I'm going to be doing something a little different with this post (and several others like it). A lot of role-players live in countries with little to no exposure to firearms, or have little experience with firearms themselves. With this being the case it's often difficult for them to understand the terminology, capability and use of various weapons. This post is for them. I will cover some basic Terminology, the Reality of firearms, some online Resources and some Recommendations if you would much rather pick from a list.
I'll start off by quickly mentioning that the information below will be fairly simple. My degree of knowledge is good but not encyclopaedic. I do however, know where to find useful and reliable information. The topic is one that suffers from the "woo" factor - filled to the brim with subjective opinion, often not fact-checked and has about as much to do with reality as homoeopathy. I do not take advice from 14 year old kids who play Call of Duty. A 20-year career Force Recon Marine's experience would probably sway me. Please feel free to drop knowledge on me if you are a subject matter expert.
My Personal Experience:
I have used several firearms in the past (including the Glock 26 9mm, S&W M&P .45, H&K USP .40, Kimber 1911 .45 and several longarms including the H&K MP5K PDW 9mm, Thompson M1A1 .45 and Lee Enfield SMLE Mark.III .303) and can safely say that the experience is not at all like the movies. More on that later under "Reality".
Comments posted in this blog do not represent my opinions IRL. Firearms are a subject that generates a lot of political arguments, particularly in the USA. I am *not* interested in arguments about the 2nd Amendment at all, from any side.
Weapons are often described as single shot, manual repeater, semi-automatic, burst-fire or full(y) automatic. Single shot weapons may have multiple barrels (e.g. a side-by-side or over-under shotgun). Manual repeaters include any firearm where the weapons action (loading, unloading) is performed by the manipulation of a mechanical device on the weapon e.g. pump-action, lever-action, bolt-action. Semi-automatic firearms fire a round, eject the casing and load a new round with each pull of the trigger. Fully automatic firearms will perform much the same function but will continue to fire, eject and load for as long as the trigger is pulled.
This is the (approximate) diameter of the projectile the weapon fires. Usually measured in either mm or inches. A 9mm round could be 9x18mm Makarov, 9x19mm Parabellum, 9x21mm IMI etc. Each of these projectiles is not exactly 9mm across but this is one of the vague things to be aware of in the world of guns. Where you see things like 9x19mm this is the diameter and the length. The 9x18mm Makarov bullet is actually of greater diameter than the 9x19mm Parabellum but is less powerful. Confused yet? Welcome to guns!
Calibre does not necessarily denote "stopping power" (another intangible thing) e.g. a .45 ACP is not more powerful than a .44 Magnum (although, just to confuse matters the .44 Magnum is less powerful than the .50 Action Express). Some calibres can be used in weapons designed to fire others e.g. you can use .38 Special ammo from a .357 Magnum ***NOT*** the other way round.
Note - In the NBA Rules it should be noted that many longarms do less damage than handguns. This is an artificial game mechanic designed to reduce PC death when being hosed down by AK-wielding bad guys.
This is where ammunition is carried. Magazines can be internal or detachable. Internal magazines are the norm for most shotguns and hunting rifles. Detachable box magazines are standard with most autoloading pistols and military firearms. Some weapons do not have a magazine, many civilian shotguns are breech-loading and many heavier military weapons are belt-fed. Revolvers use a revolving cylinder, reducing available capacity in comparison to autoloaders but with a more reliable feed mechanism.
Different manufacturers and models have varying reputations for reliability. Most of the time you get what you pay for but there are exceptions. Guns are machines and like any machine regular maintenance will make a huge difference in terms of reliability. Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF) is the normal way to measure reliability. There is no such thing as a self-cleaning firearm and like any tool, correct and proper maintenance will not only extend the tools life, but may be responsible for saving your character's life.
This is another nebulous concept. Even small calibre pistols fire projectiles that are capable of travelling thousands of feet and retaining sufficient energy to kill or maim. The problem is getting rounds on target at a range where the weapons in-built sights are useless. Telescopic sights are certainly useful for enhancing the range of your weapon but there are other means to do so as well. Effective range is, essentially, at what point does the act of me firing at the enemy become harassment rather than directly applied lethal force. This can vary from a few metres away to over a mile depending on the weapon and supporting equipment being used.
Why Should My Character Carry A Gun?
There is nothing else that combines ease of portability with lethality like a firearm. The characters will often find themselves in circumstances where their lives may be threatened and the easiest way to fight back is to carry a gun. Knives are great close in and have an added intimidation factor. At close range a knife is often a scarier prospect than a handgun as there is something psychologically more unnerving about being cut open than being shot.
A weapon capable of engaging multiple targets, in succession, at range is better than a knife in most scenarios. If your character chooses not to carry a firearm into a combat situation, they had better carry a lot of knives and be *very* good with them.
Okay, So They Should Carry One But What Sort?
Depends on the circumstances is the simple answer. Firearms can be broken down into the following loose categories (with the benefits of each following).
Handgun - Revolver, semi-automatic/autoloading pistol or (rarely) single shot target gun. The vast majority use pistol-calibre ammunition, single shot target guns may fire rifle rounds. Magazine capacity 1-20 (or more with extended magazines).
Examples - Glock 19 Gen 4 9x19mm, Smith & Wesson M&P .45 ACP, SIG-Sauer P239 DAK .357 SIG, Thompson Centre/Contender (single shot target gun).
Machinepistol - Handgun sized pistol-calibre automatic weapon, capable of burst-fire or full-auto. Usually comes with a handgrip or detachable stock to make it easier to control. Magazine capacity 10-30+
Examples - Mauser M1932 Schnellfeuer 7.62x25mm, Glock 18 9x19mm, Beretta M-93R 9x19mm, Tula APS Stechkin 9x18mm.
Submachinegun - Pistol calibre burst or automatic fire longarm, commonly fitted with a folding or sliding stock to aid in concealment. Magazine capacity is normally 15-50.
Examples - Heckler & Koch MP5/40 .40 S&W, TsNIITochMash SR-2M Veresk 9x21mm, IMI Micro Uzi 9x19mm.
Personal Defence Weapon (PDW) - High-velocity pistol-calibre or light rifle-calibre burst or autofire weapon designed to be carried by military units who for various reasons do not need to be issued with an assault rifle or carbine. Commonly adopted by many police forces worldwide. Magazine capacity between 20-50.
Examples - Fabrique Nationale P90 Tactical LIR 5.7x28mm, Heckler & Koch MP-7A1 4.6x30mm, Magpul PDR-C 5.56x45mm.
Hunting/Sporting Rifle - Rifle-calibre weapon, mostly commonly a manual-repeater but some are autoloaders or single shot multi-barrel weapons. Features a long barrel with a fixed stock. Hunting rifles commonly sport telescopic sights to allow long distance shooting. Magazine capacity is normally between 1-10.
Examples - Remington Model 700 .30-06 (bolt-action), Browning BAR .300 Winchester Magnum (autoloader), Holland & Holland Royal Double .375 H&H (double barrel hunting rifle).
Assault Rifle - Autoloading light rifle-calibre military longarm capable of burst or auto-fire. May feature a detachable or folding/sliding stock. Magazine capacity 25-100.
Examples - Heckler & Koch G-33A3 5.56x45mm, Colt M-16A4 5.56x45mm, Izhmash AN-94 Abakan 5.45x39mm.
Battle Rifle - Autoloading heavy rifle-calibre military longarm. May be capable of burst or auto-fire. May feature a folding stock. Magazine capacity 20-30.
Examples - Fabrique Nationale FAL 7.62x51mm, Heckler & Koch G-3A3 7.62x51mm, SIG Stgw 57 7.5x55mm.
Carbine - Autoloading light or heavy rifle-calibre military longarm. Like an assault or battle rifle but with a shorter barrel, often with a sliding/folding stock. Magazine capacity 20-100.
Examples - Heckler & Koch HK416A5 5.56x45mm, TsNIITochMash AS Val 9x39mm, Steyr AUGA3 Carbine 5.56x45mm.
Squad Automatic Rifle (SAW) - Also called a Light Machinegun (LMG) or Automatic Rifle. Military light rifle-calibre fully automatic weapon used by infantry to suppress the enemy whilst the rifle unit moves forward. Usually much heavier than an assault rifle with an increased rate of fire. Some will have shortened barrels, sliding or folding stocks. Most commonly belt fed but occasionally magazine fed. Magazine capacity 30-200.
Examples - Fabrique Nationale Minimi Para TR 5.56x45mm, Izhmash RPK-74 5.45x39mm, ST Kinetics Ultimax 100 Mark 5 5.56mmx45mm.
General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) - Military heavy rifle-calibre fully automatic weapon. Before the introduction of the SAW, GPMGs were used for the same role or tripod/pintle mounted. Most often vehicle mounted, have seen a resurgence in Afghanistan where their increased range and power have an advantage. Almost all are belt fed. Magazine capacity 50-200.
Examples - Fabrique Nationale MAG-58 7.62x51mm, TsNIITochMash PKP Pecheneg 7.52x54mm, Saco Defence Mk43 Model 1 7.62x51mm.
There are many other classifications you may hear such as SPR, DMR, PPR, PDR but these are usually minor variants of one of the above. If you're interested, ask me :)
Guns are LOUD. Having stupidly taken off my headphones whilst shooting a pistol I can attest to this personally. Even suppressed or "silenced" weapons can be heard from quite a distance although the sound is certainly muffled and may be confused for something other than a firearm discharging.
Guns are HEAVY. If you've never hefted a firearm grab a 1kg bag of sugar and hold it at arms length. That's a pistol. If you own any weights grab a 5kg weight and hold it two handed at arms length. That's a carbine. Add in accessories and extra ammunition and it doesn't take long to realise that carrying around larger weapons is not only tiring but that a certain level of fitness is a requirement.
Guns are NOT AS LETHAL AS YOU THINK. Living things that have been shot more often die from blood loss and shock. Unless you hit very a specific location (the brain stem for example) most targets will not be dead from a single shot. That is why soldiers and police officers fire many rounds at a given target until they assess that the threat has passed. "Stopping power" is more often about hitting the target in the right place than the calibre of the weapon. A .22 can kill if it hits you in the right place but in general the bigger the bullet, the bigger the hole and the faster the target will bleed out.
Shooting well is HARD. You've been running whilst carrying all your kit, it's dark and raining and the target is just a few metres in front of you. He turns and you raise your weapon and *Bang* you miss. What?! High stress reduces fine motor skills significantly. What you can do at the range, you can't do in a combat situation. The difference between Tier One Operators and Jimmy "One Time" the mafia hitman is a lot of practice and exposure to high pressure environments during training.
Here are some links to a few useful articles, images, videos and learning resources for firearms I've highlighted as particularly useful.
Visual Guide to Ammunition
Internet Movie Firearms Data Base (IMFDB)
Gun Disassembly 2 (available on Android and PC)
You've jumped all the way down here after seeing that wall of text no doubt. I don't blame you. Here are my Top 5 firearms. Chosen for quality, reputation and capability and with a little bit of technofetish babble you can adapt and steal for your characters.
5.56x45mm Heckler & Koch HK416A5D11RS (Carbine) - AR-style carbine with a sliding stock and 11" barrel. Uses 30 round polymer magazines and is fitted with a quad-rail fore-end Designed with US Special Forces input (specifically SFOD-D/Delta/CAG). Features a cold-hammer forged barrel. Can be fitted with various lights, lasers, fore-grips bipods and sighting systems. Reliable and accurate with a huge amount of customisation options.
The Rolls Royce of combat carbines.
5.56x45mm FN Minimi Para TR (SAW) - "Paratrooper" variant of the SAW. Shortened barrel and sliding stock. Normally comes with plastic ammo can containing 200 round. Can be used with 100 round cloth bags to reduce clattering. Bipod and rail adaptors comes as standard so can mount many accessories. Benefits from sharing ammunition with the HK416 above.
A perfect combination of portability and heavy rate of fire.
.300 Blackout AAC "Honey Badger" (PDW) - Very short AR style Personal Defence Weapon using a special cartridge. Features an integral suppressor which combined with the cartridge gives a vastly reduced sound signature whilst retaining lethality at close to medium range. Features quad-rail adaptors to mount various accessories.
Portable and lethal, a great suppressed weapon for CQB.
.45 ACP Fabrique Nationale FNX-45 Tactical (Handgun) - Heavy calibre autoloading pistol firing a subsonic round. When fitted with a suppressor is an excellent package for covert tasks. Available in various colours and comes with a 15 round magazine as standard. One of the best all round handguns available at this time, it's only downside is the size and weight so it is best considered as a backup tactical weapon rather than a main sidearm. The grip is also rather large for some females.
Covert, accurate and reliable with a solid reputation.
9x19mm Glock 19 (Handgun) - Medium calibre compact autoloading pistol. Law enforcement professionals carry Glocks more than any other make and there is a reason for this. One of the most popular handguns in the world, the Glock 19 can do anything. It is concealable, has a more than decent magazine capacity (15 or 17 with extended +2 baseplate mags) and is more than capable of meeting any task. It is reliable, accurate, tough and easy to maintain.
Compact, high capacity, reliable and accurate out of the box.
There are more specialist weapons out there; non-lethal net launchers, paintball guns and so forth but these have particular applications which are not quite as universal as hurling bullets into the enemy. They certainly have their place but try squirting a hitman with a water pistol and see where that gets you (now if it's got holy water in it and he's a vampire that's maybe different).
I'm not going to go into firearms accessories at all as this post is already far too long. I may cover them at a later date but only once I've finished the other topics. If this post turns out to be useful then great but if not I'd be more than willing to look at writing about some other more helpful topic.
Follow up posts in the same vein will include Vehicles, Military and Police Units, Intelligence Agencies, Criminal Groups, Tactics, Tradecraft and Criminal Activities. These posts will let you know a little about the subject and hopefully give you a basic understanding of the topic; at least enough to blag about it in character.