4 Ways Hollywood Consistently Misrepresents Guns

Guns are a polarizing issue in America today, but they are such an ingrained part of our culture that they can be seen in nearly every movie or television show that features crime or "action" as part of the plot. I have a nuanced view of how guns should be handled in our society, and manage to piss off friends of mine with strong views on either side of the issue, but I have enough first hand knowledge about guns to have problems with the way they are portrayed in movies.

Since firearms are part of the fabric of American culture, it follows that they would also play heavily in our entertainment, but the way guns actually function, and the effects of gun violence are so far removed from reality in many cases that I fear it spreads misconceptions. Worse still, some of the fantasies Hollywood spreads about firearms are irresponsible or potentially dangerous, or at least glamorize guns as symbols of power in ways that are probably not accurate or healthy. I'm not trying to preach to anyone, but film viewers should keep in mind that like everything we see in films, guns are not portrayed accurately a lot of the time. Here are a few of the "gun things" I hate seeing in movies.

4. Guns That Never Run Out of Ammo

Most people I know who shoot regularly spend as much or more time loading magazines and their firearms as they do actually shooting. Yet, in a lot of movies, we never really see anyone reload. I also will often see characters raining down a constant hail of lead without anything indicating they're carrying hundreds of rounds with them. Then, of course, there are the weird continuity glitches where someone with a revolver appears to fire 20 shots without reloading.This is a minor gripe, but watching some action hero firing a gun nonstop, without ever pausing to reload totally blows any suspension of disbelief I might have had. Bullets are heavy, take up space, and guns do have to be reloaded.

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3. The Effects of Gun Violence Are Often Cartoonish And Exaggerated

This is a rather broad category, but most Hollywood films exaggerate the effects of a person being shot to the point of it being cartoonish. Since movies are a visual medium, this is entirely understandable from the point of view of making a huge spectacle, but it also glamorizes gun violence and isn't realistic in many cases. In past decades, the opposite was true, and most gun deaths followed a familiar template. A person suddenly clutches the area where they were shot, grimaces, and falls to the ground. No blood, usually no prolonged agony, and in the case of it being the bad guy, he was instantly dispatched. Eventually, things swung the other way, and violence became much more graphic, and now in a lot of films people shot by small caliber weapons nearly explode with huge bloody bullet hits, as if they're a human shaped water balloon filled with blood. Sure, in some cases, those results could be reasonably realistic, but not nearly as often as movies would have us believe.

First of all, a lot of bullets make relatively small entrance wounds, and rather than the explosive blood bomb effect film makers tend to use, might not bleed significantly upon impact.

Another almost universal gun violence myth that Hollywood has created is that being shot has the effect of blasting a person's body back as if it's been swatted by a giant invisible fist.

The conclusive blast of a bomb could have that effect on a person, but physics don't work that way with bullet hits. When a person is really shot, even multiple times, they typically either drop where they stand, or continue moving in the direction they were going before falling. They are not usually blown backwards as if they were suddenly yanked by a rope. Nor do they usually do the "bullet dance," a move often seen in films where a person is shot by multiple rounds and reacts to each one by jerking violently. Bullets are usually small and fast enough that they pass into a person's body without any resistance that would result in violently pushing a person back 20 feet. I personally feel that the exaggerated and unrealistic depiction of gun violence sends a bad message.


2. The Realities of Gun Fights Rarely Match The Movies

This is another broad category, but there are a heck of a lot of ridiculous things that I see in movies with a lot of gun play. Heroes will often save the day with the impossible or at least highly unlikely scenario of disabling a vehicle with a well placed gunshot to its engine or other vulnerable spot. I've played enough silly video games to have seen this trope played out countless times with a heavily armored end level boss, where repeated shots to a usually glowing and hard to hit weak area are the only way to win. That's fine for a game I guess, but I've also seen a ton of movies where some dude manages to shoot an approaching car's engine, resulting in stopping the threat with a glorious explosion. That just doesn't happen very often in real life.

Then there is the weird sideways shooting style popularized in films of the last couple of decades. Sure, most handguns will fire sideways, but why would anyone choose to shoot like that? Guns aren't designed to be fired like that, and a person might as well just shoot a pistol upside down using their pinky to pull the trigger. It's just a dumb way to shoot.

Movies also seem to live by the weird law of marksmanship where the good guys manage to survive out in the open while being fired upon huge groups of bad guys with the worst aim in history, while simultaneously picking the black hats off as if no effort is involved at all. It must be nice to be able to magically dodge bullets through sheer goodness alone, but that's not the way gun battles work in real life.

Finally, guns are loud. Really loud. I have diminished hearing as a result of playing in rock bands for years, and I usually wore earplugs. Hearing a single gunshot up close without hearing protection is a very unpleasant experience for me, and not something I'd suggest. Yet, in a lot of action movies, not only do people manage to verbally communicate despite all of the noise from guns and explosives, but there's rarely any indication later on that their hearing has been compromised. Which brings me to my last point.

1. Suppressors Are Misrepresented A Lot.

A suppressor is the more proper term for a "silencer," those funny looking things screwed onto the end of guns in movies where someone needs to silently dispatch a foe. Usually in films, they barely make any sound at all, just a quick "whoosh" as if a quick blast of air was released. The problem is that for a suppressor to work well in the real world, a lot of things have to be taken into consideration. They work by quickly absorbing and channeling the blast of hot gasses expelled from a gun when it is shot, in a similar principle to how a car muffler functions. I've never heard of a suppressor being developed that will work on a revolver, because those types of guns allow the gasses to escape more readily, but I've seen at least two films in which a bad guy used a "silencer" on the end of a revolver. Those films are "Magnum Force" and "Good Guys Wear Black" (the second Dirty Harry film and a 1978 Chuck Norris flick).

The other thing is that just how quiet a suppressor makes a gun report depends on a lot of factors including the caliber of the weapon, the size of the suppressor, and the velocity of the bullets being fired. In any case, suppressors aren't magical items that instantly make a gun soundless. They usually make a very loud noise somewhat less noisy.

There are films that treat guns and their effects realistically, but plenty more that treat them as totems of power that immediately destroy bad guys and that defy the laws of physics while doing so. This is just a small list of things I've noticed are in a lot of gun films, but there are plenty more. In a country that seems to be experiencing changing attitudes about how guns should be treated in our society, perhaps Hollywood will also change the way film makers portray them.

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