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Top 10 Gun Myths

One shotgun blast can clear an entire room. All guns are assault rifles. See our top 10 gun myths that keep getting perpetuated by movies and media.

One shotgun blast can clear an entire room.

All guns are assault rifles that shoot 30 clips per second.

The gun show loophole arms all the baddies.

Let’s go over our top 10 gun myths that keep getting perpetuated by Hollywood and the media.

Myth #1: Guns make people fly

Zen Question #1: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Zen Question #2: If a hunter in the forest shoots a deer, does it fall down, or does it fly backwards into the brush?

The first one is a mystery, but any hunter will tell you the deer simply drops dead.

Ask any Hollywood director, on the other hand, and they’ll tell you that physics don’t sell tickets.

Last Man Standing, idkfa
Last Man Standing, idkfa

Bad guys never just drop dead in action movies: they get blown away, usually into something behind them like a passing semi, or the jaws of a shark, or an airplane propeller, or a giant vat of acid, or some power lines…

While it may look cool, it’s a myth.  It doesn’t happen in RL.  And extra points for unlimited ammo.

Robert Rodriguez is big fan of the blown away myth, and it shows in the first shootout in Desperado, where Antonio Banderas tosses scumbags around like ragdolls…

Desperado First Shootout
Desperado First Shootout

But it’s all just movie magic.

When somebody gets shot in real life, they either drop to the ground or stay standing.

They don’t get blown away…why not?

A bullet has a lot of velocity, but it has very little mass, definitely not enough to push a human body backwards.

As the FBI’s Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness manual puts it: “The impact of the bullet upon the body is no more than the recoil of the weapon. The ratio of bullet mass to target mass is too extreme.”

If Hollywood physics were a thing, you’d get thrown backwards every time you fired a gun.

Myth #2: Guns are antisocial

Go to any range—indoor or out—and you’ll find people interacting.

Angeles Shooting Range Stations
Angeles Shooting Range Stations

Most gun enthusiasts are eager to share advice, expertise and just about anything else we’ve got on us.

“Ran out of .22s?  Here, grab a few.”

“How about a semi-auto 12 gauge?  Here…but mind your shoulder.”

Public shooting ranges, local rod and gun clubs, and competitive shooting leagues—like bowling leagues but for gun nuts—number in the hundreds to thousands.

Nearly every town, city and backwater county has places to shoot and its own local organizations of shooting junkies.  Shooting’s even an Olympic sport.

Many of these organizations sponsor social events and firearms education and training, too.

Sessions for women, teenagers and first-time gun owners have become popular.

A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League, for example, has active chapters nationwide. Corporations are even using shooting events as team-building exercises.

Myth #3: Gun owners have guns so they can kill things

The new millennium brought a decisive shift away from hunting, and data from the Pew Research Center confirms it:

  • In the 1990s, about half of all gun-owning households had firearms primarily for hunting while a quarter cited protection.
  • Recent statistics show that easily half of all gun owners now have firearms primarily for protection, or self-defense.

In fact, declining gun ownership has been attributed to a decrease in hunting, which is now at an all-time low.

California Boar Hunting Land
California Boar Hunting Land

Meanwhile, target shooting, competition, collecting and hobbyists consistently account for the remainder of gun owners.

By the way, for many areas, hunters are an important part of managing certain wildlife populations.

Think overpopulation, starvation and environmental damage.  Responsible hunting focuses on age, not antlers, and hunters will be the first people to tell you that.

Myth #4: Guns go off when dropped

This is one of those myths I used to believe, to my undying shame.

Remember that scene in True Lies when Jamie Lee Curtis’ character drops a MAC-10 down a staircase and slays a warehouse full of terrorists by happy accident?  Just in case you forgot (excuse the poor quality):

True Lies, Gun Falling Down Stairs
True Lies, Gun Falling Down Stairs

Modern guns just don’t act this way. The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires that all new gun models pass very stringent drop-safety tests plus a battery of other tests to ensure they perform as desired.

But older guns like the MAC-10, which was designed in 1964 before drop-safety tests were mandatory, are another story.

The Sten submachine guns used by the British during that little gentlemen’s disagreement known as World War II were so prone to going off when they were dropped the Brits would chuck them into rooms packed with Germans and just let mechanical failure do the hard job of killing Nazis (according to legend).

Sten Submachine Gun
Sten Submachine Gun

Modern drop-safety tests are not foolproof, but they do make sure that 99.99% of the time, a dropped gun will not go off, even if the hammer’s cocked, even if the safety’s off.

Obviously, you should try not to drop your guns, but you should never, ever, ever try to catch your gun if you do accidentally drop it.

Trying to catch a falling gun is like trying to catch a falling knife.  You’re much more likely to hurt yourself or somebody else by trying to stop a gun from hitting the ground than you are by just letting it drop.

Myth #5: Gun owners are all old conservative white men

Well, I’m living proof that that’s not true, and increasing numbers of women, millennials, minorities, professionals and hipsters as well as tree-hugging liberals fully support the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Generic College Diversity Picture
Generic College Diversity Picture

A diverse assortment of individuals are joining existing gun enthusiast groups, founding new chapters or forming new organizations.

A visit to The Liberal Gun Club quickly led me to Blue Steel Democrats, the Liberal Gun Owners Association and the Pink Pistols.

Thriving, the National African American Gun Association celebrated its first year anniversary in 2016.

Shooting Associations
Shooting Associations

Granted, the NRA is a major presence, and it’s traditionally been associated with the conservative right.  But, it’s not the only game in town, and it’s not the only organization concerned with preserving our constitutional right to possess—and respect—firearms.

Myth #6: All bullets are the same

Big surprise…anti-gun advocates usually put all bullets in the same basket or demonize certain kinds of bullets as “worse” than others.

Not all bullets are the same because they don’t all do the same thing.

No bullet is any “better” or “worse” than others, it just depends on what you’re using them for.

All bullets are different, and all bullets are created equal, just like us.

People focus on caliber, but all that really means is the width, or diameter, of the bullet itself.  They’re measured as decimal fractions of an inch or meter, so a .22 is actually 22 hundredths of an inch wide, for example.

More Common Bullet Calibers
More Common Bullet Calibers

The more telling figure is the grain—the weight of that bullet.  For reference, 1 pound is divided into 7000 grains.

147 vs 115 gr 9mm
147 vs 115 gr 9mm

As a rule, lighter grains have greater velocity but less penetrating power while heavier grains are slower but more likely to penetrate.

Despite identical caliber and grain, however, the type of bullet matters quite a bit:

5.56 FMJ vs Open Tip vs Ballistic Tip, Side
5.56 FMJ vs Open Tip vs Ballistic Tip, Side
  • Full metal jackets (FMJs) are inexpensive rounds that are good for long-distance target practice but can penetrate living targets and keep going.
  • Open tips are similar to FMJs but are superior in precision, with a small jacket opening at the tip rather than the base. Open tips are not the same as hollow points.
  • Soft points are essentially open tips with a lead tip extending out of the jacket. The lead extension flattens somewhat on impact but not like a hollow point does.
  • Hollow points have a large opening in the tip that makes the bullet peel open and expand on impact. Hollow points don’t pass through targets. They’re typically the preferred choice for defensive handgun rounds.
  • Ballistic tips are basically hollow points with a nifty aerodynamic polymer tip. You still have that impressive bullet expansion on impact, but the aerodynamic tip conveys greater impact and accuracy at longer ranges.

Just for fun, don’t forget shot, the stuff that puts the “shot” in shotgun: those bunches of little, often steel, spheres packed in a cartridge.

12 ga Birdshot
12 ga Birdshot

All bullets are different so understanding what you’re loading to shoot for fun on the range versus home defense versus hunting really, really matters.

Even more stuff in our full Caliber Guide.

Myth #7: Shotguns never miss

There’s a common belief that you don’t really have to aim a shotgun.

Just point it in the general direction of the target, make it go boom and nothing is left standing.

You can see buckshot (our recommended shotgun self-defense ammo) at 10 yards…

Buckshot Spread, Shootersforum
Buckshot Spread, Shootersforum

Imagine trying to spread butter on toast with a shotgun.

You can’t just aim in the general direction of the toast and expect it to hit.  You have to hit the toast precisely to get the right “spread.”  Otherwise, you won’t get any butter on your toast, and who likes that?

But movies tend to make spreading butter on toast look easy.

Check out this shotgun blast compilation from John Woo’s films for a good demonstration of the “wand of death” myth.

John Woo Wand of Death
John Woo Wand of Death

Or this scene from Once Upon a Time in Mexico where Antonio Banderas’ character blows out both kneecaps of the corrupt El Presidente with one blast from his double-barrel shotgun.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Double Barreled Shotgun
Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Double Barreled Shotgun

Well, it’s a double­-barreled shotgun, so it should be able to hit two targets at once, right?


As the wise and venerable Hickok45 says, shooting a shotgun is really like throwing baseballs.

Have you ever tried to dunk a clown at a county fair by getting a softball through a 3-inch hole at 15 feet?

It’s hard.

For one thing, that clown (or home intruder) is absolutely terrifying, and if you miss you might not get another chance.

Good aim matters just as much, maybe even more, when firing a shotgun than an AR-type rifle firing 5.56 or 7.62mm rounds.

If you haven’t already, watch Hickok45’s video comparing double-barrel shotguns vs. AR-type rifles for home defense.

It’s eye-opening, especially if you’ve been raised on action movies where the shotgun is a wand of death that can clear a room full of bad guys with one squeeze of the trigger.

Myth #8: All scary looking guns are fully-automatic assault rifles

This is a biggie.

That term semi-automatic is a literal trigger word.

A lot of people explain it as one squeeze of the trigger equals one bullet.

It’s a bit more than that, but the most important thing is that semi-automatic weapons are not automatic weapons (actual assault rifles).  Automatic weapons have one more switch so they can *Pew Pew Pew*.

Pew Pew Lower
Pew Pew Lower

Semis shoot one shot per trigger pull versus an automatic which keeps firing as long as you keep the trigger squeezed.

Perhaps the most popular and notorious semi-automatic weapon is the AR-15, which has become a myth in its own right thanks to media mis-identification.

Too often, the rule is when in doubt, call an AR an “assault rifle,” when in fact it stands for “Armalite Rifle,” after the ArmaLite company which originally designed the AR platform.

The terms “assault weapon” and “assault rifle” make people think these weapons are automatics when they are not: they’re semis.

Civilian access to automatic weapons in the US has been severely restricted since the National Firearms Act of 1934.  But since the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, regulation of semi-automatic firearms termed “assault weapons,” has resided primarily with the states.

Seven states—California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York—and the District of Columbia ban what they defined as “assault weapons,” and Virginia and Minnesota regulate them as well.

Myth #9: The gun show loophole is causing mass shootings

What has become known as the “gun show loophole” really ought to be called the “private sale background check loophole.”  If nothing else, it again brings to light the extreme complexities of firearms regulation.

Welcome to the Gun Show
Welcome to the Gun Show

First, federal law mandates that firearms retailers—individuals in the business of selling firearms—must:

  • Have a Federal Firearms License (FFL)
  • Perform background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

This applies to brick-and-mortar store sellers, Internet dealers and the majority of dealers attending gun shows—any retailer in the business of selling firearms.

The concern centers on private individuals who want to sell, exchange, gift or otherwise transfer a single gun or collection privately.

Those private sellers aren’t required to be federally licensed, but they are prohibited from knowingly selling to someone prohibited from having a firearm.

The fear is two-fold:

  • First, what if hobbyists with the occasional online listing or end of a table are in fact dealing in more than the occasional onesie-twosie?
  • Second, won’t unstable or prohibited individuals seek out peer-to-peer transactions—at shows or online—to acquire weapons?

It’s not as easy as it sounds, however.

Gun shows incorporate local, state and often federal law enforcement presence to monitor sales and intervene in any potentially unlawful transactions.

The vast majority of dealers at gun shows are just that—registered, licensed dealers promoting their legal business.

Online, private individuals within the same state can use the Internet to make arrangements for a firearms transfer.  However, any transaction that crosses state lines must go through a federally licensed retailer, complete with federal paperwork and background check.

So, how do most criminals and mass shooters get their weapons?

Well, a recent joint Harvard-Northeastern University study estimates that 400,000 guns are stolen annually, nearly double previous statistics yet still not as high as some estimates that would place it at one gun stolen per minute.

But even more prevalent, interestingly enough, shooters and other armed criminals typically use firearms that are obtained legally—by themselves or by others for them, also known as straw purchases:

Which all leads me to my final myth…

Myth #10: Gun owners don’t care about gun safety

Few people respect the capabilities and responsibilities inherent in gun ownership more than gun owners do themselves.

Those shooting ranges and gun clubs I mentioned earlier have safety rules, training sessions and often on-site safety officers to ensure responsible gun handling.

4 Rules of Firearm Safety
4 Rules of Firearm Safety

Want to get thrown out of a place or banned for life?

Just try something stupid, careless or irresponsible at a range.  Simply failing to wear ear protection is enough.

As for retailers, responsible firearms retailers value their license to deal, so they file the background checks and follow the rules. In March of 2016, for example, an Ohio gun store owner refused to sell a gun to an angry Ohio University student despite an approved background check; law enforcement later credited the store owner with preventing a likely mass shooting.

In short, no one wants to achieve infamy as the one who sold the gun when authorities and the media ask, “How did the shooter get the gun?”

Killed No One
Killed No One

As for diverted sales and unethical practices, those dealers have gone over to the criminal dark side, opening themselves to prosecution.

Even when it comes to additional legislation, Pew Research Center polls seem to show repeatedly that the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats favor background checks.

Where the two paths often diverge is when it comes to comprehensive databases tracking gun ownership and flat-out bans on firearms ownership.

Essentially, everyone wants safety and safe practices. There are just a lot of conflicting ideas about how to accomplish that.

Just the Facts

We want you to be safe, too, and a big part of that is educating yourself.

After all, your firearm is ultimately a weapon.

Know the ins and outs of its care, its use and everything else you can learn about it.  Take those training classes certain in the knowledge that old hands will respect your desire to learn.

In addition, educate yourself with the facts about public policy and your state’s legislation.  What you learn may surprise you, but—more important—it’ll keep you safe and legal.

Did we miss any big firearm myths?

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9 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    I also love the mandatory slide racking sound whenever a tv or movie character pulls out a gun. That drives me nuts!

    February 23, 2017 3:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Gotta make sure it's still loaded...lol!

      February 23, 2017 8:20 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    okay, grumpy older guy here with the gun factoid of the day...I'm pretty sure that no "assault rifle" has ever been clip fed. The AR-15, nor any of its derivatives have never, ever used a clip. For you younger folks...an AR-15 type rifle uses a magazine to feed the ammunition...not a clip...For a clip fed action, please see the M1 Garand...okay...grumpy older guy is done schooling you young folk

    February 3, 2017 12:12 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      In the military you feed your mags with clips.

      April 12, 2018 4:34 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Very informative article and I enjoyed reading it.

    In Myth #6: All bullets are the same, the example references a .22 caliber as 22 thousands of an inch seems to be incorrect. 22 thousands of an inch is less than 1mm.

    January 29, 2017 7:52 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Yup, thanks for catching that!

      February 7, 2017 7:43 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      The article says ".22 hundredths of an inch"

      January 5, 2020 7:23 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      If they used the word "thousanths" (not thousands) they should have said 220.
      For the fraction crowd, about 7/32"

      September 3, 2020 3:06 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        thousandths (damn phone)

        September 3, 2020 3:08 pm
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