases a firearm has to have a deliberate trigger press to fire. Modern guns are amazingly safe designs that are almost impossible to make discharge accidentally. Which leads me to another myth.

3. The Accidental Discharge MythNRA's Eddie the Eagle

This is somewhat uncomfortable to say because it feels as though it is a harsh, accusatory, statement. But guns do not discharge “accidentally”. Someone may “accidentally” press the trigger with a loaded round in the chamber, but the gun did not “Go Off Accidentally”; it discharged exactly as designed. The person might say, (back to the above myth) “I don’t know what happened, it just went off” The first part of the statement is probably correct, THEY don’t know what happened, but the second part is untrue, the firearm did not “Go Off”; the trigger was pressed. The person holding the firearm may have “accidentally” pressed the trigger, but this is also not an “accident” this is a negligent discharge. It might be done out of carelessness or ignorance of the rules, but it was negligent.

Invariably when a fatal negligent discharge happens the media reports it similarly to this:

“a [ white, black, young, geographic area] [boy, girl, man, teen, youth, woman] was [fatally shot or wounded] [today, tonight, or this weekend] when [self friend brother sister] [(almost always) was cleaning or found] the weapon and it accidentally “went off”.

They make it sound like no human action was needed, and the gun was lying in wait for a victim like some sort of predatory snake. No. Just, no. It doesn’t happen like that.

1) The weapon was loaded and the chamber was not checked,

2) it was not being pointed in a safe direction, and

3) the trigger was negligently pressed by a human.

That is what happened. It might have been in the act of cleaning, and it might have been in the act of horseplay, or it might have been while simply mishandling the weapon. But it was done completely without regard to safety. Look, when a plane crashes due to pilot error we do not blame the plane, or the manufacturer. If you full throttle the plane and head it toward the ground the plane functioned normally. The operator didn’t.  Accidental (negligent) discharge is operator error.

4. The Shoot to Wound Myth 

“Why didn’t they shoot him in the knee (hand, pinky toe, etc)?”

(Note : none of this is actual legal advice, however Liberty Tree does offer courses on the topic)

I loved watching those old black & white and Technicolor Westerns with my Grandpa as much as anyone. When the guy in the Black Hat was going to do BadThings the guy in the White Hat would shoot him in the hand and prevent the badthing from happening and no one was really hurt. But, it doesn’t work like that anywhere except in the entertainment industry.

The human mind and body are amazing things. Often times an aggressor’s willpower or lack thereof seems to be the determining factor in whether being shot stops the aggression or not.  For MOST attackers, simply knowing their potential victim is armed, ends or prevents conflict. Very few people are willing to take bullets to continue their nefarious ways , but some people don’t believe they will be shot until they are shot, and others generally due to altered mental states don’t care.

In a fairly high percentage of shootings many aggressors which receive a not-immediately-fatal wound are still de-motivated to continue (psychological stop). Suddenly the stakes of the situation are higher than their minds are willing to accept and they stop their behavior. This is a good thing. The problem is, strangely, others can receive absolutely 100% imminently fatal wounds and yet end up fighting on for several minutes until their body fails them (physical stoppage). The problem is there is no way of knowing (probably even for the aggressor) which way the situation will play out. By the time the information to make such a decision is available, things have gotten pretty intense and hectic. Self defense situations are not leisurely occurrences, with ample time to rationally make decisions.

But when there is a self defense shooting in the news or talk of using a gun for self defense, or an officer involved shooting, someone will invariably shout “why didn’t he shoot him in the knee (hand, pinky toe, etc)?” There are several reasons for this. First when “deadly force” is warranted in a situation, that is the stakes of the situation.

In an officer involved situation, officers usually have options before “deadly force”, that might be a baton, a taser, OC spray, more cops, etc. By the time firearms come into play, officers have already went through the decisions required, exhausted other options, and are at the “deadly force” stage.

At this point using a firearm for anything less than “deadly force” is probably illegal. Other reasons are as follows 1) it is impractical; it is very hard to hit such a small target, especially if the target is moving and the shooter is scared. 1a) missing that small target and killing or wounding a bystander is Bad. 2) there is no guarantee that shooting an assailant in the leg (or other “safe” place) will stop the aggression 3) shooting someone in the leg could very easily be fatal in seconds if a major artery is hit because there is no “safe” place to shoot someone. 4) we do not shoot to maim, we do not shoot to wound, we do not shoot to kill; shots are fired to stop. the. threat.

From a layperson’s understanding (consult an attorney for actual legal advice) There are too many variables to consider and too little time available to a shooter to assess to determine the absolute minimum level of force necessary to stop the aggression. The least is “great bodily harm” and the most is “death” but between those two levels of force is a grey area that is functionally impossible to separate. Often times “great bodily harm” and “death” are not decided until much later at a hospital. Therefore, and so far, the courts have seemed to understand that when lives are on the line the minimum level of force needed to stop the threat…might result in death. Attempting to wound someone in the act of violence and failing, leading to further loss of life, might even be negligent in the eyes of the law. If you had the reasonable opportunity to stop the violence had you aimed to immediately stop the threat, but instead tried to “wound” the aggressor with fancy pistolero moves you saw in a movie and then failed, well….

There you have it, 4 of the biggest myths related to firearms, There is no such thing as knockdown power, guns to not “go off”, Accidental discharges aren’t really, and we do not shoot to wound.  There are many many more.  This topic may be revisited.

 And as always, stay safe, stay free, and come see the folks at Liberty Tree.