Monday, May 19, 2008

Street Cred, circa 2008, 1944 & 1928

I'm not an FBI agent, but I got to play one this month. I just finished off the "FBI Citizens' Academy," which was my opportunity to learn about the FBI, what they do and who they are, without the absurd filter offered by Hollywood movies and over-the-top TV shows. (CSI, Numbers, etc... you know who you are.)

After six weeks of learning about anti-terrorism efforts, gangs, organized crime, counterespionage, bank robbers and cyber-crimes, on our last day we moved to the local police firing range for the most eagerly anticipated session: firearms training.

That's right. I got to blow stuff away.

The first picture here is me shooting an MP5, the standard issue FBI "long gun." MP stands for "Machine Pistol", which simply means this is an automatic rifle that shoots a pistol round. (In this case, a 10mm round. It can also shoot a 9mm round, but that "rattles going down the barrel" according to my instructor). Automatic is a bit misleading here, and it's possible I'm using that term incorrectly. "Semi-automatic" means a weapon shoots one round (one bullet) with each pull of the trigger, without the operator having to cock the weapon or take any other action for each shot. "Automatic" means the weapon just keeps firing rounds as long as the trigger is pulled. A machine-gun is an automatic weapon; a typical pistol (such as a Glock, which I also shot), is semi-automatic. In the case of the MP5, it has a two-shot burst function, which automatically shoots two rounds with each pull of the trigger. Yes, that's fun. But the second round definitely does not land where the first one did, thanks to the kick of the first shot. But it lands close enough.
(I was the most accurate for the day with this weapon, landing a "right-between-the-eyes" single round shot on our paper target.)

The second photo is the FBI's standard issue "sawed-off" shotgun. It's a three-shot, pump-action model with a shorter barrel (13") than the public can purchase (most shotguns have an 18" barrel). The shorter barrel is less accurate, but the FBI prefers it because it's easier to handle when getting out of a vehicle. This puppy has a kick on it, but it was easy to shoot. I took the standard approach, aimed for the biggest part of the target, and bam, pump, bam, pump, bam. Three solid hits. Where on the target? It's a shotgun... it doesn't matter where. In this photo you can see one of the targets we were using. His name, apparently, was Will. (Think about it...)* By the end of the day, poor Will was completely missing from the shotgun target, and the steel backboard itself was bent back to the point all you could see of it was a tiny tip. And people were still hitting that, three-for-three. Like I said, with a shotgun, "where" doesn't matter.

The third picture is a World War Two "grease gun." Yes, this gun is sixty years old. It's a pure machine-gun. It doesn't do anything except automatic. Pull the trigger and bbbbrrrrraaaaapppp, the bullets fly out. According to our instructors, this weapon was used by Allied tank soldiers, and also dropped behind enemy lines to resistance fighters because it was so cheap to manufacture (about $12 per gun at the time). It's called a "grease gun" because it looks like the grease guns 1940's mechanics used to lubricate automobile parts. The main thing I learned about this gun was to hold it steady and use short bursts. As soon as you squeeze the trigger the gun starts dancing upwards; my first time with this gun, I could hear the "spang-spang-spang" as the last of my shots hit the backstop's roof. "You, and your house, pal!" This gun was so much fun, I shot it twice.

Lastly, you'll see a genuine Thompson machine-gun from 1928. That's right, a Tommy gun, the star of many a gangster movie. This particular model is called an "overstamp 1928." It was made for the U.S. Navy in 1921, with the ability to shoot over 800 rounds in a minute. The Navy decided that was too much ammo in too short a time, so in 1928 the manufacturer reconfigured the weapon to a rate of about 650 rounds a minute, and stamped an "8" over the old "1" at the end of the date. All I can say is, 800 or 650, either way the target's a goner.

Obviously, I didn't shoot anywhere close to 650 rounds. We used a clip of 10 rounds. It doesn't take long to fire 10 bullets with a Tommy gun. Rat-a-tat-tat, you're done— but so is the target.

If you're familiar with the Tommy gun, you may have seen photos of the big round drum magazines that look a little like a black cheese wheel stuck under the bottom of the barrel. We didn't use one of these because a gun with a fully-loaded drum magazine weighs 45 pounds (!). Imagine trying to aim a sack of potatoes, and you'll understand why I was happy to take a pass on that experience. 

As a writer, it's important that I seek out new experiences; every one is another tool on my belt to add depth to my stories. I may not be writing a novel about the FBI today, but tomorrow... who knows? Someday I might want to describe the experience of shooting a grease gun; now I can, because I've done it.

And yes, it was just darn cool.

--- Howard Shirley

*Our instructions were to "Fire at will." Yeah, old joke, and a groaner. That's life for Will.

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