Six Gun Myths That Just Won’t Die

Many feel that the 9mm, a very popular self-defense cartridge, surpasses the .45 in terms of effectiveness, but ballistics prove otherwise.photo by Windigo Images

There have always been a multitude of myths in gun culture. Some have a foundation in truth, others are completely wrong. Most fall someplace in the middle.

How most gun myths began is often a mystery, but they perpetuate when lazy people gather at gun shops, shooting ranges, and gun shows to repeat them over and over with no real knowledge or understanding of the facts. Now with the preponderance of basement-dwelling keyboard warriors, new myths are born and grow at exponential rates on the Internet.

Here are a half dozen that can use a bit of clarification:

1. The sound of a pump-action shotgun being racked will scare off the bad guys.

Supposedly the sound of a shotgun action being pumped will make the bad guy wet his pants, surrender, and wait, sucking his thumb in the fetal position, for the police to come and rescue him from the badass homeowner.

It’s a load of crap.

It might scare off an amateur, but not a hardcore home invader.

Let's look at one scenario. It was a long and rough day and when your head hit the pillow you are out instantly. Hours later, you jump out of a deep sleep to the sound of your front door being kicked in. Disoriented and confused, you listen as your dog barks hysterically and then whimpers in pain. The silence that follows is terrifying.

You grab the phone and call 911, but know the response time will be far too long. Like they say, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

Then, you hear the door to your daughter’s bedroom open and she starts screaming.

First off, this guy has entered an occupied dwelling in the night, probably killed your dog and has advanced, looking for prey. Do you really think a hardened, dangerous and aggressive criminal—one that is probably also armed— will give up because he hears a shotgun pumping?

Letting him know you are there, and have a gun, just gives him an advantage and puts you in danger. I would prefer that a bad guy not know where I am during a fight.

Sure, the good guy in every TV show or movie will rack his pump in every scene that calls for a gun, just to make that cool noise. But in reality, it’s nothing more than that.

2. Bullets rise after leaving the barrel. The laws of physics are unassailable: Once any object is unsupported, it begins to fall toward the earth at a rate of acceleration of 32 feet per second, per second. That means the instant a bullet is no longer physically supported by the gun barrel, it starts to fall. It is impossible for it to defy gravity and "rise" after it leaves the gun.

What gave rise (pun intended) to this myth is the way our sighting systems work. Gun sights are above the bore. That means that the bullet exits the gun below the line of sight on its way to the target. Line of sight is straight, but bullets fall, and so if the line of sight and the bore were parallel, the bullet’s path would never cross the line of sight.

So, to compensate, the bore of the gun is tipped to point the muzzle up slightly in relationship to the line of sight. Because of the tilted bore, will cross the line of sight at a point near the muzzle (around 25 yards away, with most rifles). Then the bullet continues to travel above the line of sight until it reaches the apex of its path. Then the path of the bullet will move continuously down and closer to the line of sight, until it crosses again at the point where the gun’s sights are zeroed for the point of impact. After that point, the bullet is always traveling below the line of sight, dropping steadily until it impacts an object, or the ground.

Bullets never rise. The angle of a gun’s bore is tilted so that the bullet’s path (red line) travels above the line of sight (dotted line) close to the bore, and then crosses it again at the distance where the sights are zeroed (here, at 200 yards).

3. New bullets make the 9mm more effective than the .45 ACP.

This one is all over the Internet. For decades, every firearms expert agreed that the 9mm was a far lesser fighting cartridge than any that start with a 4. Now anybody reading the net would think the 9 is capable of slaying dragons.

The claim that improved bullets have changed it all does not fit the timeline, because the bullets have been around before the myth that the 9mm was the end all, be all, defensive cartridge even began.

Recently at least two flawed studies, both with an agenda, have surfaced on the Internet. They drew conclusions that ignored physics and fact to solidify the results they wanted to create. The drones on the keyboards latched on and it took on a life of its own until it reached the point of absurdity. It is spouted as the absolute truth by those with zero practical experience that the 9mm is the best defensive pistol cartridge on this green earth. (Just keep an eye on the comments section on Facebook and watch what happens.)

It’s certainly true that advancements in bullet technology have made the 9mm more effective than it was in the days when pistol bullets didn’t expand much. But what the stuck-on-stupid crowd ignores is that the same bullet technology is used in all defensive pistol cartridges, including the .45 ACP and .40 S&W as well. The laws of physics still apply, and a bigger, heavier bullet carrying more energy and momentum will do more damage to any given target. When the bullet technology is equally applied, the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP are still more powerful and more effective cartridges than the 9mm.

You might argue that the 9mm is now effective enough to trust for your personal defense, but you can’t argue that it’s “better” than the bigger cartridges and still have other people think you are smart.

4. Reloads are not as good as factory ammo.

I hear it just about every time I go to the gunshop or the range. Some blowhard will be spouting off about how reloads are never as good as factory ammo. He will back that up with some graphic story, usually with a gun blowing up or a giant buck escaping the hunter.

What he is describing is the failure of the handloader, not the handload. Handloaded ammo that is crafted by somebody who knows his stuff is always superior to factory ammo. But like anything else, it’s dependent on the skill of the craftsman making the ammo. If stupid people are involved, stupid things happen.

That’s not to say there is a thing wrong with factory ammo—most of it is outstanding these days. But it is made with production line machines. Doing so requires a tolerance specification with a wider margin than can be used by a handloader. Factory loads use one powder, one primer and one bullet. They are designed for a middle of the road approach so that one size fits all and the ammo will work in any rifle chambered for the cartridge.

The handloader custom-crafts each cartridge. He can choose the best powder, primer and bullet for the specific firearm and intended use. A handloader can prepare each case to exact specifications, weigh each powder charge with precision, seat each primer to the exact depth, and insert a bullet for perfect concentricity and overall length.

The handloader has the option of tweaking the ammo on a multitude of performance specifications and custom-tuning the ammo exactly to the firearm.

In the end, a handload is a precision, custom crafted cartridge that undergoes multiple inspections. It can be tailored to the specific firearm to milk the last bit of precision and performance from it. No factory load can do that.

Factory ammo is better than ever, but reloaders can customize ammo to a particular gun, extracting every bit of accuracy from it.

5. A shotgun is the best choice for home defense. You don’t even need to aim it.

The defensive shotgun section of my book "Prepper Guns" is 14,447 words. It's not a simple subject.

The truth, in a nutshell, is that a shotgun may not be the best defensive tool to protect your home, and you most certainly do need to aim when shooting one. The genealogy of the “no need to aim” myth is a bit of a mystery, but I suspect Hollywood played a role. Calling a shotgun a “scattergun” is bound to plant the seeds of foolishness in some minds.

When the shot is close (like inside-your-house distances), the shotgun is throwing a pattern with buckshot or birdshot that is effectively no larger than a single bullet. The pattern might be a couple of inches across, but you must aim to hit anything with it. It does not open up to “clear out the room” at across-the-kitchen distances.

A shotgun can be an excellent fight stopper at close range. Nine 00 buckshot pellets to the chest will knock the dickhead out of anybody’s attitude. But, you gotta aim to hit the bad guy.

A semi-auto rifle can do anything a shotgun can do at close range, and a lot more than a shotgun is capable of doing at long range. You only have a single projectile to worry about, rather than a multitude of them flying about in unpredictable paths toward targets you would rather not add extra holes to. A rifle such as an AR-15 holds more ammo and is much faster to reload than a shotgun. There is some evidence that with proper ammo, a .223 Remington is less likely than many other cartridges, including many shotgun loads, to penetrate a wall and hurt somebody on the other side.

Any long gun, though, has tactical disadvantages inside your home. A long gun is hard to maneuver in tight spaces and much easier to take away from you. The bad guy can grab the barrel, or move inside the muzzle to attack you. Also, you need two hands to operate a long gun correctly, even though you should keep a hand free to turn on light switches, open doors or hold a flashlight.

The truth is that a handgun might be a better choice for defending your home.

6. Silencers make a gunshot undetectable.

In the movies, the bad guy installs a silencer on his gun and it makes a small pppfffttt when he shoots.

Not so.

At least not with most guns. There is a reason they are properly called suppressors. They suppress sound, they don't eliminate it.

The speed of sound is 1,126 feet per second, depending on conditions. If the bullet is going faster than that, there is a sonic boom that is surprisingly loud. The silencer does nothing to mitigate that.

If the firearm is a closed breech with a low-volume cartridge firing a subsonic bullet, a well-designed suppressor will eliminate almost all the sound. But for most other firearms, it’s just like a car muffler: It takes a lot of the edge off, but you can still hear the shot, and sometimes it’s still loud.

Bryce M. Towsley is a gun expert and a regular contributor to Range 365. See all his books and blogs at www.brycetowsley.com.