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...possibly more than the automobile, the handgun is synonymous with America.
The Complete Zombie Survival Guide

There are certain rules about guns and who's armed with what. In general, in non-military stories, the protagonist is armed only with their trusty handgun. Essentially, a character who carries a pistol as their primary firearm is showing just how cool he really is; he can take the field with an inferior weapon and win the day. However, pistols can be portrayed as wonder weapons, equal to a rifle in killing power.

To be fair, the handgun does provide certain advantages for many walks of heroic life. It is small, easily concealed, and easily used. Even when better armaments are available and sometimes more advantageous, many heroes still carry a handgun as their primary firearm. Rifles and the like are reserved for supporting characters or the Redshirt Army or Evil Minions to carry.

Actually, as main weapons handguns perform poorly when compared to, say, assault rifles. However, the appeal of handguns appears to trump such trifling tactical concerns - in effect the handgun is the modern sword, preferred by heroes over the more militarily common polearm for roughly the same reasons. If they really want power, they'll either use a shotgun or a Hand Cannon. Or, perhaps, carry two.

Exceptions apply for characters in the military, as rifles and other such military-grade weapons are standard-issue. Even then, such a character is frequently reduced to using his trusty sidearm when facing down the Big Bad, or may carry a pistol if they are an officer or special forces.

However, when it comes to handguns, everyone agrees that Revolvers Are Just Better

Examples of Handguns include:


Anime and Manga

  • While the various mercenary ne'er-do-wells of Black Lagoon use a wide variety of weapons, the most skilled tend to use either pistols or a Hand Cannon. Nevertheless, while chainsaw, minigun, and dual-pistol wielding maniacs are the order of the day, the most feared and effective force in the setting are Balalaika's faceless snipers and AK-wielding ex-paratroopers.
  • Mireille and Kirika, the all but preternatural assassins of Noir, work almost exclusively with handguns.
  • The main crew of the Bebop usually use handguns. Possibly justified by the crew being too poor to afford anything else, and by ridiculously powerful weapons being a bad idea when you need to bring in your target alive to get paid, as well as both dangerous and conspicuous in the populated areas they often have to fight in.
  • Teana's Weapon of Choice in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Helps that it's a Magitek handgun that fires magical bullets that pack a punch and whose trajectory she can control.
  • Train from Black Cat's weapon of choice is a handgun.
  • Rally Vincent almost always uses a pistol, but she does have bigger guns for she needs them.
    • Another of Kenichi Sonoda's manga, Cannon God Exaxxion has an interesting spin on this. The main hero only uses pistols, but since they're magnetic acceleration/chemical propellant hybrids built with alien supertech that require a supersuit so the force of the recoil doesn't kill the user, it's not like he needs anything else.
  • Mana's close range Weapon of Choice in Mahou Sensei Negima are a pair of handguns. Don't think you're safe just because you're too close to be shot by her Sniper Rifle.
  • In spite of being a Cold Sniper during her actual deployment, Riza Hawkeye from Fullmetal Alchemist almost exclusively favored her semiautomatic sidearm throughout the series, fired “Weaver style.”

Film

  • The various James Bond movies almost always arm Bond with his trusty handgun. This makes more sense for a spy, who would want to use a subtle, concealable weapon. Of course, since when did James Bond care about subtlety?
    • The TV Spy Fiction series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. varied the standard handgun trope in two ways. First, the standard issue U.N.C.L.E. handgun could fire either bullets or non-lethal "sleep darts" depending on the needs of the plot. Second, when U.N.C.L.E. agents needed a weapon that was more like a rifle than a handgun, they could simply attach a stock, telescopic sight, barrel extension, and extended magazine to the handgun and, voila, the handgun turned into a cool looking carbine.
      • There are some real-life "machine pistols" and pistol-caliber carbines that work this way, in the form of attaching a stock and/or extended barrel.
        • To say nothing of pistols that one can attach a stock to. The C-96 Mauser and its replacement, the Luger, both had optional attaching stocks.
  • In Die Hard, although John McClane seeks out a machine gun (ho-ho-ho) at the first opportunity, he's still eventually reduced to his trusty pistol.
    • He's able to take out a helicopter with a snub-nosed revolver. To be fair, he didn't aim directly at said helicopter...
  • Although anti-hero Tony Montana in Scarface is best known for his M16+ M203, villain Alejandro Sosa uses a pistol in Scarface the World Is Yours.
  • For the house fight in the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, John Smith went with a simple handgun while Jane Smith dual wielded a submachine gun and a shotgun. Other than her ability to shoot through walls, he was able to keep up with her although this was partially due to the confined quarters being more beneficial for the light weight of a handgun letting him shoot around corners.
  • Chow Yun Fat's signature weapons before he came to Hollywood were a pair of Beretta 92Fs.
  • In the war film, We Were Soldiers. Sergeant Major Plumley, a Real Life Badass no less, refused to use the new M16 during the battle, preferring to use his trusty Colt 1911 service pistol during the battle, even firing it one-handed no less.
    • He has a quote that deserves to be quoted. Having dismissed the M-16 as being so plastic that it feels like a BB gun, and stated his preference for his Colt, his superior officer remarks that maybe he should head by the Armoury and pick one up anyway. He responds; "Time comes I need one, Sir, there'll be plenty of 'em lying on the ground." The time duly comes, and he is sadly proved right.

Literature

  • The Dark Tower: Roland Deschain has a pair of pistols cast from the metal of the legendary Excalibur. He doesn't shoot with them, though. He shoots with his mind. But he kills with the heart.
    • More to the point, he is the last of his world's professional gunslingers-and his Ancestral Weapon is a pair of revolvers. The power of the gunslinger's revolvers (ALL of the gunslingers, of which he was merely the last one) is known throughout his world, with revolvers being held up as the "ultimate weapon". Of course this also becomes an important plot point, as Roland spends most of the story with a bad right hand, and loaning one of his two pistols away to Eddie or Suze - neither possible if he had been a rifleman.
  • Honor Harrington's trademark weapon is a replica Colt M1911 chambered in .45 ACP, considered to be an anachronistic Hand Cannon by the standards of the setting. She justifies her skill with the weapon as going back to an eccentric uncle back home who was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms [1]
    • More common for the setting are rapid-fire handheld rail guns that launch small darts at high velocity. An infiltrator trying to sneak past a guard post on a relatively low-tech world is discovered because he was carying an old fashioned firearm rather than one of the much harder to obtain "Pulsers" that the guards in that organization happened to be equipped with.
  • It's considered poor practice for a Time Scout not to be proficient with handguns.

Live Action TV

  • Nearly every police or crime drama. Of course, this is somewhat more understandable, as the pistol is the standard weapon for those professions.
  • Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly and Serenity generally used a handgun, even though other members of the crew used rifles or carbines. Usually, though, gunplay happened at unexpected moments, requiring a quick-draw, or while he is in disguise. The rare instances where Mal expected to get into trouble and didn't have to worry about concealing his weapons, he packed a shotgun or assault rifle.
  • Jack Bauer of 24 almost always uses a handgun, and on one occasion in season 5 even manages to shoot down a helicopter with one. However, he does use more formidable firearms when the opportunity presents itself.
  • The various Star Trek series and movies appear to have taken this to its logical extreme -- with the exception of the much-maligned Star Trek: Enterprise and some latter parts of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, phasers are rarely seen except in handgun form, presumably because the Federation is trying to pass itself off as less militaristic, and the hand phasers are effective enough that more powerful weapons are rarely needed.
    • Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager had quite a bit of phaser-rifle brandishing in later seasons, because there was a greater emphasis on Scary Dogmatic Aliens threatening the Federation (or because the big guns had been passed on from the Trek movies). This was also seen when Star Trek: Enterprise was made Darker and Edgier with the Xindi war arc, leading to the introduction of the MACO's -- basically a special ops team who, unlike Reed's security mooks, had energy rifles.
  • Wesley of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame used two handguns as his primary weapons in the latter series -- odd, for a show in which guns of any sort were generally maligned.
  • In the new Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, season one's military handguns were extremely powerful, capable of firing rounds that could go through heavily armed robots. This was changed in seasons 2 and 3, where the handguns and most weapons are generally ineffective, except when the handguns fire explosive rounds. (Eventually they moved on to assault rifles and PDWs, whose bullets, while no more effective, were certainly a lot more voluminous.)
  • Babylon 5 Security uses the PPG plasma pistol as their standard weapon since they're basically cops. They only break out rifles when things get really bad.
    • PPGs are used instead of bullet-firing guns so as to avoid putting air holes in the hull of the space station.
  • In Supernatural, the Winchesters use handguns with silver bullets to take down shapeshifters and a werewolf. They also have a Colt revolver that can kill almost anything.
  • Torchwood features a massive amount of handguns. Jack uses a Webley Mk. IV revolver, the rest of the team relying on Tokyo Marui HiCapa's. However in the episode "Day One", Gwen's firearms training involves a LOT of guns. Among Captain Johns many weapons are (presumably) 2 HiCapa's and a Remington 1866 Derringer. Many other handguns are featured, including a Glock 17, USP .45, Smith & Wesson number 3 revolver, FN model 1910, Beretta 92F and a Walther P99.
  • Its parent show Doctor Who features even more, with a USP compact, Glock 17, Webley bulldog, Beretta 92FS, SIG P226, Webley Mk. VI and IV, Walther PPK, Walther P38, Strayer Voight Infinity, Tokyo Marui Hicapa, Luger P08, Glock 26 Advance, Colt Single Action Army and Smith & Wesson model 27.

Video Games

  • Counter-Strike: Handguns can actually hold their own against full-sized weapons in mid to long distances, especially the Desert Eagle, which can drop any one in one shot to the head, armored or not.
  • Deus Ex: Gameplay will have the player find all different types of weapons, but the pistol is one of the most effective. Boring but Practical, it can be upgraded to be a poor-man's sniper rifle, ammo is very common, takes up only one spot in the inventory, and can drop most enemies in one shot to the head. Fan-made mods give it explosive rounds, which allow the player to blow open doors.
    • The prequel, Deus Ex Human Revolution continues this with the 10mm pistol. Ammo is very common, and with a armor-piercing upgrade, can drop any human mook in one shot to the head.
  • Dante of the Devil May Cry series goes Guns Akimbo with two customized handguns as his signature firearms. Admittedly, he does gain better firepower, including but not limited to shotguns, a grenade launcher and a sniper rifle. Nevertheless, his pistols remain useful even in the endgame.
    • In the later games, anyhow. In the first game the hand guns were useless after you got your shotgun because they were too weak to be of any use and the shotgun was fast enough to keep enemies at bay. The grenade launcher was even better. It helps that Dante never has to reload and can shoot so fast he can keep enemies floating on a cloud of hot lead.
  • Gungrave: Beyond the Grave is an undead gunslinger who, in both the anime and video game series, wields the "Left Head and Right Head of Cerberus", two Really Big Pistols Guns Akimbo-style. He also carries a coffin on his back stocked with heavy weapons, but the handguns are his main method of fighting. He starts with these weapons and ends the game with them.
  • Every Resident Evil game starts you off with a handgun.
  • Subverted in the Jak series of games- the hero's trademark morpho-gun can switch between many different modes- the basics being shotgun, rifle, gatling gun and rocket launcher in the second game, with the third one introducing upgrades for these, but the hero never once gets his hands on a pistol- which considering how his primary enemies are hideous biomechanical monstrosities that spit acid, generate their own energy fields and feed off of dark energy is pretty sensible.
  • In the online MMORPG Tabula Rasa, the player starts with a pistol and 1000 rounds of ammunition. Soon after, the player gets more powerful weapons (completing the Basic Trinity - shotgun, rifle, and pistol). The pistol of the three can generate the highest damage-per-second of the three, due to its rapid rate of fire. Not only that, it remains useful throughout the game. Surprisingly, the weapons in TR require reloading, require crouching in place (beading) to fire at their most accurate and do the most damage, and otherwise behave like their real-world counterparts. This, from a science fantasy MMO.
  • Snake, from Metal Gear, consistently "recovered" a variety of weapons, including assault rifles, light machine guns, and rocket launchers. However, in most cutscenes, he's shown using his (usually suppressed) handgun, usually in .45 caliber. Which makes sense, considering he's on a sneaking mission and would prefer a single silent shot over a wall of lead.
    • Subverted in Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots however, where cutscenes tend to show him with the weapon most useful for the situation... except indoors where just about ANY weapon (preferably a shotgun or an automatic carbine, a lesser choice being submachine guns) is superior to a pistol in room-to-room CQB. Ditto for Meryl, Rat Patrol Team 01's leader, due to her being "point woman" -- first into the room, should have something besides a pistol, though her Long-BarrelDesert Eagle, probably has more than enough stopping power.
      • A scoped long-barrel Desert Eagle would be a terrible choice because scoped weapons (not to be confused with, say, red dot sights) are terrible for indoor work, and the Desert Eagle is a slow, heavy firearm with all the weight of an M4 for half the power. And "just about any weapon" is not superior to a pistol in the very tight, confined areas inside buildings. Any "long" weapon, like, say, a rifle (even the military's M4 Carbine has this problem, causing some Special Forces units to use even SHORTER 10" barrels on theirs) has significant problems in close-quarters. It is not unknown for military-issue sidearms to see actual combat use by military units in urban warfare situations in Iraq/Afghanistan currently because they have touble maneuvering their M4s indoors, while wearing full battle gear, midway through a stack of a dozen soldiers, without "muzzle sweeping" your squad. This is a huge reason for the popularity of submachine guns, like the MP5, especially in Special Forces units, who have to fight in close quarters more often than not. Also, most combat shotguns are typically carried as breaching/specialized weapons (such as nonlethal, anti-riot rounds, for use on civilians who pose a tactical risk but not a direct threat, or are otherwise not safe to engage lethally due to current ROE).
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3, Eva's Weapon of Choice is a Chinese copy of the Mauser C96. And just guess the weapon that Revolver Ocelot carries. (An ocelot?)
  • Justified in Mass Effect where Shepard will often use a pistol in the cutscenes, in spite of carrying an assault rifle, a sniper rifle and and a shotgun. Pistols themselves are still very powerful, and perhaps more importantly, the pistol is the one weapon that all Shepard's available classes can use equally well, so it only makes sense that s/he would use it.
    • Subverted in the sequel, where during the final scenario inside the Collector base, all characters seem to carry assault rifles at some point, even those that can't, like biotic Jack (who typically uses a shotgun and a pistol), and even Joker.
    • Although this was most likely unintentional, the pistol is arguably the absolute best of the first game's weapons. Its boost talent (Marksman) is far more effective than the assault rifle equivalent (Overkill), while its very tight grouping and zoom ability makes it a better choice for mid-range sharpshooting than the actual sniper rifle (the magnification's much weaker, but the reticle doesn't wander like the real thing's).
    • Pistols are divided into submachine guns and heavy pistols for the second and third games, where they become less broken but far more fun with the addition of things like the Phalanx, the M-358 Talon, and the Scorpion.
  • Saint's Row 2 uses this to the point that when confronting Veteran Child, the Player Character will be shown wielding a NR4 pistol (a renamed Glock)... even if your inventory has a different pistol.
  • Subverted in Fate/Zero, where the protagonist Kiritsugu Emiya and his assistant use Assault Rifles, compact Sniper Rifles, Submachine Guns and High-explosives to get the job done. In the one part where he uses a handgun, he uses a Thompson Contender, a handgun designed to fire rifle bullets that are about 3-4 times more powerful than even the Calibre .50Action Express used by the Desert Eagle.
  • Very often played straight in video games, where, perhaps for game balance, pistols will be more accurate and more powerful than assault rifles, perhaps owing from the delusion that the volume of fire achieved by assault rifles and machine guns MUST mean that each of those bullets is weaker. Or perhaps its the other way around. The first Halo game is a particularly bad user of this trope, creating the infamous scoped pistol that kills in three headshots... compared to the entire magazine of ammo required from the 60 round 7.62 assault rifle (that caliber would technically designate it as a battle rifle) to achieve a similar kill... and at a much shorter range.
    • The first Halo somewhat justified this: the M6D pistol fired 12.7x40 mm semi armor-piercing high explosive rounds. Halo 2 and Halo 3 avert this, as the Battle Rifle now fills in the role the pistol had as a medium-range weapon, and the M6C and M6G pistols are signficantly reduced in firepower.
    • Less so in "tactical shooters," where they tend to be more defensive/backup weapons. For example, drawing your pistol in Call of Duty 4 is faster than reloading a primary weapon, but you get only the iron sights for aiming. (Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 allows a laser aiming module attachment.)
    • Subverted in Jagged Alliance 2, where semiautomatic pistols are starting weapons for cheap, low-level mercs and are at best early game, or speciality weapons if using accessories and/or specialized ammo; even then they're surpassed by machine pistols, which also benefit from these but are themselves surpassed by long guns which usually can also benefit from accessories and/or specialized ammo. (The v1.13 mod as of the November 14th, 2008 build leaves pistols with only a lower Action Point cost to ready.)
    • Subverted with the Serious Sam titles, at least the First Encounter and Second Encounter, where all guns were equally accurate up to as far as you could see. Sure, that included the rotary gun, but Rule of Fun. You needed that firepower anyway.
  • Also quite a lot of video games seem to have the weird idea that the handgun is a starter weapon from which the player will upgrade to rifles - the rifle requiring more skill to use. Predictably the reverse is true - handguns require far more proficiency to use than almost any long arm.
  • Messed with in Fallout 3. Handguns are excellent in the early game, since they have very low AP costs and use common ammo. By the time you encounter your first Super Mutant, though, they simply do too little damage at even the highest levels of Small Guns or Energy Weapons to justify carrying them... until you run into the Scoped Magnum. Even that still does less damage than the rifles, though, with rarer ammunition. Then there's the Alien Blaster, but that has incredibly limited ammo.
    • It's best not to count the Mysterious Stranger's .44 Magnum, which causes more damage than a tactical nuke launcher. Most bullet weapons inflict tens of HP damage per shot, thereabouts. The Mysterious Stranger's Magnum? 9000. (What! 9000?)
    • The most powerful conventional rifle in the game, Lincoln's Repeater, is about on par with the best handgun in the game, The Blackhawk (not counting Alien Blaster, since that is an Energy Weapon, though undisputed the most damaging and accurate weapon in the game.) The Blackhawk has slightly better base damage, but the Repeater slightly makes up for this higher crit damage. The Repeater has a tighter spread at minimum range, but the Blackhawk has tighter spread at maximum range. It's a near tie that could be determined by how much weight you give encumbrance and coolness factors.
    • Fallout 2 has similar weapon progression. Due to the way the action point system works, though, some pistols make surprisingly good weapons because you can shoot them several more times per round than more cumbersome guns. In particular, the .44 Magnum and the Gauss Pistol can put out 6 shots a turn with the right build, though it sacrifices the massive damage potential of called shots.
    • In the first Fallout game, putting enough skill points into pistols lets you get a One-Hit Kill against nearly anything by aiming for the eyes. (A successful called shot to the eyes from any weapon at all will do massive damage, but pistols tend to be the first type of gun you find, and ammunition is plentiful.)
    • Fallout: New Vegas has the Honest Hearts DLC, which introduces us to Joshua Graham, the Burned Man. A New Canaanite (read, Mormon) missionary and Caesar's previous legate, Joshua uses an Ace Custom .45 Auto Pistol named "A Light Shining In Darkness." It's a cut-down and heavily customized version of the standard .45 Auto Pistol available in Zion, and in Joshua's hands is an outright Hand Cannon since it does a base 50 points of damage before any bonuses from Joshua are added on. For reference, the sniper rifle available in New Vegas 'only' does 45 damage. It is toned down somewhat when the player uses it, moving it out of Game Breaker territory.
  • Team Fortress 2 has many types of pistols for the mid-health level characters (Engineer, Scout) as a standard side-arm, but the Spy is the only one to carry a revolver because he's the spy. It happens to be quite loud with a very distinctive sound. It still aims well.
    • One of the Spy's "sidegrade" weapons is The Ambassador, which is a bigger revolver. Its base accuracy is the same as the game's sniper rifle, and it does double damage on successful headshots. However, it actually is less damaging per shot otherwise, and its accuracy sustains a heavy penalty during a cooldown period after a shot (and the gun can't headshot during cooldown). It's meant to allow the spy to destroy damaged enemies from close-medium range.
  • In Left 4 Dead, all players start out with handguns (although the beginning of each round gives you a selection of other, more powerful guns). The trope is slightly averted since they're not as powerful as the other guns, but they have unlimited ammo, while the other guns do not.
  • Averted in all of the Grand Theft Auto games, where the handguns are often the weakest weapons available, with a shorter range than any weapon except the shotgun. Even the more powerful handguns, like the Colt Python in Vice City and the combat pistol in IV, aren't wonder weapons, and are frequently outclassed by sub-machine guns and assault rifles.
  • Most of the Killer 7 are armed with handguns of various kinds. The exceptions are MASK with twin grenade launchers, Kevin's throwing knives, and Harman's high-powered rifle.
  • In Final Fantasy: Dirge of Cerberus, Vincent's three-barreled handgun ("Cerberus") is a very nice weapon to have and is very customizable, even capable of being reconfigured into an assault or sniper rifle.
  • In Rainbow Six, pistols are very useful close range weapons because their reticule closes almost instantly regardless of the assault skill of the operative. This means you can fire an accurate shot faster than someone wielding an assault rifle or a submachine gun or a shotgun (though buckshot with a shotgun would probably hit the enemy anyway even if the reticule wasn't closed). Also operatives specializing in fields other than assault (especially snipers for some odd reason) have lower assault ratings (usually) and therefore aim slower with non-pistol guns. This does not apply from Raven Shield and onwards.
  • The Area 51 light gun featured you as part of some paramilitary unit. Unlike other shooting games where you were a cop with a pistol because cops don't normally tote rifles around, in this game you've got..a pistol.
  • Wasteland, the RPG, also started your Desert Rangers with some sort of pistol. A character generation exploit would let you take a full inventory of them to the nearest gun shops and get at least rifles.
  • Didn't many Light Gun games have your character start with, and mainly use, a pistol? Makes sense for the police-oriented ones like Time Crisis, less so for Area51 (where you're military).
  • In the videogame adaptation of The Godfather, early on in the game handguns, when used effectively, are probably the best weapons to use. The Tommy gun has less accuracy, gives less respect per kill, and runs out of bullets quickly. The shotgun has a very small carrying capacity so it has to be reloaded often, it's slow, and the magnum revolver does comparable damage anyway. However after the Tommy and shotgun are upgraded they're significantly better than the upgraded handguns.

Web Comics

  • In Sluggy Freelance, while Bun-Bun usually relies upon either raw strength or his switchblade in a fight, he has been shown to own a number of Glock pistols. If handguns aren't enough, he skips right to using a rocket launcher. Granted, regardless of his strength and dexterity, operating a rifle would probably be tricky for a rabbit.
  • Serge of Zokusho Comics seems to prefer these. He has a pair of handguns that he channels his Phantom Shot ability through to get unlimited ammunition, but when he needs more serious firepower he uses his Lucky 7 Revolver. Lucky 7 fires magical bullets with a wide range of effects from trapping people ice, to creating enormous fireballs.

Web Original

  • Justified in Survival of the Fittest, as the students don't really have a choice of what weapon they start with, and most of the firearms Danya assigns are handguns. Most students with handguns swap out their handgun the second they find something more powerful, as well.

Real Life

  • Averted and played straight, depending on the situation. In combat situations, going toe-to-toe with enemies armed with rifles and SMGs will usually put you at a disadvantage, especially at long-distances. In CQC, you might have a fighting chance however, since moving around is easier with a pistol than a full-sized weapon.
  • For civilians, pistols can be a weapon of choice for personal defense. Easy to conceal, easy to store, and in the event of home invasion, easy to wield in CQC situations.

Notes

  1. Which, in Real Life, are known for fighting with Medieval era weaponry.
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