James Bond’s PPK gun is only good for its looks

October 4, 2012

It’s like shooting a cork from a fistful of barbed wire. You won’t hit anyone, but it’s okay, because if you did hit them, they’d just get really mad.

That’s the sleek but basically useless PPK, with which Ian Fleming — who knew nothing about guns — armed James Bond, and then died before both 007 and the pistol became icons.

Fleming presumably made his choice of weapon on the basis of design alone. And indeed, the PPK (in German it stands for “short police pistol”) is a cool little beauty. It looks like Nietzschean poetry in steel, with a thrust of decadent Weimar art moderne to it. And it is Weimar, the latest thing from 1931, with its radical double-action design. It’s light, thin, designed for undercover work, meant to be carried a lot and shot a little. It was already old-fashioned by the time Connery got his in ’62.

Its tragic flaw is that when it was designed, streamline was the hot lick, but nobody had heard of ergonomics; men adjusted to machines, not the other way around. And though it looks sleek, its edges are all razor sharp, while the trigger pull is like dragging a 75-pound rake across gravel. When you finally get the 10-pound lever far enough back to fire, the pipsqueak jumps like a snapping mousetrap as it recoils, the slide shooting back in supertime, then forward again as all those edges cut into your flesh. Shoot a box of ammo, and your hand looks as though it’s been put through a meat grinder. You probably haven’t hit anything either, because the sights are tiny and the barrel short.

So the gun, like the man, is an illusion. Its reality is pointless: Bond never had to aim, had hands made of asbestos and never missed. He could have fired a staple gun and put Blofeld away.

Stephen Hunter is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post critic and author. His upcoming novel, “The Third Bullet,” is out in January.

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