At some point, many reporters and writers are likely to be describing firearms of all kinds, whether in a crime report, a feature or a fictional account.
Yet many of these writers may never have even touched a firearm, but they will be expected to write as if they have.
Having reported many armed robberies, shootings and other violent crimes, I’ve found a little precision goes a long way to preventing mistakes (and embarrassment) when writing about firearms, so here’s a few tips for the uninitiated:
- a handgun is a weapon, a hand-held firearm that can fire from (one of) single shot, semi-automatic or automatic mode
- rifles and shotguns (also referred to as longarms) are fired from the shoulder and, like handguns, can be fired from a single-shot, semi-automatic or automatic mode
- there are many different handguns, rifles and shotguns
- NB: In Australia, you must be licensed and an adult to own any sort of firearm and such weapons must have secure storage when not in use (Wikipedia has a list of the requirements for different classes of firearms)
- NB: in Australia, automatic handguns and longarms are outlawed; semi-automatic and some pump-action longarms are heavily restricted; pressure is building to ban semi-automatic handguns; and military firearms and other weaponry are not permitted to be owned or used by civilians
- firearms of all sizes typically shoot cartridges which each contain a bullet, casing/shell, a propellant (such as gunpowder or cordite) and primer
- air rifles and air pistols, collectively known as air guns, use compressed air or other gas to propel pellets or birdshot (small balls, usually made of lead)
- there are no such things as live bullets nor empty bullets, but – after firing – there are such things as spent bullets and spent cartridges
- some firearms hold multiple cartridges in a magazine
- a handgun that fires from cartridges contained in a revolving cylinder is called a revolver
- a non-revolving handgun is referred to as a pistol
- with the exception of air rifles, which are air- or gas-propelled, longarms rely on cartridges that are made up of projectiles (bullets or lead shot), casings, propellant such as gunpowder, and primer
- shotguns use a self-contained cartridge known as a shotgun shell that contains lead shot or a slug, propellant such as gunpowder and primer
- shotguns are most commonly described by the size of the bore or gauge of their shells
- rifles and handguns are typically described by the calibre of their barrels
It’s also worth noting that, in Australia, during the commission of a crime such as a hold-up, the law considers the production of a replica firearm – or the perceived threat from a concealed replica – is equivalent to brandishing the real item.
If you’re interested in learning more about firearms control and policy in Australia, a report on the Australian Institute of Criminology’s statistical information and analysis is accessible online.
If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters