Monday, February 16, 2009

Limp Wristing

by Ben Small

No, this note is not about a casual evening stroll along the walk on Venice Beach, nor is it about San Francisco culture. And it’s not about a punk rock band either, although I understand there’s one with the name “Limp Wrist.”

No, I’m talking about a shooting phenomenon which affects every shooter, which I’ve yet to see affect any protagonist or antagonist using a gun. The term “Limp Wrist,” in its various versions may even be a verb: "I limp wristed my pistol, the best grip I could manage the circumstances."

Limp wristing is the failure to grip your automatic handgun tightly enough, causing the pistol to fail to extract a spent casing from the chamber.

A semi-automatic pistol fired limp wristing will either not fire at all, or if it does fire, it will not cycle for a second shot. In other words, you either have a weapon that will not fire, or you’ve got a jammed gun.

Oops. That can get your character killed.

In order to fire, semi-autos need a stable base. Wasn’t it Sir Issac Newton who decreed, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction?”

Well, Newton was right. If you were to suspend a pistol in the air and pull the trigger by string, the bullet would fly, but so would the gun… in the opposite direction. And the semi-auto would fail to cycle because the resistance it needs to move the slide back and eject and feed has been removed. That means a jam that can only be cleared by removing the magazine and racking the slide.

Limp wristing happens to the strongest people; indeed, it happens to everybody. Often when a character is moving or distracted or panicked, he’s more focused on his target and what he’s doing than on how he’s holding his gun. Maybe the protag or perp is leading a victim, or ducking and dodging. A momentary lapse, and the grip on the pistol loosens.

Many modern semi-auto pistols, such as high end 1911s or the new Springfield XD series, have wrist safeties, which will not permit the pistol to fire if it is being held with less than a firm grip. See the picture on the right. The short but distinct separation at the upper end of the grip under the beaver tail, is the grip safety. This safety arm must be depressed before the gun will fire. Look at the structure. The grip safety is at the top of the grip, meaning the upper part of the shooting hand is what depresses the safety. So a firm grip with the bottom part of the hand is irrelevant, at least relating to operation of the grip safety. With pistols containing this safety, limp wristing will mean a failure to fire.

On semi-autos without a grip safety, as for instance with Glock, HK or Sig Sauer Classic or Sig Pro pistols, a soft grip will fire the pistol but cause it to fail to eject, thereby jamming the gun and preventing a second or follow-on shot until the pistol is cleared.

In many of our books, we see characters shooting under stress. And stress is one of the causes of limp wristing, because stress causes the shooter to focus on something other than a firm pistol grip. It’s not about strength, not a gender factor at all; it’s about distraction. If the character has been wrestling with someone for the gun and the gun goes off, odds are the shot was limp wristed, so the gun will be jammed. And of course, if it was one of those guns with a grip safety, the first shot wouldn’t have fired at all.

In most of these situations, the author will have someone (the perp, the protag, or a third character) grab the pistol and struggle to fire, in a hurry, probably with a bad grip.

When, if ever, are we shown the gun jamming in this scenario? Yet, that’s what would likely happen. And the jam is the more critical of these issues because the pistol must be cleared before it will shoot again. With a wrist safety, the gun didn’t fire, so there’s no jam. A firm grip = Bang.

So, beware the dangers of the limp wrist. Or use a limp wristed shot (or non-shot as the case may be) for a little more drama and realism in your story.


Ned Barnett said...

It was Newton, not Einstein, but otherwise you're right.

I'm a lifelong target shooter, and have the Springfield you mentioned (and the Glock). Although I'm aware of the action/reaction need for shooting a semi-auto, I've had some jam for the reason you mention, including the Glock but never the 1911 from Springfield.

This is a useful item to build into a story, though I think you'd want to foreshadow it with a discussion on limp-wristing - perhaps the protagonist is teaching her boyfriend how to shoot (or her aged grandmother). This is one reason why starter shooters may be better off with a revolver, which doesn't depend on Newton. Or Einstein.

FWIW, the Ruger Mk II with the bull barrel will shoot limp-wristed without jamming - I found a suicide's body - she'd held the Ruger in a way absolutely necessary to pull off the shot (and guaranteed to be limp-wristed) yet the gun not only worked, it didn't jam. So if you're using this "bit," have the shooter use a Walther PPK or a Sig Sauer or - of course - a Glock (though test-shoot the Glock - it's neither single-action nor double-action and it shoots differently, and I think easier, than other semi-autos ... I use a Glock in 40 S&W as my primary concealed carry (my backup is a Beretta .32 ACP "Tomcat" - so small I can carry it unseen in the palm of my hand ... it's generically known as a "mousegun" for reasons I'm sure you can imagine.

Ned Barnett

Ben Small said...


Newton, eh? My mistake. Would have sworn it was Albert. Oh well. The jams I've experienced have been on the second shot, not the first, as it's failure to go into battery is the problem. Haven't tried this on 1911s. 1911s don't fit my hand well - I'm very tall with large hands, so the only 1911 I own is a new model Para double stack. And of course, it's got a grip safety. I sold/traded the rest of my 1911s.

I've had this happen on my XDs, however, and on my Glocks. I keep my G26 either on me or in my car, but when I'm really packing I go with my Springfield XDM in .40 S&W or my XD Tactical in .45acp. I own a number of Sigs, and have had it happen with them, too, and with my Beretta 92FS.

I also carry a North American Pug with interchangeable barrels, although I use the .22 mag barrel when I carry it. It makes for a great little pocket pistol, and I like the round.

I haven't tried limp wristing on my Ruger Mark II. Frankly, they're such a pain to clean, at least for me, I don't shoot it much except to show new shooters or occasionally in friendly competition with a friend for who buys the first beer. :<)

Both the Glock and XDs are neither single or double action.

Thanks for your input.

Anonymous said...

You guys amaze me with that shooting stuff. There's so much to know. Now I'm doing a 'net search for "Weaver stance" and finding out all kinds of interesting things.

Pat Browning

Ben Small said...


You might want to check out another blog I wrote for Make Mine Mystery some time ago entitled "Bang." I intend to post it here next Monday. It also has some very useful info.

I got started on guns and gun research when my editor called me and told me I'd put a safety on a revolver, and of course, they don't have safeties. He suggested I buy some guns, get a Concealed Carry license and familiarize myself with how one walks, sits and is aware of his surroundings when carrying a gun. When you carry, you're always conscious of it, and you have the feeling everyone's looking at you. It affects how one walks and sits and rather than tending to make one more brave, tends to make one stay away from trouble, because pulling your gun and shooting is likely to expose you to about a $100,000 in legal fees, not counting civil lawsuit exposure. It's not for the faint of heart, but for a writer, these considerations add texture and realism.

I don't hunt; I just shoot holes in paper. And it's a very green sport, as everything is recycled, cartridges and bullets.

I thought Deaver, who is a gun owner himself and loves shooting, did a really good job of incorporating some of the stuff I write about in "Bang." You will be deaf for a while if you shoot without hearing protection and in his The Bodies Left Behind his protag uses this fact to trick her pursuers.

But Deaver got one thing wrong. The rattlesnake he uses in the book is only found on the west side of Wisconsin on the rocky shores of the Mississippi, and his setting is on the east side of the state and far north. It's cold outside, and rattlesnakes don't come out unless the temperatures are above 65 degrees. It's well below that in his book. Oh well, who among us doesn't make errors?

If you ever have questions about guns, give me a holler. If I don't know the answer to your question, I'll try and find the answer.

Beth Terrell said...

Ben, I'm in awe of your knowledge. I've been studying up on firearms too, but the technical details still sound like Greek to me (which is not good, because my protagonist loves this stuff). I think I'm going to study your firearms blogs.

And, oh yes, I've experienced the Limp Wrist problem.

Ben Small said...

Beth, I subscribe to a number of magazine like Guns & Ammo, but by far, the best source of info is the SigForum, which is free. It can be located at Http:// They run a tight ship at Sig Forum and don't tolerate jerks, and the members are very knowledgeable. There's also a search function, which is very helpful. If you have questions, you can post them, and you'll get quick answers. Don't be afraid of what you don't know. I make a fool of myself on that site all the time. But then, that's how one learns...

Ned said...


Guns and shooting are as basic to murder mysteries as English Breakfast and Earl Grey are to cozies.

Janet Evanovich writes in her book on how she writes that a cop-friend persuaded her to carry a pistol or revolver (not clear, but I assume a revolver, because that's what Stephanie Plum keeps in her cookie jar) in her belt, to see what it felt like, and also taught her to shoot. Good advice.

I've been a shooter since Boy Scouts - I won awards on my college's Rifle Team, and I've target shot recreationally ever since (I also used to sandbag a lot of Good Ol' Boys in and around Nashville in the fall at competitive turkey shoots ... I'd show up in a coat and tie, ask to borrow a shotgun, and generally win about $100 (plus the turkey) before they caught on. Shooting for frozen turkeys from Kroger is - however - as close as I've come to hunting.

If your detective had a typewriter, chances are you know what model and know how to type. If your detective drives anything fancier than an Oldsmobuick, chances are you know that car inside and out (as Janet E knows "Big Blue").

So if your detective (or your bad guy) packs heat, you ought to know what a shoulder holster feels like (not great), what it feels like to hold and shoot a gun, what it sounds like, and what a round can do to a filled water jug or a watermelon (hydrostatic shock is what destroys them, and human beings are mostly water, too).

You don't have to be a gun nut - most larger cities in states that aren't intent on depriving legal citizens of the right to self-defense have gun stores with indoor ranges where helpful young men, mostly ex-military or off-duty cops, in tight black T-shirts will teach you to shoot and let you give it a try (for money).

If you come to Vegas, go to the Gun Store on E. Tropicana - you can fire revolvers, pistols, police sniper rifles, short-barreled shotguns and full-automatic Tommy Guns, submachine guns, full-auto battle rifles and squad machine guns (among others) - so whatever your good guy and your bad guy carry and shoot, you can have a sense of what it feels like to shoot it.

FWIW, I have found three pistols and one revolver to be absolutely "natural" - so ergonomically designed (before anybody'd heard that word) as to be close to point-shoot-hit.

The Revolver is the Colt Single Action Army (the gun that won the West), once again back in production in a wide variety of calibers. Mine is a .22 target shooter - fun and inexpensive and impressively accurate.

The most instinctively accurate pistol I've ever shot is a Ruger Mk II - I prefer the narrow barrel for styling, but if you get the "bull barrel" (it doesn't taper and it's substantial compared to the caliber of the gun) there's no recoil at all because the gun absorbs it all. After years of avoiding it, my late wife finally started coming to the range with me, just to be together. On the third trip, I persuaded her to shoot the Ruger and discovered I was married to Annie Oakley. That became "her" target pistol, the only one she'd shoot (and lest anyone think that a .22 isn't a decent weapon, it was that gun she used to end her life following the death of our son (I'd disassembled it for safety, but it was her gun - she found the parts, knew how to put it together and to use it - and one shot did it instantly). The coroner said he'd found evidence of 37 previous attempts that failed - her counselor and doctor didn't know either, and it wasn't the gun that killed her - it was despair and grief beyond her ability to endure - the gun was just a tool.

The last natural point-and-shoot pistols are both German - the famous (or infamous) Lugar - perhaps the most perfect point-and-shoot ever made (the Ruger does a good job of echoing that design - not internally, but from a point-and-shoot feature). The other is the Walther PPK, the gun James Bond was forced to use after his .25 caliber "mousegun" Beretta pocket pistol failed to save him in From Russia With Love (the book, not the movie).

With the exception of the Lugar, I've owned all of these (I still own three of them - I also own the Beretta Mousegun in .32 ACP, and it's on my hip in a sunglasses belt case right now - I used to carry it in a hollowed-out beeper case, but nobody carries beepers anymore.

Anyway Pat, and all mystery writers, it's not hard to know guns (even if you don't have a permit to carry them, there are ranges), and knowing them will add greatly to the verisimilitude of your story. And I wish this damned blog-comment had a spell-checker ...


Ned Barnett

Barnett Marketing Communications
420 N. Nellis Blvd. A3-276
Las Vegas NV 89110

702-696-1200 -

Ned said...


I'm with you on the awareness and caution built into carrying a pistol. I'm never unaware of it, and I am much more cautious and prudent when I'm armed - I avoid scenes where otherwise I might get angry and pop off at someone.

The training course (I go to one hosted by a retired LV police detective Lieutenant) hammers home the legal responsibilities of pulling a gun, let alone shooting in anything other than documentable self-defense (ask OJ about that ...). I took his comments to heart and am very careful to never flash it or provoke anybody.

And, having been coached by my cop brother-in-law, if I'm pulled over, I first take it off my belt and shove it under the passenger seat, then show him my permit (with my hands visible) and tell them where in the car the gun is. Nobody's so much as blinked, and one Arizona Highway Patrol officer thanked me (it was 1 a.m. and about 2 degrees above zero, and the last thing she needed was a hot-head with a gun).

Knowing gun etiquette and responsibility allows you to write about guns more accurately and clearly.

BTW - one of the motivating factors for me to get the permit was the fact that my life was saved - twice - from hostile attack (once by four drunks with beer bottles, once by a nutcase with a shotgun and anger management issues) by private citizens lawfully using (but not firing) legal handguns. If you know what you're doing and not afraid to do it right, you can save lives just by letting the perp know that there will be consequences for bad behavior.

One final note - in '82 I did an article for a city-mag on people who'd been victimzied by burglars in the home. I asked a bunch of cops, gun-store owners and the county's Top Cop the same question: "what self-defense pistol is best for the home." It was a (pardon the pun) loaded question, as the right answer isn't any kind of pistol - it's a pump shotgun with an 18" barrel and birdshot in the chamber.

1. The noise of a pump shotgun being brought into battery is unmistakable - any sane person will run like crazy to get away (as the Top Cop told me).

2. Birdshot at inside-the-house range will take down anybody - but it won't penetrate sheetrock or hollow core dores, so your kids in their bedrooms are safe.

3. Pistol bullets will generally penetrate interior walls and doors - and sometimes outside doors. While in college, a student in my apartment building was startled by a burglar and shot at him with a .357 magnum. The bullet went through his outside wall, through the parking lot, through another wall and killed someone in another building. Ouch. Now not all pistol bullets are .357 magnums, but do you really want to take that risk (at least in your own home - your detective can handle it better by using hollow points and by hitting what he shoots at).

The Top Cop told me, "This isn't the OK Corral. If someone breaks in, get your family out of the house, go next door and call us. That's what we're paid for. ONLY if you can't get out should you face him." And he said: "Don't shout, 'stop or I'll shoot' (it'll give him something to aim at). When he hears the shotgun rack a shell into the chamber, he'll be ready to run - so shout at him (from behind a door or around a corner) "run away - very fast."

"Do not try to arrest him or subdue him - you're not a cop - and for God's sake, don't shoot him unless, after he hears the shotgun, he keeps coming. If he does that, he's a mad dog - completely insane and incapable of putting self above his anger - shoot him like you would a mad dog, and don't try to "be nice" or "talk to him."

Anyway, I've never forgotten that, and I do use those concepts in my books.


Lee Lofland said...

Great post, Ben. Ironically, I'm blogging about something similar on Tuesday (tomorrow). I have a couple neat videos on shooting as well.

Ben Small said...

Lee, please send me a linky to your blog. I'd enjoy seeing it. Thank you.

Ben Small said...

American Gunsmithing Institute has some excellent videos on operation, dis-assembly and re-assembly of firearms, both pistols and rifles. And other useful info as well. I've got twelve of their videos and use them all the time, especially on some of my more complex rifles. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

One thing I actually understand in all this gun info would be Ned's comments about the pump shotgun.

Four or 5 years ago, when I still lived in California, I kept reading that the sound of a shotgun being racked will scare off intruders. But Nobody could explain what it sounded like.

Finally, my cousin Rudy, who had been in both the navy and the army in World War II and Korea and knew everything there was to know about weapons, offered to demonstrate.

So I sat in his bedroom with the door closed and he racked his shotgun so I could actually hear it.

The sound shows up in about 3 sentences in one scene of my work in progress, but it was a detail that couldn't be glossed over. I had to hear it before I could use it.

Knives are easier. I have an excellent video on knife throwing, and Jefferson Spivey, who invented the Sabertooth knife, had some on display at a recent booksigning. He lives right here in Yukon.

Who has more fun than writers?

Pat Browning

Ben Small said...

Nobody, Pat. And Ned's absolutely right about the fear inspired by hearing that click-clack. I don't think there's any question that a shotgun is the best home defense weapon. But one has to worry about over-penetration with slugs or buckshot, which really are 9mm sized pellets. Bird shot will get someone's attention up close, and won't have the same penetration. What I do, is have a 12 gauge in my closet, and I alternate bird shot rounds with buck shot. I've seen some articles that say home invaders, if they don't kill you right away, will put you in the closet, so that's a good place for a shotgun. I also have a safe under the bed, which I can open without light, and I keep a 40 cal pistol with defense loads there. I've seen some reports that in a home invasion, you may have as little as eight seconds to react, so I keep the safe open when I sleep and close it in the morning. Also, we don't have children around, so I don't worry about the wee ones coming in and playing with "the new toy." Of course, when my granddaughter visits, I lock everything up in my large safe.

I'll have more info in next Monday's blog.

Ned said...

I"m with you, Ben. I have a .32 Beretta mouse-gun on my belt that "lives" next to the bed when I get there. I've got a .22 Colt in the closet in the bedroom, and I keep my .40 S&W Glock in my office. At times, I've kept my .45 Colt Auto in a drawer at the front door, but since I always carry the .32 mouse-gun on my belt, that hasn't been as much a concern.

Like you, my shotgun lives in the closet; like you, there are no kids in the house (the cats can't chamber a round, so that's safe, too) and should my granddaughter show up, the guns get locked in the trunk of the Honda.

At in-house ranges, I'm not worried about what birdshot will do to a malefactor - I've thought about double-ought buck (which I shoot through my .36 caliber Navy Colt - a perfect fit), but kids live next door and my wife will be behind the hollow-core door - with the Mossberg I can't miss, and five shells are more than enough (though I have another four in elastic on the stock).

God permit I never have to pull them, let alone fire them - I have no desire to take a life, though I'm passionate about protecting life (my wife's, my own, my neighbors - in that order) ... but I think Napoleon suggested that God sided with the bigger battalions, and that applies to the most effective home-defense firearms, as well. Or so it seems to me.

More important, I am able to write about firearms that both criminals and defenders might use, and while I don't make a big deal of that, it's an important part of my writing. In fact, my current novel begins (though it's not clear to the reader that the mystery also begins here) when a war correspondent in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 has to terminally defend himself when he's assaulted by a Russian drug-runner in the employ of a local Warlord (while covering a US special ops operation aimed at both the Taliban and the warlord's opium poppies, which are thought to be the Taliban's source of funds). He has to live with that killing - even though in self-defense, and on a battlefield (journalists go armed, but they're not "officially" supposed to, and even in self-defense, the killing of a Russian (a European) creates some legal issues ... and it's (years later) tied into what happens when this reporter returns home to a dead wife (who's just been unfaithful, an apparent motive for murder) and a charge of murder. And everything else that spins out of control for this guy ...