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Nail 'Em

Nail guns are a common Improvised Weapon in fiction. Generally, they are portrayed as being analogous to firearms that shoot nails instead of bullets, while in Real Life, nail guns have a safety mechanism explicitly to prevent this - it must be pressed in direct contact with a surface to fire (meaning you can't just pick one up and, say, start blasting zombies with it). And even if you did bypass said safety mechanism, nails aren't exactly as aerodynamic as rifled bullets, so they don't exactly have the accuracy or range that makes real firearms so deadly. They make better melee weapons since a nail gun is a blunt object that can stick out a long spike on contact, but this is hardly ever represented in fiction.

The MythBusters tested this one and declared it "Busted" because while its accuracy was surprisingly good up to about 15 feet, a nail gun's penetration and stopping power are nothing compared to a real gun.

This trope can also cover the use of rivet and staple guns as weapons.


Examples

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    Comics 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live Action 
  • In Small Soldiers, a nail gun is used as a heavy machine gun.
  • In MouseHunt, one of the two heroes is using a nail gun, not knowing that the mouse is behind the wall.
  • Lethal Weapon 2. Sergeant Murtaugh is attacked by South African agents and defends himself with a nail gun, ending it with him invoking the trope name.
    "Nailed 'em bofe."
  • Stay Alive: One character tries to use a nail gun to "nail" a vampire.
  • Event Horizon: Doctor Weir threatens other characters with a nail gun designed to bolt hull patches on.
  • Arachnophobia: Ross kills a spider with a nail gun, albeit one meant to patch holes in starships.
  • In Final Destination 3, one of the victims meets her end when shot by a malfunctioning nail gun.
  • In Cliff Hanger, Gabe (Sylvester Stallone) uses a spike-gun to shoot a bad guy, but it's at close range, and it's pressed against a sheet of ice; so it might work.
  • In UHF, Stanley gets chased by goons through the offices of Channel 8, and ends up shooting one with a staple gun in desperation, causing the mobster to get staples stuck in his face.
  • James Bond (Daniel Craig) uses a nail gun for self defense against Gettler in Casino Royale.
  • The page image depicts a cover for the 1985 film The Nail Gun Massacre, a notoriously sub-par slasher which chronicles the killing spree of a maniac who, adorned in army fatigues and a motorcycle helmet, drives around in his gold hearse, killing semi-randomly with a nail gun while cracking bad jokes.
  • Hollis's death in the original My Bloody Valentine.
  • The most infamous scene in The Toolbox Murders features the killer chasing a naked woman (who was masturbating in the tub) around with a nail gun. In the remake, a woman is nailed to the ceiling with one, after being shot in the throat.
  • The Big Bad Strack uses a rivet gun in his battle with Darkman, high atop a skyscraper under construction.
  • In the Night of the Demons, Maddie loads a shotgun with extremely rusty wrought iron nails, one of the few things that can harm the demons. They lampshade in the commentary how utterly impossible this is.
  • In The Island, there is a particularly... disturbing example. Jordan and Lincoln are hiding in a bathroom waiting for one of the company's men to find them. The man finds them, and they lock the door. He punches through the brittle door and reaches over to unlock the door. Jordan nails his hand to the door.
  • A staple gun is one of the many makeshift instruments of torture utilized by the killer in Rest Stop.
  • The victims in The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) are stapled together.
  • The main character's wife is shot in the head with a nail gun in Seed.
  • A rat and a woman are killed with a nail gun in The Carpenter, while a man is shot in the eyes with a staple gun.
  • A character is tortured with a nail gun in Bunnyman.
  • Dale in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil uses a nail gun rather like a machine gun, not to directly target anyone, but just to create a distraction. This is one of the few chaotic sequences in the film that doesn't end in someone getting killed.
  • In Happy Gilmore, Happy when working in construction was a pretty good shot with a Nail Gun, that was until his boss accidentally got shot in the head when he walked behind the cans Happy was shooting at. The boss survived and gave Happy a Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • D.O.A. (1988 remake). The (at that point unseen) killer tries to kill the protagonist and the girl he's with by turning up the air pressure on a nail gun that's been left in the prop room of the university's theatre.
  • Used correctly in Blood Sucking Pharaohs In Pittsburgh with a close-up attack, pinning a protagonist's hands to the wall one by one at contact range.

    Literature 
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity, an automated hot riveter is used (after bypassing several safety interlocks) as an improvised automatic slugthrower.
  • In The Dresden Files novel Small Favor, Charity Carpenter uses a nail gun against the gruffs in the opening chapter, followed by beating their skulls with a heavy contractor's hammer. Since the gruffs are Fae, they are extremely vulnerable to the touch of Cold Iron, and retreat very swiftly.
  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho uses a nail gun in quite a few of his murders, the most notable of which involves him nailing a woman's hands to a wall so many times her fingers start to fall off.
  • In The Millennium Trilogy novel "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest", Lisbeth uses a nail gun to trap Ronald Niedermann in a warehouse, then calls some old enemies to come and kill him.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Criminal Minds episode "Hopeless" has the killers nail a man's hands to a bartop before beating him to death.
  • In CSI: Miami, Ryan Wolfe is shot through the eye by a nail gun, although here they do at least point out that the safety that prevents the gun from firing unless pressed against a surface is broken.
  • In an episode of Get A Life, Chris gets a job with the ancient brotherhood of construction workers (just roll with it) and by the end has gotten into a tool duel with one of them. The opponent seems to have the upper hand when he brings out the ultimate tool duel weapon, a staple gun, but Chris is able to force him to surrender by utilizing a construction worker's greatest weakness and threatening to pour out the last beer.
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl was shot on several different occasions with either a nail or a staple gun by Sweet Johnny.
  • Psych: In "Lights, Camera, Homicidio", the killer has been replacing prop weapons with real ones on the set of a Spanish soap opera. The last one is a nail gun, which the actress fires at Shawn before realizing it's really loaded.
  • Burt gets attacked with a staple gun he was returning in an episode of Raising Hope, after telling the person he was giving it back to that he's in the Sex Offender Registry.
  • Reaper used nail guns in the first episode to capture the Baddie of the Week.
  • The Smallville episode "Mortal" featured a pair of Creepy Twins who need to be touching each other to use their forcefield powers. Lana Lang manages to knock them apart, then nails one twin's hand to a wall. Disturbingly, the twin simply pulls his hand through the nail to free himself.
  • The Wire features Snoop and Chris buying a nail gun in the fourth season premiere, ostensibly for this purpose. It isn't used to commit the murders, but it is used to cover them up...
  • In the Heroes episode "The Fifth Stage", Peter, fueled by rage and grief over Nathan's death and the subsequent cover-up, gets into a nasty fight with Sylar in the hospital basement after gaining The Haitian's ability to block Sylar's powers. The fight ends with Peter straddling Sylar onto a table, grabbing a nearby nail gun, and using the gun to pin his palms to the table and then fires a shot into Sylar's balls. Ouch.
  • One episode of Penn and Teller: Fool Us featured Penn doing a memory trick involving a nail-gun with some of the cartridges replaced with blanks and him alternating nailing the table and pressing the gun to his hand. Predictably, Teller gets nailed at the end.
  • Supernatural. Invoked when Sam and Dean discover that Fate is out to get them. As You Can't Fight Fate, they walk down the street in broad daylight jumping at anything that's vaguely threatening. At one point a construction worker's nailgun jams and he starts hitting it while letting the nailgun point in their direction. The boys freeze in terror, but nothing happens.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. In the first season finale, when Agent May is fighting Ward in a part of the building that's under construction, they both make use of the power tools lying around. She ends the fight by grabbing a nail gun and putting three of them through his foot. The nail gun is actually used realistically, instead of firing the nails like bullets.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Staple guns were a staple (no pun intended) of ECW "garbage" matches. They were "used" correctly though, pressed against the target, as opposed to being used at range. They are still used today in "deathmatch" wrestling from time to time. This was shown in The Wrestler during Randy the Ram's hardcore match against the Necro Butcher. Necro, a Real Life deathmatch wrestler, is well known for doing stuff like this.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The smart nail gun from GURPS: Ultra-Tech is more accurate than most pistols and is surprisingly effective at piercing armor.
  • World of Darkness: Armory includes rules for using a nail gun as an improvised weapon. Notably, they have to be modified to use them at range, and in doing so, you lose any sort of accuracy.
  • BattleTech features 'Mech-sized nail/rivet guns...that are basically useless in combat because they are essentially only upscaled construction equipment, having only a single-hex effective range and lacking any ability to damage actual armor. They're nonetheless on the equipment lists for use in scenarios involving more "civilian" units.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock uses a variation: The Big Daddies use a rivet gun as their primary ranged weapon. In the sequel, where you play as a Big Daddy, the first gun you pick up is a prototype version. One of the weapon options in the sequel's multiplayer is a nail gun.
  • Your main weapon in Dead Space: Extraction is also a rivet gun.
  • Quake has Nine Inch Nail Guns. Contrary to most examples, they're some of the most accurate weapons in the game, and they're actual dedicated weapons: the super nailgun is essentially a gatling gun that spits out iron stakes. Secondary Fire switches them to flaming nails.
    • Quake II Mission Pack 2: Ground Zero introduced the ETF Rifle - despite the name, it was basically just the nail gun from Quake I that ignored armor. It even sounded like the nail gun!
    • Quake III: Arena has shotgun nail guns. A nail gun that fires a shotgun-like burst of 9 inch barbed railroad spikes. Getting hit with this is almost always a One-Hit Kill and causes you to get thrown backwards a huge distance, sometimes leading to a fall to your death.
    • Quake IV, true to tradition, has a usable model as well. However, besides being rather consistent in its accuracy from the start, it can be modded so that the nails can chase the target. Even around corners.
  • Warframe has the BOLTO pistol, which fires giant nails. A successful kill nails the victim to the wall.
  • Hitman: Blood Money allows you to use a nail gun, but you'll find it to be slow to fire, so short in range that you literally have to be in the face of the guy you intend to kill with it and the accuracy blows. Its one advantage is that you can sometimes carry it openly without drawing suspicion.
  • Team Fortress Classic: The Scout, Sniper, and Spy all have nail guns. Oddly, the Nail Gun is not only fully automatic and 100% accurate (offset by the slow projectiles), but it looks exactly like a Sten submachine gun.
    • The Medic's Super Nailgun is better. It, again oddly, resembles a Tommy gun.
    • The Nail gun was for a long time going to be the Scout's primary weapons in Team Fortress 2 as well (it was even featured in one of the trailers), but was replaced with the Scattergun; this is referenced in how Dispensers seems to have a nail belt hanging out of them. It's been made into a custom skin for the pistol, but it only affects how it looks.
    • The Medic's Syringe Gun is essentially a cross between this and an SMG.
  • The FEAR games have the Penetrator series of rifles, which fire high-speed ten-millimeter spikes designed to penetrate armor. As an added bonus, when close to a wall or other large object, the Penetrator could stake enemies to said objects with the killing shot.
  • Manhunt: The Skinz gang is armed with nail guns.
  • The secretary unit in the Flash game HRmageddon uses a staple as a ranged attack weapon.
  • The MMORPG Neocron had nail guns as newbie weapons.
  • Harry The Handsome Executive uses a staple gun.
  • Fallout 3 has a slight variation in the Railway Rifle, that doesn't shoot nails as much as railroad spikes. Similar to the Penetrator in FEAR, the spikes pin body parts to walls.
  • Geist allows the player to possess a worker who has a rivet gun. While it's useful in a (literally) riveting action sequence, it's not much of a ranged weapon.
  • One of the many enemies in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is a berserk construction worker bot with a rivet gun. It has horrible accuracy and range.
  • The Mass Effect 3 multiplayer Resurgence DLC pack adds the Kishock Harpoon Gun, a batarian sniper rifle. It's a slow-firing weapon that inflicts significant bleed damage on the target. The main game has the Graal Spike Thrower, a Krogan shotgun that fires large spikes. It has great accuracy for a shotgun-only the N7 Crusader is more accurate-and and can be charged up for extra damage.
  • Used in name only by Metal Arms: Glitch in the System, which features a handful of "modified work tools" being repurposed as weapons, but while it calls its Sniper Rifle equivalent a rivet gun, it's plain to see the "rivets" are in fact arrows... arrows that can be charged to explode after lodging in some poor schmuck.
  • The nail gun is one of the new weapons in Alan Wake's American Nightmare and one features prominently in the cover art.
  • A nail gun is used in an interrogation in The Punisher video game. You have the option of using it to kill the guy with driving the nails through his eyes.
  • The Hillbilly Horror Event for Killing Floor added Vlad the Impaler (Also known as Vlad 9000), a magazine-fed nail shotgun for the support specialist. The nails can ricochet and hit other specimens, which makes up for the terrible range
  • Nails in Blood Crusher 2 are a possible ammunition type.
  • The Saints Row series added this as a weapon skin in the fourth game for the submachine gun class weapons. The gun its used for has low damage and accuracy by default, but once fully upgraded it works more like an uzi and can fire lightning rounds!
  • The manual for the first Guitar Hero states that Judy Nails got her nickname from an incident with a nail gun. Further details are not given.
  • A basic 'handgun' in Alien Shooter Vengeance is a pneumatic nail gun. It's got the second-lowest weapon skill requirement in its class, but it's inaccurate and fairly wimpy, saved mostly by the fact that it somehow has Bottomless Magazines. The game's Flare Gun has half the skill cost, does twice the damage, and lights up dark rooms. Somehow, the nail gun is still more powerful than the game's TEC-9 equivalent.

    Web Original 
  • Shakila from Darwin's Soldiers lures a mook into an empty building that is under construction and kills him by placing the nail gun against his neck and shooting some nails into him.

    Western Animation 
  • In the episode "False Start" of Code Lyoko, XANA materializes some Kankrelats to the real world. One of the weapons the team uses is a modified nail gun, and it gives a crowning moment to Jim.
  • In The Venture Bros., Brock Sampson uses a nail gun to save Dr. Venture from falling. The nail gun is shown firing with precise accuracy, though the third time he accidentally pinned Venture through his body instead of by his shirt. Brock also uses it to dissuade an approaching enemy who's actually bigger than he is.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode where Homer goes berserk over baby-proofing the house for Maggie, he hands Maggie the nail gun. She nails his hand to the wall from ten feet away. Homer realizes how in trouble he is, and attempts to coax Maggie into giving back the gun. She pins him to the wall with at least four more nails, with one landing in each ear.
    • In another episode, Homer and a new friend have a light-hearted sparring match with nail guns. They each get several shots point blank in the face which do no more damage than snowflakes.
    • Also humorously subverted in "Who Shot Mr. Burns." Burns orders Smithers to attack Principal Skinner, but the only thing he could find was an ordinary stapler. He tries shooting him, but Skinner just irritatingly asks him not to waste them.
  • An episode of King of the Hill had Cotton snap and hole up in a newly-built house with a nail gun.
  • Happy Tree Friends. Eugh.
  • In Family Guy, when a boy was faced with taking Meg on a date, he resorted to shooting himself in the stomach with a shop class nail gun to get out of it.
  • Young Justice: Blue Beetle fires out giant staples to pin people to surroundings. His Scarab tells him that shooting through bone is more effective.

    Real Life 
  • A man in Australia was murdered by being shot 34 times in the head with a nail gun.
  • Nail gun injuries crop up frequently in the Darwin Awards (including one attempted suicide, where a construction worker tried to end his life after he slipped and a saw chopped off a hand, finding the pain so unbearable. He wound up shooting himself multiple times in the head... and survived, and had doctors simply reattach the hand.)
  • Bolt pistols, used in slaughterhouses to stun livestock and for in-the-field euthanasia of injured farm animals, operate on a similar principle to nail guns.


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