Are You Guilty of Spreading These Five Common Gun-Counter Myths?

Step into most gun stores or visit any Internet message board, and you’re certain to come across some fairly common stories and legends that have plagued the firearms community for decades. Despite readily available information that present fact-based rebuttals to these untruths, they seem to persist and actually grow as the years move on.

So, here you go: Five gun counter and message board myths that seemingly won’t go away, yet have almost no factual basis for continuing to propagate around the firearms world.

Racking the Action of a Shotgun is Enough to Scare Away Intruders

Gray haired man in dark sweater and gray pants holding a shotgun in the hallway of his home.
Don’t bank on the sound of a pump-action shotgun as the only deterrent to a home invader.

It’s almost impossible to walk into a gun store without hearing one of the counter sales people loudly work a shotgun’s action with a “Click-Clack,” while explaining that it’s the most recognizable and universally understood sound in the world. “Rack the action, and intruders will flee in fear!”

This may or may not be true, but choosing your home-defense weapon and strategy around the noise of an action working is, quite frankly, asinine. Racking the action, and hoping for the best, is guaranteed to tell an intruder two pieces of information: You’re present, and that you’re armed. If he doesn’t decide to leave (and that’s a big if), he can now decide how to tactically proceed in a way most beneficial to himself.

Not only this, but you’re giving up at least one round in your shotgun, which already has a frighteningly low capacity. Whether you’re ejecting a shell in the chamber to make some noise, or have simply left it empty to begin with and feed the chamber from the magazine, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by giving up precious ammunition.

Merely Owning a Gun is Enough to Protect Yourself

Boy snatching away a girl's revolver
Mere ownership doesn’t make you an expert. Train and then train some more.

Far too many gun owners view their concealed handgun as something akin to a magic talisman, in that possession alone is enough to create a deterrent to violent crime or form a sense of security. How many times have you heard somebody say “Oh, time for her to get a CHL.” with no follow up afterwards?

Shooting a handgun is difficult enough on a range with good lighting. Mix in the element of a surprise attack, low light, odd shooting angles, and uncertain spaces behind your target, and your handgun might just be as useful as the laminated plastic your permit is printed on.

It’s not enough to simply own a handgun. You have to train with it, under a variety of circumstances, for it to be effective.

Bullets Rise as they Leave the Muzzle

This one is particularly confusing, especially if you look at a linear trajectory table for any caliber. At first glance, it does indeed seem as though bullets rise, and then fall to the target. However, the simple realization that the muzzle is angled to create this rainbow-like trajectory will make all things clear. For example, when you throw a baseball, does the ball rise on its own accord? Of course not. The trajectory is created because you threw it at an angle.

Bullet Flight Path
Bullet Flight Path

Bullets are not baseballs, but they illustrate gravity the same way. Bullets don’t rise; they fall, and we have to impart an angle to them via elevation of the muzzle.

Leaving Magazines Loaded Will Wear Out the Springs

GLOCK 42 Magazines, Loaded
Leaving magazines loaded will not wear out the springs.

While there’s no question that magazine springs do eventually wear out and need to be replaced, it’s not entirely clear that leaving them loaded is what makes it happen. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made that rotating ammo in and out of your magazines is what causes springs to give out!

This makes sense if we think about it. Consider a wire coat hanger, as an example: If you bend it in half, it likely won’t break. Working the bend opened and closed, however, will eventually cause the wire to snap.

While magazine springs are made of much higher quality wire than a coat hanger is, the same principle applies. Working the springs is what wears them out, not leaving them in a static position. Load up your mags and don’t worry about them.

The AR-15 is Unreliable

Image shows I and a heart and underneath a picture of an AR-15 rifle.
It just isn’t true that the AR-15 isn’t reliable.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If your rifle and mags are built to the correct standards, and if you use decent ammo and perform even the most basic of maintenance tasks (apply oil through the ejection port periodically), you will never have a problem in thousands of rounds.

Given enough time and ammunition expended, any rifle will fail. And the AR-15 is certainly no exception. Most rifles will never even see a full case of ammo fired through their lifetimes, making much of the hubbub about AR-15 reliability issues a moot point at best, and a downright lie at worst.

What are some tall tales and mythical falsifications that you’ve heard perpetuated at the range or the gun counter? Let us know in the comments below.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (122)

  1. The choice is to have a round in the chamber, “hammer” back and the gun in safe, or leave the chamber empty, “hammer” down and not on safe.

    If I were breaking into a home, the two things I would rather not deal with is a home owner, and a firearm.
    Racking the slide tells me both are there, AND a round has just been chambered.
    No than you!

  2. i hear or see these comments from newbies. how about racking the slide on your semi auto pistol. when the slide is in the open position after the last round, do i let the slide go back to battery with full force or use my weak hand and let it go back slowly with help. or dry firing your pistol, will this hurt the firing pin or hammer.

    1. Only let the slide go back to battery with full force if you are chambering a round. If the magazine is empty, remove the magazine and let the slide go back slowly. This will save unnecessary wear and tear on the pistol.

      Dry-firing modern day weapons will not hurt the firing pin or hammer.

  3. “For example, when you throw a baseball, does the ball rise on its own accord? ” properly thrown, a baseball with backspin will rise (relative to its base trajectory) on it’s own due to aerodynamic loads (much like a golf ball). bullets spin along the axis of their trajectory and do not impart aerodynamic loading (other than drag).

    1. george smythson you are absolutely correct. The ability to put “spin” on a round ball and change that balls flight path is well documented. If my Biomechanics recall is correct it is called the “Magnus Effect”. The spin on a bullet is through the longitudinal axis of that bullet and keeps the bullet on trajectory. Notice I used round ball earlier to describe the Magnus Effect. A football (American) is like a bullet and a good pass is one with a tight spiral. When a football doesn’t have a tight spiral it wobbles and looses its trajectory.

  4. If spings on cars were not assisted by shocks, multi leafs, inflated tires, etc, as well as being much heavier/thicker, and metalurgically different you might be right. Still doesn’t explain the dingle balls, Christmas tree lights, and skid plates…. lol

    1. I call bullsh!t. Leaf springs are not even in the equation. Tires and shocks may soften the recoil. But, the loading action of a simi- automatic also softens the recoil action as much if not more. And the quality of the metal is hard to argue without proper testing. But probably not a factor. Size of the spring is relative to the size of the job on hand.

  5. @ss1

    I’m not a structure engineer or anything, but I continue to follow what has worked for me.

    Anyone who has loaded a magazine to max load, has experienced how hard those last couple o rounds are to load. I have always figured that if I have not hit my target with 18 rounds, I’m probably not going to hit my target with 20 rounds.

  6. My 20 rounders are loaded with 18 rounds. That was another thing learned in Vietnam. They issued enough to load 20 but one of our old timers had picked that up during WW2 (maybe even WW1 if he was as old as he looked). Reportedly, those two rounds took just enough tension off the spring to avoid problems. While it may be a myth, it seemed to work.

    1. @DaveW:

      At first I was very excited about the original premise in this article about magazines, but then I saw all the conflicting opinions, and I also was thinking about overall stress physics and common sense.

      The guy who really made me take notice was the one who posted about the magazines loaded in 1993 being useless when they were finally used.

      My old method was to take 1 round out. I think I’ll go with your recommendation and take 2 out of all my AK mags. With my 15 round Glock mags, I’ll either take 1 out or cycle them.

  7. I have heard the myth that AR-15s are inaccurate. Maybe the cheap ones are, but then you get what you pay for. I use golf balls for 200 yard targets for my 16″ barrel, 5.56 AR, and 50 yard rimfire targets at 200 yards for my 20″ 6.8 SPC version.

    The odds are not in favor of the golf balls, and the little red dots in the middle of the rimfire targets soon disappear (if the wind cooperates).

  8. Comparing the action of bending a coat hanger to the action of a spring is like comparing apples and oranges. Coat hangers are made of low carbon steel and springs are made from alloy and/or high carbon steel that is heat treated and tempered. Springs can lose a little of their hardness over time, so they will become weaker. Springs that are designed properly and with alloy spring steel will perform their purpose correctly. Springs made of poor quality steel will lose their “springiness” when they are compressed too far. When magazine springs are compressed to their maximum designed size they should perform as expected, but loading the magazines to the max and leaving it that way is more likely to reduce the power of the spring as temperature variation is likely to reduce some springiness over time. I believe it is not a myth in most cases. I keep my 10 round S&W pistol mags loaded with 8 rounds. It is more about the quality of the spring steel and the design of the mags that will determine what strength the mag spring loses over time.

  9. Another total garbage article by the anonymous CTD Blogger.

    Two of them people don’t even say. Another is stated incorrectly to mislead. And one he’s just plain wrong about – mag springs.

  10. As I said… there was alcohol involved. A lot of downright stupid things happened during my career. Early on, we loaded revolvers with only 5 rounds and aligned the empty chamber so the hammer would fall on the empty chamber if you “accidentally” fired. Fast draw was not considered an accident, but, as happened to me, wearing a seatbelt (pre 3 point) over rough terrain, on one occasion I found my holster unsnapped and the hammer fully cocked. It appears it hooked on the seatbelt. I found it because I reached down and my thumb slid between the hammer and frame. Damn near caused a traffic accident when I slammed on the brakes. Also, damn near threw my partner through the windshield (seatbelts were not mandatory back in the day.

  11. I can appreciate that. It’s the same reason I will never own another Morris Minor or Mustang II.

    I am fine with my M1A1, AR-15. Even my M1 Carbine. I used them in the military and law enforcement over many years and never had a problem. I also never listened to myths about any of them.

  12. In the future, the idea that ammo will not climb may become passé as the development of self guided ammo. Yes, the military and perhaps law enforcement will get it first, but, sooner or later, it will reach the hands of civilians. Science fiction eventually becomes science fact. Then we may see ammo which can loiter around waiting for a target, rise and hang a right at the bakery before dropping straight down through the target’s brain pan. I believe, considering the skills of many of the hunters who take to the woods, I will hang up my guns until the apocalypse.

  13. Shot placement is everything no matter whether the brush is light or heavy. A 30-30 or a .30 cal is a good brush gun if you are not trying to shoot something you can not see. Both calibers are good for deer.

    If I can not see my target (outside of combat conditions) I don’t take the shot.

    Personally, I think the best brush gun is the one I can take into the woods and not care a bit whether it gets scratched o not. For the same reason I’d rather have a beat up truck or jeep to go off road over one with an $8K paint scheme.

  14. While attending the San Bernardino County Sheriffs Academy, not long after the “Newhall Incident” shotgun use was stressed and they added shooting clays as well as firing at a steel target on the hillside using slugs. Our instructors pointed out that the steel target was most often missed because the shooter aimed AT the target instead of compensating for the arc of the bullet path. For the majority of us, it took a few attempts to even get close.

  15. I do not understand the “ammo problem”. During my government paid tropical vacation to the beautiful Mekong Delta, I used my M-16 almost daily. I used an M-14 on specific positions. I used M-60s on positions, Jeeps and APCs. Used a 1911, a S&W K15-4, M-12, and an M-2 on one APC. We even had gattling guns (M-134s ?) on a couple of V-100s. Not once did any of those weapons fail due to ammo or the weapon.

    We rotated ammo on a regular basis and, some was rotated out of use and used fore practice, and as a last resort if TSHTF.

    I don’t believe my unit just happen to get lucky.

  16. Good article, however I have to say,… comparing a coat hanger to a magazine spring is much like comparing Rebar to High tensile steel. It simply is no comparison!!!

  17. The finger over the barrel is a factual police case from Alaska. Not a myth. This took place at a party, and alcohol was involved. I think the idiot who lost a finger probably got the idea from reports that you can stop a 1911 from firing if you push the slide back.

    1. One of the safety checks done on a semi-auto is to see if it fires when out of battery…the slide pushed back. The officer probably just put his finger over the muzzle and did not push the slide back to take it out of battery.

  18. Agreed. You need SPACE to properly use any weapon. A law enforcement study showed that the vast majority of shootings take place within 3 to 10 feet. That study led to training addressing keeping distance between yourself and the person/subject you are in contact with. If they get too close, you face being jumped.

    I learned this the hard way when I asked an individual for his identification. I had the radio mike in my right hand, which is my gun hand, while standing next to the open door of my patrol vehicle. The guy reached casually for his back pocket and came back with a fist. He could just as easily have come out with a knife or gun and finished me off. Fortunately, he chose to run. I never made the mistake of being too close to a subject again.

  19. Not claiming that this is scientific, but my EXPERIENCE with the mag spring issue is contrary to the statement in the article on this “myth”. Deployed to Bosnia with a medical unit in the ’90s we were issued mags and ammo on arrival in country and since we were nearly always within the confines of Eagle Base because of our medical mission, we carried with mag in the handgun but no round in chamber by policy. Never unloaded the mags and never fired a round for 3 months at which time we were all issued new mags due to failure of the issue mags. When unloading the originally issued mags, after the first few rounds (can’t honestly remember exactly how many) the remaining rounds in each mag could be just shaken from the inverted mag, with no spring pressure that would have allowed rounds to feed. You can argue about mag quality all you want, but for me I will always rotate mags every ~2 weeks. I keep a minimum of 6 mags for any carry gun and put them all through the rotation. None of my rotated mags have failed due to the rotation. So, in my EXPERIENCE, continuously loaded mags halfway through a six month deployment all failed, while my personal carry mags have not suffered a failure being rotated in and out of service. Best of luck to all no matter what approach they take to the mag failure “myth” but you will have to show me a controlled experiment to prove to me that failure of continuously loaded mags is a myth before I will alter my practice of rotating mags in and out of service.

    1. So, I know/have seen exactly whatbyoubate talking about, and I wanted to share an experiment I did when I encountered the same issue.

      After obtaining a kel tec sub2000 in .40 (using Glock mags) I purchased a few 30 round “Asian manufactured” non OEM flack mags because, at the time, I could not find any factory 22 round mags. They were difficult to load, but I got at least 27 rounds in each (brand new out of package). What I had on hand to load them up with was hollow point ammo. About a month later, I finally got a chance to shoot it. Didn’t want to burn through all the hollow point ammo, so I decided to unload and load with ball ammo I had picked up for the range.

      If you’re still reading, here’s the relevant part. First mag I started to unload I experienced the same thing you did – the follower was stuck and after a handful of rounds, the rest were “rattling” in the mag. I continued to unload it and reload with ball.

      The second mag I unloaded did the same thing! Stuck follower. But, this time I just put the rounds I had removed back in the mag, and decided to see if it would function, since I wanted to test hollow point feeding anyway (to test the rifle).

      The mag fed every round! Even though I had dropped those removed cartridges back in over a stuck follower. The first one that had a stuck follower and was fully loaded also fed all the ball ammo when I shot it (I had slapped the empty mag against my hand to dislodge the follower).

      What I determined is that while followers in double stack mags (especially cheap ones) may stick (maybe only when new?) the force of recoil when firing can dislodge it and prevent it from sticking again as the mag is fired through the gun.

      This may not be true in every instance, but worth considering. What you experienced unloading those mags by hand may not have been a problem at all if you had emptied the mags by firing them.

      Obviously, the stuck follower should not happen in the first place, but it was not nexessarily due to the Mage being loaded for 3 months.

      I have also fired a full AR mag that was left loaded for at least a decade before I got it (it had 28 rounds in it).

  20. Where the hell did you get your view of the troops and training of those who served in Vietnam? You sound more like an anti-war propagandist.

    We trained before we went. We trained while in country. Even had a field course in country for familiarization. At base camp, we were always getting training of one type or another, and the guys we were there to replace were constantly on us in two ways. They slammed us if we did something wrong, driving home the lessons they had learned, and teaching us how to survive to go home. We, in turn, passed those lessons on to our replacement. As we learned new things, we adjusted what we taught others. We wanted our brothers to go home upright as much as we wanted to go home upright.

    Weapons were passed on to others in some cases. In others, units arrived with their own. As soon as my group received ours, we took the time to clean them, then sight them in, then clean them again. Yes, there were times when they got soaked by either weather or terrain, but as soon as we got back to base, we cleaned them.

    Our tactics were based on prior conflicts (WW2 and Korea). The enemy had been fighting in that terrain for generations. They had been fighting in that region for centuries, and had beaten the French who warned us to stay out of there. We learned from our mistakes and we adapted as we went. We are faced with the same situation in the middle east. Russia learned that the hard way. What we learned in Vietnam has even helped greatly in operations in South America. We also have a problem accepting that some societies put so little value on life that they would die for their cause while we sought to live for ours.

    Your comments about those who fought that war being alkys and such is, at the very least, a disservice to their sacrifices, and an insult. A lot of good men died.

  21. Re: Vietnam and humidity…. at the rate we burned up ammo, and the manner in which ammo is put together, what are the chances that humidity would play a part in failures? The only area I would expect humidity to play a part would be in fouling of the weapon itself (ie carbon buildup). That brings the problem back to the user following proper maintenance. Just my opinion, of course, since I never experienced problem in the Mekong Delta region.

  22. My favorite is “the .38 special airweight snubnose is the perfect ladies gun!” It won’t jam and besides, women can’t work the slide on a semi-auto anyway.

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