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 www.lorillake.com.

Part 2: Size DOES Matter

Everything about firearms indicates that size matters, especially in terms of cartridges, caliber, and bore.

All firearms are designed to take a specific kind of cartridge, and there are scores of different types and sizes of cartridges (or ammunition, which some people mistakenly refer to as “bullets”). You must use the correct ammunition in the firearm. You can be injured or even killed if the wrong cartridge is used. Why is this?

Even if you manage to load the cylinder of a revolver or get a particular cartridge into a gun’s chamber, if you attempt to fire ammo that is too big to fit through the barrel, the gun can literally blow up in your hand. If the cartridge is too small, the gun could misfire, or the bullet could tumble out in a completely inaccurate manner and miss what you’re aiming at.

Every gun has a specific-sized bore that takes a specific-size caliber. The bore is the diameter of the inside of the gun’s barrel through which the bullet travels when a gun is fired.

Caliber describes the size of the cartridge designed for a specific bore. The diameter of the barrel (the bore) is basically the same as the caliber the gun uses. The diagram below (which is not quite fully to scale) illustrates this:

The caliber (size of bullet, left) has to fit the bore (right).

Caliber is expressed in terms of inches or millimeters. A .22 cartridge, for instance, is just a hair under a quarter-inch in diameter. The photo below gives an excellent visual of various calibers:

Common handgun cartridges (left to right): 3-inch 12-gauge magnum shotgun shell (for comparison), size “AA” battery (for comparison), .454 Casull, .45 Winchester Magnum, .44 Remington Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .45 ACP, .38 Super, 9 mm Luger, .32 ACP, .22 LR

As you can tell, a bullet from, say, that wicked-looking .454 Casull is going to pack a real punch. Can you imagine how painful it would be to be shot with a bullet nearly as big as a double-A battery? Ouch! The .22 cartridge is much smaller in contrast.

But Where Does the *Bullet* Come From?

I keep using the term cartridge. You can also call it ammunition or a round. But the bullet is only part of a cartridge. Pistol and rifle cartridges have four basic components:

The case is the brass cylinder that all the other parts fit into.

The primer is the component that the hammer of the gun hits and ignites.

Powder is the chemical compound ignited by the primer that propels the bullet.

The bullet is a projectile, usually made of lead and other metals, that the powder fires out the barrel of the gun.

Pulling the trigger creates a simple chain reaction: the firing pin strikes, primer ignites to flare and ignite the powder, which instantly generates a huge volume of gas that creates so much pressure, the bullet explodes from the case and out the barrel.

And it all happens in a split second.

One More Thing about Ammo

Shotgun shells are different from rifle and pistol cartridges. In addition to a case, primer, and powder, there is also a wad of plastic or fiber separating the shot from the powder. The wad forms a seal to allow the gases from the burning powder to push the shot down the barrel in a uniform manner. Instead of a bullet, shells are filled with “shot” – small, round pellets usually made of lead or steel. A shotgun shell can contain anywhere from a half-dozen ball-bearing-type pieces of metal to 1,300 pellets. It can also contain a slug, which is a solid piece of metal.

Police usually carry a shotgun in their cruisers, so if you have police characters in your stories, it’ll be important to use the correct terminology. If you’d like to learn a lot more about shotguns, this site walks you through all the angles: http://science.howstuffworks.com/shotgun.htm.

Using Firearms to Characterize

If you caught last week’s blog on “Guns, Guns, Guns,” you know that I believe the use of firearms in a crime novel can and should be used to characterize. Your gun choices add telling information about your story people. Some readers will not be able to tell a Kel-Tec from Manolo Blahniks, but for those well-versed in firearms (or shoes), name brands, styles, sizes, and other details do matter.

Lest you think that knowledge of guns and weaponry is not all that widespread, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has well over four million members. How many of them read crime fiction? I’ll bet a lot of them read thrillers, action, mystery, and adventure novels, as might the estimated thirty million hunters in the U.S. or the fifty million other Americans who own firearms. Men, in particular, notice the dearth of (in inaccuracy) of firearms lingo in novels, so if you want to increase your believability – and perhaps your audience – it’s important to have a good understanding of firearms and weaponry if you use them in your fiction.

You definitely do not want to bandy about terminology or firearm effects if you don’t know for sure that the details are correct. For instance, I recently read a manuscript where the author had terrorists carry Kalashnikovs down a crowded New York street on the way to the embassy they’re attacking. She had heard that Muslim extremists would probably use that sort of weapon.

Unfortunately, a Kalashnikov is a big mother of a weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle recognizable by its half-wood/half-steel construction and the curved magazine that holds 30 rounds. It’s also three feet long and weighs well over ten pounds fully loaded. If your terrorists walked through Time Square carrying Kalashnikovs, not only would everybody they encountered run screaming, but very little time would pass before a horde of NY City’s Finest descended and took them out. (More on Kalashnikovs in Part III.)

So, when choosing firearms for our characters, we know we want to be specific, but we also want our choices to be accurate and supportable given the context of the story and the characters’ situations.

I don’t mean to be un-PC or offensive to anyone, but we do have to differentiate regarding size, and one of the general dividing lines is gender. Even though women are certainly taller these days, men still tend to have bigger, more muscled frames and possess larger, stronger hands. Men probably have a greater selection of firearms to choose from because they’re comfortable with the wide variety of BIG guns.

Good Guns For Guys

If your sleuth/detective is a cop (or professional PI working for a large organization), he will be expected to carry a standard type of gun during work hours, usually a large-frame, large caliber semi-auto. But off the job, for concealment purposes, most cops and pros leave their work weapon at home or in their locker and opt for much smaller, lighter guns. (Note: If he’s a police officer, he’s going to have to qualify at the range with any weapon he carries off-duty.)

And if your sleuth is an amateur detective or PI, what might he carry?

A guy who grew up around guns, who hunted game with family members, or who’s always been interested in firearms may own several handguns from which to choose. You’ll have to decide whether your sleuth keeps an arsenal – or just one gun for personal protection.

A fellow who’s not such a gun enthusiast may, indeed, carry exactly the same gun as his department requires. That’s less to keep track of. A Glock 19 or 20 weighs about 28 ounces unloaded. With a full magazine of ammo, you can add another 11 or 12 ounces. That’s 40 ounces – or 2.5 pounds – of clunky weapon to lug around. Glock duty sidearms aren’t the slimmer, smaller version (like the Glock 36, for instance). They’re bulky and hard to conceal. Same goes for all of the full-size, large-frame semi-autos: the Beretta, the Kimber 1911, the various Smith & Wessons, etc., and they’re even heavier than a Glock.

So he may choose a lighter, easier-to-conceal firearm. What’s his personality all about? Is he a tough guy? Unassuming? Mr. Milquetoast in public, but hell on wheels when up against the wall? Does he have money to burn on the most expensive types of weapons? Or does he need to conserve his funds? (Keep in mind that ammunition is not cheap. A box of 50 rounds of .45 cartridges will run you about $40 in most sporting goods stores).

Is he nostalgic and carries a Walther P-38 like the ones used on “The Man from UNCLE”?

Or the .635mm Beretta 418 Ian Fleming had James Bond use in the first several books?

Or maybe the Walther PPK that Bond used most the time as his main gun?

Or the bigger, meaner-looking 9mm Walther – complete with a silencer – used in the latest James Bond


Robert B. Parker’s Spenser is often armed with a Smith & Wesson .38 Special (or .357 Magnum revolvers). He’s been carrying the .38 for so long that I suspect it might look like one of these older Model M60s:

Spenser’s best bud, Hawk, usually has an arsenal, including his favorite great big stainless-steel .357 Colt Python:

Or how about Indiana Jones’ British double action revolver, a late 19th Century .455 Webley Mk VI, which, by the way, he’s still using in 1957! I just saw the new movie over Memorial Day weekend, and he got this gun out:

In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character used a Winchester Model 1887 10-gauge shotgun in many of the battle scenes against the T-1000. It had a modified loop near the trigger that allowed Schwarzenegger to “flip-cock” the shotgun in a memorable and dramatic manner.

All of these guns characterize in interesting ways, don’t they? Somehow, they seem to *belong* with their user.

Most men have the advantage of an easier time carrying guns on their person. They often use concealment holsters worn under clothing or in front or rear pants pockets. There are holsters made for one or double shoulder, waistband, side, back, ankle, hip, belly, etc. (To see a huge array of examples: http://www.holsterss.com).

Good Guns For Gals

Whether it’s PC to admit or not, women’s upper bodies are often nowhere near as strong as men’s. Granted, some women do have plenty of strength to handle anything the big boys do, but the fact remains that guns and equipment can be problematic for women. My police friends complain about their duty belts, for instance, and often it takes a lot of adapting to get accustomed to firing the department-issue firearm. To make matters more difficult, women have wider hips and bustlines, so holsters can be uncomfortable.

Sigourney Weaver in “Alien”

Not everyone is 5’11” like the actress Sigourney Weaver who pulled off the Ripley character carrying a massive plasma weapon that had to weigh a ton. And no women – and few men! – are anywhere near the size and strength of Lee Child’s 6’5” 240-pound Jack Reacher. (In fact, Reacher’s hand are probably so big, I bet he couldn’t even get his index finger comfortably into .22 or .25 handgun, much less a derringer.)

If I remember correctly, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone are both under 5’4”. Kinsey carries an unspecified .32. Stephanie Plum carries an unspecified .38 revolver in her purse (or forgets it in the cookie jar at home).

Lara Croft, from the popular game series (and in the movie) uses twin 9mm Heckler and Koch USP Match with speed-loader clips. When she ejects the magazines, a rack in her backpack comes out with a new set so she can sweep her arms behind and reload.

Angelina Jolie in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”

But how realistic is that for a female crime fiction sleuth, especially off-duty? Women may not have the advantage of suit jackets, underarm holsters, or big pockets and are likely to have interesting problems that many men might not have. Where doe she carry her weapon if she wants it concealed? On her person she can use ankle or thigh holsters. If she doesn’t mind the gun showing, she can wear it on a belt at her waist, but how tacky is that when you’re out with your boyfriend or taking your elderly mother to the dentist?

Women often carry their weapons in their purses, and this is where Glocks (and other guns without standard safeties) are problematic. There is no standard/external safety on a Glock. Experts will tell you that the “safety” consists of fully engaging the trigger, pulling it a full half-inch, and exerting 5 or 6 pounds of pressure before it fires. Having recently tested three different-sized Glocks by firing multiple rounds from each, I can tell you that the difference between the Glock trigger pull and, say, a .45 Colt revolver or a .40 SIG-Sauer is not great enough for me to have noticed.

So imagine this: Your sleuth sticks her big old bulky Glock in her dainty, evening purse. Along with the extra magazine of 9mm ammunition she might also want to carry, she’s lugging around three pounds of hardware. (Go get three pounds of hamburger, tuck that in your purse, and see how long it takes before your shoulder or arm is seriously fatigued. Of course you can always use the purse as a lethal weapon.)

Now, have your sleuth character sit in a booth with a reputed mobster she’s trying to cozy up to. It’s time to go to the powder room to check in with her handler. She reaches into her purse for her makeup case, accidentally hooks the Glock trigger on the case’s snap, and in the process of trying to disentangle it, the gun goes off. Of course it won’t hit the gangster. She’ll shoot herself in one elegantly panty-hosed foot. Or somebody else will get hit by the ricochet. Not good!

A heftier, bigger man may have less trouble stashing a Glock because he can tuck it into a holster in the back of his pants, stuff it in a trouser pocket, or use a shoulder holster. But nothing looks worse on a woman than that unsightly bulge just below the panty-line of her lovely evening gown.

A woman isn’t going to need the firepower of a Glock (9mm or .45 caliber, that is) anyway. She’s only carrying this gun around with her for personal, close-up, off-duty protection. So why not outfit her with a gun that not only suits her personality, but also has an external safety and is a size that she can comfortably carry? Here are three excellent purse guns:

.32 Beretta Tomcat 3032 – weighs about 16 oz. loaded with seven shells

.32 Bersa Thunder Conceal Carry – weighs about 22 oz. loaded with seven shells

.32 Kel-Tec P-32 – weighs a mere 15 oz. loaded with seven shells

That Kel-Tec is made with of the same kind of molded polymer that Glocks are made of, which makes it very lightweight. And look how much cuter it is!

As you can see, these are all sub-compact handguns, but what more does a gal need out on a date, doing her shopping, or driving around town? Besides, why advertise that she’s carrying? These are easy to hide on one’s person – in a pocket, in a mesh ankle holder, or tucked in a fanny-pack. They’re terrific for athletic pursuits. If your sleuth is a jogger or biker, you can outfit her with a special waist holders that hug them close.

You’ll notice none of the purse guns are under .32 caliber. There are a lot of .22 and .25 caliber guns out there, but I’m of the opinion that they lack stopping power to put down a determined assailant. Also, their barrels are so stubby that they’re hard to sight which makes it difficult to accurately hit anything at more than spitting distance, especially because they’re so light that the recoil causes them to flip around with every shot you take.

But just in case you want to see a really dinky ladies gun that some women swear by and that travels well in a purse, here is one:

.25 American Derringer LM5 – weighs about 18 oz. loaded with five shells

See how there’s hardly any barrel to sight down? This gun – and all of the tiniest sub-compacts – are going to be very inaccurate weapons.

If your female detective – or your male detective, for that matter – wants more firepower and doesn’t mind some extra weight, these are good compacts that are still small and concealable, but that you may find are a lot easier to aim and hit the target:

.380 Walther PPK/S – weighs about 26 oz. loaded with eight shells

.45 Kimber Ultra Carry Pistol – weighs about 31 oz. loaded with eight shells

.380 Taurus Millennium Pro – weighs about 29 oz. loaded with 12+1 shells

You can also get that Taurus Millenium Pro outfitted as a 9mm, .40, or .45.

Lets Talk About Cost

The “purse” guns tend to cost in the range of $350 – $500. That .380 Taurus Millenium Pro was $399 at one website, $419 at another. The .32 Beretta Tomcat cost around $425. Other plain and simple but medium-small handguns range from $450 – $650.

The bigger semi-autos can cost from $550 to $1,500, depending upon workmanship and detailing. For instance, if you want a beautiful gun with character, check out this one which is only seven inches long, weighs 32 ounces, and can come with a laser grip:

9mm Springfield 1911 subcompact

This gun is made of forged aluminum alloy with anodized black metal and a carved wooden hand grip. It’s a “pretty” gun . . . and you pay for that. This one runs around $1,200.

Seems like the bigger the gun or the more detailed, the more the prices rise. One site that shows good pictures and seems to quote representative prices is www.gundirectory.com.

A Note on Laser Sights and Night Lights

Some shooters think the world of laser sights, which can help you shoot with greater speed and accuracy. When you first begin training with a new gun (especially if it’s small with a very short barrel), a laser sight can help your aim as you get accustomed to the gun.

9mm Glock with a Laser Sight

With a laser, you can see precisely where you’ve pointed the muzzle of your gun, and if you’re off, it shows in a very big way. To find out more about lasers, go here: http://www.crimsontrace.com.

You can also get handguns outfitted with a flashlight at the end of the barrel like this .45 Heckler & Koch which is used by a lot of security forces around the world:

.45 Heckler & Koch

Don’t Forget Revolvers

I’ve focused on a lot of semi-auto guns, but rather than one of those or a smaller “purse gun” or “pocket piece,” perhaps your sleuth would do better with a revolver. With only a 3- or 4-inch barrel and a six-round cylinder, a revolver can fit unobtrusively in a lot of places on your person. Two examples would include the Smith & Wesson models below:

.38 Smith & Wesson “Snub-Nose” Model 36

.38 or .357 Smith & Wesson Model 66

S&W also makes this gun with a hammer that’s recessed so it’s less likely to catch on things in a purse or carry bag.

Some of the smaller .38 and .40 caliber revolvers are concealable. By the time you get to the steel-constructed .45s, such as the Ruger Redhawk, you’re getting into some size and weight. Fully loaded, this revolver below weighs slightly over four pounds. That’s some serious drag in your pocket or purse!

.45 Ruger Redhawk

Some Other Suitable Guns

Non-professional sleuths (incidental or amateur detectives) ought to have guns that suit them. Even if the weapon is one they’ll keep squirreled away in a shoebox in the closet (or in the cookie jar), why should it be a boring old Glock?

Maybe a .45 or 9mm or .357 is just too big for a woman with small hands. Take yourself to a gun store and ask the dealer to let you handle a variety of firearms. You’ll soon find a gun that you think is handsome, not too heavy, and that has a grip that fits your hand – or that fits the hand-size of your imagined sleuth.

The Kimber 1911 is a very cool gun and can be outfitted with a laser and night-sight. It’s a little big for an average woman’s hand, but it’d fit a man well.

.45 Kimber 1911 Stainless Pro Carry II

The full-size 9mm Beretta, carried by cops and the military, is comfortable to fire, though it’s a fairly heavy gun.

9mm Beretta 92FS

A durable and much-loved gun often passed from father to son (or father to daughter) is the .45 Colt Commander with the nice wood grip.

.45 Colt Combat Commander

Or maybe you should give your detective a long-barreled .44 Magnum like Dirty Harry carried.

.44 Smith & Wesson Magnum Model 29 – The Dirty Harry Gun

I shot that one, and it had some kick! (Or maybe your gal is like Dirty Harry – giving her a gargantuan .44 would definitely say something about her personality.)

I discovered that I love SIG-Sauer handguns, I have medium-sized hands for a woman, but small compared to the average man’s hand, and the Glock is so wide and clunky. A comfortable gun is one that will allow you to shoot with much better accuracy, and my dream gun, the SIG-Sauer P239, fits in my hand perfectly.

9mm SIG-Sauer P226

It’s smooth to operate and extremely durable (unlike a Glock, which *will* chip; you can slam a Sig around and it will not break), and since the Sig measures 7.7 inches overall and weighs only 29 ounces, it’s one of the lighter, ore compact medium-sized guns around.

For people who are curious about this, go to a gun store and compare the Glock to the Sig, or to any other gun. You will immediately see and feel that the Glock is bigger/clunkier. From side to side, the grip is much the same, but the butt is a bit larger, which is noticeable to women or men with smaller hands. It’s surprising how much a few millimeters in dimension make. The P226 has one of the most compact, comfortable handles of any 9mm featuring a double-column magazine, which makes it far superior to the Glock in terms of firing comfort.

My cop friends say that their Glocks jam periodically, but usually they’re quick and easy to clear. I recently fired a couple of boxes of rounds without a jam from a Glock 19, but my firing partner, a police officer, was firing a lot faster than I was, and with the heat of the gun, she had two jams. So Glocks are no strangers to jams – especially if you’re not religious about keeping them 100% cleaned. The Glock is a perfectly decent gun, but it’s a big, solid handful, and I’d much rather pack a SIG-Sauer P226 if you gave me a choice between the two.

Bottom Line: No woman character in her right mind would willingly carry and use a full-size Glock unless she had VERY big hands or at least quite a bit of finger/thumb spread. The gun is designed for a big, meaty, man’s hand. It doesn’t help that the gun is extra light either. The recoil is MUCH more significant than from some of the tighter, more compact, slightly heavier guns.

How Do You Write An Accurate Book? Research, research!

By now, you can see that there is SO MUCH VARIETY in firearms (and I haven’t even talked about rifles!). Really, if you’re a mystery writer and you’re ever going to have characters use any kind of weapons, you would be well served by visiting a well-stocked gun shop or wandering through a gun show. Ask questions, hold guns, examine ammo, work the slide, take the guns apart and put them back together, get a feel of the weight of various parts. Until you do that, I don’t know that it’s really all that easy to write a scene that feels “real.”

Up next week on Tuesday: Outfitting Your Crooks With Guns

Memorial Day


“We’ll never forget you gave your all
That others can be free
You paid the ultimate earthly price
Immortal you will ever be.”

Susan Helene Kramer

*Tomorrow – Part 2 of Guns, Guns, Guns with Lori L. Lake

Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers

5-21-08 Joliet, Illinois Police Officer Richard Trafton received his department’s highest award this week, the prestigious Murrin Medal, as well as other Heroism and Lifesaving Awards. Officer Trafton saved the life of fellow police officer, Mike Sheridan, who had been stabbed twice during a scuffle with a violent offender. Trafton quickly pulled Sheridan to safety, and was then attacked by the same knife-wielding suspect. Officer Trafton was able to draw his service weapon and stopped the threat. Officer Sheridan received a Purple Heart during the same ceremony.

5-20-08 A 35 year old Harper Woods, Michigan police officer went well above the call of duty when he pushed two civilians to safety before he was struck by an out of control car. The unidentified officer saw the car careening toward the pair and quickly shoved them out of harms way. The officer was hit in the hip and back, but is expected to fully recover.

5-16-08 Roanoke, Virginia Police Officer Brian Lawrence was severely injured while attempting to arrest two suspects who’d assaulted a female. Officer Lawrence was paralyzed as a result of his injuries. It’s not known at this time if the paralysis is permanent. Police have not released details of Officer Lawrence’s injuries, but a search warrant filed in Roanoke’s Circuit Court (probably to retrieve evidence from the suspects) indicates a shoe print was visible on the officer’s head. Both suspects have been arrested and charged with malicious wounding of an officer.

Courtroom security


The responsibility of protecting county courtrooms, judges, jury members, court employees, witnesses, and all citizens who attend court hearings and trials, falls on the shoulders of the county sheriff. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting jail inmates to and from their court appearances, and for guarding the prisoners while they’re inside the courthouse.

US Marshals have the responsibility of providing security and prisoner transport for federal courts.

Sheriffs deputies employed as court security officers undergo special training related to working in a court environment. Depending on an individual sheriff’s policy, court security officers may, or may not, be certified police officers.

The sergeant (you can tell he’s a sergeant by the three stripes on his sleeve and collar pin) in the above photograph is in charge of all courtroom security operations. In addition to supervising the deputies working in the various courtrooms, he’s responsible for delivering each prisoner to the correct courtroom on time.

Closed circuit cameras in each courtroom and other strategic locations, project real-time images to the security office. Judges also have panic buttons beneath their benches. A press of the button sends an emergency signal to the security office, and to police dispatchers and the nearby sheriffs office.

Deputies gather chains in preparation of transporting prisoners back to jail.

Court security officers must learn to use various screening devices, such as hand-held metal detecting wands and x-ray equipment.

Monitors for x-ray equipment.

Officer stationed at x-ray machine and walk-through metal detector.

Typical courtroom

Jury box

Prisoner holding cell in court basement near the security office.

Surveillance van


Have you ever wondered how detectives capture those really cool, real-time, incriminating photos, videos, and audio recordings of criminals? It seems as if the cops are mere inches away when the bad guys are committing their crimes. How do they do it? Simple, they roll out the heavy artillery – surveillance vans.

Police surveillance vans can be disguised as the vehicles used by plumbers, TV repairmen, cable installers, and even the plain and simple mini-vans driven by soccer moms. It’s what’s on the inside that makes them so unique. The front, driver’s compartment is almost like a normal van. The only difference is a hidden intercom system used for communicating with the officers concealed in the rear compartment.

A hidden door behind the two front seats is the entrance to a cockpit that would make Captain Kirk green with envy. The secret compartment in a police surveillance van is equipped with separate heating, air conditioning that uses dry ice for cooling, extremely sensitive listening equipment that’s capable of monitoring all four outside corners of the truck, night vision, thermal imaging, GPS, video and still cameras, blackout curtains, police radios, CB radios (for monitoring citizen conversations) telephone, computers with internet service, and various printers for photographs and reports. Some are even equipped with toilet facilities. The people who build these vehicles even make use of the luggage racks on top. They’re used to conceal the antennas for the high-powered radio equipment.

Rear compartment of a police surveillance van.

  1. Carbon Monoxide & Oxygen Level Alarms
  2. Intercom
  3. RCSS3000 Remote Control Surveillance Periscope
  4. Color Camera with 52-520mm Zoom Lens
  5. Motion Detector
  6. Sliding Bulkhead Door with Observation / Camera Port
  7. Bench Seat / Storage Compartment
  8. Joystick Control for Periscope
  9. Video Printer
  10. Air Conditioner & Propane Heater
  11. Video Cassette Recorders
  12. Professional Grade Programmable Receiver

Hidden intercom in center console of driver’s compartment.

360 degree surveillance periscope capable of video and still photography.

Joy stick for controlling periscope

Retracted periscope, When in use, the periscope has the appearance of a small roof fan.

Guns with Lori 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 www.lorillake.com.


Modern hunting rifle with scope

I’ve always been interested in firearms, ever since I took a gun safety class at 14 so I could go out in the woods hunting with my uncles and cousin. I’ve studied firearms, read a couple dozen books about guns, and fired a number of weapons over the years. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but it’s been nice to become more knowledgeable about firearms because they’re an important topic for writing crime fiction.

Today I’ll talk about the kinds of guns professionals carry and the differences between types of firearms. Next week, in Part II, I’ll give you information about guns your sleuths might want to carry. The following week, in Part III, I’ll address the best guns for crooks and give further information about online places to research.

A Cornucopia of Guns!

I had the pleasure last month of shooting and examining a variety of firearms at the Oakdale Gun Club (www.oakdalegunclub.org) near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The members who sponsored and taught this session brought over 100 different weapons for us to shoot. I fired pistols and rifles and revolvers and a 12-gauge shotgun. I even fired two AR-15s (which are similar to the M-16s the military issues). One of the AR-15s had a scope, and I hit the red bulls-eye at 50 yards – pretty good for an AR-15 neophyte.

.223 AR-15 without scope

The first, and perhaps most important, information I learned all boils down to:

Four Simple Rules
1. Treat every gun as if it were loaded (even if you think it’s not). Always assume a gun is loaded and dangerous.

2. Control the muzzle at all times. Loaded or unloaded, the gun’s muzzle must always be pointed in a safe direction.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger. Your index finger belongs along the side of the gun until you’ve sighted in on your target. Many guns have “hair-trigger” response, meaning that the slightest pressure will fire the weapon. Most “accidental” discharges happen because the gun handler had a finger on the trigger and flinched or squeezed without intending to.

4. Be sure of what you’re shooting at, and above all, be sure of what is beyond your target. It does no good to take down a criminal in a hail of bullets if the shots go through the wall, out a window, or down the street and kill innocent bystanders.

After the safety issues were covered, I got the chance to ask a lot of questions and came away with ideas and opinions to share.

Glock 17, 19, and 26 (from top to bottom)

Glocks, Glocks Everywhere

Lately I see that many mystery writers have their sleuths and detectives automatically default to carrying Glocks. Everywhere you go in crime fiction, they’re packing Glocks.

Glocks are common in the real world; approximately two-thirds of all law enforcement, including the FBI and the DEA, now use the Glock handgun. Glocks are light, versatile, affordable weapons that possess excellent stopping power and are chambered for 9 mm, .40- and .45-caliber ammunition. St Paul, New York, Charleston, Miami, Denver, and many, many more cop shops carry this weapon.

A fictional police detective can’t go wrong with a Glock, but make sure that if you use a real police department in your fiction, you have your cops carrying the weapon that department does actually use.

On-Duty Department-Issued Sidearms

There are differences across the nation’s police departments in what sidearms are assigned to staff, but most police departments of any size designate a standard department weapon, give an annual stipend (usually between $600-$900), and require officers to qualify at specific marksmanship levels. Because officers may end up using each other’s weapons in the line of fire, many departments have found that requiring everyone to carry the same weapon reduced shooting errors, and ensured that cops could quickly handle and reload each other’s guns. Of course, no single size fits all, so many officers don’t like to be told what gun to carry, but they have to follow department regulations.

9mm Beretta 92FS

Other than Glocks, police sidearms often include the .45-caliber Kimber 1911, .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, or the 9mm Beretta (which is what the military issues). The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the largest Sheriff department in the U.S. with more than 9,000 sworn deputies, has carried the Beretta 92FS since 1988. Last time I checked, Minneapolis allows its officers to use the Glock or the Beretta, and Saint Paul used the Glock.

I was surprised to find out that Glocks are not necessarily the first choice for off-duty officers, sportsmen/competitors, and those who carry for personal protection. Glocks may not be the first choice for criminals either (more on this topic in Part II and Part III).

Until the 1990s the vast majority of police departments issued revolvers as the primary service weapon. Colts and Smith & Wesson revolvers in .38, .357, and .45-caliber were typical. Most police departments in the U.S. have seen the advantages of the semi-automatic pistol over the revolver. Semi-automatics hold more ammo, are faster to reload, and can deliver more firepower. Very few police departments in the U.S. still issue revolvers.

.357 Magnum Colt Python

Some small-town departments may still be carrying revolvers, though. There are law enforcement officials who swear by the revolver because it’s a weapon that rarely misfires. Of course, a typical .38 or .45 generally only pack six rounds, and they’re slow to load (unlike a semi-automatic handgun which uses pre-loaded magazines).

You may find on-duty officers carrying an extra weapon, perhaps in an ankle holster. One of my friends likes the S&W .38 Model 649 because there’s no external hammer, which means it doesn’t catch on socks or pant legs. The 649 is easy to handle and easy to conceal.

.38 or .357 Smith & Wesson Model 649 (with no external hammer)

If you use a real-life police department in your crime fiction, in order to be accurate, you should check out what your police department’s gun requirements are before you send your book to press.

Pistols, Revolvers, Semi-Automatics, and Fully Automatic Weapons

A Pistol, by definition, is a firearm designed to be used one-handed. All matchlock, flintlock, and percussion handguns are classified as pistols. In 1835, Samuel Colt invented the “repeating” pistol – more accurately a “revolving” pistol – which eventually came to be called a revolver, and later semi-auto and automatic pistols were invented.

In the category of Pistols, there are four common subcategories:

  • Single Shot Pistols
  • Revolving Pistols (Revolvers)
  • Semi-Automatic Pistols
  • Fully Automatic Pistols (usually constructed from semi-automatic pistols)

.41 RF Remington Derringer

Single Shot Pistols hold only one round of ammunition and must be reloaded and recocked after each shot. Nowadays common single shot pistols would include 1) the derringer or other type of tiny gun that’s easy to conceal, and 2) zip guns. The latter is an improvised handgun made from a piece of steel tubing that will hold one cartridge. (More on this in Part III about crooks’ weapons.)

A Revolving Pistol or Revolver is a repeating, multi-shot firearm. The rounds are held in a revolving cylinder that rotates as you pull the trigger in order to fire through a single barrel. Typical revolver cylinders contain five or six shells.

.380 Walther PPK (with holster and an extra magazine with belt clip)

A Semi-Automatic Pistol has a single chamber and a single barrel and fires one cartridge with each pull of the trigger. Semi-autos automatically re-cock and reload the next round with each trigger pull. This gun has a magazine which is loaded with cartridges. The user manually cycles the first cartridge from the magazine into the chamber, and then the gun operates by using the energy from the recoil of each round of fired ammunition to eject the used cartridge from the pistol’s chamber and load a new round into the chamber for the next shot. (Also called an “automatic pistol,” “autopistol,” “self-loading pistol,” and “self-loader.”)

Machine-Pistol version of the CZ-75 Self-Loading Pistol (which can be emptied in one burst)

Steyr TMP (9mm x 19)

Fully Automatic Pistols are “rapid-fire” firearms that automatically re-cock, reload, and fire as long as the trigger is consistently depressed or until the ammunition runs out. Semi-automatic handguns can be modified to make them fully automatic. For instance, many Glocks can be converted to fire 33 bullets in about two seconds with one trigger pull. Though legal in most states, due to their lethality, fully automatic handguns have special state registratation requirements and multiple restrictions under federal law.

Part I Summary

I was surprised to find out that Glocks are not necessarily the first choice for off-duty officers, sportsmen/competitors, and those who carry for personal protection. Glocks may not be the first choice for criminals either (more on this topic in Part II and Part III).

After shooting nearly two dozen weapons at the gun club, I came to the conclusion that firearms are rather complicated with a lot to know about types, caliber, cartridge capacity, action, frame size/weight, amount of recoil, and safeties – not to mention how to load and clean them. You can bet that gun owners are complicated and unique individuals as well. A person’s choice of handgun can be as individual as their choice of vehicle or their style of clothing. If you give all your characters Glocks, gun enthusiasts will roll their eyes, so I would challenge you to consider other weapons before settling on any one firearm for each of your characters, even if the Glock is popular and widely used.

Next week we’ll talk about outfitting your sleuths with the perfect weapons. Until then, fire away with questions.

Restraint Chair


Prison and jail officers often encounter extremely violent inmates who are a serious threat to themselves, staff, and other inmates. In these situations, normal restraining devices – handcuffs, waist chains, and leg irons – are simply not enough to properly subdue the unruly prisoner. The most effective means to safely restrain and transport combative prisoners is to utilize a restraint chair.

Restraint chairs completely immobilize the prisoner’s torso and limbs. Special attachments can also limit head movement. Once the inmate is securely fastened to the chair he can be wheeled (the chair is designed to tilt back on two rear wheels similar to a furniture dolly) to desired destinations, such as the medical department, court hearings, segregation and other areas, such as the special housing unit (SHU).


Torture, Or Justified Use Of Restraint And Force?

Under no circumstances should restraint chairs be used as a means of punishment. Also, prisoners should not be left seated in a restraint chair for more than two hours.

*Tomorrow – Author Lori Lake: Guns, Guns, Guns!

Please join us as for part one of a three part series about the firearms carried by law enforcement officers. Lori is also going to give us a peek at the guns toted by bad guys, too.

Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers


Police Officer Lanny Ash

My mother always told me that people who roamed the streets past midnight were up to no good. I found out just how right she was when I became a police officer working the graveyard shift. When the clock strikes twelve, the crazies of the world definitely begin to creep out of the shadows. Their mission—to do bad things.

Many police officers actually prefer to work the night shift because of all the action. The busiest hours for law enforcement are normally between 10pm and 2am. That’s when nice turns to mean and good switches to evil. Unfortunately, late and lonely nights can bring on bouts of sadness and depression, too. Such was the case for a young Ohio woman who picked the graveyard shift to end her life. Fortunately for her, Officer Lanny Ash was working midnights that month.

Officer Ash received the 2:15 am call about a woman threatening to end her life by jumping off a highway overpass into the traffic below. When he arrived at the base of the highway bridge, another officer was already on the overpass talking to the 140 lb, distraught woman. Before Officer Ash could join his partner in the effort to calm the woman, she jumped. Officer Ash quickly moved into position and caught her, severely injuring both his arms. The woman received a broken elbow – her only injury.

There’s no doubt Officer Lanny Ash saved this woman’s life while risking his own. Of course, he, like most officers, felt his actions were no big deal. That’s what cops do. It’s part of the job.

For his bravery, he was awarded his department’s second highest honor, The Meritorious Service Ribbon.

Officer Ash, you are truly one of Friday’s Heroes.

killer with knife

Life behind the bars and miles of looping razor wire of our country’s prisons and jails is not an easy existence. Not only do the inmates have to deal with the emotional stresses associated with being away from their families and homes, they have to adjust to living inside a six-by-nine concrete box. Sometimes, they even share that claustrophobic enclosure with one or two other prisoners.

Tensions can run high as the men and women in these institutions struggle to survive.  Sometimes,   they find themselves fighting for their very lives. To assist them in their efforts to stay alive inmates make weapons out of whatever materials they can find.

Prisoners are quite creative it comes to making their weapons. They’ve used material such as, toothbrushes, metal of any kind, rocks, glass, wire, newspaper, plastic, nails and screws, ping-pong balls filled with lighter fluid, bars of soap, padlocks, and even human feces.

A weapon made from a nail and electrical tape.


A large spike wrapped with tape and string.

Three nails and a piece of steel make for a nice punching/stabbing weapon.


Assorted shanks/shivs (homemade knives).


Homemade weapons hidden inside a hollowed-out book.

A shank made from a piece of plastic. Tape is wrapped around the handle.

Stabbing, cutting, puncturing, and striking weapons.

Inmates often fill toothpaste tubes with feces and urine. Then they squirt the foul mixture on passing guards, or other enemies. This is known as sliming.

Jessa Nicholson


Jessa Lutz is a private bar criminal defense attorney in Madison, Wisconsin. She runs a two attorney firm, Frederick/Nicholson, LLC,  with her business partner, Terry Frederick.  Jessa attended the University of Michigan for her undergraduate studies and the University of Wisconsin law school.  She is a member of the Wisconsin Bar, the Dane County Bar Association, and the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.  Frederick/Nicholson, LLC provides all types of criminal defense both state and federal, including felonies, misdemeanors, and OWI/traffic offenses.  Jessa has successfully litigated a number of criminal cases both at the pre-trial stage and through jury trials, winning dismissals and acquittals for clients in both felony and misdemeanor matters. In her spare time, Jessa enjoys art, books, strong ale, good music, and not being in a suit.


Jessa Lutz:

One of the (many) things I never expected when I was making the decision to become a criminal defense attorney was what an attraction I would be to the accountants and software developers of the world at cocktail parties. What starts out as quotidian, polite small talk quickly turns into one of those rubbernecking, scene-of-the-accident-stare type things. People immediately take a hushed tone, grab my arm, and, like we’re old friends, say “Can I ask you a question about that?” The inquiry that follows is predictable.  People want to know one of two things. First, how is it that I can do what I do every day and live with myself, defending guilty people, trying to keep them out of prison? Second, is it, in real life, like it is on television?

To tell you anything at all about my job requires me, oddly, to be rather forthcoming about something rather personal—my sleep patterns. That is, am I getting any, or am I waking up every night, tortured with my role as the devil’s advocate? That whole moral dilemma, if you will. What keeps me up at night. I spend the better part of my day, every day, with criminals. These are people accused of doing reprehensible things. I tend to focus on sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Thus, I’m smack dab in the center of crying victims, wounded children, blood spatter, rape kits, photographs of bruises, stitches and missing teeth. You know when the limousine liberals at the aforementioned cocktail parties tell you that they’re for treatment, not incarceration for non-violent offenders? Yeah. They aren’t talking about my average client; at least, they don’t think that they are.

First off, let me start by saying this: I almost never know whether my clients are guilty or innocent. This is true for a host of reasons, but mainly because I don’t ask.  I don’t ask because, first, whatever version of events a client tells me, I’m stuck with, since I can’t knowingly suborn perjury (meaning, if somebody tells me it was self-defense, and then later produces an alibi witness claiming the guy was 200 miles from the scene of the crime, the Bar has a bit of a problem with me putting Joe Citizen up on the stand to flat out lie to a jury) and secondly, it doesn’t really matter to me if they are innocent or not. That might sound strange to some people, but it’s true. To me, what matters is whether the government can prove their case against my client. I believe fervently in the constitutional safeguards put in place to protect the accused, in the right to a fair trial. I believe in the saying that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted. Most of all, I believe the government should be held to their burden. If the government can’t show beyond a reasonable doubt that my guy is the one that did the crime, then he should be off the hook. Over time, I think every defense attorney’s focus shifts from innocence and guilt to strength of the evidence and what can be proven. It’s a natural progression.

I’d also note that innocent clients, as a rule, are particularly frightening. They’re the ones that I lose sleep over.  If someone is guilty, and the evidence is strong enough to persuade people of that guilt, and the person has had a good, competent attorney that files motions and challenges things and forces the government to do its job; if all of the procedural barricades are put up and zealously advocated for, and then the person is still convicted, well, that’s one thing.  To be the only person standing between an innocent man and a prison cell is another thing entirely.

A lot of times, it takes the better part of a year to get a case to trial—and that’s in Wisconsin, where, though we have a fair amount of crime, the system isn’t nearly as backlogged as it is in larger, more metropolitan areas.  Somewhere like Cook County or South Central Los Angeles, I imagine the wait is much longer.   Many of my clients come from poverty-stricken backgrounds and simply cannot afford to both pay an attorney and post their high cash bail. Thus, that year or so that they’re waiting for trial, they’re sitting in jail.  Sure, that’s jail, not prison, but whoever tells you that sitting county time without work release isn’t hard time hasn’t ever been to county.  Over the course of this time, clients become increasingly disconnected to family members and friends.  Sometimes, I’m the only person they talk to that isn’t another inmate or a deputy for days, if not weeks.  The lack of human contact, of a person’s utter inability to communicate with the outside world, with loved ones, makes me sick to my stomach when I think about it—even if they’re guilty. It tortures me if they’re innocent.

Since I can sometimes be the only person they get a chance to talk to, I get to know my clients fairly well. I get the lion’s share of their fears, their hopes and dreams, their feelings of frustration about the system. Through the hours and hours I spend hearing about their lives, I’ve come to the following conclusion.  I think it’s worth nothing—and, feel free to completely write this off, because most people don’t believe me—-but my clients, by and large, are not monsters.  They aren’t evil, despite being accused of doing some pretty evil things. Most of the time, they didn’t have a grand plan. Most of the time, there’s no plan at all. Said reprehensible action is undertaken through instinct, or substance abuse issues, or mental health issues, or learned behavior, or some combination of all of the above. Many of my clients lack significant formal education or job skills. They lack stable home environments, and any semblance of normalcy in their peer group. Many of them have said or written things that have made me stop and think about how I’m living my life. I’ve walked out of the jail on a number of occasions shaking my head at what a waste it is that we’re keeping a client of mine locked up.  I’ve handled hundreds of criminal cases, and I can count on one hand the number of clients I’ve represented whom I would describe as being truly “bad” people. This is true in spite of what they may have done.

This is one of my biggest complaints about novels and television shows about the criminal—that there’s this dream of a great criminal mastermind. I’ve yet to meet one. I’m not saying they aren’t out there, but it is rare, at best.  The twenty-two year old kid who decides to rob a convenience store to support his smack habit sure as hell ain’t it. Neither is the drunk guy at the party who grabs a girl’s ass without her permission.

Otherwise, the differences are more mundane. Most of us in real life aren’t nearly as good looking as the television stars that portray district attorneys and defense counsel on television. We probably aren’t as articulate, either—but I like to think I can string together coherent sentences for a closing argument. We certainly don’t seemingly effortlessly get “the real killer” to confess on the witness stand. (Though I do have a friend in the DA’s office who had one faint once, under the pressure of cross-examination). Public defenders, though undoubtedly overworked and underpaid, are often some of the best trial attorneys you’ll ever encounter—this is a far cry from the myth of the hapless PD who misses crucial evidence.

Something that is true? It gets wild. I’ve had clients dragged out screaming at the judge, had bizarre sexual videotapes show up as “evidence” in unmarked packages, uncovered sinister plots beneath the surface of seemingly simple arguments, and gone countless rounds at high volume, arguing my point.  In criminal law, as compared to civil, many motions are made right on the spot, without time to research the issue thoroughly and brief it, so a lot falls on your wits and ability to think on your feet. The things that happen in my average work week don’t happen to other people.  I’m in jails, prisons, mental hospitals, and the courtroom—and it is, at the end of the day, fascinating.  I suppose that’s why I’m always asked about it at cocktail parties.