Here’s What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Holding Guns, and More!

5 min

It’s not like we expect museum quality replication of details about firearms from films. Entertainment often takes a turn on the road away from reality. Any show made in New York city begs the question of how these low-payed idiots manage to live in the city, let alone the spacious apartments they enjoy.

Still, the only thing more laughable than Hollywood’s depiction of swords (looking at you, Arya Stark and all the slashes with a stabbing blade) is their depiction of firearms. If half of these characters learned anything about holding guns, they could cut the plot in half.

For every push to clean up or sort the violence in video games, twice as much attention should be paid to fixing the bad habits movies teach about gun safety and handling. 

Lucky for you, this list will mock many of those mistakes and explain the proper way to be tactical and effective with a firearm.

Holding Guns The Hollywood Way!

As Adam Warren lampooned in his signature anime style, holding your gun sideways, upside down, or right side up but pulling the trigger with your tongue all end not well.

Real guns, that is guns that aren’t props with plug-in blood and muzzle effects, have recoil. Recoil is that thing that hurts you shou8lder when firing a rifle and breaks your thumb if you hold a gun sideways.

Even if you manage to avoid doing series damage to an appendage, look out for that ejecting cartridge, which instead of flying sideways is now traveling up towards your dumb face. The one, highly limited, situation in which holding a gun sideways makes sense is when firing around a riot shield.

Most rifles, of course, are also held to close to the eye, a fine way to give yourself a shiner when firing off a .30-06.

Reloads? We Don’t Need No Stinking Reloads

After watching a few movies and police procedurals, you might be confused how much ammo any given gun holds. That’s because clip sizes in film tend to be whatever lets the gun dramatically run out of ammo in time for a quite one-liner.

Guns are more prone to run out of ammo from plot convenience than any kind of physical limit. The adult cartoon Archer does a pretty good job with the idea of ammo limits, making it a tic of the titular character.

In reality, guns hold what they hold without substantial changes to magazines. Reloading also takes time and leaves a combatant vulnerable. Video games exhibit a greater melding with reality on this. Reloading times and procedures are critical for maintaining certain balances and gun feel.

Of course, in a movie, some heroes possess dramatic out of frame likely ADR’d abilities to reload quickly. 

Unless It’s Fancy!

The one place you will see a weapon reloaded roughly when needed is when the reload needs to happen in an impossible situation for no reason. Trick reloading in which magazines and firearms are practically juggled and twirled happens in reality in exactly zero places. 

Discipline? I’m Not Into That

Nothing like watching your hearo run down the street, finger bouncing blithely against the trigger of his sidearm while he chases down a baddie. Apparently the gun sense when he’s intending to fire or their trigger safeties are more reliable than they should be.

This one, at least, has been addressed. More modern shows have taken the time to show proper trigger discipline on screen. Shows such as Justified and the Blacklist feature a lot of cops and FBI agents trotting around with guns held high (not always pointed in safe directions) and fingers squarely against the side of their weapons.

Muzzle Discipline

On that last note, no matter the skill level of the character, its amazing who will willy-nilly point their gun at whatever. Often the actor forgets they’re holding a weapon, it’s more an accessory for pointing with.

The old rule works best, don’t point your gun at anything you don’t want dead. So, pay attention to what your pointing at. 

What’s odd about this one, the villains tend to do a better job of only pointing at things they intend to harm. They do tend to harm more tertiary and secondary bystander targets, so it kinda evens out. 

Low Light Fighting 

We’ve been giving it to the stunt coordinators and writers of films pretty hare so far. They do get one detail, on average, more correct than general public perception. 

Statistics show that 80% of encounters in low light. Films put people in smokey and moody lighting closer to 70% of the time. Still, it’s a good move. 

If anything, it pays to train in lower and inclement light conditions. This way you have a better chance to identify and strike a target moving in a carpark, a darkened home, or other common gunfight encounters. 

Thermals Only Exist for Dramatic Effect

Where to even start on this particular Hollywood blunder. Should we hit their lack of understanding that a rifle fires differently warm to cold? A fact that any sniper film seems to forget.

Let’s look at Charles Bronson laying down a full belt of ammo with a Browning M2 while holding onto the barrel? It’s not like the barrel heats up and needs to even be replaced to maintain accuracy and not to slag the thing. Hand flesh? Certainly adequate for that heat.

Thermal conductance also shifts elements of your optics. Try making a shot with a rifle scope that’s partially frozen and pretend the crosshairs aren’t skewed from tension in the rings.

A savvy gun oner knows to invest in quality barrels and scope fittings from Seekins Precision to minimize the effects of temperature variance. 

Know your weapon and know how many rounds it takes to warm up and time to cool down. This helps with accuracy and prevents related injuries when packing and transporting after the range.


The number of rounds ejected from weapons cocked for emphasis could pretty much sustain a land engagement for a decade.

Whether you practice Condition One or leave the chamber empty before you intend to fire, it pays to know the state of your weapon. Too often these scenes include a chambering of a round when in the squad car and another at the suspect’s door and a third when demanding information.

The information demanding being a fuzzy area on the muzzle discipline rule.

Don’t eject ammo across the countryside and always know if your chamber is loaded.

Physics and How It Doesn’t Work

I suppose if you attached stunt wires to people and then shot them while pulling on the wire, a real-life gun could make a person go flying across a room. I also suppose that situation has never come up.

Ballistics carry a lot of energy in a small mass, that’s generally the point of a bullet. It pushes a lot of energy through a small point, creating damage.

This idea that a bullet hits like a club, knocking back anything in its path is beyond comical. With some small accommodations for hits to vests, which can floor a person, a bullet is much more likely to go through you than to push you.  

Vests Don’t Work That Way

While a rated and maintained vest, worn correctly, can stop some bullets (mostly handgun and light ordinance) it isn’t pleasant. The force dissipates across the torso, often leading to broken ribs and internal injuries.

Also, the vest fibers break and stretch when catching lead, meaning you can’t expect it to work over and over. For all the things the Punisher Netflix series got better than other shows, Frank’s used over and over flak vest stands out as odd. 

Suppressing Silence

Most sound effects in film have a long, storied history, through the art of foley. Creaking doors, famous screams of the Willhelm variety, and iconic explosion noises all come to mind.

What possessed someone to think that any gun, let alone every gun, can make a pwew! sound when fitted with a suppressor is beyond me. 

Weird how many people wear ear and hearing protection when firing at the range given that guns obviously sound barely louder than a microwave beep. The omnipresence of ‘silencers’ is another issue. Every assassin seems to have one and you would think, if nothing else, that would put them on a watchlist of some sort.

Close Doesn’t Count

Not every movie is a complete fantasy travesty of gunplay dreamed up by a person whose never so much as touched a gun. Sometimes they get the details closer, but close doesn’t count. 

For every solid grip that steadies a weapon and assist in aiming, there are a dozen weak grips or confusing partial grips that just don’t work.

We’re so looking at you, Stallone, with that hold on to your own wrist whatever from The Expendables. 

Keep It Real

Well, we’ve had some fun dissecting the most egregious mistakes of Hollywood actors holding guns. Hopefully, you learned as much from the experience as the fun we had in crafting this cavalcade of chicanery. Come back for more articles on topics that interest you.

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