With 24 over there will be things missing in your life. The gruff chant of “damn it.” Needless yelling. Russian matryoshka doll villains. Off hand sniper hand gun shots that put Wild Bill to shame. Though fear not, good reader, for with Jonah Hex on the horizon and any number of any other action oriented shows (Burn Notice, Good Guys, etc) you will no doubt find plenty of quick drawin’, fast shootin’, target snipin’ characters to watch.
I’m not criticizing the handgun. No. I love the handgun. I think every show should have a handgun. Except Grey’s Anatomy – did you see that finale? Man that shit sucked. Every show but that one should have a handgun in it. Why? Because guns are awesome and shooting stuff is entertaining. But guns are more than just awesome — they’re easy to use and difficult to master.
Men have spent years training with them, yet the best still can’t touch a jittery data analyst placing a pinpoint shot through the shoulder, passing through cleanly, slipping beneath the clavicle and somehow evading the hand sized scapula without shattering it into a dozen pieces. No, Wild Bill could take careful aim and hit a playing card at 20 paces, but if you asked him to run down a dark alley, fire off two head shots at 30 yards, odds are he’d come up short. But not random Middle Eastern terrorist #3. That guy can shoot.
Handguns are awesome, but in the 150 year history of the cartridge gun (and before with muzzle loaders, but 150 just sounds nice) you’d be hard pressed to find a gun more difficult to master than the handgun. It’s just not that stable of a platform. Sure, some people can do amazing things with them. Most people, even those who carry guns every day as part of their job, can’t. There is only one positive to the pistol – size. It’s concealable. You can wear it on your belt without a problem. You can tuck it in your pants. Sweet. When there is no other option, a handgun is great. If your target is within 60 yards you’ve got a chance. A slim one. Most people start to lose the ability to even hit a man sized target at 20 yards if they’re inexperienced and standing in a no life or death situation shooting range. Trained police officers, in the heat of the moment, have trouble hitting man sized targets past 15 yards. The pistol is just hard to use accurately at distance. Odds are you throw a baseball with more accuracy than you’d shoot a pistol.
Not so in the movies. Headshots. Dead center. Right between the eyes. Where the hell is the off-center killshot? A bullet in the brain is a bullet in the brain 99.999% of the time. It doesn’t have to look pretty – and I guarantee you it doesn’t. Everyone and their mother can hop out of a car, whip the gun around one handed and fire off a perfect shot to the head – which is a pretty small target. It’s bullshit.
If you want cool, awesome, accurate headshots, give the guy a rifle. Or a shotgun. Or a submachinegun. Anything with a stock, really, because they’re easy and more accurate to shoot, bar none. If you insist on the guy wielding a pistol like a damn maniac, you can do a few things to add some realism: shorten the distance. Shoot at the body instead of the head. Use two hands on the gun.
Running down the street with one arm out, blazing away with a gun, that’s a cool visual. Keep doing it. Just get rid of the sniper-like accuracy. Besides, that way, you can fire more bullets. More bullets, more fun. Perhaps most people don’t care, or at least those who haven’t handled a gun might not care. But guns are fun and a lot of people are familiar with them and we know handguns are hard to use. Inject a little realism into it. Give the characters proper shooting stances, proper aiming points, and spread the bullet hits around – no need to put them all between the eyes. Body shots are fine too, friend.
Even better, if you want your character to really be a dangerous shot – give him a short rifle. Now that’s a dangerous man. Average person with a pistol? Effective range, 7 yards. Average person with a rifle? Effective range 25 yards, off hand. Now that’s good shooting. So, Hollywood, you’ve got two options. Either change the gun, or just learn how to handle a handgun. Two hands and a steady aim will do you just right, though the odds of nailing that perfectly centered brain shot still aren’t so great. But I’ll tell you what quick draw single handed snipers can bullseye: my boiling point.