The Guns of Justified
A Look at The Guns of Justified – From A Gun Enthusiast View
Everything you need to know about the FX cable television series Justified and its protagonist U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is established in the first scene of the first episode of the first season. Unable to tolerate the existence of the murderous gangland thug Tommy Bucks in his jurisdiction, and having no legal reason to arrest him, Givens arrives to Tommy Bucks’ penthouse luncheon and passively goads Bucks into drawing his pistol. Givens out-draws Bucks and shoots him three times through the heart with his SIG P226 from under the table. It’s a marvelous scene that contrasts Givens’ crystal clear moral ends with his ethically murky methods, all done with masterfully escalated tension and propelled with a dialog that is neither terse nor wordy, but simply and naturally what it needs to be. Lets take a closer look at the Guns of Justified.
While Justified wasn’t the only work of legendary and staggeringly prolific novelist Elmore Leonard to be put into moving pictures (twenty-six of them, with three filmed twice), it was the writer’s favorite, despite being based on a single side character in the novel Pronto. Leonard later fleshed out Raylan Givens in the short story Fire In The Hole on which the first episode of the series was based, and eventually gave the Marshall his own book in 2012’s Raylan. From this thin source material sprang the 6-year story of an old-west style lawman in our modern world trying to come to terms with his past and future.
Initially uneven but always entertaining, the series hit its stride after it abandoned the “caper of the week” formula of the first year and focused instead on season-long conflict arcs, pitting Raylan and his fellow Marshals against a remarkable array of Appalachian crime lords. Justified shows a cocky confidence from its writers as they put obvious effort into building up interesting and deep side characters and yet are unflinchingly ready to kill them in the very same episode. Justified would be outstanding just on the writing and acting performances alone, but the series is great fun for the gun enthusiast. There is a lot of shooting, and there are a lot of guns, and they all help tell the story. Pour yourself a double bourbon and let’s have a look.
Raylan’s SIG 226 appears in that first scene of the first episode only, later replaced by the U.S. Marshal Service’s issue sidearm. The 9x19mm 226 was a double-stack development of the single-column 225, finishing a close second to the Beretta 92 in the U.S. Army’s service pistol competition of the early 1980s. Denied the widespread popularity that contract brought the 92, the 226 did see service in the FBI, U.S. Navy, the Federal Air Marshal program and several state and local level police departments.
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Except for a brief scene with a Colt Officer’s 1911 variant (showcasing a slick one-handed chamber check), Givens’ constant companion for the series is a third-generation GLOCK 17 pistol. Although Givens refers to it as a “forty-five GLOCK” in one episode, the size and shape of the slide and barrel are clearly that of the 9mm model, which is what the U.S. Marshal Service issues anyway. It’s mostly seen riding around in a Bianchi Model 59 tan leather paddle holster with thumb strap, allowing not only easy and quickdraws but also the unsnapping of the retention strap as a dramatic replacement for the hero cocking the hammer of his pistol as a sign that he’s serious.
While not a flashy sidearm for the lead character of the series, Justified makes up for that with Givens’ dramatic, effective and accurate gun handling. Givens, like his literary ancestors, the legendary predecessor lawmen of the Old West, is quick on the draw and unhesitatingly willing to put a man in the ground. The series repeatedly makes light of his high body count, as boss Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) complains to Givens when having to fill out post-incident paperwork after he’s shot a criminal: “Do you have to go through this every time? It’s exhausting.”
In a few episodes, Givens is seen carrying the compact sibling to the GLOCK 17, the GLOCK 26, as a backup pistol. Introduced in 1995 and marketed to the burgeoning domestic U.S. concealed carry market, the 26 is not only significantly shorter in length and height, but also features a dual-spring recoil system and a revised locking block. The petite ten-shot pistol soon became popular with police officers looking for a backup to their full-sized GLOCK duty pistols. The 26 also sees use as Marshal Rachel Brooks’ (Erica Tazel) primary sidearm. It’s a frequent Hollywood trick to put a smaller-sized pistol in the hands of more petite stars; the camera can make a slight statured person handling a full-sized pistol look ridiculous.
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GLOCK 17s and the mid-size GLOCK 19 are popular sidearms in the Marshall’s office, and modern law enforcement staples like AR-style carbines put in appearances, but noteworthy is the Remington 700 PSS (Police Sniper System) bolt-action sniper rifle of Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts). Introduced as a catalog item in 1986, the PSS offered as standard several modifications gunsmiths had been applying to custom service sniper rigs, including a heavy barrel, bedded synthetic stock and additional action tuning. Gutterson uses this accurate tack driver and his skill to conclude more than a few confrontations over the run of the series. “I can’t carry a tune, I don’t know how to shoot a basketball and my handwriting is, uh, barely legible. But I don’t miss.” he notes after being questioned about a particularly challenging shot.
Givens’ foil throughout the series is childhood-friend-turned-outlaw Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who is a fan of Southern eloquence, collared shirts buttoned up all the way, and the Beretta 92FS service pistol. A veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, which was one of the 92FS’s (M9 in U.S. military service) first American conflicts, Crowder shuns a holster and shows zero hesitation in using it to intimidate or execute.
The pump-action shotgun looms large in the lore and practice of both American law enforcement and outlaws, and the characters in Justified are indeed partial to them. I didn’t keep an exact count, but the Ford vs. Chevrolet of the 12-gauge shotgun world — the Mossberg 500/590 and the Remington 870 — are clearly most represented in the series.
Introduced in 1951, the Remington 870 was a revamped Remington 31, itself a redo of the John Moses Browning designed Remington 17 (the design of which was purchased by Ithaca and marketed as the Model 37) and was an immediate best seller, racking up two million sales by 1973 and ten million by 2009. 870s are seen in several variations from a full-stocked Police Magnum with corncob fore-end, folding stock versions, and short-barreled “stakeout” guns with only a pistol grip. Givens gets in on the shotgun action in Season 2, when he retrieves a synthetic-stocked 870 from the trunk of his car as hit men pursue him. Gutterson is also seen with an 870 in Season 4, another Police Magnum 870 with a Surefire flashlight fore-end and a Speedfeed pistol grip stock.
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Ten years later, the Mossberg Model 500 hit the market as a lower cost working man’s shotgun. Using a less expensive aluminum receiver and a single action bar (although the 500 was redesigned to use dual bars in 1971 after Remington’s patent expired), the 500 undercut the 870 in both price and weight, making it popular with frugal shooters as well as hunters out in the field for hours at a time. Mossberg’s advertising emphasized the savings, comparing the 500 to more expensive “Fancy Dan” guns.
The 500 was available from the factory in a stockless, pistol grip only setup named the “Cruiser”, as its shorter overall length made it ideal for use out of cramped police patrol cars. One of these Cruisers features in Givens’ first confrontation with perennially hapless crook Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman). Rebuffed by Givens, Crowe retrieves a black 500 Cruiser with dual pistol grips and side saddle shell carrier from his car and aims it directly at the Marshal’s face. Givens correctly bets that Crowe isn’t mentally prepared to use it and relieves him of it in a great scene.
A heavy-duty variant of the 500 intended for military contracts was developed in the 1970s and offered for sale as the 590. This shotgun featured a stronger receiver, redesigned extended magazine tube and cap, and a parkerized finish on the steel parts. The 590 went on to win several military and law enforcement contracts, and features in quite a few Justified episodes. My personal favorite is a stainless “Mariner” Cruiser loaded with less-lethal beanbag rounds that Givens takes to a confrontation with a tough prizefighter. “Not my thing, ordinarily,” Givens says, “An associate of mine thought non-lethal force might come in handy. I figured what the hell, I’d give it a shot,” after laying out the thug with a single beanbag to the chest.
The Ithaca 37 begat both the 500 and the 870, and one shows up in Season 3, a nickel-plated pistol grip-only model that bartender, and Givens love interest, Lindsey Salazar (Jenn Lyon) retrieves from behind her bar. While never reaching the sheer sales numbers of either of its descendants, the 37 has some unique features, such as ejecting empty shells downward through the loading gate and high quality all-steel construction, that keep it in production to this day.
Even older than the 37 is a Winchester 1897 that appears once in Season 3. An external hammer pump action shotgun, the 1897 was also a John Moses Browning design and was quite popular in all the markets the 870 and 500 later appealed to. While Winchester struck it from the catalog in 1957, the design is still in production in China as the Norinco 97.
In Season 5, Detroit hitman Elias Marcos (Alan Tudyk) ambushes Marshals Givens and Mullen in a warehouse and attempts to kill them with an AA-12 fully automatic shotgun, complete with shoulder strap and multiple 32-shell drum magazines. Designed in 1972 by Maxwell Atchisson, the AA-12 uses a sophisticated high-reciprocating mass bolt and gas management system to reduce felt recoil to the shooter and allows surprisingly accurate automatic fire. Despite early interest from military and law enforcement, no orders materialized and the design bounced around from company to company for years. The heavy weight of the gun (15 pounds loaded) and limited range and penetration of 12 gauge ammunition are the biggest drawbacks to the system, and would seem to doom the gun to appearances on TV and video games.
Justified also repeatedly features another favorite of the blue-collar shooter, the Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle. Closely resembling a scaled-down M-14, Bill Ruger’s “little rifle” was offered for sale in 1973 as a less expensive alternative to Colt’s AR-15 and soon became popular with budget-minded shooters who were willing to trade accuracy for durability and price. First seen in the hands of the Pork Brothers, a couple of Crowder associates in Season 1, all manner of Mini-14 variants feature in every season to date. Variants were aimed at the law enforcement market, including the folding stock AC556 and the short-barreled AC556K, and scope mounts were also offered as aftermarket parts. A scoped synthetic-stock Mini-14 features heavily in the Season 4 showdown between Crowder’s thug Colton Rhodes (Ron Eldard) and Tim Gutterson, and an AC556K is repeatedly put to work by Dewey Crowe’s more competent cousin Darryl Crowe Jr. (Michael Rapaport).
Some Warsaw Pact hardware shows up occasionally in the form of AK types, but a special case rides in the “go bag” of Constable Bob Sweeney (Patton Oswalt). In a confrontation with a couple of gentlemen unwilling to take him seriously, Bob pulls out a fully automatic AKS-74U carbine and gets into a hilarious exchange of fire with the two, which eventually fizzles out when Givens arrives on the scene to see that nobody was hit. An aggressively shortened and lightened AK-74 in 5.45x39mm, the AKS-74U features an eight-inch barrel, triangular folding buttstock and an extended rear sight that gives the stubby carbine a useable sight radius.
Givens is shown an uncomfortable glimpse at his present and future when he briefly teams up with Memphis DEA Agent Alex Miller (Eric Roberts), whose roughshod approach and wreck of a family life seem all too familiar. Miller is also a shooter at heart, and carries a stainless Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum revolver. An evolutionary development of the earlier Security Six revolver, the GP100 was designed to be strong enough to withstand a lifetime of full-power .357 ammunition without damage, a diet which Smith & Wesson’s K-Frame revolvers were unable to handle. The price for this durability was weight as the GP100 could weigh up to 45 ounces, and thus Miller carries his in a full leather shoulder rig.
Elmore Leonard passed away in 2013, and while he featured less and less in the writing of the series as it went on, producer Graham Yost and lead Timothy Olyphant decided to end the series on a high note after his death. The sixth season of Justified will be the last, and much like its creator, it will be sorely missed and yet will always be with us. Season 6 of Justified will premiere on FX this January, and I’ll be planted on my couch for it. If you’re at all a fan of shooter cinema, you will be too.
By Peter Barrett. Originally published in the December 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.
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