Seven Gun Lessons From the Movies and TV

Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun series.

For all the gun-related gaffes and myths Hollywood portrays in TV and movies, they can actually teach us a valuable lesson once in a blue moon. These are seven of my favorite “lessons” from Tinseltown and the films in which they appeared.

Lesson 1: Use proper technique to manage recoil

Example: Men in Black (1997)

Recoil always feels more substantial when firing a smaller and lighter gun. When experienced intergalactic cop Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) provides rookie Jay (Will Smith) with a weapon, Jay quickly learns that small guns can have serious kick:

Zed: Kay, give the kid a weapon.

Kay: [Kay opens a chest of large and intimidating alien blaster rifles] A Series Four De-atomizer.

Jay: That's what I'm talkin' about!

Kay: [chooses a tiny gun and presents it to Jay] Noisy Cricket.

Jay: [stares at the puny gun] Hey, Kay, nah, nah. Come on, man, you-you get a Series Four De-atomizer and I-I get a little-little midget cricket?

Kay: [Jay is waving the tiny gun around] WHOA! Kid...

Jay: Feel like I'm gonna break this damn thing...!

Lesson 2: Handguns don’t have "stopping power" in the Hollywood sense

Example: Dr. No (1962)

About to embark on yet another mission to save humanity, British Agent James Bond, better known as 007, is chastised for his reliance on a handgun with no stopping power. Big Boss “M” summons armorer Major Boothroyd to present Bond with his new issue carry gun. Boothroyd explains:

"Walther PPK. 7.65mm, with a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window. Takes a Brausch silencer with very little reduction in muzzle velocity. The American CIA swear by them.”

While I don’t particularly care to be shot by one, a .32 ACP is not a caliber that most would associate with massive stopping power. In fact, guns in general don’t have what Hollywood portrays as stopping power. They simply make holes, and don’t knock people off their feet or send them crashing through walls and windows. That’s a movie myth, just like the concept of “delivery like a brick through a plate glass window."

Lesson 3: Know your target and what’s behind it

Example: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

What’s not to love about Lt. Frank Drebin’s (Leslie Nielsen’s) carefree approach to law and order? Well, maybe his lack of attention to proper target selection:

Mayor: Drebin, I don't want any more trouble like you had last year on the South Side. Understand? That's my policy.

Frank: Yes. Well, when I see five weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of 100 people, I shoot the bastards. That's my policy.

Mayor: That was a Shakespeare-In-The-Park production of "Julius Caesar," you moron! You killed five actors! Good ones.

(Scene begins at 0:37)

Lesson 4: Choose the right gun for the job

Example: Penny Dreadful (Showtime, 2014)

In this very British period series about vampires and mystic demonic creatures, explorer and part-time hellion slayer Sir Malcolm Murray enters a London gun shop to acquire a weapon suitable for epic supernatural battle:

Shopkeeper: “It’s a prototype, acquired by something less than our usual standards of professional etiquette. It has something new: Automatic firing mechanism, 7.63x25 millimeter, highest velocity pistol shells in the world. It'll stop an elephant.”

Sir Malcolm: “I’ll take it.”

The “elephant slayer” is a C96 Broomhandle Mauser. Made from 1896 through 1937, it’s feasible that this pistol would have been the leading edge in Penny Dreadful’s late-19th century setting. The energy delivered by this tiny caliber pistol, while impressive for the time, was only about 400 foot-pounds, which is about the same as the average 9mm modern pistol. So I call foul on the elephant slayer credentials. I checked out an actual “elephant gun at this year’s NRA Annual Meeting. That one was a .600 Purdy Nitro Express. Yes, it was absolutely gorgeous and cost more than most four-bedroom homes. It was a .60 caliber double rifle that delivers a whopping 8,700 foot-pounds of energy. Now that’s an elephant gun!

Mauser C96 "Broomhandle" pistol.

Lesson: 5 A gun can even up the odds in a tough situation

Example: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Who doesn’t love the spaghettiest of all the spaghetti westerns, The Good the Bad, and the Ugly? In this scene, part-time gunslinger and full-time philosopher The Man With No Name/Blondie/Joe/Monco (Clint Eastwood) encourages Tuco (Eli Wallach) to dig up the gold the duo has been hunting throughout the movie:

“There are two types of people in the world, those with a loaded gun, and those who dig. You dig.”

Lesson 6: It’s important to use the right terminology

Example: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

While much of this movie is inappropriate for a general audience, I can’t help but laugh at my favorite Gunny teaching about the difference between rifles and “guns.” Rifle, gun, magazine, clip? Using the right terminology is important if you want to get your point across correctly.

(Note: R-rated scene)

Lesson 7: If you’re going to carry a concealed handgun, keep it concealed

Example: Miss Congeniality (2000)

Sometimes movies understand advanced concealed-carry doctrine, like the importance of carrying all the time. However, if you’re going to carry concealed, it’s important to keep it concealed! In this scene, FBI agent and part-time beauty contestant Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) dives off stage during a musical champagne flute performance to tackle a man. His misdeed: Allowing his sport coat to open, exposing his shiny Model 1911 concealed-carry pistol:

Gracie Hart: Guys. Hey, you guys. He has a gun. He has a gun! I’ve got the 20 on the shooter. I’m taking him out you guys!

Agent Benjamin Bratt: No, wait until we have a visual!

Hart: Gun! Gun! Everybody down [Dives from the stage, tackling a man wearing a white Stetson]

Hart: [Later, in debrief] Look, he had a gun…

Kathy Morningside: Of course he had a gun. This is Texas! Everybody has a gun. My florist has a gun!