Fictional characters aren’t always as savvy as they’d like us to believe. They’re not human. They make mistakes. And some of those errors, especially those made by characters in crime fiction, involve guns. For example, I’ve known a handful of make-believe cops and criminals who didn’t know the difference between smokeless powder and cordite, and that cordite use in ammunition ceased at the end of WWII.

And there’s this, the differences between revolvers and pistols.


The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having:

  • a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);
  • and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

Pistol nomenclature (below).



The term “Revolver” means a projectile weapon of the pistol type, having a breechloading chambered cylinder so arranged that the cocking of the hammer or movement of the trigger rotates it and brings the next cartridge in line with the barrel for firing.

Revolver nomenclature (below).


Semi-autos and fully automatic (machine guns) automatically eject spent cartridges. Revolvers DO NOT. Therefore, writers, chances are slim and mostly none of finding empty revolver cartridges at a crime scene. Please remember this when writing the “aha” moment in your WIP.

Fun Stuff

Can you spot the errors in the text below? Hint – there are more than five, and each is something I’ve read in a book or manuscript.

Mr. Heeza Dilly, a former police captain, was a fire arms instructor back in the day. His specialty was handguns and he taught recruits how to shoot them safely and efficiently. He also showed them how to properly fit revolvers with silencers, and how to avoid being hit with hot brass at it’s automatically ejected from the chamber of a revolver.

Of course, he made it a point to highlight the importance of always keeping safeties switched to the ON position on both Glock and SIG Sauer semi-automatic pistols. After all, all cops are always trained to carry weapons with the safeties on, and without a round in the chamber. These rules are no-brainers according to Dilly, because they 100% prevent the accidental discharge of the officer’s fire arm.

Other tips shared by Dilly were:

  • Always surrender your weapon to a bad guy if he demands that you do so while aiming his gun at you or a hostage.
  • Never use two hands when firing a handgun, because you need a free hand to: operate your portable radio to call for backup, gesture to a suspect and/or fellow officers, stop traffic, or hold handcuffs in preparation of the arrest.
  • When working in plainclothes, always store your handgun tucked inside your belt and pants at the small of your back.
  • Keep in mind that all revolver cylinders rotate clockwise, never counterclockwise.
  • It’s quite easy to tell the caliber of bullet used in a homicide merely by looking at the size of an entrance or exit wound.
  • A semi-automatic weapon, such as a Glock 9mm pistol or AR-15 rifle, fires only once per pull of the trigger (only one round fired each time the trigger is pulled).
  • Machine guns (mega-expensive, fully-automatic weapons that require special, federally mandated licenses to own) fire multiple rounds with a single, continuous pull of the trigger. As long as the trigger remains depressed, a fully automatic weapon will continue to fire until ammunition is depleted.

May you legally own a machine gun (a fully-automatic weapon)? Click here to find out.

*The above pistol and revolver graphics, nomenclature, and accompanying text are from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Thanks to the folks at ATF for allowing the reproduction and use.

The information in the article above is factual. It’s up to writers to incorporate it into fiction as they see fit, if at all. Keep in mind that, while factually incorrect, many people refer to all handguns as pistols. Therefore, when writing dialog your characters should say things and use terminology readers expect to hear/read. Of course, if the character is a firearms expert …

Shots fired from close range often leave tell-tale marks called stippling, or tattooing. Evidence of contact with hot gunpowder can be seen just above and to the sides of the “V” opening of the shirt (the soot-blackened area) in the photograph below.

The person who wore this shirt was the victim of a shooting at close range—less than a foot away—with a 9mm pistol. Notice there’s no hole in the back of the shirt. No hole, no exit wound. The bullet remained lodged inside the body, even from a shot at this short distance.

The section below contains a photograph of an actual gunshot wound (post autopsy).







In the picture below, the hot bullet entered the flesh leaving a gray-black ring around the wound. The tiny black dots are the stippling, or tattooing.

Close contact gunshot wound to the chest.

The impact of the bullet and gases striking the tissue also left a distinct bruising (ecchymosis) around the wound. Notice the stitching of the “Y” incision. The incision is at the centerline of the chest. I took this photo during the autopsy of the murder victim.

The wound is round and neat and it’s approximately the diameter of an ink pen. It’s not like the ones we see on television where half the guy’s body is blown into oblivion, or beyond, by a couple of bullets from a hero’s gun.


Stippling is due to burned and unburned powder grains exiting from the firearm causing pinpoint blackened abrasions on the skin.

For Every Action There’s an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Bullets don’t always stop people. I’ve seen shooting victims get up and run after they’ve been shot several times. And for goodness sake, people DO NOT fly twenty feet backward after they’ve been struck by a bullet. Instead, they fall down and bleed. They may even moan a lot, or curse. That’s if they don’t get back up and start shooting again. Simply because a suspect has been shot once or twice does not mean his ability, or desire, to kill someone is over, and that, writers, is why police officers are taught to shoot until the threat is over.

The bank robber I shot and killed during a shootout fell after each of the five rounds hit him. But he also stood and began firing again after each of my bullets struck—one to the head and four to the center of his chest area. After the fifth round he stood and charged officers. Four of the five rounds caused fatal wounds. Yet, he still stood and ran toward officers. I and a sheriff’s captain tackled and cuffed him. In another instance, a man engaged in a gun battle with several officers. He was shot 33 times and still continued walking toward officers.

Always keep Sir Isaac Newton and his Third Law of Motion in mind when writing shooting scenes. The size of the force on the first object must equal the size of the force on the second object—force always comes in pairs.

Entrance Wounds

Entrance wounds caused when rounds are fired from a distance (not close contact wounds) typically exhibit a hole that’s near the size and round shape of the projectile/bullet. These wounds typically lack stippling (see “stippling” below).

Sometimes entrance wound shapes are irregular because bullets may tumble during flight, instead of spinning.


Irregular entrance wound

Gunshot wounds caused when the weapon is fired from an intermediate range may present a wide area of stippling and are without a muzzle imprint and/or laceration. The area of stippling present depends upon the proximity of the muzzle and the victim.

Several factors that affect how much or how little gunshot residue (GSR) appears on a victim’s skin and clothing. For example:

  • distance between the muzzle and victim when the round is fired
  • angle of the gun barrel in relation to the victim
  • type of clothing worn by the victim
  • components of the gunpowder
  • and more

Exit Wounds

Sometimes exit wounds are nearly as small or equal to the size of the entrance wound. The amount of damage and path of travel through the body depends on the type ammunition used and what the bullet struck as it makes it way through the body. However, they typically do not display signs and evidence associated with entrance wounds—imprint of the muzzle, stippling, or blackening of the skin edges.

Many bullets, such as those used in hollow point ammunition, are designed to hit a target and remain within that target/body without exiting. When a hollow point round hits a target, the nose of the bullet expands and flattens, creating a larger surface area than the bullet’s original size. This helps slow and even stop the forward motion of the bullet while inside the target. The purpose is to prevent the round from continuing through the target and hitting something else. Still, exit wounds do occur, especially when the round strikes only soft tissue, or when the rounds are loaded with an amount of powder that’s more than what’s needed, making those rounds overly powerful.

Hollow point rounds expand and flatten when striking objects

Below are other rounds we recovered after they’s struck hard surfaces at various angles. All were fired from the same gun. The flattened round on the left struck a steel surface head-in. To show the difference between striking a hard surface as opposed to something soft, the bullet at the far right was fired directly into a massively thick pile of foam rubber. It maintained its shape. The object at the top of the photo is an ejected brass casing. I took the photo at law enforcement firing range during a controlled exercise.

When a fired bullet enters a person’s skin, the tissue is instantly and forcefully dislocated outward from the center of the wound. The force is so great that the hole is, for a brief time, larger than the diameter of the bullet. However, skin is often elastic enough to reverse the action and draw the wound closed to a point where it’s sometimes smaller than the size of the bullet. This action totally dispels the fictional cops who, upon merely looking at a homicide victim’s bullet wounds, claim to instantly know the caliber of the bullet that caused the injury.

Exit wounds normally present pieces of avulsed flesh angled/beveled slightly away from the wound. Typically, there’s also no trace of gunshot residue around the outside of the wound.

Contact wounds occur when the muzzle is pressed against the skin when the weapon is fired

Contact wounds caused by the barrel of a gun touching the skin when the weapon is fired may present the imprint of the muzzle. The wounds sometimes show an abrasion ring (a dark, blackened circle around the wound) that’s caused as the hot gases from the weapon enters the flesh. The force of the gas blows the skin and tissue back against the gun’s muzzle, leaving the circular imprint.

  • In areas of “loose” skin, such as the abdomen or even the chest area, wounds likely present as circular with blackened, seared skin surrounding the wound opening.
  • On the head, entry wounds often appear as round punctures, again with blackened, seared skin surrounding the wound opening.
  • Contact entrance wounds routinely exhibit soot on the skin surrounding the injury,  and sometimes even laceration of the skin due to consequences of expelled gases from the firearm.

Near-contact wounds are caused when the muzzle of the gun is held a short distance from the skin. These wounds generally present as circular with blackened and seared edges. However, the searing and blackening cover a wider space than seen with contact wounds

Entrance and Exit Wounds in Bone

Entrance wounds in flat bones such as the skull are often round and show internal beveling in the direction of the bullet’s path. The shape and nature is quite similar to that of a cone.

Exit wounds in bone are most likely more irregular in shape than entry wounds and may show external beveling (a reverse cone), the opposite effect of the entrance wound.


Simply put, buckshot are projectiles.

Unlike a single bullet fired from a handgun or rifle, shotgun shells contain a group of small balls (pellets) made of lead, steel, or a combination of other metals. When the shell is fired the individual shot travel down the barrel (bore) and when clear they begin to spread out/scatter in a funnel-like shape. The farther the pellets travel the wider the funnel (shot pattern) becomes. It’s this scattering action that makes it far easier to hit a target, as opposed to firing single rounds from handguns and rifles. For comparison, it’s easier to hit a tin can by tossing a handful of pebbles at it than it would be to strike the can with a single rock.

Remember the old westerns where cowboys mentioned using scatter guns? They were speaking of shotguns.

Also found inside the plastic or paper outer hull of a shotgun shell are:

  • Wad – The wad keeps the shot in place within the shell. In addition, it helps to prevent them from deforming as they pass through the barrel (bore).

After traveling a ways, the wad loses velocity and falls away and down from the shot as they continue onward toward their target. However, if the shooter is close enough to the target when the weapon is fired it’s likely the wad will also strike the mark. This is obvious when shooting at paper targets since each pellet separately punctures the paper, leaving behind small pellet-size holes. As the wad tears through the paper target it creates a large, jagged hole that’s at least the size of the wad. In many cases the resulting hole is larger than the actual size of the wad.

Not to scale, obviously.

Also found inside a shotgun shell …

  • Powder/propellant powder – Unlike rifle powder that must burn slowly in order to build up the necessary pressure to send a bullet down the barrel, shotgun powders are designed for the quick explosions needed to propel a load of shot or a slug. The nature of fast-burning powder results in less accuracy than rifles, at distances; however, shotguns are ideal for hitting moving targets at close range because of the spread of the pellets/shot.
  • Primer – A primer contains a small amount of explosive mixture. When the trigger is pulled it causes the firing pin to strike the primer. When struck, the explosive material ignites and sends a stream of hot gases forward into the cartridge case. In an instant, those gases increase in temperature and pressure. It is this combination that ignites the propellant powder.

The primer pocket houses the primer.

Shotgun Pellet Sizes

Shotgun shells come in various sizes and with varying contents, including a few different sizes of buckshot. Smaller shot are used for hunting small game such as birds, squirrels, and even for shooting pests (rats).

For example:

The sizes of buckshot range from No. 4, approximately .24 (caliber) to 000 (aka “triple aught), approximately .375 to .380 (caliber)

00 buckshot (double-aught buckshot) is likely the most recognizable shotgun ammunition since its often used in TV and film. It’s also commonly used for hunting large game, such as deer, hence the name “buck” shot. 00 buckshot pellets are .330 inch in diameter.

00 buckshot is widely used for home defense due to its stopping power—eight or nine .330 (caliber) pellets flying at over 1,300 feet per second. That’s enough force to penetrate car doors. Each of those eight or nine pellets are approximately the same size as that of a .32 caliber bullet fired from a pistol.



Hunting Use

00 buck is most often used to hunt larger game, such as deer. The preferred range for shotgun hunting is typically 50-60 yards or less. Of course, this distance depends upon how tightly the shot hold their pattern as they travel away from the weapon. Tightly patterned shot, a smaller more tightly formed “funnel” may reach targets at further distances. Obviously, the closer to a target the better the chance of bringing it down. At greater distance the shot pattern grows larger which increases the chance of stray shot striking something other than an intended target—another hunter, for example.


Not to be confused with the mostly nocturnal garden variety shell-less mollusk pictured above, shotgun slugs are used for both hunting and target shooting. Their design, a single very large projectile that provides for incredible stopping power caused by both impact and massive wound channels.

Buckshot for Home Defense

Due to the scattering pattern of shot/pellets, there’s no real need to take precise aim when firing a shotgun during a life-saving defensive action. Merely point the business end of the weapon at the threat, pull the trigger, and let the spreading action of the pellets and the 00 ammo’s incredible stopping power and penetration do its job.

Keep in mind, as with all firearms, one must train and practice firing a shotgun to understand the weapon and to become at ease with how it functions, and to experience what happens when the trigger is pulled. There is a bit of kickback when a shotgun is fired, so be prepared.

Safety, safety, safety!!!!

And my dear writer friends, please do your homework before writing about firearms. It’s extremely jarring to be well into a terrific book and then “hear” the protagonist tell us they “racked” a bullet into their single barrel .12 gauge shotgun. As a rule of thumb, bullets are for rifles and handguns. Shotgun shells are for shotguns.


“Hollow point bullets are designed to hit the animal they’re being shot at, let’s say a deer for example, and explode inside that body, correct?” – Prosecutor Thomas Binger, during questioning of defendant Kyle Rittenhouse in a Kenosha County, Wi. courtroom.

Rittenhouse replied, “No, I don’t think so.”

Rittenhouse, on trial for murder, was absolutely correct. Hollow point ammunition does not explode.

Prosecutor Binger’s hollow point blunder is the perfect example of someone who hasn’t done their homework before sharing their lack of knowledge with the world.

Unfortunately, this massively incorrect statement was most likely absorbed into the brains of many folks who’re following the trial, and a number of them will repeat it as fact merely because it was spoken by someone, a prosecutor, who should know better. Then the snowball effect begins, with more and more people repeating the untruth until it eventually makes it way into everyday conversation, the media and, well, crime fiction.

I’m addressing this topic only because I don’t want to see Binder’s error wind up in your books. Of course, the fact that Binder used false information in a real-life murder trial is far more than concerning than to see it appear on page 102 of Sally Sue’s next thriller. Perhaps, though, Binder picked up the morsel of untruth from a novel written by someone who didn’t care to do their homework before settling in to write. You know, the same writers who have their characters smell the odor of cordite when entering a fresh shooting scene. Hmm …

Say NO to cordite! Click here to see why.

Before discussing hollow point rounds, it’s important to understand full metal jacket and hollow point bullets (the actual projectiles).

Jacketed bullets – lead bullets that are encased either partially or completely in copper or a similar alloy. The term “full metal jacket” (FMJ) refers to complete jacketing of a bullet. The entire bullet is encased inside a jacket.

Jacketed bullets

A FMJ round typically punches straight through through soft tissue, a through-and-through wound, and that’s because its hard jacket usually doesn’t allow the bullet to deform and expand. The FMJ bullet typically retains it sleek design as it passes through the body. However, the fired FMJ bullet could become misshapen if hits something hard, such as steel or concrete, and sometimes bone.

Wounds Caused by FMJ Rounds

Soft tissues are elastic and pliable and tend to close around a wound, attempting to retain the tissue’s original form. Therefore, both entrance and exit wounds are much smaller than the explosive and cavernous destruction that TV and film would have us believe. In fact, even 9mm FMJ rounds often leave behind wounds not much larger than those caused by rounds fired from a .22 pistol. Actually, even the more substantial and plumper .45 rounds often leave wounds smaller than the diameter of the bullet, after tissues begin to shrink once the round passes through. The same is so regarding the the wound cavity where the bullet travels through the body on its way to and out the opposite side. Therefore, for a FMJ round to kill or fully incapacitate, well, it usually must strike a vital organ or blood vessel. Thus, a shooter must be accurate with their shots.

Now for the “scoop” on hollow point ammunition.

Hollow Point Ammunition

Hollow points “mushroom” upon impact with tissue or other material/surfaces

Hollow point ammunition is designed to expand, or mushroom, when it strikes soft tissue. Expand, NOT explode.  The void at the tip is the key. Upon impact, it fills with matter, and that action combined with the forward motion of the round causes the lead surrounding the void to peel back and away, sort of like peeling a banana at 1,000 feet per second, or so.

As a result, the expansion of the bullet forces the round to quickly lose velocity while creating a much wider wound channel, thus a greater chance of it remaining inside the body, the opposite effect of an FMJ round. Therefore, hollow point ammunition reduces the risk of accidental collateral damage—a round passing through a body and traveling on to strike other people when firing in self defense or defense of others), or animals, buildings, and other people when hunting.

Hollow point rounds are an excellent ammo choice for law enforcement and for civilian self-defense.



Like the rounds pictured above, many hollow point bullets are jacketed, which allows for smoother feeding into a semi-automatic and automatic weapons. Jacketing also reduces “lead shaving” and damage to gun barrels. Jacketing hollow point ammunition also aids in penetrating targets, as well as helping the bullet expand in a uniform manner.

Lead shaving – deposits of lead are “shaved” from a bullet as it leaves the chamber and barrel. Deposits are often left in the bore of a firearm which can alter the shape of a bullet and/or the lands and grooves of a barrel. Sometimes the shaving is so egregious that tiny bits of hot lead blows outward onto the face, arms, and hands of the shooter. Occurs mostly with revolvers.

The first firearm I was issued by a sheriff’s office, a Ruger .357, shaved lead horribly. So much so that it peppered my face and hands with tons of hot lead each time I pulled its trigger. In fact, after firing between 40 -60 rounds the lead build-up around the chamber and cylinder was so great that the cylinder could not rotate. The revolver was, at that point, totally useless. It would not fire until it was thoroughly cleaned and the lead deposits scraped away. Needless to say, I plead my case with the boss and was issued a new weapon.

Many jacketed hollow point bullets have factory-cut notches/thin grooves/fault lines cut into the outer copper jacket, around the tips of the bullets. These cuts are purposeful weak points help that ensure that expansion and mushrooming occurs as it should.



So no, hollow point rounds do not explode.

FYI – Prosecutor Binder’s questions about this type of ammo was a bit puzzling since it had previously been confirmed that the ammunition fired from Rittenhouse’s weapon were full metal jacketed rounds, not hollow points. Just one of many head-scratching moments during a bizarre trial.

*This post is about ammunition only. I merely used an ill-informed prosecutor’s inaccurate question/statement as fodder for an article that could benefit writers of fiction, or fact. I am in no way offering an opinion of Rittenhouse’s guilt, innocence, or any combination thereof. So please, let’s avoid discussion about the case and trial, race, politics, etc.

Police officers are not trained to shoot to kill, nor do they shoot to wound. Again, officers are not taught to kill. I know, the recent death of George Floyd was extremely disturbing, but the actions of the officers involved are NOT the result of police training. I’m fairly confident that their actions, for whatever reasons, were not taught in any U.S. police academy. Nor were they necessary, proper, or even humane. But more on this in tomorrow’s article.

For now, let’s dive into another topic that, too, is often confusing to some people. And I understand how and why the subject matter is a bit perplexing so I’ll try my best to clarify. The topic … do police officers shoot to kill, or do they shoot to wound?

While we’re at it, we’ll also address the questions and statements we all see time and time again, most typically during the aftermath of police-involved shootings.

“Why didn’t he shoot the gun from the bad guy’s hand?”

“Shoot the bastard in the shoulder. Cain’t shoot anybody when his shoulder’s all shot up.”

Or, “Shoot ’em in the leg. That’ll stop ’em.”

Police officers are trained to stop a threat to human life

U.S. police officers are not soldiers and criminals are not enemy combatants. Contrary to the beliefs of some, U.S. streets are not battlefields where cops shoot first and ask questions later. It cannot and does not work that way. Yes, the current rioting and mob violence (not the peaceful protests), unfortunately requires a heavier than usual approach, but this is not the norm. Still, police are not taught to kill anyone.

In a perfect world there would be no crime and we’d all be safe, all the time. But our world is FAR from perfect; therefore, cops are tasked with arresting those who break the law. They don’t make the laws, just enforce them.

Unfortunately, some bad guys choose to not be arrested and will do whatever it takes to remain free, including trying to kill police officers. They may also choose to seriously harm or kill others during the commission of their crime(s). These two scenarios are the cause of officers having to use deadly force to stop the threat to the lives of others, and to themselves.

Back to the earlier statements—police officers are not taught to kill anyone, nor are they taught to “wound” anyone. Officers do not aim for hands, feet, knees, firearms, knives, etc. Instead, during a deadly force confrontation—when lives are at stake—officers are taught to shoot center mass, meaning the center of their intended target. If all they see is the suspect’s head, then that is their target. If they see the entire body they then aim for its center (center mass).

Center Mass

Why aim for center mass? Common sense answer – because it is the largest available target, which makes it the easiest area to hit when under extreme duress during an incident that sometimes happens within a fraction of a second.

The reason behind not shooting to wound is pretty simple, actually, and here’s why. Most police officers are not skilled award-winning sharpshooters. Not even close. To expect them, or anyone, to hit a fast-moving target, such as an arm or leg, while under duress, is unrealistic. Hands and arms can move across the body as quickly as 12/100th of a second. From hip to shoulder in 18/100th of a second. The time it takes a police officer to pull the trigger on one of the faster reacting trigger pulls, that of the Glock, is a slow 1/4 of a second. And that’s if the officer has already drawn his/her sidearm and has it pointed at the suspect.

It’s nothing short of impossible for an officer to see the threat, react appropriately, unsnap the holster, perform the required series of motions to free her weapon from the security holster (I’ll bet many of you didn’t know there was a combination/series of actions required to remove an officer’s pistol from a security-type holster), think about what she’s doing, decide whether or not the threat is real and, if so, pull the trigger. Oh yeah, she’d also have to take time to aim for the smaller targets—arms, hands, or legs. Impossible. No way. No how. Can’t and won’t happen, not even on her/his best day.

Another point to remember regarding how quickly shooting situations unfold. In many, many instances, there is not a single portion of a second to spare, including enough time to shout, “Drop your weapon!” Or even to yell, “Stop!” 

Here’s a video of an actual shooting scenario that occurred during a traffic stop. Watch how quickly the shooting unfolds.

Then there’s this. Suppose an officer is engaged in an intense shootout, and they are intense, believe me (been there, done that), and while returning fire as bullets zing and zip past, they somehow miraculously hit the suspect’s arm, or hand, or foot? Some people believe that once a person is shot they automatically drop to the ground and surrender. This is NOT always the case.

I’ve seen bad guys continue shooting after being struck by several rounds. Actually, I was in a shooting situation where the bad guy continued to shoot after having been shot in the head once and in the center of his chest four times. Even then he hopped up and ran several yards. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I was the detective who’d shot him. I was also the detective who ran him down and tackled him. So being wounded, even severely wounded, does not necessarily stop a threat to human life.

Besides, a shot to the arm leaves the suspect’s free hand to continue his attempt to kill the officer or other potential targets, such as a wife, husband, a bank teller, a child, and, well, you get the idea. A shot in the leg leaves both hands free to continue firing at officers. Wounding someone, hoping that’ll stop them from killing is stuff you see on TV. It’s just not that way in real life situations.

In addition, a bullet wound to the leg can be just as deadly as one to the chest. A shot that severs a femoral artery could cause the person to bleed death within a matter of a couple of minutes, or less.

Stop the threat. That’s the intended outcome of the use of deadly force.

Now, back to shooting to kill. I’m not aware of any police agency in the U.S. that teaches/trains officers to kill. Not one. Besides, how many sane people would sign on with an agency if they were told they must kill people as part of their daily duties—write speeding ticket, respond to kids playing in traffic, kill the guy standing in front of the Piggly Wiggly, go on lunch break.

During a shooting situation, officers typically do not have time to aim. Instead, they revert to their training—draw, point, and shoot for the center of the target.

Shootings involving police officers most often happen in a matter of seconds or less, and usually at very short distances—a mere few feet. In fact, these close-range situations occur so often that officers train quite a bit at shooting from short distances, without taking aim. They’re taught to draw and point their weapon at the center of the target, or as close as they can get to the center.


Again, even at greater distances, there’s still no time to stop, take a proper stance, draw a weapon, take careful aim, ask the offender to stand still so the officer won’t miss and hit an innocent bystander, and then fire. So officers shoot for center mass, the largest portion of the body they see. That’s it. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Keep this in mind. Rounds that strike center mass could certainly cause the death of the suspect, but death is not the intended outcome. The goal is to stop the threat and to do so the greatest chance of hitting the target is to aim for the largest portion (center of the torso). If a bad guy surrenders the moment he sees that the officer has drawn their weapon and fully intends to use it, the threat is then over and the officer must switch fro ma deadly force situation to one taking the suspect into custody. That’s always the goal, to make the arrest, not to take a life.


There it is, the word sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the movie “Mary Poppins.” Now, say it out loud. Or, if you prefer, say it in reverse – dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes. Either way, it takes us somewhere between one and two seconds for it to roll off our tongues, give or take a tenth of a second or two. That’s pretty quick, yes?

I suppose I could stop here and let you go about the remainder of your day with this ear worm digging its way into your brain:

It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious

If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious


Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay

Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay

Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay

Um diddle, diddle diddle, um diddle ay…

But let’s stick with the time it takes to say that word. For me it’s somewhere between 1.01 seconds and 1.22 seconds, depending upon how quickly I start after clicking the button on the stopwatch.

Now, imagine that you’re a police officer who’s responded to a call where a suspect used a baseball bat to beat his spouse and children. You arrive at the scene and hear yelling, screams, and children crying from inside the home. You knock. No answer. Still more screaming. You force open the door and rush inside where you’re immediately faced with a man pointing a handgun at a badly battered woman. He begins to turn toward you. How do you respond to the threat, and how long does it take to do so?

Well, your body and brain must first of all figure out what’s going on (perception). Then the brain instructs the body to stand by while it analyzes the scenario (okay, he has a gun and I think I’m about to be shot). Next, while the body is still on hold, the brain begins to formulate a plan (I’ve got to do something, and I’d better do it asap). Finally, the brain pokes the body and tells it to go for what it was trained to do—draw pistol, point the business end of it at the threat, insert finger into trigger guard, squeeze trigger.

To give you an idea as to how long it takes a trained police officer to accomplish those steps, let’s revisit Mary Poppins and Bert the chimney sweep, and that wacky word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Remember, it takes us a little over one second to say the entire word. Try it. You’ll see.

New Picture (3)

To put this scenario into perspective, a police officer’s quickest reaction time (based on a study of 46 trained officers), when they already know the threat is there, AND, with their finger already on the trigger, is 0.365 seconds. That’s far less than half the very brief time it takes Bert to sing that famous word, and certainly not enough time to stop, draw a weapon from its holster, take aim, yell a bunch of commands, check for passersby, look for accomplices, and, well, you get the idea.

So, when confronted with a potential deadly force situation, officers must perceive/identify the threat, evaluate the situation, develop a plan of action, and then set that plan in motion, and they must do so in the time it takes to say “supercali.” Not even the entire word—about the time it takes to blink.

Go ahead, try it. Blink one time and then think about all the cool things you could accomplish during the time it took to quickly close and open your eyes.


During a traffic stop in Arkansas, a passenger in a vehicle shot at officers, killing one. The man fired the first round at the face of one officer. That shot occurred in less than supercali. Actually, it was more like, su-BANG!

The suspect then continued to fire at the other officers on scene, shooting several rounds during our imaginary supercalifragilisticexpialidocious timeframe. The officers were not able to return fire.

How about you? Are you able to make extremely complex decisions in less than a second? How about decisions that involve life or death?

Blink. A suspect just fired a round at you.

I dare say that many of us can’t decide what to select from a fast food menu within that scant time frame.

Blink. Round number two. Have you managed to draw your pistol yet?

Sure, it’s super easy to look back at deadly force incidents and offer opinions as to how they should, or should not have been handled. But only the people who were there at the precise moment the trigger was pulled know the real story. They alone know how they perceived and reacted to the threat to them and/or others.

Again, officers often have less than a second to react, and a lifetime to deal with the decision, if the officer survives the encounter.

SU …

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Tomorrow, more about the arrest of former police officer Darek Chauvin. We’ll also discuss the cause(s) of George Floyd’s death, and that a second video confirmed my early predictions.

By the way, our internet is finally back in service. For a solid week, Verizon worked on the lines in front of neighbor’s home. He’d called to report his service was out and they eventually arrived a couple of days later. Once they’d repaired whatever was wrong with the neighbor’s line they packed up and left. Within an hour of the line of five trucks leaving, our internet shut down.

After several calls and online chat sessions with support, rebooting, testing lines and devices, they finally answered my pleas to have someone come out … three days later.

Of course, I’d already told them about the earlier work in the neighborhood, but they dismissed my theory that the crew did something to cause our outage. Instead, they insisted that something was wrong inside our house, and they went through a checklist – kids playing, and breaking the equipment, dogs or cats or mice or hamsters or lions or tigers or bears possibly chewing through a line? Is your power on? Did you unplug the router and forget to plug it back into the receptacle? Etc. I explained to the man that we have no kids living with us. We have no pets. There had been no power outages. Mice understand that to enter our home is to die. So they remain outdoors along with the lions, tigers, and bears.

So a tech showed up Sunday morning at 9 a.m. He checked the equipment mounted to the outside of our house and says to me, “There’s no service coming to your device.” The thought that went through my mind was … Well, duh.

So off he goes out to the street where, from inside his truck, he begins to glance up to the tops of telephone poles, one after the next. He did this for nearly an hour. Then he returns to the pole in front of my neighbor’s house, the place where the crew had perched for a week while working on the lines. The pole that I’d said over and over was most likely where they’d find the trouble. It was self-inflicted, I’d said. Thy caused a problem where no problem existed..

The tech called me to say a part was missing from one of the boxes at the top of that pole. Of course, he didn’t have the part with him, which meant that a different crew member/technician would need to come out to replace the missing do-dad. But he couldn’t do the work that day. Instead, he would come the next afternoon.

Anyway, on the forth day there was internet, and the world was once again whole.

Oh, and a new water heater was installed an hour or so prior to the return of Verizon service. Yep, the old one conked out the morning of the day the Verizon service shut down. It was that kind of weekend.

As always … Please, no politics, religion, gun rights or wrongs, or other hot button topics/comments. This blog is strictly for delivering fact. If, on the rare occasion I decide to offer an opinion I make sure that it’s clearly stated that I’ve done a dumb thing by swerving to the outside edge of where fact meets opinion.

This article is not one of those times. Nor is it any attempt to poke a stick into Joe Biden’s eye for his recent comment about training officers to shoot bad guys in the leg instead of center mass. However, the former vice president’s comment was indeed the prompt for today’s information. I wanted to let you know some of the the reasons why officers are not trained to shoot arms and legs. The simple answer is that doing so could be a death sentence for the officer.

Anyone who’s attended the Writers’ Police Academy’s firearms simulation training knows how quickly deadly situations erupt, and that many times there’s barely time to think or blink before the bad guy fires off a round in your direction. There is no time to take aim, particularly at a moving leg or arm.

Finally, speaking of the Writers’ Police Academy, there’s still time to sign up for a spot at MurderCon!


The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has indeed confirmed that the .45-caliber handgun used in the Santa Clarita, California school shooting was what is commonly referred to as “ghost gun,” a homemade, unserialized firearm.

The suspect in the Santa Clarita shooting, a 16-year-old Saugus High School student, used the handmade pistol to shoot five of his classmates. During the shooting spree a 14-year-old boy and 16-year-old-girl were killed.

Like the .45 used in Santa Clarita, ghost guns are assembled from parts, also known as “80-percenters,” that are available for purchase from online sources. Buyers, often the people who often are unable to legally possess a firearm of any type, typically make ghost guns in their basements and other rooms of the home.

And, since they purchase the parts through online and other businesses, they are not subject to pre-purchase background checks (they’re not purchasing an actual firearm, only parts). The lack of background checks for these unserialized firearm parts also means that minors such as the Santa Clarita shooter, and people with criminal records, can and have easily acquired the parts needed to create fully functional weapons.

“80 percenters

From ATF – “80% receiver,” “80% finished,” “80% complete,” “unfinished receiver” are all terms referring to an item that some may believe has not yet reached a stage of manufacture that meets the definition of firearm frame or receiver found in the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). These are not statutory terms or terms ATF employs or endorses.” ~ ATF

Are “80%” or “unfinished” receivers illegal?

Receiver blanks that do not meet the definition of a “firearm” are not subject to regulation under the GCA. The ATF has long held that items such as receiver blanks, “castings” or “machined bodies” in which the fire-control cavity area is completely solid and un-machined have not reached the “stage of manufacture” which would result in the classification of a firearm per the GCA.

See comparison examples:

ATF image

Making 80 percent receivers into working firearms is legal as long as the person making the guns is not a person who’s prohibited from possessing it and that the gun is strictly for personal use. They may not legally sell these homemade 80% firearms without first obtaining a federal license to sell firearms.

How to Build an AK-47