Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers


Detective Clinton Rice

St, Claires Shores Police Department

Detective Rice died on June 6, 2008 from injuries received in an automobile accident. A witness to the accident performed CPR on the detective, but the officer died at the accident scene.

Rice had served his department for 17 years. He leaves behind a wife and children.

Officer Todd Bahr

Fredericksburg Virginia Police Department

Officer Bahr was shot and killed on June 6, 2008 by a suspect who’d been involved in a domestic dispute. Bahr was on foot searching for the suspect when he was shot. The killer also exchanged gunfire with several other police officers before he finally turned his gun on himself, committing suicide.

Officer Bahr had served his department for two years

J.D. Rhoades


Howdy, Graveyard Shifters! J.D. Rhoades here. Thanks for having me here, and thanks to Lee for inviting me to guest blog.

I’m the author of three (so far) novels featuring bail bondsman/bounty hunter Jack Keller: THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND, GOOD DAY IN HELL, and SAFE AND SOUND. My newest book, a standalone called BREAKING COVER, comes out July 22.

I’m also a practicing attorney, and since this blog concentrates mostly on the questions of real-life crime and punishment, I assume that’s what ya’ll want to hear about.

If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend the post “They’re Not All Monsters” by my sister at the Bar, the fierce advocate Jessa Lutz. If I may, I’d like to expand a bit on some of the topics raised in that post and give you another perspective on the question that we in the law biz always get asked: How can you defend those people?

What I want to talk about today is the real definition of that word “defend.” Sometimes, there’s a lot more to it that trying for a “not guilty” verdict.

In some cases, you’re lucky enough to have what we call a SODDI defense. You won’t find SODDI in any law book, but most defense lawyers know what it means. It stands for “Some Other Dude Done It.” Those are the cases you take to trial and show the jury the holes in the State’s case. And that’s kinda fun.

But that’s not every case. SODDI cases aren’t really as common as they appear to be from TV and crime novels.

More often than not, your guy is the one who done it. He knows it, the State knows it, and most importantly, they can prove it.

How do you know when you’ve got a case like that? Well, one of the steps in a felony prosecution is what’s called “discovery.” That’s where the State has to turn over whatever information they have to you. Not only the stuff that they plan to use at trial, but also anything they have that might be “exculpatory” to the Defendant; i.e. anything that might tend to prove either that your client didn’t do the deed, or that his culpability was somehow lessened.

Some, thankfully very few, prosecutors will play games with discovery, either telling the investigating officers not to give them anything that doesn’t help, or simply sitting on exculpatory evidence to try to get your client to plead. This is the sort of thing that got Mike Nifong, the D.A. in the Duke Lacrosse Team trial, not only disbarred, but briefly jailed. And a good thing, too. Because a prosecutor, under the Rules of Professional Conduct, has a responsibility beyond racking up convictions. “The prosecutor’s duty,” the rules say, “is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” The consequences of a prosecutor forgetting that provide enough material for another rant for another day.

A lot of the time, you look over the discovery and you realize that the State has a pretty damn good case: the crime was witnessed by an SUV full of nuns, the lineup was done according to accepted protocols and the good sisters independently pegged your client as the perpetrator, and oh, yeah, just to make your day complete, your guy validly waived his Miranda rights, confessed, and showed the officers where he hid the loot. (The SUV full of nuns is a bit of hyperbole, but that confession thing happens all the time. Whether or not it shows an admirable return of conscience or utter boneheaded idiocy will be left for discussion by the readers of this blog. All I know is it gives me heartburn).

Long story short, you look at the facts, you look at the admissible evidence, you pick and prod and research and think it over, and after a long while, you have to grudgingly admit that your guy is in deep kimchee if you take this case to a jury of twelve.

So how do you defend a case and a client like that?

Well, if by “how” you mean “why,” you do it because it’s your job, it’s an important one, and you took an oath before God and everybody that you were going to do it to the best of your ability.

But if by “how’ you really mean “what do you do,” well, that’s the time when you broaden the definition of what “defense” means.

Sometimes it means mitigating the damage. But sometimes it means tackling the underlying problem.

As Jessa pointed out, the vast majority of your criminal clients aren’t monsters. More often than not, a crime is just a stupid and pointless screw-up by someone who didn’t start the day out thinking “I’m gonna do me some evil today,” but rather one who started that day with one bad choice that cascaded inevitably into another, then another, like a snowflake that turns into a snowball that turns into an avalanche.

Some of them have substance abuse problems. A stunningly large number have undiagnosed mental health conditions, ranging from bipolar disorder to depression to post traumatic stress disorder. I’m seeing a tragic number of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan who end up in the criminal courts because their PTSD caught up with them and they went off on someone. Or they’re trying to self-treat it with drugs and alcohol. The deficits in mental health treatment for our warriors are a scandal, but again, that’s another rant.

For people in that situation, jail isn’t the answer. If you don’t address the underlying problem, they’re going to keep offending, hurting everyone else as well as themselves in the process, not to mention ruining a life that could be productive.

So you look for resources to help them: drug treatment, mental health, AA, what have you. Sometimes, “defending” involves playing social worker. In my district, though, we’re very lucky to have a dedicated Sentencing Services coordinator who’s a wizard at finding constructive alternatives to warehousing people in already overcrowded and expensive prisons. With these alternatives, you’ve got a better chance that, when the defendant get out, they don’t go right back on the street, more screwed up than ever. And, when you do get before a judge and say those difficult words “he pleads guilty, Your Honor,” you’ve got a better chance of keeping your client’s feet on the ground, as we say. Sometimes the best advocacy you do is at sentencing, and it requires as much preparation and groundwork as a trial to verdict.

Does this mean crooks do a brief stint in rehab and walk away scot-free? Not hardly. They know, if we make this happen, that they’re going to be spending time on probation, paying restitution to the victims and costs to the State, rather than taking up the State’s resources in jail. And hopefully, when they’re done, you’ll never see them again, at least in a professional capacity.

Does it always work? Nope. But it works often enough to make it worth trying. And that’s another definition of what it means to “defend those people.”

* You can learn more about J.D. Rhoades at

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Crime Report of the Day

(from actual police reports)

A man reported he was bitten by his own dog on Thursday.



Narcotics officers have a difficult task when it comes to locating drugs while searching someone’s property. Bad guys have become fairly creative when it comes to finding new hiding spots, and to make matters worse, engineers and manufacturers have also joined in to help criminals hide their stashes.

Almost anything you can think of has been, or can be, converted into a hiding place for illegal narcotics, including car batteries, baby seats, baby bottles, diapers, books, lamps, and car doors and tires.

Here’s some examples of items that were used to conceal drugs:

Children’s toys are often used to hide illegal drugs. A little on-the-scene surgery performed by alert agents revealed thousands of dollars worth of cocaine stuffed inside Elmo.

Jars, such as the fake peanut butter jar above, are designed to look as if they’re full to the brim with the contents displayed on the label. Actually, they’re fitted with plastic liners to allow for the hidden storage of valuables or narcotics. The introduction of these items to the marketplace has forced police officers to spend valuable time opening every bottle and jar in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator when serving search warrants.

Statues are often filled with drugs, such as methamphetamine. After filling, the opening is sealed, and the trinket is packaged in cartons for shipping among normal cargo.

Tennis balls have been used to conceal personal drug stashes. A small slit is made in the ball which is used for inserting drugs. The cut is nearly invisible to the unsuspecting searcher.

The open space around a car axle and wheel assembly is a common hiding place for drug dealers who transport their wares along the highways.

Items, such as the hair spray and shaving cream can pictured above, are designed with a screw-off bottom. A shake of the can normally reveals the can’s contents are something other than what’s displayed on the label. Officers also give can bottoms a quick twist during searches.

Larry King shows a prosthetic leg that was used to transport narcotics.

Of course, it’s always difficult to conceal large quantities of crack.

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Crime Report of the Day

(from actual police reports)

A woman called to report suspicious items inside her mailbox. Responding officers discovered the items were mail.



The driver who turns up a fifth of Jack Black while singing Sweet Home Alabama at the top of his little redneck lungs is obviously driving while under the influence of alcohol. But what about the driver who chugs only three or four drinks before sliding in behind the wheel? What makes a patrol officer zero in on that guy? And, what if our redneck driver eats an onion after consuming his alcohol, or drinks a bottle of mouthwash? Will those tricks fool the officer’s breath-testing equipment?

Let’s start with some of the signs officers look for when scanning the roads for inebriated drivers. Here’s a few dead give-aways:

1) Stopping in the middle of the road for absolutely no reason. This maneuver is normally performed in front of a marked police car.

2) Driving the wrong way on a one-way street. The drunk driver is often seen flipping off approaching drivers.

2) Driving in the center of the road, straddling the center line. Again, this normally occurs in front of a police car.

White line drunk driver

3) Failing to dim headlights when meeting an oncoming car. Older drivers can often be seen stomping the left floorboard of the car (that’s where the dimmer switches were located forty years ago).

4) Traveling well below, or above, the posted speed limit. Note – Exception to this rule is an old guy wearing a John Deere hat. They always drive well below the posted speed limit. May or may not be drunk. This one’s a coin toss.

Exception number two – three-foot tall women over the age of eighty.

5) A car that strikes stationary objects on either side of the roadway as it passes by. Has the appearance of a pinball machine.

6) My personal favorite is the driver stopped at the red light beside a police car. First comes the casual sideways glance toward the officer, followed by a nod and the mule-eating-briars grin. Then, they just can’t help themselves. Down comes the window so they can tell the officer what a fine job he’s doing. The idiot cannot stop himself at this point. He simply has to inform the officer that his third cousin twice removed on his mother’s side of his daddy’s grandmother’s family was the chief of police in Doodlebunk, Kansas. Well, it’s pretty obvious he’s stoned out of his gourd. Of course, the bag of dope hanging out of his shirt pocket doesn’t help his case, either.

As for the onion trick. No way. Attempting to fool breath-testing equipment is a waste of time. The machines don’t measure the amount of alcohol in the air, or in the suspect’s breath. Instead, they measure the ratio between the concentration of alcohol in the blood and the concentration of alcohol that’s in deep lung air, air that’s in the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs).

So, eat an onion if you like, you’re the one who’ll be sleeping in a jail cell with bad breath.

* * *

Crime Report of the Day

(from actual police reports)

The driver of a truck carrying radioactive material was charged with driving while intoxicated after her truck crashed Friday night.



Once again, author Terry Odell has been kind enough to allow us to tag along with her on one of her exciting trips. This week she takes us to Maui and Molokai. Enjoy the view.

* Monday blog will

Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers


Deputy Shane Tate

Grundy County Tennessee Sheriffs Office

Deputy Tate, a three year veteran, was shot and killed on June 5, 2008 as he and a reserve officer were attempting to serve a probation warrant. The suspect wounded the reserve officer, and killed Deputy Tate. The killer has not been caught.

This hero leaves behind a wife and five children.

Update – Police located Tate’s killer, Kermit Eugene Bryson, behind his girlfriend’s house last night. During negotiations, Bryson shot himself in the head. He died in the hospital at 12:30 am this morning.

Officer Virgil Lee Behrens

Marion County Iowa Sheriffs Office

Officer Behrens passed away on June 3, 2008 as the result of injuries he received during an automobile accident. He was en route to a training facility when a car traveling next to his struck a deer. The deer then hit Behrens windshield causing him to lose control of the van.

Behrens had served 13 years with the sheriffs office. He was also a 30 year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol. He leaves behind a wife, a son and daughter, and several grandchildren.

Officer Everett William Dennis

Carthage Texas Police Department

Officer Dennis was killed in an automobile accident on June 3, 2008. He was attempting to stop a speeder when he lost control of his patrol car, which overturned.

Officer Dennis, a former deputy sheriff, had been with the Carthage department for just over one year. He’s survived by his mother.

Officer Erik Hite

Tucson Arizona Police Department

A suspect had gone on a shooting rampage, firing into an occupied residence. A Pima County deputy responded and was wounded by the suspect. Officer Hite, a four year veteran, turned into an alley while attempting to locate the suspect, and was ambushed. The suspect shot Hite in the head with a rifle from a vantage point eighty yards away. Officer Hite was killed.

The suspect wounded another deputy sheriff before he was finally apprehended

Officer Hite leaves behind a wife, an adult son, a one-year-old daughter, and his parents.

Lori L. Lake


Lori L. Lake is the author of Snow Moon Rising, a novel of survival set during World War II, which received a 2007 Golden Crown Literary Award as well as the 2007 Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award. She is the creator of the “Gun” series, which is a trilogy consisting of romance/police procedurals Gun Shy and Under The Gun and the adventure/thriller Have Gun We’ll Travel. Her first novel, Ricochet In Time, was about a hate crime. She has also written two books of short stories, a standalone romance, and edited two story anthologies. Lori teaches fiction writing courses at The Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation. She lives in Minnesota with her partner of 27 years and is currently at work on a mystery series and a How-To Book about the craft of writing. For more information, see her website at

PART III: Outfitting Your Crooks – and Yourself

The guns that villains carry in well-written fiction can be used to characterize. You don’t have to just give your bad guy a “handgun,” “revolver,” or “Glock.” There are scores of choices available to help make your baddie unique and interesting. All of the kinds of guns I talked about in Part I and Part II are available for crooks to use, and there are a few other considerations as well.

The guns widely available in the U.S. may not be so accessible for residents of other countries. The Germans have their Lugers, Mausers, and Heckler & Koch; Belgium specializes in Browning; and Brazil has the Taurus brand, which are often available here in the U.S. But Switzerland has the Sphinx, Ukraine has the Fort series, Finland has the Lahti line, Turkey the Zigana, and Russian-area states have the Korovin, Makarov, and Stechkin. Most people – even avid gun owners – have never heard of those gun models.

Keep in mind that if you want your crook to carry an unusual gun, he (or she) has to have managed to get it into the country where he does his dirty work. It’s one thing for Lawrence Block’s hit man character, Keller, to travel around the U.S. from state to state, but if he were to travel out of the country by plane, he’s not going to be able to take his favorite guns with him and will have to purchase guns in another country. Even if he bought a gun on the street, he’s more likely to get a weapon widely available in that country. Say he’s gone to Italy for a hit. Perhaps he’ll manage to buy this silver Tanfoglio with the wooden handle:

9x19mm Luger/Para, .40SW, or .45ACP Tanfoglio “Combat” model

But if, on the other hand, he was sent to Spain, he might find an entirely different gun such as this Llama-82:

9x19mm Luger/Parabellum Llama M-82

Price and Availability

Choices of weapons for criminals come down a lot of times to price and availability. Contrary to what you see on TV, poor ghetto youth aren’t going to find it so easy to get an AK47, Uzi, or H&K weaponry. These firearms can cost anywhere from $1,000 for a cheap knock-off to $3,500-10,000.00. They’re used often by crooks in the movies, but in real life, fully automatic weapons are illegal and/or heavily regulated practically everywhere in the U.S. and they’re not that easy to get anyway – especially if you don’t possess a gun license.


While high-power micro weapons may be tough to get, your crooks may be able to get their mitts on a bigger gun, a “cheap” AR-15 clone ($400-800).


AR-15 is a generic term for a civilian semi-automatic rifle similar to the military M16/M4. It’s a lightweight, auto-loading, magazine-fed rifle that generally takes 30 shells. AR-15s are not fully automatic weapons. You have to pull the trigger to shoot each and every round. But you can buy kits to make them automatic (“automatic” means they’d shoot nonstop as long as the trigger was depressed until they run out of ammo). It is illegal in most states to convert a semi-auto rifle to an automatic without a permit/license, and most states have laws requiring people to register either or both of these types of guns. Law enforcement AR-15s have often carried a stamp signifying those weapons for military/police use only, but with the loosening of some of the federal restrictions on firearms, that may not be the case anymore.


Crooks may also be able to find the cheaper 9mm or .45 MAC-10 pistol which is somewhat similar to an Uzi. Like an AR-15, the Mac models usually have a 30 round magazine. (MAC stands for Military Armament Corporation). With a conversion kit, this can be turned into fully automatic, and though it’s bigger than a regular handgun, it’s still a lot smaller than a rifle and is easily concealed, especially if the magazine is not in it.


Below is a spendy Steyr ($1295–1800.00) with the magazine inserted. As you can see, that takes up a lot of space, so if your criminal wants to cart the gun around and not noticed, you’ll want him to carry the weapon and magazine separately, then make sure he smacks the magazine in at the last minute before he opens fire.


Other “Big” Guns

Rifles are difficult to conceal, but we’ve all seen snipers carrying them in surprising small duffel bags and briefcases. I won’t go into detail here regarding choosing a sniper weapon, but if you want to learn more, this site details many excellent guns from around the world:

However, I will mention the sawed-off shotgun. These guns aren’t necessarily “sawed-off” (though someone could modify a shotgun that way if they knew what they were doing). This is the term for the federally restricted “short-barreled shotgun (rifle)” which is a conventional shotgun with an unusually short barrel. Usually the stock is also abbreviated so that the weapon is more concealable.

Imagine a shotgun shell a bit thicker than a woman’s lipstick case and half-filled with metal balls, each a little smaller than a pea. The shorter barrel will cause the shot to explode outward in a broad pattern and cover a wide area as if several dozen shots were fired at once. The blast of multiple projectiles can take down a deer, a bear, or a person. One of my instructors said that if the shot is big enough, the impact to a person is like getting hit with a burst from a submachine gun.

So the advantage of a shotgun (besides concealment) is that your crook can walk into tight quarters such as a restaurant or an office, fire once, and take nearly everyone out. With a double-barreled shotgun, if anyone’s still standing, he can load a round into the chamber and take them down, too. At that point, anybody not mortally wounded can be dispatched with his handy-dandy sidearm, and in less than two minutes, your fictional assassin can be away.

Omar Little, the determined drug dealer on HBO’s “The Wire,” often wore a trench coat to hide the high-power sawed-off weapon he carried. Nothing quite equals that metallic sound as the criminal racks a shotgun.


Mel Gibson also carried a sawed-off shotgun in the Mad Max movies.


The More Common Types of Guns

Besides the “sexy” high-power guns and shotguns that we see a lot on TV and in movies, in real life villains tend to carry concealable handguns, and the cost of those guns will come into play. Obviously middle- and upper-class criminals are going to have the funds to buy whatever weapons they choose, and you’ll be able to give those characters guns using some of the same rationale that you used for your sleuths.

But a Sig Sauer, a Walther, a Beretta, or a Glock semi-automatic handgun may cost in excess of $800 brand new (and often well into the thousands, especially when you add scopes, laser sights, suppressors, etc.) When such high-quality weapons are purchased at gun shows for cheaper prices, usually it’s because they’re worn. Guns do wear out. Parts break, springs wear, barrels lose their bore. What determines how long a gun lasts is simple: the original quality of the gun, how much it is fired, the intensity of the ammunition, and the care (cleaning and oiling, in particular) that the weapon receives during its lifetime.

I would argue that many crooks have a lesser variety of weaponry to choose from in terms of style and make. Because they can’t easily get permits, they’re stuck using stolen or black market weapons, some of which are pretty beat up. They’ve got Saturday night specials, old Colts, revolvers, and the like, some of which are quite battered or have not been cared for at all.

Can you see some creep cobbling this one back together with duct tape just to have something to scare people with? It looks like it got run over by a car!

Broken Revolver

But many guns LOOK like they’re perfectly fine. For instance, the one below certainly looks sturdy, doesn’t it?


You would never know the barrel has been damaged by firing the wrong size of ammunition through it. The inside of the barrel is pitted, enlarged slightly in one place, and grooved oddly, making this gun wildly inaccurate. If you can’t tell from looking, then neither will the criminal. And if the wrong ammo is inserted into the gun again, it can severely damage the chamber or the barrel (or the person holding it).

It’s not just the barrel that can be damaged if the wrong ammunition is used. Here’s a better illustration. (Remember that the bigger the gauge, the bigger the ammo is.) You would think that a gun would do all right with the smaller 20-gauge shells in the larger 12-gauge barrel, right? But that’s not so. Without the tight barrel around the shotgun shell (or the tight barrel fitting perfectly around the cartridge in a handgun), the gases and powder have too much room to ignite. Rather than the gases behind the bullet propelling it down the tight barrel and out of the gun, the whole cartridge expands and can explode, damaging the chamber and/or barrel. The shooter – and anyone standing nearby as well – can be injured or even killed.

Other Gun Mishaps and Unfortunate Accidents

Guns can be rendered ineffective or useless by bad sanitary habits. People are surprised to learn that over time perspiration can rust a gun. Purse lint can build up in the barrel and actually cause a squib round. Other objects (a pen or your kid’s color crayon, for instance) could get lodged in the barrel. If the powder inside the bullet or the primer in the firing cap at the end of the cartridge get overly damp, one or the other (or both) may not flare properly to fire the bullet.

Any of these issues may cause a squib, which is where the cartridge case ejects, but there isn’t enough pressure to propel the bullet down and out of the barrel, leaving a bullet clogging up the works. Prayers go out to the person who pulls the trigger next. When the second round is loaded and fired, the barrel is blocked, and the shooter may end up holding a fistful of metal and bits in whatever is left of his hand.


When you fire any gun, gradually there is a build-up of oily dirt and gun powder residue. Add a little lint and dust, and voilá! So how often does your crook clean her gun? How careful is he in keeping it properly lubricated? Can she afford whatever patches, tips, brushes, mops, cleaning rods, solvent, gun oil, and preservatives are needed in order to keep the weapon in working order? Is he even smart enough to know that these things are needed?

(I sometimes wonder about Stephanie Plum’s cookie jar crumbs.)

Guns have parts that wear. In particular, semi-autos have a recoil spring that works as part of the mechanism to eject the cartridges as the bullets are fired. The spring is sturdy, as are all parts of a gun, but they can be damaged by improper handling, stepping on them, etc. and they do gradually lose their oomph. How many crooks are going to pay attention to those details?

I’ve mentioned before (and so have Lee and a number of others) that some Glocks periodically have jams, particularly if the gun gets hot in a pitched gun battle. So if you want your crook’s gun to jam or misfire in the course of your story, maybe it would be good to give him a Glock. And keep in mind that many Glocks (and plenty of other handguns) can be converted to fully automatic so they’ll fire 33 bullets in seconds with one trigger pull. For as little as $10 with homemade parts, a villain can quickly convert to weapons to full automatic mode. But the crook has to be fairly smart and resourceful to figure out how to do this. Is he also smart enough to keep his gun free of gunpowder residue and other crud so that in full auto the gun doesn’t jam or even possibly blow up in his hand?

One of my police friends mentioned that many a cop’s life has been saved because the criminal was too stupid to take care of his gun, and at the crucial moment, it misfired, jammed, or actually refused to chamber the cartridge.

Zip Guns

When your crook can’t get a cheap gun, if he’s clever enough, he can improvise a single-shooter made from a piece of steel tube or pipe. The cartridge is held in place by an endcap, with a small hole drilled in the rear to allow a nail or other thin piece of metal access to the primer as a firing pin. The user only has to propel a hammer against the rear of the firing pin using a rubber band or other spring, and the cartridge will fire. Because of the cheap expense, availability, and low operating pressure, Zip guns generally use .22 Long Rifle ammunition.

The picture below shows a crude but effective zip gun made from a pipe. In this case, a spring was inserted inside with a level to pull it back. Pretty fancy – and also effective for a zip gun.


Zip guns are up-close weapons. There’s virtually no ability to aim it, and one shot is probably all the shooter gets, so proximity is the key to success.

It’s also important to note that even with a zip gun, the ammunition needs to fit somewhat snugly into the tubing to ensure that the hammer hits the firing pin squarely. If the bullet is cockeyed in the tube, it can misfire or, even worse, explode and turn that tube into scary pieces of shrapnel.



You’ve all seen TV shows and movies where assassins use silencers, the devices that screw onto the end of a gun and render the gun noiseless. Noiseless? Yeah, right. A better name would be “suppressor” because there is no such thing as completely silencing the sound of a gun firing. However, people tend to use the terms interchangeably.

A fired gun makes a combination of sounds: 1) the hammer or striker being released makes a clicking sound; 2) the muzzle blast; and 3) the ballistic crack we hear as the bullet is propelled out. All of those sounds seem to happen almost simultaneously, but it’s the latter two that are the loudest.

Impulse II-A Pistols Silencer

When gunpowder in a cartridge or shell is ignited, it creates a high-pressure pulse of hot gas with so much pressure (on the order of three thousand pounds per square inch) that the bullet is forced down the barrel of the gun at enormous speed along with a very loud report. It’s like uncorking a tightly sealed wine bottle. You can’t avoid the popping sound, or, in the gun’s case, the muzzle blast.


In addition, the more powerful the gun and ammo are, the more chance the bullet will travel at supersonic speed and produce that loud ballistic crack. A high-powered, supersonic bullet can’t be completely silenced because it has literally created a tiny sonic boom as it travels from the barrel.

To illustrate these phenomena, forensic researchers used a special imaging camera. The man in the photo below has discharged a .44 Magnum revolver. Two spherical shock waves are seen. One is a bright flash and cloud of gunpowder combustion centered at the gun’s muzzle (the muzzle blast); the other is centered near the cylinder and envelops the hands of the shooter (around the body of the gun and chamber/cylinder). The supersonic bullet is visible at the far left. This kind of split-split-second photography helps forensics experts understand the transfer of gunpowder traces to the hands when firing a gun. It also allows us to “see” the muzzle flash, the gases exploding out, and the flight of the bullet, all of which aren’t ordinarily visible to the naked eye.


Silencers/suppressors screw on to the end of the barrel. Inside, there are baffles to absorb some of the hot gases and powder. There’s a lot more room inside the device compared to the very tight barrel of the gun, so the silencer has 20 or 30 times more room for the pressurized gas to expand into. The silencer decreases pressure from the hot gas, and if enough of the propellant gases are bled away, the bullet can be slowed to less than supersonic speed. When the bullet finally exits through the hole in the silencer, the pressure being uncorked is considerably lower, and the sound of the gun firing is much softer. If the shooter in the picture above had used a silencer/suppressor, the photo would be much different.

So a high-quality silencer may remove most of the muzzle blast and perhaps all of the ballistic cracking sound, but it won’t be completely silent. The best example I have been told is that if you use a pin to pop a balloon, it makes a loud noise. But if you untie the end of the balloon and let the air out in a slower rush, you can minimize the noise. That is the basic idea behind how a silencer works.

Here is a revealing 14-second Video where you can hear how loud the shot is from a suppressed Glock:

As you can hear, there is still some sound. You can see a lot of smoke and gun powder emitted from the barrel and the back of the gun, too. If you look closely, you can also see some of the shells being ejected from the right side of the gun.

If your crook is unable to buy a silencer on the black market, or if he’s just cheap, there’s always the poor man’s version, the Pop Bottle Silencer. Here is another video, “Soda Bottle Suppressor,” that’s well worth taking a look at:

(I don’t think that’s what Fanta had in mind when they designed their 2-liter bottle!)

Contrary to popular belief, Federal law regulates but does not ban the possession of silencers/suppressors. Civilians must have authorization from the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (BAFTE) to buy, sell, own, or make silencers, but upon application, this is routinely given to anyone who is 21 or older, not a felon, and otherwise allowed to own firearms. State and local jurisdictions may impose regulations, though, so for your law-abiding characters, check with the local police or sheriff.

How To Select a Gun For Yourself

In real life, if you decide you want to buy a handgun for your own use, here are some criteria you might want to use to make your decision:

  1. The gun should fit your hand perfectly and not cause hot spots or discomfort anywhere.
  2. The gun should only be as large and/or powerful as you are comfortable with. This also means that you should be able to manipulate all parts (including the trigger and safety) with either hand alone.
  3. The gun should be reliable, well-made, constructed sturdily, and be of high enough quality to withstand heavy use and rough handling.
  4. You should enjoy firing the weapon, and you should feel like you are in control of it.
  5. After practice and training, you should be able to shoot the gun with a high level of accuracy. The gun and any sights should be accurate enough that you are able to consistently hit a six-inch target at ten yards.
  6. You should be able to carry it or conceal it comfortably and effectively for whatever use you intend.
  7. You will want to know how expensive the ammunition and replacement parts are. Do not select an unusual caliber for which ammunition is not readily available. You may have a hard time finding parts for unusual, rare, foreign, or very old guns, so before you purchase, be sure to check with a dealer to make sure you can get all supplies and parts.

Guns and Ammo magazine has a good article on “Gun Shopping 101” here:

Clockwise from top: Smith & Wesson Model 60 Revolver, North American Arms Guardian Sub-Compact, Glock Model 36, Kimber 1911 Compact Aluminum, Kahr PM9, S&W Model 340 Revolver.

Further Helpful Resources

Every gun manufacturer has a website. Enter “Heckler and Koch” into your browser to search, and you’ll find is their web address. Put in “Colt Guns” and comes up. If you want to know about a particular brand, Google it.

And by the way, Wikipedia is surprisingly accurate. Gun manufacturers and firearms enthusiasts have done a LOT of work to make it so.

Here are some other websites that you may find helpful.

Glossary of Definitions –

Hunting/Gun info & online tutorial/test –

Great Reviews of many types of guns –

Gun World with tons of information –

Modern Combat Pistols –

Women & Guns Forum –

Women & Guns Magazine –

Holsters –

Laser Sights & Mounts –

Laser Grips –

Sniper Rifles –

Optics, Mounts & Scopes for Handguns –

Education and Training –

I highly recommend popping for a year (six issues) of the Women & Guns Magazine. For women (or men) who are just learning about firearms, you can’t go wrong for $18 bucks, and just reading six issues will give anybody a lot more information. Besides, the pictures are great and it’s easy to imagine your characters carrying these guns. You can cut them out and use them on your bulletin board as reminders, too.

In addition, there are scores of books out there about owning firearms, safety, history, politics, and for women contemplating gun ownership. Your local library or bookseller will probably have scads. Here is just a brief sample, including my old standby encyclopedia, and a 2007 book geared towards writers regarding the history of firearms:

  • Encyclopedia of Pistols and Revolvers by A.E. Hartink
  • Firearms in American History: A Guide for Writers, Curators, and General Readers by Charles G. Worman
  • Essential Guide to Handguns: Firearm Instruction for Personal Defense and Protection by Rementer and Eimer
  • Blown Away: American Women and Guns by Caitlin Kelly
  • Armed and Female: Twelve Million American Women Own Guns, Should You? by Paxton Quigley
  • The Politics of Gun Control, 4th Edition by Robert J. Spitzer

There is so much more to share about firearms, but my blog time is over, so I’ll have to stop here. Thank you for reading Parts I, II, and III of this topic. Let me know if you have any questions at all, and always remember to keep your eye on the target.

Mindless Super Hero

I’m currently on an actual road trip to the Midwest conducting research for a new book. I hope to back in the office Saturday afternoon and, if all goes as planned, I’ll post the real Weekend Road Trip photos at that time.

Enjoy your weekend.

Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers

Seargent Leslie (Les) Wilmont – Kiefer, Oklahoma Police Department

Sergeant Wilmont, a 30 year veteran and former police chief, was killed when his patrol car struck a tractor trailer.

Deputy Sheriff Michael Sean Thomas – Bibb County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Thomas, an eight year veteran, died May 25, 2008 of injuries he’d received in April when his police motorcycle collided with a pickup truck. The driver of the truck pulled out in front of Deputy Thomas as he approached an intersection.

Deputy Sheriff James Throne – Kern County, California Sheriff’s Office

Deputy Throne was killed May 23, 2008 when his patrol car collided with another patrol car while responding to assist other officers.

T. Lynn Ocean


Unsure of what she wanted to be after college, T. Lynn explored various careers including commercial tread rubber sales and retail management. For one summer, her job was to scare people at a haunted house, but that was a long time ago. Most recently, she was a television producer for several years before leaving the corporate career world so that she could make stuff up on a fulltime basis.

She also writes freelance and her articles appear in regional magazines across the country. (To read a few, click on the ‘Musings’ tab.)

When not vacuuming up pet hair, T. Lynn enjoys photography, doing absolutely nothing anywhere with a terrific view, and taking impromptu road trips in the name of research.

T. Lynn is also a certified firearms safety instructor and shooting sports enthusiast. She lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with her husband and a few furry critters.

T. Lynn Ocean:

Put most any man (who is not a seasoned gun collector) in front of a gun counter, tell him to pick one, and chances are good that he’ll go for the largest caliber thing he sees. It must be a guy thing. Take, for example, the 2007 NRA Gun of the Year: a Smith & Wesson 460XVR revolver that uses magnum loads. (Friends of the NRA hosts fundraising banquets around the country and they always choose a gun, knife, and print of the year, which become collector items.) FYI, if you haven’t seen one, this gun is huge! Of course, the NRA goes out of their way to be female friendly, but I’d guess that it was an all-male committee who chose the .460 SW Magnum as their coveted gun of the year.

Touted as the highest velocity revolver in the world, this gun has an extra large frame, weighs more than 5 pounds when loaded, and has an overall length of 15″.

I’m no ballistics expert, but generally speaking, the higher the caliber, the more recoil. And the more recoil, the less controllability a shooter has, especially anything beyond the first shot.

Why on earth would any woman (fictional character or otherwise) carry a weapon that will beat her up when she shoots it? Many law enforcement folks—including my local PD—use .40 caliber Glocks for their duty weapons. I shot one at the indoor range last month and literally stopped before I even emptied the magazine. Can you say, ouch! I shot with a firm, two handed grip and well balanced stance. But my wrist really hurt after only six or seven rounds. My shooting buddy, a guy, agreed that the recoil was rough. But he quickly added that the Glock’s recoil didn’t bother him. Of course it didn’t. His wrists are the size of drink coasters. The ‘kick’ factor might not bother most men, but if I were a female officer toting around a .40 Glock, I couldn’t begin to imagine what my wrist and arm would feel like after target practice. Not only would I not want to practice, but I’d dread doing so. I liken it to asking a marathon runner to train in high heels.

Law enforcement decision-makers must take into account many factors when doing a weapons buy. But for your average private investigator, retail store manager, lawyer, grandma, or jewel thief who carries a weapon, there is absolutely no reason to adhere to the old adage: the bigger the caliber the better.

Like everything else—from golf clubs to passenger tires—improved technology has made handgun ammunition much more effective than ever before. Stopping power IS available with smaller caliber weapons.

Most everyone is familiar with JHP, or jacketed hollow-points. Such bullets, as the name suggests, have a hollowed out space in the nose and are designed to ‘mushroom’ out, or expand upon impact. The development of hollow-point ammo was one giant step in creating good stopping power for lower caliber weapons. As an added benefit, the expanded chunk of lead is less likely to go all the way through the bad guy, and if it does, chances are it won’t have enough velocity to maim an innocent passerby.

9mm fired: A 9mm Hydra-Shok bullet that was fired into water jugs

Even better is the relatively new Hydra-Shok technology, available in Federal Premium ammo. (You’ll hear it called hydroshock among other names, but note that Hydra-Shok is a registered trademark.) Bottom line? Take a hollow-point bullet and add a small post in the center of it. The result is even MORE—yes more—stopping power. It’s something to do with energy transfer and penetration and the fact that the human body is about 60% water. I’m told that, even if the assailant is hit in the arm or leg rather than at center mass, a Hydra-Shok bullet will bring him down. Plus, most shooters in a self defense situation will keep pulling the trigger until the threat has been eliminated. Even cops with .40 caliber Glocks don’t stop after one shot when their life is on the line.

9mm Round: A 9mm Hydra-Shok round. It’s hard to see, but note the center post sticking up in the hollowed cavity. Also note the scored edges–these are the points where the bullet will rip open upon impact.

I just got the newly-introduced Ruger SR9 and love it. It’s slim and sexy and has a magazine capacity of 17 rounds. And loaded with Hydra-Shok, this 9mm has plenty of stopping power for any run-of-the-mill self defense situation. (Meaning you’re not up again terrorists with shoulder mounted rocket launchers.) Best of all, I shot about 200 rounds through the SR9 during one practice session, and went home with a happy wrist.

Ruger SR9: The Ruger SR9’s overall length is just over 7.5″ and its width is a surprising 1.27″. In the interest of safety, I must mention that the early production SR9s have been recalled due to possibly firing if dropped. It’s an easy fix and Ruger is giving a free magazine to those affected. But if you’re running out to purchase one, check the serial number first. You can find recall info at

A good firearms instructor will offer this advice to anyone shopping for a self defense gun: Buy the biggest caliber that you can comfortably and accurately handle. I always add a few additional words of advice: Buy something that you will not only practice with, but enjoy shooting. I’ve found that if a person enjoys shooting a particular gun, they’re much more apt to practice with it.

That means that women—including your gun-toting female characters—might want to forget about “bigger is better” and go with a smarter choice. Let’s face it. We just don’t have the upper body strength that a man does. Our forearms don’t have the same muscle mass, even if we are eating all our spinach. And most of us don’t have wrists the size of coasters. Why deal with uncomfortable recoil when we don’t have to?

Of course, if your character is in law enforcement, they may not have a choice as to what they carry on the job. And on the opposite end of the spectrum is the proverbial professional assassin who carries a small .22 since they know how to administer a well-placed head shot at point blank range. If done right, the low velocity bullet bounces around inside the skull enough to cause fatal damage.

But for the rest of us, a 9 millimeter, a .38, or even a .380 loaded with Hydra-Shok ammo should do just fine.

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You can visit T. Lynn Ocean at

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We’ve just been informed that Earle Hagen, the writer (and whistler) of the Andy Griffith Show theme song died yesterday at age 88.