Hunter: You know, there was never any getting involved in it. I was always in it. I can’t specify the first moment I saw and loved a gun, but it’s got to be sometime in the early 1950s. I remember a kid next door had a .22, which I thought was neat. I remember visiting an uncle’s farm in Missouri. They had guns, and I always wanted to shoot.
Television and the movies in those days were flooded with images of guys with guns used heroically and nobly and honorably, and I absorbed all that. It was clear to me from a very early age that the guns were very vivid to my imagination, and that I had a very powerful response to them. I make my living from my imagination. I need stimulation, and firearms have been really a reliable stimulation for close to 60 years now. I mean it’s been a very happy life, and I’ve benefited immeasurably from my passion for guns.
Keefe: NRA Secretary Maj. “Jim” Land served in Vietnam and was one of the architects of the modern Marine Corps sniper program. After he read “Point Of Impact,” he told me he didn’t necessarily want to read it, but he wanted to find an “I got you” in it. After he read the book, he told me that you didn’t get anything wrong.
Hunter: He told me that, too, and it makes me very proud. One of the early motivations was that, of course, there’s also a lot of junk in popular culture about guns. We’ve all seen movies where a six-shooter fires 75 times, and the guy kills a sniper from 200 yards with a hipshot from a Colt Detective Special, and that sort of thing. One of the things from the very beginning was I wanted to portray the guns accurately. I wanted to understand what they did and what they didn’t do. I wanted to talk about how they were used, what the dynamics of firearms encounters were as opposed to what the Hollywood vision of them was. I figured Hemingway once said something like, “The way you start every morning is you try and think of ‘One True’ thing.” Well, I didn’t know much about anything except guns. So, I thought, if I can get one true thing about a gun in, maybe that would take me somewhere interesting. And so all the books sort of turn on the fulcrum of a particular gun being used or not being used, and I’ve always gone to great pains—maybe too great a pain—to make sure that I got the details right. And I’m quite proud of that. I got some things wrong, but I haven’t made too many terrible mistakes.
Keefe: You actually use firearms as plot devices. They almost take on the role of characters in your books.
Hunter: Yes, I do. And that’s why the books almost always begin with guns. I try to imbue the characters with the virtues of the gun. You know, like Bob Lee Swagger, who is sort of a human M40A1 sniper rifle. He’s accurate, he doesn’t miss, he’s rugged, he doesn’t go out of zero, he understands what to do, he holds together in tense, extreme moments. For the simplicity of his appearance, he is enormously sophisticated underneath. So in that sense he and the rifle have a commonality. In other ways, you can use guns to characterize bad guys.
In the new book “I, Sniper,” the bad guy has the very latest generation of computer-driven, ballistics calculator scope. And Bob just has a mil-dot scope. So there’s something of the virtue of Bob, and the willingness of the bad guy to “cheat.” I would like to see all our soldiers in the field with computer-driven ballistic calculator scopes, but in the framework of the book it’s very clear that one scope is good and honorable, and the other scope is a reflection of the bad guy’s willingness and ruthlessness to use technology to compensate for lack of talent. Which is a bad mistake when you’re dealing with Bob Lee Swagger, as he finds out.
Keefe: In “Point Of Impact,” you introduce Bob Lee Swagger, and Hollywood’s adaptation of the book became “Shooter.” Considering your background, considering that for so many years you were a film critic, how was it moving to the inside of Hollywood as they adapted your book into “Shooter?”
Hunter: It was basically rather pleasant. They respected the book. They understood, at some level, that principle, and I just laid out that I was trying to be accurate with the guns. The whole cast and crew went to a shooting school. One of the things that was good about that movie (and believe me there are bad things about it) is the gun handling. The gun handling—the way they move with the guns and the way they shoot the guns—is very professional, as it should be because we were portraying high-level professionals. The action sequences with the guns, I think, are all very high quality.
And that, in a funny way, was what I had hoped to get out of it. And one of the reasons that the DVD has been so successful, it’s become such a cult item, is because gun people watch it, and they instinctively know that they’re getting something that’s genuine, and I’m hoping that’s why they read the books because they understand that it’s done with respect and a good deal of care and research to portray the guns as accurately as possible.