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"Be careful. The safety's off, so it could go off for, like, no reason."

Also known tongue-in-cheek as "Shur Fine" guns because evidently, Hollywood doesn't trust the "big brands" when it comes to guns, as there are two things you can usually expect to see with firearms depicted in fiction:

1: Any jarring or dropping of a cocked, chambered gun will discharge it.

It doesn't matter if it's a cheap Saturday Night Special or a professional quality, $1200 SIG-Sauer, count on this one. Never mind that practically all weapons designed after 1968 include a special mechanism to stop the hammer from falling unless the trigger is properly pulled, and that gunmakers had been adding them for a long time before that. If you bump it, it will go off. (Do note that you should always treat a real gun as though this were true, just in case.)

2: Jammed equals broken every time.

It's well-known that even the best guns still jam every now and then after repeated firing. Usual causes include a round failing to seat properly into the breech, "stovepiping" (spent casing getting caught upon ejection), poor-quality ammunition (insufficient pressure to cycle the weapon) or poor handling while shooting, (too much energy from the firing is absorbed by the hands/arms, known as "limp wristing"). These errors take only a second or two to correct in real life, so why is it that when a firearm jams in a film or television show, it's suddenly rendered useless? Aside from its use as a convenient way to disarm a character, no one knows. All we do know that his gun will never run out of ammo unless something takes it out of commission, so the weapon-disabling jam is it.

For that matter, Hollywood treats a misfire as being the same as a jam as well. If a round of ammo fails to fire, nobody simply pulls the trigger a second time if it's a revolver, or in the case of semiautomatics, manually works the action to clear the dud so they can keep shooting[1]. Then again, this fits in with the typical Hollywood approach to plans in general.

To a very limited extent, this can be Truth in Television, as it's possible to jam a weapon so severely that serious work is needed to get it back in order, and every now and then you will hear about gunmakers issuing safety recalls on guns that aren't drop-safe. But that does sort of prove the point about Hollywood's approach: the gun is being recalled because it's discharging when dropped is not considered normal operation in Real Life.

Since this one's so common, it'd be easier to just list especially Egregious examples and subversions. Also see Rare Guns.

Examples of Reliably Unreliable Guns include:


Anime and Manga

  • Averted in Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid. In "Her Problem," Yu Lan's silenced pistol jams when she tries to shoot Kaname. She just clears the jam and quickly resumes firing.
  • One of Havoc's two guns jams in chapter 37 of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, thus allowing Riza to jump into action. (He is not shown throwing away the jammed gun, but we can assume he did, since he only carries one afterwards.)
    • In Brotherhood, a spent round gets stuck in Riza's pistol when she is fighting the leftover Fuhrer candidates, thus enabling her enemies to capture her. (In the manga, she merely runs out of ammo). It actually made sense in this case, because the fight was at such close range that she didn't have time to clear the jam before she had a sword at her throat.
  • Averted in Gunslinger Girl - During the the first encounter between Hillshire and Franca, Franca tricks Hillshire into misfiring his pistol. Unfortunately for Hillshire, it caused a jam. Instead of tossing away the weapon, Hillshire simply fixes the jam and starts firing at Franca.
    • There is also a scene where Henrietta is undergoing pistol training. Her gun misfires, and she looks down the barrel to see the problem. Raballo, the handler for another Fratello, promptly grabs the gun out of her hand and yells at her handler Giuseppe for not training her properly.
  • Another jamming aversion in an early episode of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, where after Teana's old magic-firing pistol jams at a critical moment during training, she just fixes the problem in a few seconds and goes back to shooting.
  • Justified in one Lupin the Third movie. Jigen shoots his opponent before he has the chance to clear the jam.
  • Justified in Maiden Rose when Klaus' gun happens to jam in the middle of a Mexican Standoff (which is just bad timing) and when he gets out of that he can't fix it anyway because his one arm is badly wounded and the morphine finally worn off. The problem is then promptly solved by his teammate fixing it for him.

Film -- Live Action

  • In Airheads a character drops an MP 5 K, causing it to spin around on the floor and fire its entire magazine, all by itself. The entire MP 5 line is widely regarded as among the world's finest sub-machine guns, in use by numerous special forces, and they typically cost in the low five-digits.
  • In the cult flick The Boondock Saints, Rocco emphasizes a point by slamming his hands down on a table, causing the Beretta 92 pistol sitting on the table -- which, mind you, is standard issue for U.S. soldiers and costs about $700 -- to fire, killing the poor pussycat that was laying next to it.
    • The sequel averts this, however, when the brothers drop their Desert Eagles when surrounded by police and SWAT after the last shoot-out.
  • From True Lies: Helen attempts to use an MAC-10 Sub-machine Gun and promptly loses control of it and drops it down a flight of stairs, where it continues firing all by itself as it tumbles down, taking out nearly every Mook in the terrorist camp.
    • Somewhat Truth in Television, as the MAC-10 is a very simple, fairly light gun with an insanely high rate of fire, which fires from an open bolt, meaning that jarring the weapon can cause the bolt to unlock, slam home, and fire a round. If it was badly-maintained (a distinct possibility given the demonstrated lack of quality of the aforementioned Mook, it could also be subject to a phenomenon known as slam-firing, where a gun, even a semi-auto, continues to fire without the trigger being pressed, until the magazine's empty or the mechanical issue (either the bolt failing to lock back, or the firing pin being stuck forward when the bolt closes, in a closed-bolt gun) that caused it resolves itself.
      • Given that Helen is, at that point, ridiculously civilian, it is completely possible that she'd drop the surprisingly recoil-heavy submachinegun, and it would discharge on striking the ground. The hilarious part is its effectiveness in clearing the room.
  • In Back to The Future, Marty is saved repeatedly from being shot by Libyans because their rifle jams. They are shooting an AK-47, which are famed for their reliability even under the harshest conditions. However, we do see them simply trying to clear the jam rather than abandoning the gun immediately.
    • Could be an ammo problem, since a reliable gun means nothing if the bullet doesn't produce enough gas pressure to cycle in the next round.
  • Seen in Hot Fuzz, where one of the heroes intentionally throws his Shur Fine shotgun at the cobblestone street while surrendering, causing it to go off and hit a bad guy.
  • In The Untouchables, one gangster's Thompson jams during a fight, (a problem real Tommy guns were frequently subject to, which is one of the many reasons it was never as popular as gangland movies would have you believe). To the gangster's credit he tries repeatedly to clear the jam, but it gives the mousy accountant among the Untouchables time to get close enough to KO him with the butt of his shotgun.
  • In Lord of War, Yuri is nearly executed by a pair of thugs in Africa. One aims his AK-47 (sold to him by Yuri, naturally), pulls the trigger... nothing. Clears the jam, sticks it in his face again, pulls the trigger... nothing. Yuri points out that they'll do that sometimes and tries to fix the jam for him... the thug just hits him with the butt and knocks him out. Well, it was worth a shot, anyway...
  • Misfiring guns feature prominently in both the backstory and the climax of Unforgiven, which is more appropriate for the time period, in which lower quality guns and ammo were more common. The rainy night of the climax might also have played a factor.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy escapes capture/execution by the Nazis--er, I mean Soviets-- by dropping an M1 carbine, causing it to shoot one of the soldiers in the foot.
  • Franz Liebkind's Luger in the 2005 version of The Producers jams and fires when dropped, with great comedic timing. The classic Luger's toggle action actually is somewhat temperamental.
  • In The Last Dinosaur big game hunter Masten Thrust throws away his hunting rifle after it jams while trying to shoot a Tyrannosaur that's about to attack them. Not only does he make no effort to clear the jam, but he never even tries to get the rifle back later. The fact that he's both a lifelong hunter and a firearms collector makes this all the more implausible.
  • During a combat sequence in Kelly's Heroes, a 30-cal machine gun jams at a very inopportune time; possibly because the operator didn't have someone to help him feed the belt ammo. Fortunately, the Germans shooting back at him apparently attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, because he manages to clear the jam and kill them all anyway.
  • Averted in The Way of the Gun. At one point Benicio Del Toro's character is firing a pump-action shotgun and it suffers a stovepipe malfunction. He simply takes a moment to clear the jam and resumes firing. The film was notabley for the accuracy of its depiction of firearm usage. The director's SWAT team brother serving as advisor.
  • Averted in The Hurt Locker. The protagonists are called upon to fire a .50 Barrett rifle, which jams due to blood in the magazine. The rounds are removed from the magazine, individually cleaned, breech-loaded and fired as normal. It's unlikely that fresh blood on its own would have caused such a misfire, but tiny bits of flesh (which would) are implied to be mixed in with it.
  • In the sci-fi comedy Sleeper, a Running Gag involves a different part of a laser cannon blowing up every time they try to fire it at Woody Allen.
  • The villain of Double Take manages to dispatch himself this way; bragging about his shooting skills when about to kill the protagonists, he ends up falling down a long flight of stairs with his gun going off several times. He hits the floor with a Gory Discretion Shot (pun unintended for once) with the gun clearly pointing at his head before the switch. One character comments: "He was right, he didn't miss once!"
  • Averted in The Hard Way. Michael J. Fox's character, a spoiled naive actor researching a cop role with a tough cop played by James Woods, gets lucky in a shootout where a man firing at him seems to run out of bullets. The cop knocks the gun against a newstand, and shoots into it, demonstrating it had merely been jammed.
  • In the finale of The Warrior's Way, one of the outlaws has a machine gun braced on another's shoulder. After he has his arms cut off, the gun starts firing on full auto, pivoting on the corpse of the partner and neatly stitching across a horde of outlaws who were standing behind him.

Literature

  • A Biggles book had a pirate (naturally set a few centuries before Biggles' time) lean a pistol against a candle while sitting down at a table, and when a vibration shook the table, the pistol slipped off the candle, hit the table, and discharged a ball right into the pirate, killing him.
    • Even modern replicas of flintlock weapons are quite prone to accidental discharge when dropped. Assuming that the gun falls with lock up, then even when powder pours out of the priming pan it can be still ignited by the sparks.
  • This is a major plot point in Valentin Pikul's novel The Riches (Богатство). A misfiring rifle kills Ispolatov's love interest.
  • While most guns work just fine in The Dark Tower, fully automatic firearms are guaranteed to jam. This is justifiable in that everyone who uses them is either A) using a scavenged, poorly maintained weapon he is unfamiliar with, B) Axe Crazy, or C) Too Dumb to Live.

Live Action TV

  • A common gag in Slapstick comedy and Sitcoms: "Don't worry, it isn't loaded. [Bang! Bang!]" Seen in As Time Goes By, Avoiding The Country Set.
  • Averted in Bravo Two Zero - Dinger's GPMG jams, and he just ejects the round and carries on. (this being Dinger, he also shouts "BASTARD!").
  • Mentioned in an episode of Father Ted where John shows Ted that he has bought a rifle to protect his shop and has it cocked and ready. Ted asks if that's not somewhat dangerous, to which John says that it would only be if you dropped it or something. He then slams the gun down on the table, causing Ted to jump and John to just laugh.
  • Subverted in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles When John is at a military school, his classmate's rifle has a stovepipe jam, and John, having been raised Crazy Prepared by his mom, clears the jam in about ten seconds, all while teaching his fellow student the drill to do so.
  • In one episode of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., our hero is struggling with an assailant while his lady friend prepares to hit said bad guy with a nearby pistol. Brisco tells her to stop, beats the bad guy, then demonstrates that the impact would've caused the flintlock to go off. Into her.
  • Same network, different decade and genre: An episode of Back To You opens with a news report featuring a gunshot going off during a hostage crisis. It transpires that this is the result of Chuck Darling fumbling the hostage taker's gun after he's taken it from him.
  • War of the Worlds. Actor Richard Chaves (playing Lt. Col. Paul Ironhorse) had his assault rifle jam during an action scene. Being a Vietnam veteran, Chaves just cleared the jammed blank as he would a real round and kept firing.
  • Played straight in an episode of CSI New York, where a sawn-off shotgun is thrown out of a window by the villains and bump-fires into a passerby, killing her and leading the protagonists to another crime committed with the weapon.
    • Averted in a recent episode, where Mac Taylor and his gun fall at least 30 feet onto a hard tiled floor -- the gun bounces, but doesn't go off.
  • Averted in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica when Adama demands Starbuck's sidearm, chambers a round, presumably flicks off the safety and tosses the weapon on the table, where it bounces quite a bit but does not go off.
  • Jams happen periodically in Band of Brothers. The characters usually get to work clearing them, sometimes having trouble with it and sometimes not.
    • All the actors were trained in WW 2 weapons handling (as their characters would have been) so, as in real life, the ability to sort out a jam would depend on the actor's own weapon skill.
  • In one episode of NCIS, a perp drops his recently fired gun while surrendering. Tony proceeds to flip out on the guy.
    • Still averted, the gun didn't fire. And also averts Artistic License Gun Safety, as it's still a stupid thing to do, roughly handling a loaded weapon with a round in the chamber.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Flooded" Buffy reprimands a security officer for using a gun on a demon, tosses it aside and winces at the subsequent discharge sound.
  • In one episode of Frasier, Martin's gun from his police days is brought out from its storage "under the bed" still in a shoebox. The shoebox is knocked off a table and, naturally, the gun goes off, shooting up at an improbable angle to damage the apartment decor.
  • In an episode of the Lovejoy tv series ("The Axe-Man Cometh") an antique flintlock which had been used solely as a display item for decades was apparently loaded, since when it was grabbed and used to try and bluff the eponymous axe-man it actually went off leaving him with an Ash Face.

Music

  • One verse of Rilo Kiley's "Accidntel Deth" (sic: Indietronica artist Dntel produced the song) includes at least one instance where the accidental death was of a deer the narrator's father (who probably isn't Jenny Lewis) had killed when his shotgun went off without him meaning it to (probably because he hit it too hard or something) while hunting with his dad when he was eight. The dad swears off guns after that.
  • The filk "Space Hero" by Anne Prather & Julia Ecklar sings about some the wonderful craftsmanship of a space ace's weaponry..."With the stocks made by Mattel...Well, on every other pass, one'll get you in the ass!"

Tabletop Games

  • BattleTech's ultra-series autocannons are considered a version of this by some players due to their chance of randomly breaking down and becoming dead weight for the rest of the game when using their optional double rate of fire (their main defining feature). Background-wise, the fact that even the Clans, who unlike the nations of the Inner Sphere never lost the technology and have been using UACs for over two hundred years, somehow never managed to eliminate this problem definitely plays the trope dead straight.
    • Then there's the Rotary Autocannons; More Dakka at it's finest, pretty much. On the other hand... they jam if you try to fire them like a machinegun, they have fairly limited ammo reserves, and they only come in the lower autocannon calibers. Awesome but Impractical.
  • In Paranoia, standard-issue weapons certainly don't malfunction 5% of the time. Maybe they were sabotaged by Commie mutant traitors. You aren't a Commie mutant traitor, are you?
    • Generally, the more destructive the weapon is when it works, the more destructive it is when it doesn't. And the harder it is to fix. (Or just prevent it from blowing up. Or just unstrap yourself from it and outrun the blast radius.) And if it was only assigned to you for the duration of the mission, then the more expensive the fine for allowing valuable mission equipment to be damaged.
    • As for those experimental weapons that the Troubleshooters were field-testing for Research and Design... Well, perhaps the Troubleshooters didn't maintain them properly. What's that, you say? The maintenance instructions aren't available at their security clearance? Huh, go figure.
  • Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition allowed the arquebus, a primitive rifle, but gave it a chance of backfiring and damaging the user every time it's fired. Partly as a measure of Fantasy Gun Control, but also Truth in Television.

Toys

  • NERF blasters are mostly quite reliable, although the occasional blaster makes it through Quality Control with crippling defects. The Maverick has developed a reputation for having the most problematic samples due to the strict tolerances required for a reliable cylinder-advancing mechanism.
  • Other non-Nerf blasters, especially cheap, brandless generics, are also prone to such reliability flaws that renders them useless to non-modders.


Video Games

  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, it happens occasionally that guns discharge if they are dropped for any reason. Occasionally, they may even discharge when their wielders fling it around after being hit themselves. Sure, he could also be pulling the trigger in reflex, but even semi-automatic weapons discharge multiple times (and it is impossible that a reflex would enable the shooter to pull the trigger several times in a row).
  • In Gears of War, your gun can jam if you reload incorrectly. The consequence is that you have to take a moment to clear the jam before you can resume firing.
    • It should be noted that this is only if you, the player, press the reload button while reloading at an incorrect time, and so, if someone never attempts the 'active reload' minigame to reload their gun, it will NEVER jam (active reloading is specifically mentioned as skipping the proper reloading method to load the gun faster, but chancing a misfeed). It's done to reload the gun faster (a life saver in mutliplayer) and get a damage boost.
  • America's Army. Yep, in the official computer game your weapons can jam. Tap a key to clear the jam, with a tap to the bottom of the magazine followed by the forward assist.
  • Similarly, in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, damaged guns can jam... but can be easily cleared by just hitting the reload key.
    • Keep using them, though, and eventually they won't be able to go through a full magazine without a jam, to the point where they'll probably end up getting you killed more often than they kill enemies. Eventually they'll just break completely.
  • In System Shock 2, your guns are not only likely to jam at the drop of a pin; repairing a jam is an extremely complicated technical operation involving detailed cybernetically-enhanced skills, a consumable nanotech-based resource, and a small minigame. Then again, given that laser rifles can somehow jam in this game...
    • Word Of God is that there was supposed to be an in-game explanation for this: basically The Many had released a corrosive gas that only affected mechanisms into the environment. Unfortunately, the audio log explaining this was left out of the finished game.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, Ocelot stovepipes his own semiautomatic pistol when he tries a fancy move he'd heard of for the first time[2]. Ocelot then attempts to pistol whip Naked Snake with his gun instead of clearing it, despite the fact that Snake has just taken down half a dozen of his men with little more than his bare hands. Clearly it was his turn to hold the Idiot Ball. Snake easily counters, and when Ocelot drops his gun the cartridge pops out, clearing the jam. Keep in mind, Ocelot is supposed to be a prodigy with guns, and an officer in the Soviet Special Forces when this happens.
    • To be fair, Snake did explain to Ocelot (and the audience) the latter's faults and attributed them to his inexperience. This is supposed to be the setup, since the game is a Prequel, for why he's Revolver Ocelot in the present/near-future storyline.
    • Also, the reason he's an officer in the GRU is because of influence from the Philosophers. He's also not supposed to be truly trying to kill Snake, as he's Snake's CIA support agent, ADAM.
    • In the introduction cutscene of Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots, Snake tries to fire an AK-102 but it jams after one or two shots. He does try to cycle the action manually and clear it, but it doesn't work; a Codec call to Otacon reveals that the ammo was of poor quality, and sure enough if you pick it back up after the cutscene it works just fine when you find more ammo.
  • In Fallout 3, guns with a poor condition (which is fixed by breaking apart a matching gun for parts to repair your gun) can jam when loading. This includes the first round of a bolt-action rifle failing to load, the magazine of a submachine gun needing a good whack on the bottom, or the door to a laser pistol's pop-out battery not closing. Considering this is supposed to be two-hundred years After the End, which was probably when the gun and cleaning supplies for it were made, this is a Justified Trope.
    • One point in the game touches in this trope in a possible lampshade. You can rescue a rookie soldier who is in hiding and complaining that his gun is jammed, claiming it is useless. If your character has decent Small Guns, you can help him fix the jam, and he will be armed again.
    • Earlier games in the series just had the gun lose all the ammo in its current magazine on a critical miss, though energy weapons supposedly explode on a really bad roll on the critical miss table.
    • Fallout Tactics includes the Chauchat (mentioned in the Real Life folder) as a Joke Weapon, which cannot actually be used and serves no purpose whatsoever.
  • Far Cry 2 allows for weapons' condition to decrease, causing the gun to jam while firing. This involves the player character struggling with his weapon and examining it until you hit the reload key, which fixes the problem. Every weapon can jam except the IEDs and flare gun; from simple misfeeds to a flamethrower springing a gas leak or an RPG failing to ignite and spinning on the ground before exploding. If the gun's condition reaches zero, it violently breaks into pieces, with the entire front receiver of a rifle or trigger of an RPG breaking off.
    • Notable is how the AK-47's notorious reliability is acknowledged in-game and is less likely to jam on you, if ever. The AK runs through about a thousand rounds before getting into poor enough condition to start jamming, it takes about two hundred more before blowing up. The golden AK's last even longer. The only gun in the game that doesn't jam or misfire is the flare gun, and even that still blows up eventually.
    • Particularly notable in Far Cry 2 is how little time a gun actually lasts; it can go from a shining, brand-new weapon to a stained, corroded wreck within hours at best, with some weapons like the USAS-12 visibly corroding with every shot. Apparently the FC2 universe is afflicted by turbo-rust. Another extremely silly aspect of this mechanic is that jams always happen before a gun fires while failures always happen afterwards, meaning the player character will operate the pump of a shotgun before shooting so it can jam (even though they already did so after the last shot) or a weapon will successfully fire, cycle, and then explode.
    • There's also the weapons' physics-defining proclivity to fling parts of themselves toward the player's face.
  • All guns in Jagged Alliance and its sequels have a % condition rating and a rating of reliability for both the gun and the ammo. The more reliable guns work better at low condition and wear slower. Guns in good condition are impossible to jam, while guns with 50% or less condition will jam every other shot. Guns below 10% or so are useless hunks of metal.
    • Jagged Alliance 2 adjusts things slightly. A gun always has a chance to fire, no matter how degraded it is, but if it gets to 0%, it will never work again, regardless of repair. The lower the condition of the gun, the more likely that it will jam, and the chance to clear the jam by refiring the gun drops significantly.
  • While all guns operate perfectly in normal conditions in Eternal Darkness, one of the insanity effects makes one character drop a flintlock pistol to the ground while reloading his other one, causing it to discharge and kill him. He doesn't actually die though.
  • The late-90s Alien vs. Predator PC game featured occasional and very subtle jamming of the Marine's pulse rifle. This was essentially just the same dry-fire sound as a magazine running dry; the weapon would resume working after the trigger was released. Only really a problem when firing on full auto... and if you were past the point of "short controlled bursts" you were probably doomed anyway.
  • In the mission "Reuniting the Families" in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, Ryder hands your character an ancient, POS AK-47 that jams to the point of uselessness right when you need it.
  • During the Idle Animation in Metro 2033, the player character will toy with the gun. Depending on which gun, he will occasionally break off a piece by accident, pause in confusion, and then stick it back on. However, considering that half the weapons are cobbled together from several other guns and industrial tools, it's a bit more forgivable.
    • The guns themselves will never jam, but several of them are hand-made from pieces of scrap, like the Bastard Gun (which is little more than a piece of metal with a firing pin and a barrel). In addition, you have two choices for ammunition: "dirty" ammo, which is plentiful but not very powerful due to inferior gunpowder, and military-grade ammunition, which is significantly more powerful but also used as money.
  • In Saints Row 2, you interrupt the trial of your partner Johnny Gat and hold up a bailiff. At your command, the bailiff drops his gun, which goes off, prompting everyone to duck for cover and Gat's lawyer to ask if anyone got hit and needs his expertise.
  • Terrorpods extend a variant to missiles. Some of the documentation implies that you may miss and hit a friendly installation. In the actual game, your missile has a manual guidance system where you need to keep the drift indicators within the shown reticule. If it drifts outside the reticule even by one pixel, the missile won't detonate. Given that the target is usually larger than the reticule, the usual result is that missiles that hit won't cause damage (which is much more punishing if your computer is too fast.)


Western Animation

  • The first episode of Beast Wars had Cheetor's gun jam. Subverted in that Cheetor cleared the jam, and made a sneak attack by shooting Megatron in his beast mode face.
  • Parodied on The Simpsons: to ease Marge's worries about his new gun, Homer turns on the safety, causing it to discharge into a photo of Marge. Then he notices that he actually turned the safety off, turns it off, and causes another misfire. After a stunned second, he decides to gently set the gun on the table...and a couple of seconds later it goes off anyhow, ricocheting off several surfaces before striking a nearby knife which embeds itself in the picture, right between Marge's eyes. As Lisa says, "No offense Mom, but that was pretty cool."
    • All the more Egregious, since Homer's gun was clearly a revolver, and thus would require a long, forceful and deliberate trigger pull to fire any subsequent shots.
    • And revolvers don't have safeties.
    • And then there's this scene from "The PTA Disbands!": Springfield Elementary goes on a field trip to a Civil War fort in a bus so dilapidated that braking it involves having the students hold their coats out the window as parachutes:

 Tour Guide: This Civil War cannon has been fully restored and is in ready-to-fire condition. But it's a good thing we're NOT firing it because it happens to be aimed at the main support leg of that lookout tower. [Man in tower waves]

[The school bus appears in the background swerving towards the cannon]

Tour Guide: People don't realize that these cannons are very sensitive, and the slightest jolt could set them off!

[The bus hits the cannon... and knocks one of its wheels off.]

Tour Guide: Of course, for safety reasons, we don't keep the cannon loaded. It's just common sense.

  • In the early "Kenny gets killed in every episode" era of South Park, Kenny was once killed by a discharge by a guy who was quitting hunting and dropped his gun.
    • Which happened to have run out of ammo not thirty seconds earlier.
  • Robin Hood - Trigger's crossbow Old Betsy goes off should Trigger so much as bump it.
  • Despite the page quote, this is oddly averted on Archer, despite the character's twin habits of carelessness with his tools and causing embarassing and accidental injuries to his coworkers.

Truth In Television

  • In real life, almost all weapon reliability issues stem from either magazines or ammunition. Using respectable commercial ammo and quality mags will normally solve most problems.
    • Also of note, some older military surplus weapons (milsurps) may be filled with cosmoline, which is used to preserve firearms for storage. In order to remove cosmoline, give the gun a bath and scrub it with paint thinner.
  • Real Life example: The infamous North Hollywood Shootout. Two bank robbers did a job armed to the teeth with modified AKM rifles and full kevlar suits to protect them. One of them was cornered into a one on one with an officer when his assault rifle jammed due to a stovepiped cartridge. Ordinarily, this would have taken only a moment to fix, but the robber had earlier been shot in the hand, rendering him incapable of clearing the jam. After his attempt to clear the jam failed, he threw the assault rifle to the side, pulled out a 9mm pistol he had as a sidearm, and shot himself.
  • Regarding firing while dropped, this is (in some cases) Truth in Television; many manufacturers will not certify guns as being "drop safe", and in safety guides hunters are advised not to climb while holding loaded guns or lean guns against trees in order to avert this trope. (It should be noted that such events are exceedingly rare even in "unsafe" guns, from simple statistics.)
    • The South African Vektor CP1 pistol was recalled in 2000. The recall states that the loaded gun can discharge if bumped or dropped.
    • As of late 2008, the Ruger LCP and SR9 were recalled for parts replacement, due to potential discharge if dropped.
    • Wartime examples of the Luger are notoriously not drop-safe, even with the safety catch engaged.
    • Here is a news story about a Kahr P40 going off after being dropped on a hard tiled floor.
  • The Enfield L85 (better known as the SA80) was basically Britain's way of telling the United States "anything you can screw up, we can screw up bigger"; the design itself was fairly sound, albeit rather maintenance-intensive and complicated to disassemble, but had to be built to extremely fine tolerances. Unfortunately, the initial in-service version was the last project undertaken by the Royal Small Arms Factory, whose workers had recently learned they were all going to be laid off. The reader can doubtless imagine the effect this had on their workmanship.
    • When the SA80 A2, de-facto made by Heckler & Koch, rolled out a few years ago, all of these problems went away. It's now an excellent weapon - terrifically accurate and comparable with anything else out there (if still a little heavy).
  • Real Life military use of an unstable gun as an effective weapon: In World War II, the standard British SMG, the MkII Sten, was prone to accidental discharges when dropped; it could in fact empty its entire magazine that way, an attribute occasionally used to turn it into a field-expedient grenade substitute. Later models improved, at least to the point where you no longer took your life in your hands by merely being in the same room as one with a round chambered, but would still misfeed at the slightest provocation.
    • This is partly justified in the fact that the Sten was designed to be produced cheaply and quickly. Because Britain needed to replace all of the weapons they left behind during the evacuation of mainland Europe, quality took a backseat to quantity.
    • Most sources mention the biggest issue with the Sten wasn't the mechanism, but rather the magazines (which were the same magazines used by the MP40, used by Britain's principal enemy at the time). Indeed, the MP40's magazines were prone to spring failure when fully-loaded with 32 rounds, though most soldiers got around that by only loading 28 or 30 instead.
      • This was a case of win one, lose one, as the advantage of using the same magazines was that because of the weapon (and money) shortage, using the existing magazines as their enemy meant that ammunition was always easy to come by and proved very effective for espionage and resistance units (such as the SOE) and this meant that ammo was easy to resupply.
    • It's not only that but the first Sten was made with no safety measures, especially with the bolt in forward position (if it was in back position, the cocking handle could at least be put on a notch in the gun's body).
      • A closer example is, in fact, that so many game/film characters hold the MP40 and Sten by the magazine. In reality, that is a very good way to make them jam (which is why the Haganah and IDF, which relied on Sten guns during and in the run-up to the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, drilled it into their soldiers never to do this). So it's more of a variation of Did Not Do the Research.
    • The Australian-designed Owen, which was supposed to replace the Sten and the US Thompson in Commonwealth forces, had a similar problem made worse: even with the safety engaged, it was still known for accidental discharge.
    • There is an urban legend among the German Bundeswehr that this issue is present with the IMI Uzi. The legend goes that, in Close Quarters Combat training, soldiers are advised on how to use the gun as a makeshift "roomsweeper": load a magazine into the gun, cock it, release the safety and throw the gun into a room/down some stairs/down an elevator shaft. This practice is neither found in any official training manuals nor has the gun ever been used that way, though.
  • The German MP38 submachine gun (often incorrectly called the "Schmeisser" - it was actually an Erma product) originally was prone to accidental discharges if it was dropped or bumped on its rear end, such as when the soldier carrying it hit the butt on the ground when jumping down from the back of a truck. The bolt would "bounce" back against the recoil spring (compressing the spring), and then forward under spring pressure, chambering and firing the top round in the magazine. A "quick fix" was a leather strap that looped over the bolt handle to secure the bolt in the forward (uncocked) position. The later MP40 version (the one that accounted for most of WW II production) had a safety notch to turn the bolt handle up into to lock it in place, to prevent this from happening.
  • The standard Japanese issue pistol (replacing the Nambu 8mm) was notorious for firing if touched wrong (exposed sear). Japanese officers purchased their own guns, quite a few did not buy native. Japanese NC Os, on the other hand, had their pistols issued to them by the military.
    • This was actually the Nambu Type 94 (1934) automatic pistol, that was only a substitute standard pistol taken into military service due to shortages of the standard Type Taisho 14 8mm automatic pistol, which replaced the older "Papa Nambu" in the 1920s. The Type 94 was apparently originally designed as an export item for commercial sale overseas; one can only assume that the designers anticipated selling them to fairly gullible customers. The standard Type Taisho 14 pistol was perfectly safe (though rather underpowered compared to most other combat handguns of World War II) - as long as you remembered not to leave the locking piece out of the mechanism after field-stripping and reassembling it. It would fire without the locking block, exactly once; the result would be the bolt immovably jammed in the full-recoil position (not very useful in a firefight).
    • The Japanese had also experimented with making a copy of the American M1 Garand, the Type 5. It ultimately ended production at about 250 units, none of them seeing service outside the Battlefield series and most of them not even being assembled, due to frequent jamming. Given the poor condition of Japanese industry in 1945, and the fact that the war ended before they had any real chance to work out the bugs in the design, this isn't surprising.
    • WWII-era Japanese weapons in general tended to be horrible, with the noted exception of the excellent Arisaka rifle. Their machine guns in particular tended to be overweight, underpowered and unreliable, especially when compared with their opponents' Bren guns and Brownings. R. Lee Ermey tested a Type 92 on Lock n' Load and the gun not only jammed, but apparently a case or the awkward metal ammo strip fragmented and cut his knuckle. "It hurt me!"
  • More Truth in Television: Ask anyone who knew about the problems with the M16 in Vietnam. Many, many soldiers grabbed AK-47s off the dead Charlies instead of having to deal with weapons that were notorious for jamming at the most inopportune moments, for various reasons intentional and accidental (primarily the latter). The relevant design and cleaning kit distribution deficiencies would be corrected by the end of the war. Many of the problems the M16 had were caused by morons in the Pentagon making such brilliant decisions as using a dirtier type of gunpowder (against designer Eugene Stoner's explicit recommendations) for no reason at all and refusing to ship any cleaning kits to Vietnam at all because they'd bought into Colt's marketing claim that the rifle was "self-cleaning".
  • A mildly famous incident with a marked Truth in Television of a horrific jam that literally disabled the gun occurred at IPSC Nationals several years ago. At one stage, a fired case ejected from the pistol, bounced off the edge of a quarter-inch sheet of plywood the shooter was standing next to, and as the next round fired and ejected the first case fell into the open ejection port - backwards - and was pushed forward into the chamber, while the next round attempted to feed. The weapon was completely locked up and required significant work to be cleared, with no small amount of trepidation as there was still a live round crammed halfway into the action even with the magazine removed.
  • In the Old West, experienced horsemen would only load five rounds into their single-action revolvers and have the hammer resting on the empty chamber. That was because while tightening the cinch on their horse's saddle, they would hook the stirrup over the saddle horn. If the stirrup came loose it could fall back into place and strike the pistol's hammer, causing it to discharge if there was a loaded round in the chamber. This defect in single-action revolvers was not completely corrected until the Ruger New Model Blackhawk revolver came on the market in 1973. Despite the fact that it was certainly known how to correct this flaw much earlier, since double-action revolvers had since the 1890s included a transfer bar, nobody had bothered to implement it in the single-action designs.
    • There's a story that during his early days, Wyatt Earp once nearly shot himself by mishandling a single action revolver. Back then, handguns definitely were Shur Fine Guns.
    • Load one, skip one, load four.
    • Another story has Billy the Kid use this to get the drop on a bounty hunter. Billy was playing cards with the guy without the BH knowing who he was, he asked to see the guys gun and offered his own just to show he wasn't going to try and rob him. Carefully setting the cylinder back one he gives it back to the Bounty Hunter. After a few minutes he told him who he was. They both drew and fired, with the bounty hunter firing on an empty chamber.
  • Colonel William Fairbairn, armed combat instructor for U.S. and British special forces during World War II, was an advocate of the semi-automatic pistol, but placed no faith in safeties. In his books on the subject, he recommends carrying the pistol with an empty chamber, and training to rack the slide as part of the draw action. Time permitting, he also advises cutting off the triggerguard and disabling the safeties, which makes the gun faster to use by making it Shur-Fine for anyone who doesn't follow Fairbairn's system.
    • In modern times, racking-while-drawing is known as the "Israeli draw", because leading up to the 1948 war, the incipient IDF's arsenal was made up of so many different weapons of varying designs and reliabilities that this was the only safe way to train soldiers who might have to use an unfamiliar weapon.
  • As it happens, this Trope is Older Than Steam: Every firearm made up until the advent of percussion ignition would often misfire in normal conditions, or fail to work at all in bad weather. And it goes the other way too: they could also accidentally fire on their own, or would only fire several seconds after pulling the trigger.
  • The Ross Rifle, designed as a substitute for the Lee Enfield, was used by the Canadian military during WW 1. The Ross was easier to dis/reassemble and a pound lighter than the Enfield. It also was prone to the bolt deforming or falling out, it jammed with the slightest dirt, and the bolt occasionally threw itself out of the gun when fired. Needless to say, the soldiers usually ditched them for Enfields as soon as they got to Europe.
    • The Ross bolt could be re-installed after field-stripping with the bolt head turned halfway-round (180 degrees) from its correct position. Done this way, the bolt would close, but would not lock, but the rifle would still fire, ejecting the bolt backwards with great force - the shooter usually ended up with the bolt in his face, generally with serious to fatal consequences. This was a fault in the design that was never entirely corrected, and one of the major reasons the Ross had a very short tenure as the standard service rifle of the Canadian Army.
      • There was an Italian bolt-action rifle manufactured during both World Wars with a similar design flaw.
    • Part of the problem was the use of a straight-pull bolt mechanism: this allowed the Ross a shorter cycle time than even the mighty Enfield, but also required a complex system of cams and grooves which became ridiculously stiff with even the slightest mud contamination. Stories exist of soldiers resorting to stamping on the bolt handles of their rifles and still failing to budge them an inch.
    • All that said, because the Ross was a fair bit more accurate at range than the Lee-Enfield, it remained a fairly popular rifle for Canadian snipers. Who tended to do a better job than the average soldier at keeping their rifles clean, thus negating the primary flaw of the design.
  • The German StG 44, widely considered the purveyor of the assault rifle concept which dominates military infantry standard-issue today, was deemed too heavy a rifle with too fragile a bolt and receiver to change the war by Allied Intelligence. As more of the rifle were demanded by Germany's soldiers, however, this critical examination of it by the Allies was more likely just propaganda.
    • However, due to the war going on at the time, the materials used to make the gun were often of poor quality; tests done by the British around the end of the war revealed that the bolt could be immobilized by simply pinching the sides of the receiver, and that the entire gun could be rendered totally inoperable by simply propping the gun up and then pushing it over.
    • Similarly, the FG 42's action was so delicate that full-auto fire could potentially break the gun apart. Its action was also the basis for the Vietnam-era M60 machine gun, though like the M16, that weapon's issues were eventually all corrected after the war.
  • The IMI/Magnum Research Inc. Desert Eagle also has a higher than usual tendency to not cycle properly, one of many reasons why it's loathed by some gun enthusiasts. Manuals for later models include a line about how failure to cycle can be caused by the operator not holding the gun firmly enough, resulting in the whole weapon moving backwards instead of the slide. So as far as they are concerned, the problem is Shur-Fine wrists.
    • That problem is known as "limp-wristing". Any autoloading pistol, if you don't resist the recoil enough and simply let it move backwards with your hand, will jam. The reason the Desert Eagle is getting this bad reputation is because the Desert Eagle fires big ass rounds, and big ass rounds means huge recoil, which results in more people being unable to handle it, causing a jam. Many Desert Eagle owners who can get a good grip and resist the recoil usually say that the Desert Eagle is a reliable enough weapon.
    • It can also happen if you get wimpy rounds that don't move the Desert Eagle's heavy slide back enough. Unlike with .44 and .357 Magnum revolvers, the Desert Eagle when chambered for one of those rounds can't be used effectively with .44 or .38 Special, unless the springs are swapped out to account for the much weaker rounds. Otherwise you'll have to rack the slide manually for every shot.
    • The .44 and .357 Magnum variants fire revolver rounds. Semi-automatic weapons, whether recoil or gas operated, have a much narrower pressure curve in which the weapon can be safely operated, as opposed to the time-honored "if it fits in the holes, shoot it" method of determining safe revolver rounds.
  • The M50 and M55 Reising were submachine guns issued to the Marines during World War II as a replacement for Thompsons, which were in short supply and too bulky and heavy for constant jungle patrols. The Reising was accurate and reliable in trials; unfortunately, the trials were designed for a civilian law enforcement weapon, not a military one. While a cop would have no trouble with his gun, the complex internals of the gun would easily foul and jam in the sand, mud, and salt water of the Pacific campaign. The design of the magazine meant that it could also easily be slightly damaged and make the magazine useless. The folding stock of the M55 would often not stay in place while the gun was being fired. It would even jam just from too-humid air, which rusted the firing pin. As if this wasn't enough, the weapon was cocked by pulling back a tab attached to the bolt....at the bottom of the handguard. In other words, a rapidly reciprocating piece of metal right by your delicate fingers. Not surprisingly, Marines would take almost anything else and dump their guns as soon as possible. Lt. Col. Merritt Edson commanded his battalion to dump all of their Reisings in a river so they could draw better guns. One NCO reportedly "decommissioned" his gun by smashing the stock over the head of a rather unruly prisoner in the brig.
  • The Chauchat "Machine rifle" was the first squad automatic weapon and the most widely-produced automatic weapon in World War I. It introduced a number of features seen on modern light machine guns, including a pistol grip, an in-line stock, a fire rate selector, and stamped steel components to simplify production. Unfortunately it also had a relatively complicated feed path necessitated by the heavily tapered case of the standard French cartridge, the 8mm Lebel. With production largely outsourced to inexperienced firms it was made in a hurry and with little attention to detail, specifically detail that would make it usable. Why France assigned production of its most complex firearm to the firms with the least firearms experience remains a mystery for the ages. The open-sided magazines would inevitably become clogged with dirt, it had an overly-complex long recoil system that created rather violent recoil and lowered accuracy, the screws holding the side plates would become loose after prolonged firing, and quality was rarely consistent over the parts, or even among manufacturers; Gladiator-made guns, specifically, would often have the sights misaligned. Production quality and consistency were actually so bad that parts could not be interchanged from rifle to rifle. Problems became worse when the Americans entered the war and were issued Chauchats converted to the significantly more powerful .30-06. The gun had trouble extracting the long, straight cases and was hardly up to the stresses of the powerful round. To make matters even worse, somebody managed to screw up the conversion between English (US) and metric (French) units, so the magazine and chamber for the .30-06 version were the wrong size. It was so poor that it was used only as a training weapon, and virtually all of them were destroyed after the war. US troops were then issued 8mm Lebel-chambered Chauchats, which was considered better than no light machine gun at all (but only marginally so).
    • Post-war analysis showed that around half the Chauchats used in combat were dropped as useless by their operator before they could fire off an entire magazine. It jammed often and easily due to the above mentioned reasons, and the only way to unjam it was complete dis and reassembly--less than recommended in the heat of battle in no-man's-land. One may as well have charged into that trench with nothing but a knife, because it would likely outperform the Chauchat when it turned into an overly-elaborate and cumbersome metal club.
      • R. Lee Ermey tested a Chauchat for the TV show Lock 'n' Load and discovered that even on a modern gun range it invariably jammed after four rounds every single time.
  • As the quote goes, "You ain't a SEAL until you've eaten Italian steel." The early production run of the Beretta 92FS pistols for the US Government had an issue where the slide would fly off the frame during shooting, causing injury to at least one SEAL. While several different reasons were claimed (high round counts, overpressure ammunition), ultimately Beretta redesigned the hammer to prevent the slide from flying rearward in the event that the locking block fails. As for the SEALS? They switched to the SIG P226.
  • The ZSU 23-4 Shilka's anti-aircraft gun fits this trope. Apparently the guns of early models would heat up after prolonged firing sometimes causing the next round to go off even if the gunner wasn't pulling the trigger. But as the guns were already heated, and firing more rounds caused it to heat up even more, ultimately the entire belt of ammunition could be fired off for no reason. This problem was remedied in later models.
    • This problem is known as cook-off, and can affect most any gun provided it's fired long enough. It's one of the main reason's the HK G11 was cancelled, as the caseless ammunition did not provide a heat sink (the spent cartridge) to absorb the heat of firing. Instead, the heat was directed to the gun itself. While considerable progress was being made to solving this and other issues, the reunification of Germany meant there was no longer a large enough defense budget to keep paying for the research.
      • This is the reason that most machine guns come with two interchangeable barrels; most of the few that don't usually either fire modified ammunition or have a cyclic fire rate too slow to make a cook-off likely.
  • The Russian SKS semi-auto rifle has a reputation for being prone to firing at the drop of a pin. Although Myth Busters busted the myth that sufficiently high levels of bass beat would set the gun off, the fact remains that the firing pin is prone to movement, and dropping the gun can and has set it off. Which is a shame, because otherwise, the rifle is very accurate when operated normally.
    • The problem is that the free-floating firing pin can get stuck in the forward position, especially if the bolt hasn't been thoroughly cleaned after the gun's been in storage and stuffed full of cosmolene. Earlier models had springs keeping the firing pin from getting stuck forward (a feature that was eliminated as a cost-cutting measure), and there are after-market kits to modify models that aren't already set up that way.
    • The free-floating pin also causes another problem for the SKS called a slamfire. When the bolt moves forward to chamber a round, if the pin is stuck in the forward position it may cause the weapon to fire uncontrollably, sometimes repeatedly until the magazine is empty. The likelihood of the problem is usually made worse with civilian ammunition (that has softer, more sensitive primers), a dirty bolt, or unusually enough, if the pin is put in upside-down during reassembly. Video of a slamfire, needless to say, don't try this at home kids.
      • The French MAS 44, 49 and 49/56 rifles have also been known to produce slamfires for the same reason, though only with commercial ammunition. The free-floating firing pin was never a problem with French military ammo, which has unusually hard primers, and in military service they were famous for extreme reliability. But the 7.5x54mm ammo now produced for civilian sale has standard primers, and even a light strike can cause them to fire. Some owners solve this problem by grinding about half a millimeter off the tip of the firing pin, while others prefer to load their own ammo using the military-style hard primers that the gun was designed for.
  • The Carl Gustav M/45 had an unusual safety and was prone to going off when dropped.
  • Pistol-grip forends on pump-action shotguns commonly show up as a cool looking accessory in film, television, and videogames, making a shotgun nearly resemble the old dual pistol-grip M1928 Tommy gun of 1920s gangland infamy. In real life, these nearly useless accessories jut out at a cumbersome angle from a critical operating part which can make cycling the weapon difficult, provide poor ergonomics for supporting the hefty forward weight of a shotgun (which carries its ammunition in a magazine tube right over the slide), and, worst of all, create a risk of twisting or bending the gun's action bars, preventing the bolt from seating in battery or damaging the weapon. Cheap aftermarket accessory makers sell them anyway to the uninformed.
  • Any firearm that lacks a manual safety catch, like revolvers or most Glock semi-automatics, require even stricter than usual adherence to proper trigger discipline.
  • Thanks to Britain's strict firearms laws, the most readily available black-market handguns are literal Shur-Fine Guns, either ancient First or Second World War souvenirs stolen from some veteran's attic or crude Metro 2033-style derringers kludged together from starting pistols or BB guns. Actually firing one takes more balls than brains, as most such conversions will fire exactly once.
  • Bushmaster issued a recall notice for its ACR rifles in October 2010. They had learned of a design flaw in the rifle that could cause it to continually fire even as the trigger was released.

Notes

  1. Note that the recommended practice in the case of a misfire is to point the weapon at the ground: the primer may, in fact, be accidentally slow-burning, and the only thing worse than a bullet going off late is a bullet going off late after it's been ejected from the gun
  2. Basically, copying a move he'd head about from Middle East fighters, which involves working the action of your gun before firing, every time. This is to ensure that the gun always has a round loaded, no matter if the chamber was empty or not. However, because he hadn't practiced the maneuver, he works the action too fast, resulting in the aforementioned stovepipe
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