I suppose I’ve had a bit more experience of firearms than the average urbanite. When young I was an enthusiastic sharer of a friend’s Diana air rifle. This was a lower-powered version of the then ubiquitous Daisy air rifle.
My friend’s father, tolerant of his son’s interest as mine would never have been, set up a shooting area in the back yard and we potted away at targets. We were under strict orders not to ‘skylark’ and we didn’t. I had a fairly good eye.
In the school cadets I fired a .303 rifle, modified to .22 calibre with something called a Morris tube, at the school rifle range. When we bivouacked at the Puckapunyal army base, I fired a fully-fledged .303 and an Owen sub-machine gun. I disgraced myself with the Owen. We were supposed to fire three bursts – from the shoulder, the waist and the hip. I was too heavy on the trigger and shot the lot from the shoulder.
When on fieldwork in the Solomon Islands in the late 1960s, I fell in with someone who’d acquired an ex-US army Colt .45 pistol and some ammunition. We took it into the bush and fired it at trees. It kicked, as they say, like a mule, and I couldn’t hit anything with it even at close range.
In Canberra some years later I went rabbit hunting with a .22 rifle without success. I understood the attractions of firearms, but had no skill with them and allowed the interest to lapse.
Raymond Chandler, my model for the early Cliff Hardy hard-boiled PI novels, was experienced with military weapons, having seen heavy action as an infantry NCO in World War I. When he came to write his books, however, he had to deal with pistols and he kept a book on the subject on his study shelf. I’ve done the same. I have a brother who hunted when younger, was a licensed culler of feral animals, and as a dealer in second-hand goods of cultural interest has an extensive knowledge of the history of firearms. I’ve consulted him.
The subject is complex: some pistols have front and back sights, some have not. Some have safety catches, others have a double trigger action as a safety feature, some are protected from firing by an accidental impact by a special mechanism. Hardy is not enamoured of guns, but I’ve tried to be accurate when obliged to write about them.
Recently, however, I made a serious mistake. I said in a novel that the .38 revolver was ineffective at a range of more than ten metres. I received a very polite but severe email from a reader. She said she enjoyed the Hardy books but had to correct me about the .38.
My correspondent is a pistol shooter who fires weapons from .22 through .32, .38 to .45. She claimed she could achieve a very close grouping of shots to a target with a .38 at 70 metres. ‘The weapon is lethal at 100 metres,’ she wrote.
I apologised for getting things so seriously wrong. Obviously the effectiveness of a pistol depends on the ability of the shooter, but I had clearly been misinformed. And I hadn’t checked with my brother. I told my correspondent I’d take care not to make the same mistake again and that, if in doubt, I might well consult her.
Perhaps if there’s a second edition of that book I could make amends, or maybe in the e-book version.