Monday, March 2, 2009

Pistol Packing Perp...

by Ben Small

When my editor read my “polished” draft of Alibi On Ice, my first entry into the mystery/thriller market, he phoned me, outraged, fit to be tied. I imagined foam spewing from his mouth, a geyser at Yellowstone.

What had I done so wrong?

“Snub-nose revolvers don’t have a safety,” he said, so loudly I tilted the receiver away. “Anybody who knows anything about guns knows that.”

Well, I didn’t. But then I didn’t know anything about guns. I thought every modern gun had a safety.

“Look,” he said, “if you’re gonna write mysteries and thrillers, you gotta understand that there’s a huge gun culture audience reading the genre. And there’s nothing they’ll spot quicker than a gun error.”

I must have sounded a bit doubtful. More likely I was just embarrassed.

“Do you have any idea how many NRA members there are?" he said.


“Neither do I. But look it up. You’ll be shocked.”

I was. The numbers were enormous.

So my editor suggested I purchase some guns and get to know them. He suggested I obtain a concealed carry permit, not just for personal protection, although more and more that alone seems a good enough justification ― especially when one has white hair. No. He wanted realism, not boring page-after-page Clancy-style engineering detail, but pixie dust particulars that fit the character, his knowledge, his planning and his execution. For instance, a pistol-packer will walk, sit and act differently from an unarmed person. Cops know this. They look for people not walking normally, maybe not swinging one arm as much as the other. They’ll look for the reassuring pat, the yup-it’s-still-there touch to the cargo pants pocket, the upper chest-armpit junction or the belt. Or if it’s an ankle holster, the packing leg’s stride will be just a bit shorter than the free leg. Or they’ll look for the print, the telltale lump, sag or barrel outline.

Cops can spot these things from a distance. And so can you if you know what to look for. Adding some of these considerations to your perp’s conduct will make him or her more real. (Note: I’m addressing the perp here. While the same considerations apply to protagonists, I prefer messing with bad guys.)

It’s a simple fact that carrying a pistol is not comfortable. Pistols are heavy and mostly made of metal. No matter where you put the thing, you’re gonna be aware of its presence.

Most Inside the Waistband holsters (“IWB”) are placed on the side, either strong side or cross-draw. This means an added two inches to your belt and waist. Think about that after a large meal. And what about material? Your IWB holster most likely will be made of leather (cowhide or horsehide) or Kydex, a hard plastic mold. Expect chafing; there’s a direct correlation between your girth and how much skin you lose. And of course, the larger the pistol, the greater your skin lotion outlay. Add in hot weather, and you’d better line up a dermatologist.

Obviously, an Outside the Waistband holster (“OWB”) presents more concealment challenges than the IWB. The thing is hanging off your belt, for Chrissakes. An untucked shirt may adequately conceal an IWB packed with a Baby Glock (a G26 or 27), but good luck concealing a bazooka tugging at your belt. You’ll need a long winter overcoat.

A pistol-packer will find sitting no joy, especially in a car. Imagine the fun of managing the seat belt/carry position alternatives. Move your holster to your back? Then you’ve got metal resting against your backbone. Take those speed bumps slowly, and pray no one rear-ends you.

Shoulder harnesses aren’t comfortable either. They need support, which means the carry side is offset by straps around the non-carry shoulder and maybe a tie-down on the belt. Need a loose shirt or a jacket to conceal that arrangement. And get used to feeling constrained, as both shoulders and maybe your belt are all tugged together by hanging pistol weight. A man will quickly learn why a large breasted woman hates her brassiere.

What about an ankle holster? Truth be told, they’re not practical. Cops only use them as backups. And for good reason: extraction and re-holstering are not easy or fast. Ankle holsters are tight; they have to be. Lots of wrestling with taut elastic or leather and snaps. Driving is difficult with an ankle holster, and you’ve got hard metal close to your very sensitive ankle bone.


Of course, many of these considerations apply only to men, if women are smart and use a purse holster. A fanny pack is about as close to this option as a man can get. A man wearing a purse might as well be wearing neon shoes. People will stare.

Some pistol-packers worry that a fanny pack screams GUN, but that’s nonsense. Athletes wear them; hikers wear them, and tourists wear them. Coupled with the right clothing, a fanny pack may well go unnoticed.

Regardless, however, what concealment option your perp chooses, he or she will remain very conscious of what they’re carrying.

And that’s the biggest tell of all.

Drop some of these considerations in your character’s conduct like pixie dust. Don’t overdo it, be subtle. You’ll draw your reader deeper into your character and your story.


Mark W. Danielson said...

My experience in carrying weapons is there are two types of people who bear arms: those with a conscience and those without. Those with morals are always aware that firing their weapon, regardless of the circumstances, will forever change their lives. Those without have no regard for using a weapon. Sadly, this gives the criminal mind the edge.

Ben Small said...

Very good analysis, Mark. I feel exactly the same. In fact, I was reading about a deceased sheriff in Texas last night who bragged about how many people he'd killed. And it's believed he killed more people than anybody else with a pistol, way back in the early 1900s. Many who knew him said he was a psychopath with a badge. He was asked the best way to shoot someone, and he replied, "In the back."

I hope I never have to draw my weapon. I haven't had to so far, and I'd like to keep it that way. But the Brits have seen violent crime go up 35% according to one report since their guns were confiscated. And now protesters are demanding them back, because the police can't protect them. They're always too late to the scene, and when they arrive, they too often don't have weapons.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm not exactly a pistol-packin' mama, but I know how to use a revolver, rifle and shotgun. And I'm afraid that in the not-to-distant future, everyone will need to know how to use at least one of the above.

Chester Campbell said...

Good stuff for mystery writers, Ben. I've thought of getting a gun. I'd enjoy learning to use it, but the clock and the calendar don't seem to be too friendly these days. The more I do, the behinder I get.

Ben Small said...

Jean, I fear you're right. I took the CEO of a huge exotic bird sanctuary shooting today. She's having trouble with illegal aliens and smugglers traipsing across her company's property, and she fears for her staff, self and birds. She has to call the sheriff almost daily. So today we went to a wash and shot several of my rifles to see what she was most comfortable with. Turned out, it was a twelve gauge, and she's buying one next week. While she fears actually firing one will scare the whoopy out of her birds, she says she won't hesitate to protect them, and she's hopeful that the famous clack-clack of a pump shotgun will make firing the weapon unnecessary. She said she used to be an anti-gunner, but recent events in the area and her own experiences, as recent as last night, have changed her mind.

It's a sad commentary of our times, and like you, I fear it's only going to get worse. But as Chester said, it's great fodder for a mystery or thriller writer...