The Art of the Pistol Whip

I’ve got a pet peeve, something I see in movies all the time, and read in books and comics. I’m talking about the scene where someone pulls out a gun and effortlessly takes down their opponent with a single blow via the infamous pistol whip. It happens via punch or kick sometimes too, I know, but for whatever reason the pistol whip rankles my skin. Do you think these people practice the technique, or do they just get lucky? I know it’s pretty friggin’ difficult to knock someone out unless you are trained to know how to do it. I can also buy it when someone takes someone down by busting some enormous pot or statue over someone’s noggin’ too, but the pistol whip? I’m not sold on it, especially when you see some shmoe who’s been put in a bad situation just coldcocking people left and right.

Let’s take a look at what Wikipedia has to say about this particular combat maneuver:

Pistol whipping is the act of using a handgun as a blunt weapon, wielding it as if it were a club or blackjack. “Pistol-whipping” and “to pistol-whip” were reported as “new words” of American speech in 1955, with cited usages from 1940s. However both the term and the practice trace back to the Wild West of the 1800s.

Paul Wellman notes that a Westerner clubbing an opponent with the butt of a gun held by its barrel, seen in some westerns, has its problems. There are several reasons why it would be wrong. One of which is that the gun would be rendered useless for its primary purpose which is to fire a projectile out of the barrel. There is also the danger of an unintentional discharge which could fatally wound the “clubber”. Plus there would also be a loss of precious time to switch from holding the barrel to holding the grip in the standard shooting way.Instead, pistol whipping (also known as buffaloing) was done with the long and heavy barrel of the gun held in an ordinary manner. Thus removing the above mentioned issues involved with holding the gun by the barrel.

Pistol whipping may leave unusual lacerations on the body of the injured due to various protruding details of the pistol. Semicircular or triangular lacerations on the skin may be produced by the butt of a pistol. The magazine well and the base of the magazine produce rectangular lacerations on the skin. These lacerations can vary in depth and severity, but if “whipped”, fractures are common.

Pistol-whipping should not be confused with buttstroking, a close-combat military discipline.

One thing you never see is anyone particularly bloodied when they take a gun upside their head. And a lot of times they are back in action after getting clubbed unconscious shortly thereafter. I’m here to tell you, shit doesn’t work like that.

I think toothlessness, ala the first image, is a much more likely result of the average pistol whipping than unconsciousness. Julia says if she was going to pistol whip someone, she’d use the butt of the gun, ala this second picture. But like the wiki article says, one could possibly discharge one’s firearm into oneself if you do that, which would be ugly. I’m a proponent of the pistol whip as delivered by the barrel, so that I’m still in firing position if necessary, but you’d need a pretty long barreled gun for that. Which I’m not necessarily opposed to.

You also risk putting someone’s eye out via the site on the end of the barrel if you use that method, which would be gross, but I imagine that I guy who loses an eye is more likely to lie there screaming than really fight you (remember the eye gouge scene in Deadwood? Gross, eh?). And if your goal is to blind someone, there are better ways of doing that anyway.

Let’s take a look at that last line from the wiki entry again:

Pistol-whipping should not be confused with buttstroking, a close-combat military discipline.

Hmm. Where I come from, “buttstroking” has nothing to do with really clubbing anyone. But apparently it is a legitimate technique for rendering an opponent down-for-the-count too. I don’t know. I think I’ll keep the term “buttstroking” out of my manly fiction. It sounds like some office-based tactic for getting ahead, or even something vaguely pornographic. Come to think of it, “pistol whip” sounds vaguely pornographic too. Kind of like “sword fighting” but we won’t go there.

I just hate when perverts pervert something awesome. Some things should be sacred.

I guess the point of this blog is to voice my displeasure to the trope of the pistol whip as a means to easily and efficiently remove an opponent from the fray. In the real world I just don’t think it works that way. Unless you’re a pro, you’re as likely to bludgeon someone to death just trying to knock them out, and in most cases you’re going to leave a bloody mess. It’s not like you’re doing anyone any favors by braining them rather than shooting them. I’m against it. Don’t be a candyass. If you need to be stealthy, that’s what silencers are for. Or get a sap or something. But don’t use the pistol whip.

11 thoughts on “The Art of the Pistol Whip”

  1. >A pet peeve of mine also. I like it a few years ago when spoofs started showing the guy being pistol whipped spinning around and saying "now cut that out." Like it was more an annoyance than anything else.

  2. >Yeah, it seems like an awkward, terrible idea. I think it has crept into the popular culture through the following sequence:1. Belief that it is possible to knock someone out like snapping your fingers.2. Therefore, in situations of mortal peril where noise needs to be avoided, just knock someone out.3. Since it's really easy to do in general, it must be really easy to do with a gun.Hence, widespread pistol whippings.The only use of a pistol for non-shooting violence that ever struck me as realistic is that described by one of the thieves in Reservoir Dogs, in which—while still holding the pistol normally—he brings the butt down on the bridge of someone's nose. I think he spoke highly of the arresting effect of all of that blood and pain on the rest of the crowd you are trying to control while completing your robbery. That makes some sense. Pistol whipping, not so much.

  3. >Holding the pistol sideways before shooting someone, or when simply threatening someone, is my Hollywood gun-use pet peeve. Don't waste time trying to look gangsta, just shoot the motherfucker.

  4. >Nice exploration of a thoroughly cartoonized fighting technique, Chris. Still, it's tempting to use simply because of the crisp, assonant sound of the phrase itself. Pistol whip!

  5. >I'm with you, Bob. In fact, I was watching a movie last night (Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, which was actually pretty damn fun) where a villain basically slaps Robert Downey Jr.'s character across the face with his pistol. It was actually well done, and seemed a properly humiliating tactic to unleash on an opponent. I would be down with that.

  6. >What about the scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta pistolwhips his neighbor for sexually assaulting his wife? It looks like he uses pretty much the whole revolver, gripping it around the cylinder. Also, he didn't knock him out with it, instead leaving his face cut up and more than likely fractured.

  7. >dude, you are gay. there are many reasons why depending on the situation could call for some pistol whipping action. obviously, before attempting to do so, one trains in the art of pistol whipping so that depending on angle, height of head, etc you make a mother f&ing quick decision as to what isoptimal gunhold position for maximum impact and what the least use of force necessary to get the job done. you might not want or need a killing, you may also (hope not)run out of ammo. if that happens,you cant just sit around reloading or leave without completing your mission you make do with what you got and if you are that retarded to not have a backup weapon you finish the job with what you got whether that means your physical skill or a toothpick. its alot about knowing anatomy striking precise areas not just flailing your piece around. i bet that tactic dont get you too far in bed neither. good technique goes along way. it might even make up for your lack of generous endowment going on downstairs. by the way nobody giggles THAT much at the command of buttstroke. you probably lack skill doing that one, on the mat or on the bed.

  8. >So, im tryin to figure what you are all about.im sorry somewhat for any percieved vitriol contained within. im just tryin to have fun! So i am surmising you r a writer and a fan of some real quality literature. Listen,u need some technical direction once in a while so u dont sound like an ignorant ass, i have law enforcement experience, flying specifially cessnas 150, 152, 172, experience performing autopsies as an autopsy assistant, funeral business, embalming, describing realistically a DB(dead body) thestates of decomposition, accurate description regarding condition a body would be in depending on many factors and details of the death, how a DB might appear depending on cause of death, and funeral law. also drugs, crime, criminals, u name it. just a thought. check out my facebook. methinks its under name of cathy ywaski. easy to f%ing findwith that name. aslo lest i forget, altered states, a persons inner thoughts as they navigate psychotic episodes, what it is like to be kinda smart, yet suffer with brain damage. also familiar with Northern NJ, NYC, EAST COAST, san diego area, and last but not least, livin behind the redwood curtain in the emerald triangle of the Humboldt nation. But, im sure you have plenty of sources for all things macabre. but i got real life exp. with all of the above, delivered with insight and occasional creepy strangeness. my FB aint nothin to right home about, but check my pics and ill bet you will call. btw im not bothering to edit this crappy blurb, yo!!!

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