Bourjaily: Life Imitates Art

In TV and the movies, pumping a shotgun is erroneously presented as the necessary first step to firing it during a gunfight. It seems to me you'd make sure you had a round in the chamber before the shooting started.

Even good crime novelists like George Pelecanos and the great Elmore Leonard get it wrong. Pelecanos in particular will put characters in a tense armed standoff, then have someone say "I can shoot you before you have time to rack that pump." In real life the immediate reply would be "Boom."

And yet, sometimes life imitates art. According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, here's what happened last weekend when an argument that started in a bar continued in the street. The story was headlined: Gun Malfunction Saves Victim (here in Iowa City, even a near-shooting is big news). It read, in part:

The victim told police that William "Rudy" Wright got out of a van, brandished a shotgun and pointed the weapon at the victim.

Wright racked the shotgun and was prepared to fire when a round ejected, causing a temporary distraction that allowed the victim enough time to run away, according to the police complaint. The victim told police he believed he was going to be shot had it not been for the round being accidentally ejected.

Although the reporter's writing isn't very clear, it's pretty certain one of two things happened:

One: The gun had an empty chamber, and it had timing problems. When the shooter tried to load a round from the magazine the carrier malfunctioned and the shell fell out of the magazine tube onto the ground. I've had a couple of pump guns that dropped shells from time to time.

Two: The gun was already loaded and the shooter, having seen too much TV (or perhaps having read too much George Pelecanos), prepared to fire the gun by racking the slide and pumped a live shell out of the chamber and onto the ground. While he watched the shell skitter across the concrete, his intended victim ran away.

Whatever did happen, he is lucky the other guy didn't have a gun, too.