This is an example of the need for research. Whatever you think you know, if you’re not sure of your facts, you’ll need to perform research as your readers might (and probably will) know more than you.
Guns feature in the plot of “The Blue Angels”. While those guns remained in the hands of the story’s bad guys, Frank Quinn and Patrick McGuigan, there wasn’t any real need to say much about them (from the point of view of the plot’s hero, “Milton Styles”, they were simply guns). Mention is made of a silencer but, apart from that, extra details were not required. My problems began when Milton gets hold of one in a later chapter (he’s an ordinary, white-collar Englishman who has never seen a real gun, let alone handled one).
In particular, I wanted to write a scene that takes places Lynda’s car (Lynda is Milton’s friend and lover). In this scene, Lynda would be at the wheel of her stationery car, with Milton sitting beside her. She has just used the gun but now she needs to get rid of it quickly as Frank Quinn is in pursuit on foot. She achieves this by thrusting the gun into Milton’s hand. As soon as it’s in his possession, Milton goes to pieces. He’s afraid to point it anywhere for fear of shooting himself, or Lynda, or some vital part of the car. He knows that guns generally have safety catches but has no idea how they work. We all know that a gun may be fired by squeezing the trigger, but can it also be fired accidentally by dropping it (for example)? To answer these questions, the gun had to move from the abstract into the concrete: it had to become a particular type of gun.
Research pointed me toward a Beretta M9. From what I could ascertain, it is - or was - a commonly used weapon within the US military (Frank Quinn is American) and can be made to work through a silencer, even if a true connoisseur might not choose to do so. I’m sure that there will be readers who will take issue with my choice, but it is reasonable for a man who is employed by a wealthy individual who cares about results but not details. Having established the make and model of gun in question, I was able to compile copious notes (in a series of OneNote pages) that detailed the gun’s history, usage, appearance etc. I also found that I had to research the history of safety catches in general, in order to appreciate the different types available and, in particular, the type offered with the Beretta. With this information, I could allow Lynda to have a limited knowledge of firearms in general, which she could use to guide and reassure Milton as he sought the gun’s safety switch. For his part, Milton could describe the gun, either to himself or to Lynda, in order to reassure himself before flicking the switch and stowing the gun into the glovebox with the reasonable expectation that it wouldn’t go off. Crucially, the research material provided the knowledge required to write about the gun confidently, realistically and in a consistent way. Also, if I refer to it later, I can go back to my research material and make sure I get things right.
And now, as promised, instructions on how to load a Beretta M9 (Even these were enlightening, as they told me how many rounds the gun can take, and what calibre they are). I did wonder if publishing this detail might be irresponsible, but decided, in the end, that anyone who actually has a Beretta M9 is likely to know how to load it!
1. Load the magazine. Place one 9 mm bullet at a time onto the top opening of the magazine. Push and simultaneously slide the bullet back against the magazine wall. Repeat until all 15 rounds are loaded into the magazine.
2. Engage the safety switch located on the top-left of the M9, just near the rear sight. Flip the switch down to cover the red dot. The covered red dot indicates that the safety is on.
3. Slide the magazine into the magazine well (pistol grip bottom). When you hear a click, the magazine is locked into the weapon.
4. Grasp the serrated area of the slide, then pull it to the rear and release. This action chambers a round.
5. Disengage the safety switch by flipping it back up, revealing the red dot. You're now ready to fire the weapon.