Hollywood Is Not Real!
As I have grown older and perhaps a little wiser, I have found it more and more difficult to enjoy the endless stream of movies and television shows featuring gunfights and armed encounters. In their endless attempts to create interesting and emotionally charged storylines, they have taken armed encounters to level of stupidity and absurdity that destroys the credibility of the film/show for all reasonably informed and intelligent audience members. As you might imagine, my wife does not find me to be good company when watching such films/shows.
If uninformed people watch these scenarios, and they believe that they have any relevance to reality, then these people may engage in some dangerous behaviors in the real world. I do not expect the everyday citizen to truly understand the nature of an armed conflict. However, when citizens are constantly exposed to falsehoods and absurdities, they may start believing in tactics and practices that could have deadly consequences.
The purpose of this blog is to simply point out some of the most common mistakes and to explain why they are problematic. Without identifying specific films and television shows, I am sure that the reader will recognize many, if not all, of the scenarios discussed and explained.
1. “Mexican Standoffs”
The derogatory term ‘Mexican standoff” is commonly used to describe an encounter when two or more people are simultaneously pointing guns at one another, but no one shoots. And typically, the adversaries are standing out in the open with no concealment or cover. It is as if each one is thinking, “If you shoot me, then I will shoot you.”
Problems: In reality, gunfights start and end quickly. The first one to hit their target typically wins, and the one who hesitates or doesn’t fire is either injured and/or dead. In more than 35 years of policing, I never witnessed or even heard of such a standoff between adversaries. The reality is typically “I have to kill you before you kill me.” There is no negotiating or hesitation.
One reality of armed encounters is that action is faster than reaction. This means for anyone to react to another person, they must see what is happening, assess it, determine how to respond, and respond to it. Even if one knows what is going to happen and they already have their mind made up how to respond, there is still a delay in their response time.
The typical bullet travels a minimum of 1,000 feet per second (many with much higher velocities). However, the point is that when one person shoots at another person, the bullet is going to strike the target in a small fraction of a second. The idea that “if you shoot me, then I will shoot you” is ludicrous. By the time you would be able to react, a bullet will have torn through your body/head at such a speed and impact that your ability to make a decision and to carry out that decision would be impaired or gone. In an encounter where two people are pointing guns at one another, the one who shoots first and accurately wins. One who waits on the other to shoot first loses/dies.
2. “I’ve got the drop on you!”
We frequently see one person who is armed with a gun. S/He points the gun at someone else who is also armed with a gun. We are led to believe that the individual with his gun pointed at his enemy has “the drop on” him, and the one who is facing his enemy with his pistol pointed up or down is just out of luck. The one with the pistol pointed up or down typically gives up and does whatever s/he is told.
Problems: Action is faster than reaction. I have tested this for many years on civilians and law enforcement officers, and I have found that the suspect with his hands in the air holding a pistol, will be able to shoot his adversary almost every time (if s/he is able to shoot accurately).
Someone holding a handgun pointed up in the air or toward the ground is able to act (quickly point the pistol at the other person and fire a shot) before the other person can react. And this includes situations when everyone knows that the suspect is going to shoot his/her adversary. The action/reaction time still favors the one who makes the decision to shoot first.
3. “Hero steps into the doorway and picks off the bad guys.”
We have all seen the staged gunfights where our hero is being shot at by numerous trained, killers… many armed with automatic weapons. And our hero jumps out into the doorway and starts shooting and killing all of the bad guys. This happens so often that it is hard to think of an action movie where this does not happen.
Problems: I have tested this scenario with novices and first-time shooters who are armed with “nerf” guns. In every situation, our hero dies. If you were to substitute professionals with more realistic firearms, then the results would be the same. Police trainers refer to the doorway as the “Fatal Funnel.” If you have your firearm pointed at a doorway or window, and you are looking for a target, then it takes a split second to identify the target and accurately shoot it. On the other hand, our hero pops out and has to identify multiple assailants and engage each one individually. Unlike in movies when everyone stops to see what our hero is going to do next, the bad guys would kill him in a spit second.
4. “Put your gun down or I will shoot her/him!”
I am sure that you recognize this line from numerous “hostage” scenes where the bad guy threatens to shoot an impromptu hostage unless the good guy lays his weapon down. And of course, the good guy acquiesces to the demand and lays his weapon down. Now the bad guy is the only one with a gun, and he can easily kill the hostage and/or the good guy.
Problems: I believe that the problem is obvious. Now, the bad guy can kill everyone, including the good guy that put his pistol down. There are lots of other options other than putting the gun down. In the film “Taken” (Caution: spoiler alert), the father character, player by Liam Neeson demonstrates how to handle such an encounter. If you are in the same room with the bad guy, regardless of the hostage, you should be able to incapacitate the bad guy by putting a bullet in his head. If you lack the skill and will to do this, then another option would be to back out and find some cover and call for backup. Giving up a firearm under such circumstances would be the last thing anyone would want to do.
5. “He’s got a bulletproof vest… he is unstoppable!”
We have seen a number of encounters where someone is wearing a bulletproof vest, and despite being shot numerous times, the wearer survives and is unstoppable.
Problems: Soft body armor is not indestructible, and some types of bullets penetrate most vests. Unless there are ceramic or steel plates (or something similar), most rifle bullets, especially military rounds and high powered rounds, will penetrate most soft body armor.
Even if the body armor was indestructible, most professionals know that if shooting the body won’t stop them, then shoot them in the head. Many police tactical teams practice this principle: Two in the body… one in the head. Bulletproof vests do not make people unstoppable.
6. “Bullets stop when they make contact with…”
I have seen Hollywood gunfights where virtually everything stops bullets from penetrating and/or hurting people. I have seen pillows, mattresses, tables, sofas, windows, doors, walls, car doors, windshields, and human beings used to stop bullets. Apparently in Hollywood, everything stops bullets.
A particular movie that I enjoyed, showed our hero and his “date” being pursued by a professional hitman. The hitman was driving a vehicle and shooting at our hero and his date in their vehicle. At one point, our hero puts his vehicle, a stolen police car, into a spin and steps out of his car while it is spinning, but leaving his date in the car. Our hero then starts shooting repeatedly into the windshield and window of the hitman’s car. The hitman is behind the steering wheel, where all of us sit when driving a car. After exhausting one magazine, our hero reloads and empties another magazine into the suspect’s car. The windshield is shredded, but the hitman manages to back up and get away uninjured.
The idea of our hero stepping out of spinning vehicle creates many problems including why did the spinning vehicle not run over him? Where did it go after he stepped out leaving no driver in control of it? The special effects were cool… but in terms of reality, it was clearly fantasy.
In the real world, bullets tend to penetrate most things that they come in contact with. For example, I have worked shootings where a bullet passed through the body of one person and hit the person standing behind him. Depending on the bullet, caliber, distance, clothing, body type, and the body parts hit, a bullet may pass through a person and continue for some distance. In one case, I observed a bullet that passed all the way through a person’s head, then through a wall, across the room, and into the next wall. Human bodies are not good protection against bullets.
One of the most common myths from Hollywood is the idea that bullets skip off of windshields, and car doors, and windows stop bullets. Additionally, bullets fired at the back of a vehicle will never penetrate through the trunk or back window and hit the driver. This is so common on television and movies that the audience tends to just accept that it must be true. However, I have personally and professionally tested various vehicles to see how they hold up to different bullets fired at different angles and distances. I have also worked a number of murder cases where people inside of cars that were shot from the outside. The results were disturbing.
Overall, cars are very poor protection from bullets regardless of whether they are fired from the front, side, or rear of the vehicle. Bullets easily penetrate windshields, car windows, and car doors. In testing, I never had a bullet skip off of windshield or car window. They penetrated very well, and they continue at deadly trajectories and speeds. Car doors did not stop bullets unless the bullet just happened to strike a steel support in the door. When shooting randomly at a car door, about 80+% of the bullets penetrated through the car door and into the passenger area. (The bullets were “typical” street rounds that were available to the public including .38 specials, 9mm, 40 cal pistols, and various rifle rounds to include typical military issue rounds as well as some high powered rounds.)
Note: When someone is driving a vehicle, everyone, including the bad guys, knows where the driver is located… behind the steering wheel. If windshields and doors do not stop bullets, then why do the drivers survive? It is pure fiction to have multiple, trained, armed suspects firing numerous rounds into the driver side of a vehicle, and the driver gets away unharmed.
Relative to doors and walls, most bullets easily pass through these items. In our attempt to reduce the costs of these items, we have reduced their structural integrity and their ability to protect the people inside. I have seen where bullets have struck each of these, and in the majority of cases, the bullets were not stopped. Of course, there are some exceptions including concrete walls and steel reinforce doors, but they are the exception and not the rule. Most homes and apartments do not have features that will stop a bullet from penetrating doors or walls.
I would comment on pillows, sofas, mattresses, and similar objects stopping bullets, but I hope that the absurdity is obvious.
7. “Our heroes are shot and/or stabbed, yet they continue on without any apparent impairment.”
I am often reminded of the Monty Python movie with a knight declaring, “It’s just a flesh wound!” Time and time again I see our heroes shot in the arm, leg, abdomen, or shoulder, and they basically ignore it, and it seems to go away. They don’t go into shock, they don’t stop walking, running, and fighting… they just ignore it. Most recently, I saw a young woman on a show that had been impaled with an arrow. The arrow struck her about mid abdomen and penetrated out of her back. However, despite a wound that would not only be painful, but would have likely damaged her spinal column and done immense internal damage, she walked around shooting people with her pistol as though the arrow did not exist. I also recently saw a film where the hero was shot in the right shoulder with a rifle bullet, and 5 minutes later he was shooting a bow and arrow with pinpoint accuracy. Apparently, a bullet wound to the shoulder does not reduce one’s ability to shoot a bow and arrow.
Problems: There are times when adrenaline and emotional focus can overcome pain and injury for a short time. There are many cases where someone who was mortally wounded managed to kill others before succumbing to their injuries. However, in real life, it is painful and sometimes debilitating to get shot! Getting shot can shatter bones, sever arteries, veins, and nerves, and send the victim into shock. Nerve damage prevents arms and legs from working, and the body’s response to injury and pain in the abdomen can stop a person in their tracks. A stab wound, especially to the abdomen or chest area, can also result in critical injury and death. However, in Hollywood, getting shot or stabbed does not have immediate or long-term consequences.
8. “Hitmen on Motorcycles!”
Over the past few years, we have seen the advent of a new phenomenon… hitmen on motorcycles. In several high-profile movies, we have seen multiple hitmen riding motorcycles to carry out their murderous schemes. They typically ride their street bikes at high speeds while dodging numerous obstacles while also carrying, aiming, and shooting automatic weapons. These are not the James Bond motorcycles with mounted rocket launchers. These are simply bad guys riding motorcycles while trying to carry out a hit on a target.
Problems: In addition to my law enforcement and academic background, I have been a motorcycle rider/enthusiast for many years. Riding a motorcycle, especially at high speeds around various obstacles, requires the use of both hands. The left hand is the clutch, and it is required to be used when shifting gears… speeding up and slowing down. The right hand is the throttle (accelerator in non-motorcycle terms), and changing speeds requires manually engaging the throttle. As a result, both hands of the motorcyclist are engaged in driving the motorcycle. Even though some motorcycles have cruise control, it is extremely cumbersome and unlikely that someone would choose a motorcycle as a platform to shoot automatic weapons. And, I cannot emphasize enough the fact that motorcycles are less stable that cars, and when cars and motorcycles collide, the car wins!
9. “Someone racks a bullet in the chamber!”
A good guy or bad guy is preparing for an armed encounter with an opponent. Just as s/he is about ready, s/he racks a round into the chamber of the pistol they are holding.
Problems: I realize that this action helps to increase the emotional impact of the moment with the clear signal that this character is about to engage in a gunfight with someone else. However, it ignores something that virtually all gun enthusiasts know about semiautomatic pistols. If someone has to stop and chamber a round in the pistol, then this means that they have been carrying a pistol without a bullet in the chamber. In other words, prior to engaging in this action, they have been carrying “an empty” pistol that was unable to fire a bullet. Our law enforcement officers, secret agents, and even our bad guys are not so ignorant as to carry around pistols with empty chambers.
10. “Don’t kill the hero when you have the chance!”
I just completed watching another film where the hero has killed multiple bad guys, and now our hero has been overpowered by multiple bad guys, and he is essentially helpless to defend himself. He could have been easily dispatched by any one of a number of bad guys with guns. But for some reason, the bad guys did not kill him. Of course, our hero escapes, is nursed back to health, and he returns to take revenge on the evil doers. This is so common that is has become a cliché.
Problems: In real life bad guys are not that stupid! If someone has killed their friends, then they tend to kill their adversary by whatever means are immediately available. They do not dream up complicated schemes, as in James Bond movies, or let someone go free so that they can be haunted by their memories. I have seen cases where the bad guys mistaken thought that the adversary was dead, and I have seen sadistic perpetrators who tortured their victims. But I have never seen murderers set up a fatal situation for a victim when all they had to do was shoot him, or just randomly decide to let him live.
11. “Tasers and Stun Guns”
In many films, I have seen individuals reduced to a writhing, quivering body mass incapable of moving or speaking after being shot with a Taser type of device or being zapped with a stun gun. The stun gun is typically placed around the neck area, and when activated, it emits an electric crackling sound. The victim becomes completely immobilized, and the effects last for about ten minutes or more. With a Taser or similar device, the results are the same, but it can be deployed at short distances. As a result, people watching such films have very high expectations relative to the power and impact of electronic control devices.
Problems: The portrayal of these devices and their effects are Hollywood fabrications. I first tested stun guns more than 40 years ago. The newer ones have more power, but the effects are still very similar. They cause a great deal of pain, and they override the electric impulses between the brain and the voluntary muscle structure. They are particularly effective if a stun gun is applied to lower back area while holding the subject so that s/he cannot get away. As long as the electric impulses are being administered, it affects the nerves. Once the electric impulses are no longer being applied, the person regains full mental and physical control almost immediately.
This principle is also similar with electronic control devices that fire out probes. These typically apply a charge to the subject for a 5 second period. Once the device stops applying the charge, the subject regains full mental and physical control immediately. Of course, the person controlling the electronic control device can administer another 5 second charge, but the overall impact is the same. As soon as the charge stops, the person regains their abilities immediately.
Note: I have personal experience being shocked with a stun gun multiple times and being shot with a Taser (the longest 5 seconds of my life), and I can attest that recovery is immediate when the electric charge is no longer being administered. I was also a Taser instructor in my past life, and I have seen it administered to numerous police officers, and a few news reporters.
This week, I watched a western show with multiple "robbers" riding their horses and shooting at one man who was driving a wagon. The men were shooting their pistols, repeatedly, at the driver. The driver eventually shot and killed two of the robbers with a double barrel shotgun. The driver then stopped his wagon, got down from the wagon, and retrieved a rifle that was in a case. The driver then ran out into a grass field and took the rifle, with a scope, out of the case. The robbers then rode their horses toward the driver, and he shot them with his rifle.
In the original pursuit, the robbers were shooting at the driver of the wagon, but the wagon had a large cover on the rear that prevented the robbers from being able to see the driver. I doubt that the robbers would have wasted so much ammunition if they were unable to see their target/driver. And of course, they shot many rounds, and magically, none of the bullets hit their target. It is also worth noting that once the driver had fired two rounds, the shotgun was basically empty, and the driver would have been an easy target if the bad guys had simply ridden up and shot him.
There is no explanation as to why the robbers allowed the driver to pull over and stop the wagon, and then exit the wagon, and take firearms into grass field nearby. It would seem to me that when the driver pulled over, the robbers would shoot him full of holes. But for some reason, they did not confront the driver, and they allowed him to stop, arm himself, and move to another location where he was partially obscured by the high grass. Once the driver had his rifle and scope out, the robbers then decided to ride at him where he was able to shoot them one at a time. Just because they are bad guys does not mean that they are idiots.
Overall Summary: Hollywood is not a training ground for armed encounters, and they must show our heroes overcoming insurmountable odds to emerge victorious. All of us enjoy a good revenge movie! I understand that the Hollywood mission is to entertain and make a lot of money in the process. To be successful, they take artistic license with their actors and special effects to make movies and television shows that appeal to the viewing public. Their mission is not to represent reality or even common sense.
When people with no actual training or experience in armed encounters watch situations and scenarios played out repeatedly with successful results, they are prone to start believing that it bears some semblance to reality. As a result, when faced with “real Life” situations, they may apply some of these Hollywood tactics and strategies in an attempt to survive and overcome an armed threat. The results could be disastrous.
If you have a genuine interest in learning about armed encounters, then you need to find a course/instructor that covers basic firearms safety, legal issues relative to the use of force to defend yourself and/or others, and some basic strategies relative to surviving armed encounters. This may significantly reduce your enjoyment of movies and television, but understanding that Hollywood is not real may save your life!