Posted On January 25, 2012 by Print This Post

Q&A with Weapons Expert ADAM FIRESTONE

I first learned about ADAM FIRESTONE’s unique talents from author Shannon McKenna (check back tomorrow, when Shannon will join us). I was so intrigued, I followed up by email. Since then I’ve only become more impressed with Adam’s knowledge, much of which has a practical application for writers. Without further ado, heeeere’s Adam!

Q&A with Weapons Expert ADAM FIRESTONE

Adam Firestone: *grin* “Weapons Expert” makes me sound a bit like a candidate for Executive Outcomes or the artist formerly known as Blackwater. While it’s not an inaccurate description, I think of myself more as a weapon systems engineer and instructor.

On the other hand, it *is* tempting to have some business cards made up that say something to the effect of “Adam Firestone, Mayhem Subject Matter Expert, Wile E. Coyote School of Pandemonium (WECSOP)” *grin*

Courtesy Krebs Custom, Inc.

RU: Hard to top that, Adam! How long have you been working in the field of weapons and ammunition?

AF: My dad brought home his first pistol, a Mauser Model 1914, when I was about eight. For me, it was love at first sight. I was absolutely fascinated by the intricate mating of the moving parts, the engineering, and the attention to detail. I taught myself to detail strip and reassemble the pistol in about an hour. From that point, I think I read everything I could get about weapons and munitions, even building 1:1 scale models of rifles and pistols. It’s been downhill ever since.

Professionally, I’ve been involved with weapon systems ranging from pistols and rifles to cannons and missile systems since the mid-1980s. I went to school on an Army scholarship, and my first formal introduction to firearms was a ROTC cadet at Yale. Those were limited to the standard Army fare of the time, M1911A1 .45 and M9 9x19mm pistols, M16A1 and M16A2 rifles, hand grenades, and M60 General Purpose Machine Guns.

Courtesy Krebs Custom, Inc.

When I graduated, I became a commissioned Army officer, and that opened up entirely new vistas for me. I was trained, and literally lived, ate and slept heavy weapons including M60A3 and M1A1 main battle tanks, M2 and M85 .50 caliber machine guns, and M240 7.62mm NATO machine guns. I was also became proficient with recoilless rifles, surface to surface and surface to air missile systems as well as landmines, demolition charges and other explosives and improvised weapons and countermobility systems. As you can imagine, this was pretty heady stuff for a kid in his mid-twenties.

I continued my education in the field outside the Army, gaining instructor certifications in rifle, pistol and shotgun, among others. I’ve taught many hundreds of people not only how to shoot, but how to make educated decisions about what sort of firearm to buy based on their unique needs, whether they be hunting, personal defense or sport shooting. I’ve held instructor certifications for about twenty years, and have continued my own education, being trained on foreign military firearms including those of Russian (Soviet), British, German, Japanese, Italian, French, Chinese and other origins.

Courtesy of RGUNS, Inc.

I also held a Federal firearms dealer’s license, on and off, for about seventeen years, resulting in both exposure to a huge variety of commercial and military firearms and an expertise in the laws and regulations governing firearms distribution and sale in the United States.

Since the mid-1990s, I’ve been designing military command and control and planning systems for warfare areas including naval mine warfare, combat engineering and amphibious maneuver warfare. For the last four years, I’ve been responsible for the complete re-engineering of the systems that plan, initiate, control and evaluate one of the nation’s most important long-range precision strike and power projection weapon systems. This work requires me to have ongoing expertise in arms export control regulations such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

Additionally, a book I co-wrote on Allied rifle contracts with American factories during the First World War was recently published, and I expect to soon begin work on a volume exploring the impact of the US Army pistol trials of 1910 – 1911 on the Allied handgun armament during the war. I don’t advise anyone to purchase these books unless you have a sincere interest in the subject matter, or have trouble sleeping.

Probably more than you wanted to know, huh? I suppose the short answer to the question is that I’ve been working in the field for about twenty-five years.

RU: The long answer works for me! You’ve known Shannon McKenna since you were at Yale together. Back then, did the two of you plan on pursuing your current career paths?

AF: Hah! Not on a bet. Army scholarship, remember? I was going to be an Airborne-Ranger-Snake-Eating-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Shannon was going to single handedly reinvent the medieval music for the modern age. As you can see, it didn’t quite work out that way. Looking back, I don’t think either of us would complain about the way things worked out.

RU: Was Shannon the first author you advised about the accurate use of weapons and action choreography?

AF: Yes. It was completely serendipitous. Shannon had begun to write, and knew that I had a bit of knowledge about firearms, weapons and their employment. In the course of a “Hi, how’ve you been” conversation, she asked a few general questions, and the nature of those discussions evolved into our current professional relationship. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work with other authors, providing similar insights and advice.

Courtesy Krebs Custom, Inc.

RU: What are the top five weapon-related mistakes (or misconceptions) you’ve come across?

AF: Wow. Where to begin? Let’s stipulate up front that I’m a stickler for nomenclature and technical terminology. Words mean things. If one is going to make a living communicating ideas – and that includes writers, engineers, educators and people in the media, to name a few – then there is an implied responsibility to use language effectively and appropriately.

“Well, you know what I meant” is not a proper or effective excuse for ineffective or imprecise professional communication. If you don’t know, learn. If you don’t understand, ask – but for pete’s sake, don’t make it up; that just entrenches ignorance. Ok, stepping off the soapbox. Top five mistakes, right?

1. That spring-loaded thing that holds the ammunition for a pistol, the one that fits into the grip? That’s a MAGAZINE, not a clip! Magazines contain mechanisms not only for storage, but for delivery of ammunition as well. A clip is just something to hold cartridges together (think of a paper clip vice the paper tray on a high end printer).

2. The vast majority of modern revolvers, and a large number of modern semi-automatic pistols do NOT have a manually operated safety mechanism (although there are internal mechanisms that ensure the firearm’s safety). Every time someone writes or talks about “flipping the safety off on his Glock,” I involuntarily shudder.

3. Despite frequent use (misuse?) of this term by the media, there is no such thing as a “semi-automatic assault weapon.” “Assault rifle” is a technical term that refers to a rifle that can be fired fully automatically (like a machine gun) at the operator’s choice and that uses a cartridge whose power is between a pistol cartridge and full power rifle cartridge. A rifle that looks like an assault rifle but that that cannot be fired fully automatically, is, well, just a rifle. Put another way, plopping a Porsche 911 body onto a Volkswagen Jetta chassis doesn’t create a Porsche 911. It creates something that looks and feels like a Porsche but still performs like a Volkswagen.

4. Shooting someone with a pistol, even the vaunted .44 Magnum, will NOT cause them to be flung back across the room or knocked down. It’s simple physics – action and reaction. If the cartridge can expel a projectile from the gun with enough force to knock someone down, the reaction would be strong enough to knock the shooter down.

5. One cannot fire magazine after magazine of ammunition through a light automatic weapon, like an AK-47, as fast as they can be swapped out. Why? Because putting a bullet down a barrel creates friction. Friction creates heat. Barrels get hot. After two or three thirty-round magazines fired automatically, the barrel on an AK is hot enough to give someone silly enough to touch it a second degree burn. Fire six to ten magazines, and the heat is enough to char or ignite wooden handguards and possibly to cook off rounds coming in contact with the chamber walls. It’s not an accident that most machine guns come with quick change barrels, or that early machine guns had water filled jackets around their barrels.

Courtesy RGUNS, Inc.

RU: I hear that TV and movies often feature information related to weapons, ammunition, forensics, etc. that is incorrect, but that the public perceives as true. How should authors respond to this misinformation?

AF: Sort of a chicken and egg question. If the author doesn’t know that the information is incorrect, how can she or he react to it? I’d like to believe that authors who do know better do all they can not to perpetuate the ignorance. I suppose that the best thing to do is to vet action scenes and technical data with a “reasonably knowledgeable individual” (RKI). If no RKI is available, I guess the author can settle for, well, me.

RU: Sorry about the chicken/egg thing! All kinds of fiction features action scenes, including romance. What are the key things to remember when choreographing a written action scene?

AF: Every action scene is a system that effects a transformation. There are one or more inputs, operating constraints (physical or otherwise), control mechanisms, and an output. The scene takes place in four dimensions – space times three (height, width, depth) and time. Of these, the most important for the writer is time; the reader will fill in a lot of the space with his or her imagination. As a result the sequence of events, their timelines and the linkages and/or physical interfaces between the events are the key things that the author has to get right, if the scene is to be believable.

Put another way, the rifle can’t be fired until a round has been chambered, and the round can’t be chambered unless it is in the magazine. And if it takes thirty seconds to load the magazine and chamber a round, but the bad guy on the motorcycle is visible for fourteen seconds, then the scene doesn’t work.

Courtesy RGUNS, Inc.

RU: You also deal with cyber security. What are some cyber security issues authors might consider?

AF: Oh gosh, where to begin? Phishing, denial of service attacks, hacking, social engineering – the list can go on and on. If I had to focus on one issue that makes for a useful plot tool, it might be the inherent insecurity of public WiFi access. When you’re at an airport, a coffee shop or a hotel and you connect to the net through an available access point, in many cases, the connection is unencrypted and your data is being transferred to the access point “in the clear.” While this makes it easier to connect, it also makes it easy for a nearby hacker, using a laptop and sniffer tools readily available on the Net, to monitor and archive all your data, including usernames, passwords and even message traffic, such as the contents of an email.

RU: I’m sensing we could do a whole separate interview on the topic of cyber crime! You offer your services as an editor/advisor to both fiction and non-fiction authors. What does this involve?

AF: In a nutshell, it depends. *grin*

My non-fiction clients are usually interested in language editing – grammar, syntax, diction, sentence and paragraph construction and ensuring that ideas are communicated effectively with an economy of words. It’s astounding how many brilliant subject matter experts have difficulty stringing words together. Given my literary and technical background, I’m in a unique position to help them. We usually come to a compensation arrangement covering the scope of the book or article being written.

Fiction authors are more interested in scene construction and technical advisory services. What kind of gun should my hero use? Can this type of missile fly that sort of mission? How do I ensure that the bad guys are taken out but not killed? Is there a less than lethal alternative? How would that scene play out in space and time? While I’m happy to work on a full-scope compensation arrangement, it often makes sense for these authors to work on an retainer/hourly billing basis.

I’m happy to discuss these services offline with interested parties; I can be contacted at

Courtesy RGUNS, Inc.

Note: Adam Firestone presents a full day workshop sponsored by the Ohio Valley chapter of RWA on Saturday, April 14 at the Kings Island Conference Center in Cincinnati, OH. The conference is free to members of OVRWA, $25 for non-members (including a box lunch). The conference is open to all. Contact Becke Martin Davis to register or for further details.


Have you ever personally handled guns or other weapons? Do you feature weapons in your books?

Author Shannon McKenna joins us tomorrow to explain how Adam helps with her action scenes. You won’t want to miss it!



Adam Firestone brings more than 25 years of experience with weapon systems including small arms, artillery, armor, area denial systems and precision guided munitions to Romance University. Additionally, Adam is an accomplished small arms instructor, editor, literary consultant and co-author of a recently published work on the production of rifles in the United States for Allied forces during the First World War.

Growing up in New York City, Adam attended Yale University on an Army ROTC scholarship, and upon graduation, became a commissioned officer in the Army’s armor branch, and was assigned to a cavalry squadron. After active duty he transferred to the National Guard and attended Brooklyn Law School. Completing his legal education, Adam was admitted to a number of state and federal bars and practiced law in New York. During this time, Adam pursued his interest in firearms and firearms education, attaining instructor certifications in rifle, pistol and shotgun, among others. Additionally, he began what was to be a seventeen year tenure as a licensed firearms dealer.

In the mid-1990s, Adam left the practice of law and began designing military command and control and planning systems for warfare areas including naval mine warfare, combat engineering and amphibious maneuver warfare. For the last four years he has been responsible for the complete re-engineering of the systems that plan, initiate, control and evaluate one of the nation’s most important long-range precision strike and power projection weapon systems. As a result of this work, Adam developed an expertise in arms export control regulations such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

Adam has been providing general and technical editing services to authors and publishing houses specializing in firearms books since the early 2000s. Additionally, Adam provides literary consulting services to fiction authors including action scene choreography, technical vetting and technical editing. In this line of experience, Adam has had the fortune to work with well known authors including Shannon McKenna and Elizabeth Jennings.

Check out Adam’s blog here:

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42 Responses to “Q&A with Weapons Expert ADAM FIRESTONE”

  1. Hi Adam! I loved this post – fascinating. I grew up in the rural South so I grew up with tons of hunters in the family and now my son is on the Boys Scouts Rifle Team. So, we are emphasizing the safety and respect of firearms in the house.

    He did ask me the other day and I had no answer, “Mom, why do the movies always say ‘lock and load’ that makes no sense.” I had no answer but it always struck me a goofy saying as well.

    Any idea about why they say that? It seems completely backward to me – wouldn’t it be load and lock? Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | January 25, 2012, 5:47 am
    • Hi Robin!

      Generically speaking, it means to prepare a firearm for firing.

      The etymology of the phrase comes from the rifle training range, not from combat.

      “Lock” means to engage the safety, that is to put it in the “ON” position. “Load” means to load a round into the chamber.

      In the days of the Model 1903 Springfield, the command was “Load and lock”, since the M1903 could not be made safe with the bolt open (the mid-position of the safety was used only for disassembly). The clip was inserted in the charging slot, the rounds stripped into the magazine, and the bolt closed. Then the shooter engaged the safety.

      The M1 rifle could be loaded with the safety on, so when it was adopted, the command was reversed. “Lock” meant to engage the safety, and “load” meant (usually) to insert an 8-round clip and load the first round into the chamber.

      It is not necessary that “load” mean a full clip or a full magazine. The initial part of the full command tells what to load. For example, it can be “With one round, lock and load”, or with an M14, “With a 20 round magazine, lock and load.” The command would also specify special ammunition if applicable, such as “With eight rounds of tracer ammunition, lock and load.”

      Hope this helps!


      Posted by Adam Firestone | January 25, 2012, 8:15 am
  2. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for joining us today! Does your knowledge stretch back to 1804? 🙂 I have yet to find a great source for general terminology for that era. What’s the best term for a handgun–pistol, gun, weapon? Muzzle, trigger, grip??? Little (important) details for a two second scene. 🙂

    Thanks again for the great post. Lots of good information here.


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | January 25, 2012, 5:50 am
  3. Hi Adam,

    Never held a gun or seen one in person. My current WIP involves a police shooting. What are the standard issue guns to big city police departments?

    You have a fascinating expertise,

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 25, 2012, 6:59 am
    • Hi Mary Jo!

      This could be a *very* long or a very short answer – however, I’ll try to tackle it in a blog post to be coming in the near future.

      However, I think we need to discuss some other details of your scene – what kind of police person? Uniformed or plain clothes? Circumstances of the shooting?

      If you send me an email with more details, I’m sure I can put some information together that will give you a good base of data from which to work.

      Looking forward to it!


      Posted by Adam Firestone | January 25, 2012, 10:08 am
  4. Hi Adam. What fabulous information! I’ll be saving this one in my “weapons” file.

    I have a couple of friends in law enforcement and I always smile when they start talking about their favorite guns. It’s like a love affair.

    My son and I have become big fans of the show “Top Shot.” For me, it’s been a great way to get mini- lessons about guns. My favorite so far was the Gatling gun episode. Really interesting!

    Thanks for being here today!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 25, 2012, 7:35 am
  5. My grandfather, who was career Army, would have loved talking to Adam – he collected guns and was especially interested in rifles. No one else in my family knows anything about guns, so I was thrilled to find out about Adam from Shannon McKenna (whose books I love!).

    Adam is really unique – he understands writers AND weapons. His knowledge of firearms astounds me! I’m now an avid follower of his blog. I’m also planning on taking reams of notes at his workshop in Cincinnati this April! (It’s open to everyone – hope to see some of you there!)

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 25, 2012, 7:57 am
    • Thank you for the plug, Becke!

      If I can (shamelessly) pump myself a bit more, I’m also well versed in weapons from bayonets to tanks to artillery to missiles.

      I’m also very strong in computers and cybercrime and cyberwarfare…


      Posted by Adam Firestone | January 25, 2012, 11:36 am
  6. Note: Adam is at a conference all week. He will check in and respond to questions and comments as soon as he can.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 25, 2012, 8:11 am
  7. Morning Adam!

    I thought ALL handguns had a safety mechanism! augh! lol….that proves your chicken/egg approach. I never would have even looked that up, because every book/movie talks about the safety being on…who knew??? I don’t use guns much in my stories yet, except something along the lines of “watch out! he has a gun!” type of thing.=)

    Thanks for being with us today – I’m definitely hanging on to your email address! (and not in a stalkerish kind of way!)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 25, 2012, 8:17 am
    • Hi Carrie!

      Glad to know this helped! As a tidbit, it’s not just handguns that don’t all have safeties. The famous Winchester lever action rifle was designed without a safety, for example.

      Then there is the entire category of “passive safeties…” Hmmmm…I sense another blog post coming on…

      All the best,


      Posted by Adam Firestone | January 25, 2012, 11:39 am
  8. Hey, Adam! Hi, Becke! Loved the blog, loved all the comments and your responses, too. What an amazing resource. I’m just checking in to say hi, because I have SUCH a lot of questions to throw at you . . . ahem! It’s that time, when I have to re-choreograph all my violent scenes. so painful . . .
    Anyhow, happy writing to all!
    Best, Shannon McKenna

    Posted by Shannon McKenna | January 25, 2012, 10:27 am
  9. Wow–this is great. One of my books (an urban fantasy) featured a protag who was a cop who mostly worked in the basement (on paranormal type stuff) but still carried a gun.

    I had to ask a woman I know online (who is a cop) what kind of gun she would carry and if she would be in uniform or not. It turned out, the way the story was originally written, I’d gotten it wrong on both points!

    Always good to have an expert you can ask.

    Posted by Deborah Blake | January 25, 2012, 11:29 am
  10. Great post and thanks for hosting Adam, Becke! I can’t wait to see him in person in Cincinnati and really dig around for some ideas for my mysteries.

    Posted by Tonya Kappes | January 25, 2012, 12:33 pm
  11. *waves madly* Hi Tonya! It’s going to be a FABULOUS workshop – I hope we get a great turnout!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 25, 2012, 1:03 pm
  12. Only gun I’ve ever seen was my fire marshall brother’s gun.

    I’ve always wanted to take shooting lessons. Just seems like a valuable lesson, like bike riding or swimming.

    Posted by PatriciaW | January 25, 2012, 1:15 pm
  13. Patricia – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gun in real life. Seen plenty in books and in my imagination, though!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 25, 2012, 1:19 pm
  14. Becke, he didn’t let me touch it, though. Funny, with all the negative stereotyping you hear about living in “the hood”, I never ever came across a gun growing up.

    Posted by PatriciaW | January 25, 2012, 1:24 pm
  15. And yet in my supposedly safe neighborhood in Cincinnati, a guy shot and killed a 15-year-old kid for cutting across his lawn. Go figure.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 25, 2012, 1:44 pm
  16. Don’t forget, Shannon McKenna joins us tomorrow (internet connection permitting – she’s in Italy) to talk about how Adam helps advise her on choreographing action and solving problems. It’s a fascinating process!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 25, 2012, 3:04 pm
  17. Adam –

    Great post. I’m going to have to read it more than once to absorb it all :).

    Do you have any online or print resources you recommend for writers. Obviously, it’s fabulous to go to the source (aka you or someone else in the know), but what if that’s not possible?

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 25, 2012, 5:17 pm
    • Hiya Kelsey!

      The short answer is “No.” Well, maybe the more accurate answer is “sort of.”

      The problem with online resources is that the Web is very… democratic, in that it provides a forum for all and a vetting for none. As a result, it’s difficult to determine what is truth and what is hearsay and/or fabrication without a bit of education and experience.

      Similarly, much of what passes for firearms technical literature out there is misleading, poorly written or erroneous. There are some gems, but unfortunately most assume a degree of background knowledge, and very, very few of them provide the necessary context necessary for a neophyte to make sense or use of the information.

      It’s sort of like the knowledge management train – Data to Information to Knowledge to Wisdom; what writers need is somewhere between Knowledge and Wisdom; what’s out there will largely provide data and/or information.

      What I do is to convert writers’ scene needs into firearms/weapon/action/cyber wisdom. The resource for this, is, well, me.

      Fortunately, I’m not any further than an email away!

      All the best,


      Posted by Adam Firestone | January 25, 2012, 6:05 pm
  18. Hmm, well, at least I spelled Glock correctly! *sigh*

    Hi Adam! I’m looking forward to your visit to OVRWA in April. This is really interesting! Now, I have to go check if I referred to the non-existent manual safety on that aforementioned Glock…(in THAT scene, Becke) *wink*

    Becks, have I told you lately how awesome your blogs are? Love you!

    Posted by Gabriella Edwards | January 25, 2012, 6:06 pm
  19. Hi Adam!

    Thanks for the informative post! The only gun that appears in my story is the kind used to shoot clay pigeons. I did some research on the Internet looking for the gun. But after reading your post, I’m wondering how accurate the information I found on the net was.

    Thank you for joining us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 25, 2012, 6:31 pm
  20. Adam – Thanks so much for a great blog, and for joining us today! If you have time tomorrow, come back and visit when Shannon is featured!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 25, 2012, 8:17 pm


  1. […] can read Adam’s full bio here. Check out Adam’s blog, Arma Virumque Cano. He’s also on Facebook Pass It On […]

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