Monday, March 15, 2010

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.


Anonymous said...


I never cease to be amazed at the many things to know about guns. It's a wonder anybody ever kills anyone and yet they do. Is it by sheer accident that the gun fires?

Latest example, the killings in Juarez of a U.S. Consulate couple. Were the perps using assault weapons, and in the case of assault weapons does a limp wrist not matter?

Pat Browning

Ben Small said...


No, every gun is a machine, and machines work differently, some more complex than others. And the laws of physics don't change. But limp wristing is more a handgun feature than one associated with an AR-15 or AK variant.

From what I've read and heard about the Juarez attacks, automatic weapons seem better candidates. Three round bursts are the most common mode of fire for skilled shooters because of natural muzzle drift, so sometimes, if there are several assailants, it becomes hard to tell whether the rounds being fired are semi-automatic, one bullet per trigger pull, or some form of fully automatic.

These gang wars continue to ramp up, and it appears there's little we can do about it, except be aware of our circumstances at all times and either be able to obtain help quickly or otherwise protect ourselves. Still, I'm not overly frightened, and I plan to go to Nogales in April, just for day-shopping with friends. I feel for those merchants. Nice people, and these gang wars have destroyed their businesses and threatened their lives. Those hard working merchants in these border towns don't deserve this.

Anonymous said...


It's a darn shame. My mother taught school in El Paso years ago, when Juarez was just a quaint little town. People walked across the border -- a bridge, I think, to eat and shop. Now I think I read it is the murder capital of the country. So many innocent people at the mercy of a vicious few.

Pat Browning

Anne Patrick said...

Very fascinating article! My big brother taught me the importance of a solid grip when he gave me his shotgun to shoot, said it didn’t kick, and I almost dislocated my shoulder. The rabbit happily escaped with his life because my brother and his friend we on the ground laughing. I should’ve known something wasn’t kosher when he so willingly let little sis tag-a-long on the hunt.