Monday, September 23, 2013

Annie Oakley Rides Again

Patty here...

A writer has to do what a writer has to do and sometimes that means research. My current work-in-progress is a police procedural. Since I know almost nothing about guns, I had to find out. This past Saturday I attended the 4-hour "Handgun Shooting Workshop for Mystery Writers" led by gun dealer, trainer, expert-witness Bruce Krell of Shooters-Edge, Inc. A couple of buddies joined me: TV-writer, playwright, novelist Matt Witten and actor, novelist Harley Jane Kozak.

The class was held at a private shooting range on Little Tujunga Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest. I mentioned the class to a law enforcement friend of mine. He asked me where the range was. I told him in the middle of nowhere. He rolled his eyes and said, "All gun ranges are in the middle of nowhere." Now I know what he meant.

Matt helps Bruce set up the targets
Close up
Behind the cardboard on which the targets were stapled is a sand berm that catches the fired rounds. The metal poles the cardboard is hanging from were pockmarked with bullet holes. I quipped to Bruce that somebody must have been a really bad shot. "Cops," he said. (sorry, Jim Born)

During the first part of the workshop, Bruce schooled us on the proper terminology of gun parts (it's a cartridge or a round that goes into a handgun, not a bullet), gun safety, the three types of handguns (revolver, semi-automatic and fully automatic) and how crime fiction writers often get it wrong, i.e., the "Law of Conservation of Momentum" (the mass of a human body is greater than that of a bullet...oops round) dictates that it's unlikely that anybody will fly backward when shot with a handgun as we often see on television).

Bruce was patient and encouraging with a ready sense of humor. He was also tough on us if we forgot something important, like keeping our finger off the trigger until we were ready to fire. When it was time to shoot, each of us was issued either a Glock 17 or a Glock 19. I shot with the 19. We loaded cartridges (rounds) into the magazine or mag, not the "clip." This was more difficult than I expected. The first 2 or 3 went in easily. Then it got harder.

Harley demonstrates the proper way to hold a gun
Matt with ear protectors around his neck
The closer we got to actually shooting, the more nervous I became. I had no idea how much of a recoil I'd experience and I worried about hurting somebody. I racked the slide. A round entered the chamber. There was no going back. I placed my finger on the trigger. When everyone in our group started firing off rounds, I struggled to concentrate. Even with ear protectors, it was loud. And we weren't the only people shooting. There were other groups on other ranges in the area. It sounded like a war zone.

After practicing for a while, Bruce changed the target and the scenario. We were to load six rounds into the magazines, insert the mags into our Glocks and when he gave the signal, we were to fire continuously at the target as if we were in a gunfight. (90% of semi-automatic guns eject cartridges to the right. Average: 125 degrees and 9 feet from the bore line).

Harley, Matt and me
Matt and Harley check the results
Harley is a crack shot. She routinely outperformed everyone in the group. During the gunfight, one of Matt's shots hit the target dead center, a teeny tiny circle hard to see even close up. Me? Comic relief. My "gunfight" shots were off center to the left and ranged from the target's neck to the chest where the heart would have been if only I'd hit it on the correct side, which tells me I still don't know how to aim. At least I didn't hit the poles!

My six rounds
In the Q&A after the workshop, one of the participants asked about military weapons. As it turned out, Bruce had a sniper rifle in this SUV from a previous class. We were able to look and learn.

Harley holding an $8,000 sniper rifle

Here's what I learned from this exercise:
  • I have some awesomely talented friends, but I knew that going in.
  • More training is needed before I feel I know anything about handguns.
  • Heavy gunfire is disorienting even when you know where it's coming from.
  • Keeping your hands steady on a handgun in a stressful situation isn't easy.
Thanks to this workshop, I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for law enforcement officers and what they face on a daily basis. I also have new insights into the psyche of the main character in my WIP, which was, after all, my goal for the workshop.
Happy Monday and have a safe day!


  1. Patty,

    Thank you for leaving out the part where I put the bullets in the magazine backward. You're very kind!

    It was truly a fascinating afternoon and I recommend the experience to other writers.

    Matt Witten

    1. Ha! You didn't do that, Matt. But I admit I checked which way the rounds were facing each time I loaded the mag.

  2. No more speaking out of line at Sisters in Crime meetings?

    1. Good thing my term is almost over :O)

  3. It was lovely channeling our Inner Rambos together. Now it's back to Soccer Moms in the 'hood for me.

    1. You were such a good sport to pose for this budding paparazzo.

  4. Now that's commitment to research! This is something I've always wanted to do but haven't quite had the nerve. You set a good example!

  5. If you make a mistake in a book, you will HEAR about it from gun owners. I wrote about a safety on a Glock 9 mm...but there isn't one. My excuse. I got confused. I own a Beretta 9 mm, which has a safety, and I was picturing that gun as I wrote. A long, long time ago, Maynard MacDonald (son of John D.) wrote me a complimentary note about a book...but also pointed out an error I made with guns. Can't remember the specifics. Great post, Patty.

    1. I once got a lovely letter from a pilot who pointed out that there was no door on the side of the airplane my character entered through. And this after I had asked a friend of mine, a captain of a large commercial airline. You have to take accurate notes, too! Sheesh!

  6. from Jacqueline

    Oh, dear Lord - I am out in hives, just thinking about this! I know I would be a lousy shot and would miss the target by a mile, and I would probably put my arm out into the bargain. I am in awe of you, Patty. I've done some things in the name of research that included weaponry, but I think you and the mystery writing team have gone well beyond the call of duty. Cannot wait to read the book!

    1. You would probably surprise all of us by being a handgun savant, Our J.