The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Gunplay in movies: Lies!

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

Movies, especially action movies, always do at least one thing that just turns me off. Like someone, usually a woman, will walk into a pitch-dark house or apartment and not turn on the light, whereupon this hapless soul is immediately knocked unconscious or gang-tackled by bad guys hiding in the shadows. I mean, the first thing you do when you enter a dark room or house is turn on a light.

Another thing they did a lot in old gangster movies was say that the bad guy was “… holed up in an abandoned warehouse.” As if cities, back then, were just full of abandoned warehouses that were waiting to give comfort and shelter to any hoodlum on the lam. But in all of my time in all the cities I’ve seen in the USA, I have never seen even a single abandoned warehouse.

Most of all, though, it’s the gunfights that leave me shaking my head. In the westerns, a cowboy will have a six-shooter that invariably has about 25 cartridges in it. The only time you actually see someone reload is when it’s a cheap excuse to add suspense – John McClane slapping in that magazine just in time to blast the bad guy of indeterminate European origin.

Three other things, though, never fail to amaze me:

1. Taking cover from gunfire behind a car door, which to me seems about as effective as taking cover behind a newspaper.
2. The way some objects can stop anything – even the most powerful, armor-piercing rounds that supposedly can penetrate whole engine blocks of cars. That can’t be right.
3. The way action heroes can dodge thousands of bullets shot from a sub-machine gun at point-blank range.

I was going to opine on all three, but I realized I was out of my element, even though my dad was an Evanston, Ill., police lieutenant and always had his weapon in his dresser when off duty. So I asked my younger brother, Jim, who won the 1972 South Carolina-North Carolina Olympic Trials in the three-position small-bore rifle. Since then he has distinguished himself as a collector and expert on firearms. In my opinion, he was the best rifle shot in the USA in the 1970s.

He answered all three of my doubts on this. But, rather than paraphrase his comments, it’s best I report them exactly as they came to me.

On using a car door for cover

“A car door is better than no cover at all. It will deflect pistol rounds (.38 Special and 9MM) fired at an angle as well as offering some degree of protection against a shotgun. Heavy caliber pistols (.357 Magnum, 44 Magnum), and so many of the new .50 cal. rounds would pass through without much difficulty. Most criminals, however, are not that well armed.

“Rifle calibers are another matter, as most would pass through a door with little difficulty, but the very popular .223 (military round) would get deflected. Rounds like the 30-06, .308 would easily pass through easily. Again, better than no protection at all and a lot tougher than your skin.

“Understand that bullet-proof vests offer a degree of protection against penetration, but the impact of being hit by a .357 or something bigger will still break bones and cause other serious injuries. Again, the weapon of choice by criminals is a 9MM – not that good of a cartridge. A note here that many semi-auto assault type weapons fire the 9MM but when used by the military fire ‘sub-machine gun ammunition’ which is a far more powerful round. This ammunition fired in a handgun in many cases is not safe (older weapons) and when fired in a newer weapon the recoil is pretty nasty.

“An interesting note that more people are killed with .22 Rimfire than any other cartridge, virtually none with .44 Magnums. The recoil of a factory .44 is so bad that it has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. The recoil of some of the new .50 cal pistol rounds is equally bad but there is a big market among collectors for these guns but not criminals.”

On bullets penetrating engine blocks, etc.

“An AP (armor piercing) .357 round might have a chance of going through an engine block but they have not been available for 30 years. There is very little chance even an AP round would pass through,. It would be deflected almost immediately and lose most of its energy. A factory lead .357 round has no chance at all of passing through an engine block. Keep in mind when all that talk about ‘passing through an engine block’ was in vogue, they were talking those big V8s and it was good advertising.

“Just for the record, the latest craze in guns are the super-large calibers. However, if you have anything larger than .50 caliber (that is not classified an antique) it is considered by the ATF to be a ‘weapon of mass destruction.’ The result is that we now have handguns in .50 Caliber and rifles that shoot the .50 BMG (.50 caliber machine gun round). A .50 BMG will penetrate 212 inches of packed soil. They are very accurate at very long range).

“There is the Lahti 20MM anti-tank gun. The 1936 model was made for tanks of that era. Back in the late 60s and early 70s you could buy the Lahti’s for three to four hundred dollars and ammo was about a dollar a round. Now the ammunition is very hard to find. The last I heard, it was $20/round (each). The Lahti would not only shoot through cars but would penetrate nearly 400 feet of packed soil.

“There is also the Martin-Henry. The designation of its cartridge was .577-.450. It was a .577 Nitro Express necked down to a .45 caliber. One of the first applications of the M-H was against the Dervishes and Fuzzy-Wuzzies by the British in the Sudan. These were light weight warriors and a heavy one would weigh only about 140 pounds. They came at the British en masse and the first volley hit them at about 300 yards with such impact it knocked the leading warriors 10 feet back into their comrades. It only got worse the closer they got. The Brits were standing three deep and the cartridge is quite accurate.”

On people dodging bullets from a sub-machine gun

“You mention ‘spraying’ rounds from an Uzi and not hitting anything. Fired from the shoulder in semi-automatic mode they are very accurate and effective. With regard to the famous Thompson sub-machine gun, Several times dad and I fired the Thompson’s at the Evanston Police Department range using 50 round drums, fired from the hip, as you often see in the movies. It is an awesome display of firepower. The first time Dad did it from 20 feet from the target, there was not one hole in the paper. But fired from the shoulder in short five to seven round bursts it’s another matter altogether, as the accuracy is deadly.”

As a footnote he added, “There is nothing like a real Thompson. The ones at the Evanston PD were 1921 Top Slide models purchased from ‘Machine Gun Kelly’ – who supplied Al Capone – and were the finest ever made. Those guns, with the fitted box and the original sales receipt now sell starting at $35,000.”

Well, I batted .333, one-for-three. I doubted that a car door was any sort of cover and it turns out it can be against anything but perpendicular shots from a powerful weapon. I hope someone told the cops to hold that door at a slight angle! I was sure a powerful weapon could penetrate anything, even a car’s engine block, but that turns out to be wrong, unless someone is equipped like the Big Red One or the Screaming Eagles. But I was right about people being sprayed with machine gun fire and diving to cover without a scratch.

Only in Hollywood, folks. Only in Hollywood.