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Posted on April 19, 2014

I'm not an expert on firearms, but I have the good fortune of having a retired military person in my family. Below are the email exchanges about some gun questions I had. I thought readers would find this interesting.

My first email:

Writing a scene in the second book of my zombie series and Nathan is going to pull a handgun from a zombie soldier attacking him. Would the standard handgun be a Beretta M9? If so, where is the safety on it and how many bullets can it fire? Would the soldier have it in his holster with the safety on? Does it have much recoil and would Nathan detect any sort of distinctive smell when he fires it?

The first reply:

The M9 Beretta is the standard issue for Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers. It is semi-automatic (which mean after you pull the trigger it reloads); the magazine holds 15, 9mm rounds; the recoil is moderate (when you shoot your hands will raise up about 3 inches); a Soldier will have three mags for a total of 45 rounds. The weapon would be in the holster on safe. The safety lever is on the right and left side of the slide assembly near the hammer. The M9 is in the safe mode when the lever is in the down position. You flick the lever up and the M9 is ready to fire. Also, when the lever is in the up position a red dot is revealed also indicating the weapon is ready to fire.

The maximum effective range for the M9 is only 50 meters

The standard issue weapon for all military personnel is the M4 Carbine (rifle), which replaced the M16. It was two shooting function choices: semi-automatic and three round bursts. The mag holds 30, 5.56mm rounds and the Soldier will carry six mags for a total of 180 rounds.
Moderate recoil.

Safety lever is on the left side of weapon near the trigger. Weapon is on safe usually. It is dependent on the particular task he is doing and his proximity to the enemy. The commander's policy on when weapons must be on safe and when the safe is off will dictate when the Soldier can flick the switch.

The maximum effective range is 500 meters (for those highly skilled Soldiers).

Not sure of Nathan's skills in handling a pistol or a rifle, if he is a novice then he will have difficulty hitting his target and will be startled by the loud high piercing shot and the recoil at first. The smell of gunpowder will fill the air (the smell of victory). It is the same smell from fireworks.

I hope that helps.

My second email:

This is extremely helpful. The scene is a pivotal one because the main characters are teens, and neither have fired a gun before. I have been careful to have them drop zombies by other means. When Trina uses the gun, it marks a shift in her perspective on the death they create around them. When Nathan sees her use it and not soldiers and police as he has seen during the outbreak, it makes both uneasy. It heightens their awareness of what they are doing and the toll taken every time they dispatch a zombie. With teen protagonists, it feels wrong for them to be firing right and left. Their use of the gun will not become a regular occurrence.

I don't mention the gun by name and don't go into specifics because the narrative point of view is from two teens and they wouldn't know those things, but the fireworks description and other aspects you mention are details I can play up.

Question: Where does the red dot appear on the M9? Near the handhold or on the stock? Am I even using the correct terms?

Would you mind if I posted your great details on a blog post on my site? I am detailing the creative process with this book and I think my web visitors would find it interesting. I wouldn't use your name. I'd simply say a family member who is retired military.

The second reply:

Two photos of the M9 are attached (let me know if you can open). One on safe and the other ready to fire (red dot visible). The safe levers are at the rear of the slide assembly slightly forward of the hammer.

No problem you can share. I have more tech data on the weapon: Muzzle velocity, max range (1800 meter), different type of ammo and more

The pistol grip is the correct term for handhold. Also, pistols don't have stocks (however, you can configure it to have a stock) your rifles do.

My third email:

So far, Trina has fired it three times. Once, when she is on top of a zombie and has the gun pressed into its face. The other two shots are from about four feet away from the target. Trina is sitting in the driver's seat of a school bus and fires off two shots at a zombie on the bus steps, placing a bullet in its chest and shoulder to knock it off the moving bus. Wow, it sounds like I'm writing SPEED with zombies. Maybe the zombie could look like Keanu Reeves. :)

In those cases, her inexperience shouldn't hurt her too much. It's not like I'm having her take shots from a great distance and she's dropping zombies right and left. I'm trying to be realistic.

Thanks so much.

His expertise really helped me ground the scene with the proper background knowledge.


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