Firearms 101: Writing Guns and You!

The Purpose of this Guide:

The purpose of this guide is to give you a crash course into firearms: how to handle them, certain firearms' function, and the variances within firearms, alongside a guide on how the bullets inside these firearms work.


To preface this article, I, Don, would like to point out that I am neither currently, nor formerly, associated with any police division or military branch. I have gathered much of this knowledge from personal experience through three combined years of firearm activism and quite honestly have taken only two classes related to the following subject. I am not a subject matter expert, just someone who is well read on many of these topics. Like anyone else, I can improve upon my skills. Anyone can call themselves an expert. It takes someone with true skill to call themselves an actual one. If anyone is interested in some of the work that I've done related to this community, I will provide links below. Everything in this article will carry a citation to where I received this information. I am also not here to start an internet flame war on why firearms are good or bad, just to explain their function.

The Four Rules of Firearm Safety:

Moving on, within the firearm community, there are an accepted four rules of firearm safety in hunting (specifically, civilian), military, and the law enforcement world. They are:

  1. All guns are always loaded. (Can also be substituted for "Always Know the Condition of Your Weapon")6
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

The five rules of firearm safety, as shown by my state firearm rights organization.

Now, as a writer why are these rules important and why do they apply to something like a fictitious world such as RPC? In general, a character that is breaking these rules can be presented as reckless, stupid, or actively trying to kill you. In the case of writing an MST or ASF unit, these rules would be drilled into training and anyone caught breaking these rules would at best be written up for a safety violation on the range, and at worst beaten unconscious for endangering the lives of others.

That aside…

How Bullets Work:

With minor variations, many late-18th century and modern day firearms share similar function in the objects that go into them, with the rounds that enter pistols and rifles being called "bullets". When describing shotguns, these rounds are called "shells" named for its cosmetic variation versus something like a rifle or pistol bullet.


The basic components of most ammunition consist of the case, the primer, and the projectile, or bullet. In the case of shotgun shells, rounds such as birdshot consist of a wad.7

Case: The case is the container that holds all the other ammunition components together. It’s usually made of brass, steel, copper, paper, or plastic.

Gunpowder: A chemical mixture that burns rapidly and converts to an expanding gas when ignited. Modern smokeless powder will burn slowly when ignited in the open (outside of the case). Black powder is less stable and can be explosive when impacted or ignited in the open.

Primer: An explosive chemical compound that ignites the gunpowder when struck by a firing pin. Primer may be placed either in the rim of the case (rimfire) or in the center of the base of the case (centerfire).

Projectile/Bullet: The object(s) expelled from the barrel. A bullet is a projectile, usually containing lead, fired through a rifle or handgun barrel. A slug is a solid projectile, usually of lead, fired through a shotgun barrel. Shot is a group of lead, steel, tungsten alloy, or bismuth pellets fired through a shotgun barrel.

Wad: A seal and/or shot container made of paper or plastic separating the powder from the slug or shot in a shotshell. The wad prevents gas from escaping through the shot and holds the shot together as it passes through the barrel. This is often observed with birdshot shells.

How Firearms Function:

Firearms are categorized by their functioning cycle or "action" which describes its loading, firing, and unloading cycle.8 The basic idea is that a trigger is pulled causing a firing pin to slam itself against the round's primer, causing a miniature explosion which launches the bullet as seen here.

Firearm Actions and Firearm Variations Explained:

What is a firearm action? From Wikipedia9, “In firearms terminology, an action is the functional mechanism of a breech-loading weapon that handles the ammunition, or the method by which that mechanism works.” There are different types of firearm actions, all dependent on the time period you’re working on. Your mid-19th century to late 19th century rifle actions are most likely going to be bolt, with weapons before that being breech, dropping, tilting, falling, and hinged action. For the sake of simplicity, my sanity, and to decrease confusion. I will only go over the most common type of firearms within the average *American* civilian's arsenal, alongside the most common types of weapons among police and military forces.

Bolt Action: A bolt action firearm10 is a manual operation firearm that requires the individual to pull the bolt back, often colloquially referred to as “racking the bolt” which releases the spent casing after being fired and rechambering a new round. These kinds of weapons are popular among the hunting community and are often times the only available types of weapons within European countries and countries with gun control laws such as Australia. Their use can also be seen with specific sniper units among law enforcement and military communities, such as SWAT or the United States Marine Corps' Force Recon, however a very large switch is being made to replace many of these weapons to much more modern semi-automatic rifles for the purposes of standardization. These weapons are often the preference for those in reconnaissance units due to how lightweight they are in comparison to their semi automatic counterparts.

Break Action: A break action is a type of firearm11 action in which the barrel or barrels are hinged much like a door and rotate perpendicularly to the bore axis to expose the breech and allow loading and unloading of cartridges. A separate operation may be required for the cocking of a hammer to fire the new round. A very large and noticeable disadvantage in arming a character in one of these in a modern setting is that (unless they are that skilled) semi automatic firearms exist, rendering said character outgunned immediately. Within the United States (and in countries with heavy gun control laws like the ones in Europe), these firearms are most commonly used within the civilian hunting community. With shotguns, you will often see these break action firearms introduce themselves in weapons like single shot shotguns or even weapons like over under shotguns.

Pump Action: Pump-action or slide-action is a repeating firearm action that is operated manually by moving a sliding handguard on the gun's forestock. When shooting, the sliding forend is pulled rearward to eject any expended cartridge, and then pushed forward to cock the hammer/striker and load a new round of cartridge into the chamber. Most pump-action firearms use an integral tubular magazine, although some do use detachable box magazines.12 A firearm with a pump action, most notably your standard shotguns are shotguns which require the user to manually pull back or "rack" the round into the chamber. After being fired, the user of this shotgun is required to pull the forend back, ejecting the spent round, and pushing the forend forward in order to rechamber a new round. Pump action shotguns are commonly seen in American civilian households as they are seen by many as adequate for home defense and easy to use. Law enforcement and military forces often use a variant of these "less than lethal" weapons that can be loaded with beanbag rounds or rubber bullets which can be used to incapacitate an individual that is not complying with orders. Pump action shotguns often times have a internal magazine within them that holds more shells, but it is not unheard of to hear of box fed magazines as is the case with the Mossberg 590M models.

Single Shot: Single-shot firearms are firearms13 that hold only a single round of ammunition, and must be reloaded after each shot. An obvious disadvantage to these type of firearms is that they, well, hold only one round within them and must have the round inside it be ejected and reloaded every time it is fired. In this author's experience, you will often see these weapons in the hands of hunters and new firearm owners. These firearms work best if you want to put a character in a precarious position or show their inhuman skills of firearm manipulation.

Double Action: Double action (or double-action)14 refers to one of two systems in firearms where the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer. There are many variations of this type of firearm such as in firearms made by Sig Sauer called, "Double Action Kellerman" which carries a heavier trigger pull when fired, and will have a lighter trigger pull when the next round is chambered. A traditional double action firearm trigger combines the features of both a double action only and single action trigger. A revolver in this configuration for instance, can be fired with the hammer forward or cocked backward. A Colt 1911 on the other requires its hammer to be back before being fired.

Semi-Automatic: A semi-automatic firearm, also called self-loading firearm or autoloading firearm (though fully automatic and selective fire firearms are also self-loading), is one whose action mechanism automatically loads a following round of cartridge into the chamber (self-loading) and prepares it for subsequent firing, but requires the shooter to manually actuate the trigger in order to discharge each shot.15 Rather than requiring the user manually load a new round into the chamber, the shooter in question only is required to load the ammunition container, oftentimes this is going to be some kind of magazine system as in the case of an AR-15 variant. A semi automatic firearm can only fire one round per trigger pull and will often be the firearm seen in the hands of most police forces, with these weapons able to be seen in the hands as sidearms in the hands of military personnel alongside American civilians that have the ability to own one. These weapons are much easier to control in the semi automatic or "single shot" form and are extremely accurate out to ranges as far as 550 meters in the case of the AR-15. More likely than not, your standard grade ASF officer is carrying some form of a semi automatic pistol or has their rifle in semi automatic for ease of accuracy and use.

Automatic: An automatic firearm is a firearm capable of automatically cycling the shooting process, without needing any more manual operation from the user than simply keeping a trigger depressed. The action of an automatic firearm is capable of harvesting the excess energy released from a previous discharge to feed a new ammunition round into the chamber, and then ignite the propellant and discharge the projectile (either bullet, shots or slug) by delivering a hammer/striker impact on the primer.16 Unlike its semi automatic counterpart, an automatic firearm can fire as many rounds as it can carry, with more than one round being fired as long shooter in question is holding down the trigger. This form of fire is often used as a means of suppressing the enemy or wasting ammo for fun.

Burst: In automatic firearms, burst mode or burst-fire is a firing mode enabling the shooter to fire a predetermined number of rounds, usually two or three rounds on hand held weapons and 50-100+ on anti-aircraft weapons and autocannons, with a single pull of the trigger. This firing mode is commonly used in submachine guns and assault rifles. Other types of firearms, such as machine pistols, e.g., the Beretta 93R may also have a burst mode.17 A derivative of the automatic style, a burst fire weapon fires a select number of rounds before the trigger resets, requiring the shooter in question to reset the trigger, and then pull it back, creating (in the case of the M16A3) a three round burst or in the case of the AN-94 Russian assault rifle a two round burst. If full auto is not available, this fire mode helps to mitigate recoil.

Firearm Training as it Applies to RPC:

Given that the RPC selects from the best and brightest in order to find intelligence agents, MST soldiers, and ASF officers your average scientist wouldn't need to be trained in the handling of firearms, however given the type of work the Authority does, it wouldn't be out of place to have a scientist or intelligence agent that has knowledge of how firearms work. Also, given the danger of outside threats, the Authority would most likely have the only individuals armed at sites either be MST soldiers or ASF officers. These individuals would have to have proven themselves to not be a threat to themselves or others, carry a high level of firearms proficiency, and be constantly improving themselves in not just how to create holes, but also stop them by carrying an IFAK18, in order to treat possible wounded.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License