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A character treats a small firearm with contempt. The firearm will likely be physically small and will probably fire small-caliber ammunition, which is considered by some users to be weak.

There is a common perception that any round smaller than a .38 Special is essentially a joke bullet unable to do any real damage. The truth is that Bullets Do Not Work That Way; just about any gun made today can inflict a mortal wound in one shot, though a small caliber bullet probably won't drop you on the spot. Even the oft mocked .22 Short can tear deep enough into a human body to potentially tear veins and arteries, if the bullet reaches the throat or vital organs the damage will be severe. Even air weapons firing small pellets at low speed can inflict lethal injuries if they hit someone in a critical area such as the temple or the heart.

This probably comes from the somewhat vague notion of "stopping power". Bigger bullets tend to have a lot of stopping power, even being capable of being an Instant Death Bullet on occasion, while smaller ones are more likely to cause death from bleeding between a few minutes and a few hours later. For example: President Ronald Reagan didn't even notice that he had been hit by an assassin until a touch search minutes later, however the wound nearly killed him within the hour.

Nonetheless tough characters tend to be disparaging of small caliber weapons.

For the opposite end of the spectrum, see Hand Cannon.

Examples of Little Useless Gun include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Master Keaton, a cop tells a suicidal man not to shoot himself in the head with a .22, because it's more likely to leave him an invalid than to kill him.
  • Meryl Strife of Trigun gets some mockery over her Weapon of Choice, the derringer, both because of its two-shot capacity and its low penetration. She overcomes the former problem by carrying several dozen at a time.
    • The justification for her choice of weapon seems to be that, in accordance to this trope, it's treated as a nonlethal weapon due to its small caliber. Thus, she can use it with impunity and not worry about deaths or serious collateral damage (which is a reasonable concern for an insurance representative). Her partner Millie uses the opposite approach, a huge stun-gun whose slugs spread out in to a cross pattern to reduce stopping power. This would similarly be potentially lethal in real life, but in the work it just knocks people over. At one point she knocks over a truck by shooting it twice.
  • Subverted on Black Lagoon. While Fritz Stanford is bragging about the enormous handgun he plans to use to kill Revy, she's loading her regular handgun, a custom-built 9mm Beretta, and shoots him before he can finish speaking. Before she finishes him off, she tell him that "if you can hit your target, pretty much any gun will do the trick."
  • In Desert Punk, Kosuna shoots one goon coming at her several times with her small handgun and he barely even flinches. Although she learns a ridiculously huge gun wouldn't be best either, Kanta does end up getting her a more powerful one by the end.


  • In the Sin City comic, A Dame To Kill For, the main character, Dwight, is shot up pretty badly by the title character, a Femme Fatale to the last. As Marv is hauling him to Old Town, he comments: "...Here I am jabbering with you leaking all over the place. You're damn lucky all that dame had was a .32 -- we wouldn't even be having this conversation if she'd used a real gun on you. Even so, getting shot in the face isn't high on my list of how to have a good time."
    • And later, when Dwight changes his faces and comes back to confront said Femme Fatale, all he's able to conceal up his sleeve is "a crummy little .25", all six rounds of which is nowhere near enough to stop Manute.
  • In an issue of Jon Sable Freelance, a woman threatens Sable with a small .22 caliber pistol. He's more disdainful of the weapon than afraid.


 M: This damn Beretta again. I've told you about this before. You tell him -- for the last time.

Armourer: Nice and light -- in a lady's handbag. No stopping power. [snip]

M: You'll carry the Walther. Unless you'd prefer to go back to standard intelligence duties?

Bond: No, sir. I would not.

M: Then from now on you carry a different gun. Show him, Armourer.

Armourer: Walther PPK. 7.65mm with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window. [1]

  • In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Gay Perry has a tiny Derringer that he refers to as his "faggot gun," because "it's only good for a couple of shots and then you gotta drop it for something better". Given the film's penchant for subversion, the little gun ends up being quite fatal.
  • Invoked in Back to The Future Part III, where Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen threatens Doc with a derringer specifically because it will make his death slow and painful, mentioning a guy who took two days to die of his wounds.
  • Completely subverted in Men in Black with the "noisy cricket". It's the size of a small, cheap water pistol, and it blows a hole through a completely sealed door. And sends you flying the opposite direction almost as fast.
  • In Tremors 4 an Eastern dandy shows up in a Nevada mining town, and prefers to use one of these, even when confronted with giant burrowing worm-monsters. (It's an additional joke in that the man's previously-seen descendant is a rifle-toting survivalist.)
  • In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the eponymous characters are getting guns from a stash. Mrs. Smith complains when she is given the visibly smaller "girl gun."
  • In In Bruges, Ray steals a Smith & Wesson Model 60 from Eirik and shoots him in the eye with a blank round. When Ken comes to kill him and prevents his suicide, he compares weapons with him, lamenting that he has "a bloody girl's gun".
  • In Boondock Saints II, Romeo is given a .22 caliber pistol on his first vigilante mission as a form of hazing.
  • In The Enforcer, Harry, when asked why he carries a Hand Cannon, explains that he considers the .38 special to be this.
    • In particular, he claims to have seen shots from a .38 bounce off a car windshield, something shots from his .44 magnum have never done.
  • At the end of Die Hard With a Vengeance, McClane asks for a gun and is given a tiny revolver of which he is extremely disdainful. Subverted in that he manages to take out the helicopter attacking him with it by shooting some overhead power lines.
  • Subverted in The Guard. When Gerry is given a tipoff from a young boy about a stash of weapons, he discovers that the boy has taken a Derringer from the stash. Gerry keeps it for himself, along with a Glock and a Kalashnikov. Later, when O'Leary pays him a visit, he has been Crazy Prepared enough to keep the Derringer stashed in his pants and uses it to kill O'Leary. It takes O'Leary some time to die, but even when he's still alive, the puny round is enough to keep him from returning fire.


  • In the first of the Tom Clancy's Op Center: Net Force books, a female assassin carries around a .22 pistol, favoring its discretion and concealability. She then proceeds to work around the "stopping power" issue by shooting her target in the eye.
    • In Without Remorse, John Kelly--a former SEAL--routinely uses a caliber conversion kit for his Colt .45 down to .22, since it's much harder to suppress the former. He's a master marksman, so his workaround the whole stopping power issue is to get relatively close and go for Pretty Little Headshots.
    • Clear and Present Danger has another aversion. A pair of assassins gets into a gun battle with an off-duty police officer and the neighbor kid fires on them with his .22 rifle. The police officer is killed and the assassins flee (the kid tries unsuccessfully to shoot them through their getaway car, but .22 rimfire bullets definitely don't have that ability). When investigators find their car one of the assassins has bled to death inside. The investigators reason that it was the kid who killed him, as the police officer had a subnose revolver at long range, while the kid had a rifle.
      • The .22 rounds don't kill instantly, either. One assassin gets hit in the head, but doesn't die until he goes to investigate his other wounds, which causes the weakened blood vessels in his head to let go, essentially a case of Your Head Asplode.
  • Defied in Turn Coat. Morgan tries to shoot Molly with a .22. When Harry arrives, Murphy says that such a small caliber gun might have meant Morgan was only shooting to wound, since it would've been hard to kill anyone with it. Harry immediately shoots this down because Morgan would never shoot a suspected warlock to wound, and points out the only reason Morgan used such a small gun is because it was all he had.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide states that because a .22 bullet doesn't have as much penetrative power as other ammo, a headshot is likely to result in the bullet bouncing around inside the skull rather than punching through the back, doing lots of damage to the brain even if the initial shot might not have been a kill. Which is a common and widely held belief about .22 ammo that is totally wrong. .223 rifle rounds will do extra damage by tumbling end-over-end upon striking a soft target, but that's not the same thing as claiming that a .22 round will continuously ricochet around inside someone's noggin like a pinball, because they definitely don't do that in real life.[2]
  • Wolfie in Incompetence carries a Derringer that Harry surmises is only good for shooting people in the eye at point blank range. Thus, he doesn't even bother to use it against Klingferm, who is armed with something a little more useful in a firefight.
  • No calibers are mentioned, but a small, ornate gun appears briefly in The Grand Ellipse. It's compared to a bee sting.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Shadows of Steel, Big Bad Iranian general Buzhazi is nearly assassinated, but though he is wounded he doesn't die because he manages to get treatment in time. It is said that if the assassin had used a more powerful gun, he wouldn't have lasted long enough to get treatment and the attempt would have been successful.

Live Action Television

  • An episode of MASH focused on negotiating a prisoner exchange with the Chinese. One condition of the exchange was that the Americans had to come unarmed, but Margaret gave Frank a tiny pistol to carry in case he needed it. When the Chinese realized that the agreement had been broken they were ready to call the whole thing off, but when they actually saw the pistol in question they laughed it off as a joke. This is slightly justified since the Chinese soldiers are heavily armed with automatic weapons.
  • In the 3rd season final of Castle, Chief Montgomery uses a small Derringer-type hold-out gun to kill a hired killer standing over him, preparing to finish off the Chief.
  • In an episode of Sledge Hammer, the hero's iconic Hand Cannon is taken away from him, and he's forced to carry a pistol that is so tiny that he holds it in two fingers to shoot.
  • Averted in a conversation in Law and Order Special Victims Unit. The team is discussing a murder that took place, where the victim was shot with a .44. Munch reckons that the large calibre weapon is strictly for an amateur who is Compensating for Something and reckons that a professional would go for two head shots with a .22.

Tabletop Games

  • Inevitable in Tabletop Games that don't have bleeding rules. Low-caliber guns have the worst damage of any weapon on a typical gun list.
    • In GURPS the .22 Derringer has almost no chance of killing someone unless you shoot them a dozen times[3], although an incredibly lucky shot could be dangerous.
  • A common belief held by the Orks of Warhammer 40000, who follow the rules of Bigger Is Better and More Dakka.
    • Averted by many other factions, digital weapons (that fit on a finger) are very much effective and in use by Inquisitors and nobles.
  • Shadowrun. Light and holdout pistols did Light damage, which on average resulted in one box of Physical damage. Characters could take 10 boxes of Physical damage before they even started to bleed out, and could take a number of additional boxes equal to their Body attribute before finally dying. In other words, to kill someone with a small pistol you'd have to hit them 10 times before they were even at risk of dying, and even then death wasn't inevitable if any form of healing were available.
    • In 4th Edition, they're more powerful - now they deal only 1 point of damage less than Heavy Pistols and are a little less effective against armor.

Video Games

  • Fallout: New Vegas has only two weapons that use .22LR ammunition; a silenced .22 pistol and a silenced .22 SMG. They both have free silencers and high critical chance, but do such low damage you'd be better off smacking your foe with a bit of pipe. No literally; these guns have base damage of 9 and 10- a BB Gun has a base of 4, a lead pipe has a base of 22, and the high end weapons are in the 100s. The 9mm pistol doesn't fare much better, with a base of 16.
    • However the complete silence of the .22 makes it great for assassinations since if you can find a dark corner to hide in you can kill a target in the middle of a crowded room without anyone noticing, and the combination of high critical rate, high accuracy, and low AP cost means that you can take down an unarmored target with headshots almost as easily as with your big hand-cannons. Not to mention that it's the only gun that you can take in places where weapons are forbidden without a high sneak skill. The 9mm is still useless once you can find anything else.
  • The SC Pistol from Splinter Cell, while offering a 20 round magazine, has pathetically little stopping power and even a headshot is not a guaranteed kill. Truth in Television for the Five Se7en, particularly if using armor piercing rounds.
  • Hitman Contracts has the SG 220, a pistol with a seven round magazine and almost no stopping power. It is, however, very quiet.
    • Silent Assassin also had the Makarov and .22 pistols, both of which had little stopping power. Of course, if you need stopping power, you're a bad player.
  • The Derringer in Call of Juarez is typical of this trope.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons had an episode where they were parodying Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer; they get involved in a bar room shootout and proceed to sit there calmly while derringer bullets bounce off the furniture, the glasses holding their beer, and their skin/eyes.
    • Another, showing a scene from McBain portrayed his superior attempting to get him to surrender his Hand Cannon for something smaller. Mc Bain asks how he is supposed to avenge his partner with a pea shooter. When the chief tells him he is supposed to do things by the book, he shoots it, quipping "Bye, book".
  • Parodied in the Looney Tunes short "Drip-Along Daffy", where burly outlaw Nasty Canasta is felled by a wind-up toy soldier whose tiny rifle packs a surprising amount of heat. Had Canasta not picked it up and raised it at face level to laugh at it, he might have gotten off easy.
  • In the Men in Black animated series, the opening sequence shows Jay drawing the Noisy Cricket (pictured above) out of his jacket and Kay giving it a skeptical side-eye.

Real Life

  • The Israeli Defense Force once supplied its troops with a Ruger 10/22 as a "less than lethal" sniper weapon. Reality (and a judge and a number of dead bodies) eventually forced them to remove the classification.
  • "Stopping Power" doesn't necessarily translate to lethality, but it's still an important factor in choosing a defensive firearm. In such an event, the objective is to stop the immediate threat as soon as possible, and a bigger bullet generally translates to more energy transferred to the target, increasing the liklihood that the attacker will be incapacitated quickly. Nobody's saying that small calibers are harmless, but there's a reason no police departments issue .25 caliber sidearms to their officers.
    • Especially since the goal of a gun fight is not to ensure your attacker dies, but to ensure you live. It doesn't really matter if the bad guy dies if he ends you in a brutal fashion before finally dying. In a defensive situation, it behooves you not to have to wait an hour for your assailant to bleed to death. This is in large part why (in the USA at least) police departments stopped using the .38 as their service weapon in the early '90s. As Massad Ayoob wrote in his book In The Gravest Extreme, the purpose of using a defensive gun is to stop someone from hurting you. Any bullet can kill someone, but it can't reliably stop them.
    • That said however, getting shot in a not-immediately-lethal fashion will still make your average would-be robber reconsider their options (not to mention hurt like hell), so smaller calibres can be surprisingly effective as pure self-defence weapons.
  • Ladies and Germs, behold the Kolibri pistol. With a 2.7mm caliber, smoothbore barrel and maximum of 1.5 inches of penetration in pine board, we have a sterling real life example of a Little Useless Gun. Strong language would've protected you better than this pea shooter. By the way, the inventor of the tiny pistol intended it for women.
    • That must be the only gun that is potentially more lethal if you throw it.
  • The FP-45 Liberator. This pistol was intended to be dropped in large quantities into France during World War Two for use by La Résistance, the idea being that they could use it to pop an occupying soldier and then acquire his weapon. Stopping power wasn't necessarily the problem (it was chambered for the beefy .45 ACP round), but its range was pitiful and the gun itself could be built more quickly than it could be reloaded. It was often described as "a great weapon with which to obtain another weapon".
    • Its successor, The Deer Gun was chambered for 9mm and intended for use in Vietnam. The idea was scrapped when the conflict escalated into a full scale war. Like the Liberator, it is now considered a collector's item, putting it square into the Rare Guns category.
  • Scientists are researching the possibility of genetically engineering humans with spider silk in their skin instead of keratin. They believe this would make the skin tough enough to resist .22LR bullets, rendering guns of that calibre fairly useless at killing people.


  1. The armourer is exaggerating just a tad here on the effectiveness of a 7.65mm (.32 ACP) round.
  2. The Guide still recommends .22 ammunition weapons for several other reasons, namely because they're great for packing light, comparatively easy to operate, and available at almost any gun store.
  3. or hit them in the brain
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