The four principal rules for firearm handling, codified by the late, great Jeff Cooper, are:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never point a gun at something you don’t intend to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Be sure of your target and what’s around and behind it.
I learned these rules early in my professional career and have never forgotten them. I can recite them in my sleep, just like I can do Heaven Six without having to remember the movements. They’re ingrained.
In my years and years of working with firearms experts, I have never seen a single one of them, man or woman, point a gun at the sky except when shooting birds or skeet. Never. It just isn’t done by responsible gun owners. When bullets go up, they have to come down, and you have no control over where those bullets might land. This is why celebratory gunfire is very, very stupid.
For thriller novels, there’s nothing quite like a cover depicting a person holding a gun. You pretty much have to have that, unless you want to show a silhouette of a man and a woman holding hands and running away from a burning city. Where this motif falls down is in pictures like this, this, this, this, and this. It’s a stupid way to hold a handgun, and even people who teach this way of gun-handling acknowledge that it’s far from ideal.
You don’t have to be a firearms expert to write characters with guns. Heck, you don’t even have to be a “Nazi gun nut” like me. But you should learn the basics, which are easily found online. When I see a book cover showing someone pointing a gun at the sky, I know the writer doesn’t have his firearms material wired tight.
Authors, tell your artist to pick a different stock photo. The whole gun pointing up thing has got to go.