image of brass-colored rounds in a magazine
Image credit to Will Porada on Unsplash.

As a copyeditor, I do a lot of fact-checking for the manuscripts I work with. I’ve attended the Writers’ Police Academy twice, where I took hands-on classes from law enforcement experts. Today I’d like to offer a few tips for getting weapon information right while writing crime fiction or any story that involves weapons.

  • Magazines vs Clips: Almost every firearm you’ll use in a story will have a magazine, not a clip. All handguns and most long guns use ejectable magazines. A clip is only used with firearms that contain an internal magazine, which is rare. For a good write-up and visual references, see this link.
  • Bullet vs Round: A round of ammunition isn’t called a bullet until it leaves the gun. A round is loaded into a firearm (usually via its magazine), and it consists of a bullet enclosed in a casing that also contains a propellant (gunpowder) and a primer. When a weapon is fired, the primer ignites the propellant, and the pressure breaks apart the round, ejects the casing, and fires the bullet. You can use round in place of bullet during or after firing [Detective Smith fired a round at the suspect], but you cannot use bullet in place of round before the round is fired. In a nutshell: rounds go in, bullets come out.
  • Tasers and Stun Guns: Tasers and stun guns do not generally cause loss of consciousness, nor the release of bodily fluids or excrement (this is physically impossible while the body’s muscles are contracted). Stun guns that the average civilian can buy are very weak. They may stop someone from doing what they’re doing, but only as long as the contacts are touching them. They also have timeouts, so you can’t continually stun someone for a long time. Police-issue Tasers, when used properly, will not knock a person out either. They generally have only two cartridges, and each cartridge has a five-second timeout. After those five seconds, the body is completely back to normal. The charge causes all the muscles in the body to constrict and become unusable, so the purpose is to allow an officer to temporarily restrict a suspect’s movement. Misuse and underlying health conditions can cause more severe effects, but writers should know that a character can’t just shoot someone with a Taser to knock them out.

I hope this is helpful to writers out there, and for more information on the Writers’ Police Academy, visit writerspoliceacademy.com.

Lisa Gilliam has been editing and proofreading fiction professionally since 2015. She has attended the Writers’ Police Academy twice (in 2017 and 2018), where she took various courses taught by law enforcement, EMTs, firefighters, and scientists that help with realism and fact-checking in stories that involve law enforcement or weapons.

Lisa works with indie authors as well as large and small presses. She’s a member of the Association of Independent Publishing Professionals (AIPP) and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), currently serving as coordinator for the EFA’s Michigan chapter.

She specializes in all genres of crime fiction, science fiction, and fantasy.

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