Not with the Safety on, You Won't
Zeus: You call in that code right now or I'll blow your sick ass into the next world.
Simon Gruber: Well, if that's what you gotta do.
(calmly takes gun, releases safety) You've got to take the safety catch off. (Shoots Zeus in the leg) See, that works.
If guns are featured in a movie, and someone inexperienced takes to using one (the Distressed Damsel
or similar character), there's a good chance of this phrase being uttered. There are three versions:
In the first case, the character being held up might use it as a ruse to try to wrong-foot his opponent. Usually in this instance the character at gunpoint is a veteran, his savvy attitude being contrasted to his inexperienced opponent. It is extremely
rare for the opponent to call his bluff; instead he will usually tilt his gun and look down to check if the safety is on, letting the other person get the drop on him. Note that in this case the safety need not actually be on; all that's necessary is to trick the guy holding the gun into checking.
In the second, the person at gunpoint is generally a villain and the one holding the gun an inexperienced good guy; in this case, the villain will grab the gun after it fails to fire, mocking his opponent for their lack of expertise only afterward.
The third example is when a Magnificent Bastard
is on the other end of the gun along with some other villain. Once the other guy is knocked out and the hero is securing him, he'll casually comment that you can't fire a gun with the safety on, and that 'next time' the hero should check first; thus showing that really he was just going along with it because it suited him and enhancing his Magnificent Bastardry.
Variations exist; it might be that the gun is recognisably jammed, is physically impossible to fire at the target for some reason, would kill both of them if fired, is not cocked, or even is not loaded. Note that in Real Life
, any (competent) gun user or owner will leave the safety on until ready to fire, and especially make sure the safety is engaged if they are going to hand it to someone else. In addition, nearly all revolvers and many automatic pistols (Glock, Sig and others) do not feature a safety catch, relying on internal mechanisms and a strong trigger pull.
When the safety has been deliberately left on in case the weapon gets stolen, the person stealing it may find It Works Better with Bullets
The inverse sometimes shows up in movies where a gun is
fired with the safety on, presumably to keep actors from death by blank. This annoys gun nuts; the appropriate special effects hide the phenomenon from other viewers.
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Anime and Manga
- A variation of the third example is used in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam when Katz uses a pistol borrowed from Amuro Ray to force Quattro Bajeena to take off into space without Kamille, lest they miss the launch opportunity. Quattro isn't a villian by any means, but he later expresses his awareness that the gun's safety was on as the shuttle launches, and that he was going along with it because it really was the most sensible decision.
- Earlier, Quattro tells an inexperienced Kamille to take the safety off during a firefight in Granada. Kamille had just been standing there with his eyes closed pulling the trigger with nothing happening while the enemy shot at him.
- Somewhat subverted or at least tongue in cheek referenced in Gundam SEED. Two characters are in a stand off with Athrun, an experienced soldier and ace pilot holding a knife and Cagalli, his temporary "prisoner", having snuck his gun away from him while he slept, which Athrun'd told her he'd kill her if she tried to do. The standoff breaks with Athrun charging with the knife just as Cagalli loses her nerve and throws away the gun because she doesn't want to shoot him, even to save herself. We hear a gunshot...and then the scene cuts back to the gun lying on the ground as Athrun angrily demands why she'd be stupid enough to throw a gun with the safety left off. Later referenced pretty much exactly in an exchange between Kira and Mu as they chase down Rau Le Creuset.
- Also used by Rau himself when Flay Allster attempts to attack him with his own gun during their first formal conversation. He lectures her about how idiotic it would be to kill him while she's in the middle of a building filled with his men, then asks dryly if she even checked to see if the pistol was loaded at all.
- Again uttered by Mu La Flaga when kira charges into the Mendel colony to help him face Rau. If you want to use that, you might want to remove the safety
- It makes for a bit of Fridge Brilliance when you realize that Kira for the most part would never want to use a gun as he probably can't shoot someone without accidentally killing them. Every shot he fired with it ends up being wasted because he had convinced himself that killing is wrong... in a war.
- Done in the Battle Royale manga, in a flashback: a guy holds a revolver to Shogo's girlfriend's head, and demands that Shogo drop his gun or else he will shoot her. Shogo casually says, "You're not going to shoot her — the safety's on," causing the other guy to check to see if that's true, and Shogo uses the opening to shoot the guy in the face. He then remarks: "Idiot. Revolvers don't have safety catches."
- A very well done example in the Venus Wars movie. A reporter gets a chance to interview the Big Bad, struggles with her sense of journalistic ethics, and after much angst works up the courage to conduct the interview then point a weapon in his face. The Big Bad has a look of fear and horror cross his face, then bemusement when he realizes she left the safety on.
- In Orguss 02, used by the series' Magnificent Bastard, Manning, who notes as he's being tied up by the series' naive hero Lean that 'you can't fire that gun without a bullet in the chamber. Next time, pull the bolt first.' (Manning didn't bother to act on this before being tied up because, basically, Enigmatic Minion.) Lean himself provided an inversion in an earlier episode, realizing the Derringer his companion Nataruma has repeatedly pointed at him isn't loaded, reminding her that a professional soldier might recognise this immediately.
- In Hentai anime / manga Kamyla, the main character escapes from confinement because she sees the mook's gun having safety on, and beat him up.
- Eureka Seven has Holland using this trick while calmly walking up to a man that tried to steal the Nirvash (and did reveal their location to the military), then knocking the gun out of his hands. It was a revolver, so it didn't even have a safety.
- An interesting variant of this crossing with It Works Better with Bullets appears in Detective Conan Fake Shinichi is holding the rest of the cast at gun point when Shinichi calmly points out the gun is empty, dropping the bullets from his hands. Fake shinichi checks and discovers its a lie, but its too late as it already gave Shinichi time to disarm him.
- Jodie successfully puts the gun's safety lever on during an episode about a bus-jacking. The other guy found out too late.
- Sword Art Online: In the Gun Gale Online arc, protagonist Sinon pulls this on a group of bullies who brandish a gun (and they make a show of turning off the safety) to exploit her phobia of firearms. Sinon, however, has been (slowly) conquering this phobia, takes the gun from them, lectures the bullies on the fact that this particular gun has two safeties, switches the other one off, and shoots a nearby can. The bullies are stunned and terrified, and leave her alone after that.
- Done hilariously in an old G.I. Joe comic, where Snake Eyes' old master, pretending to be a simple chef, deals with an attempted robbery by a young teenager. First he points out that the safety is on in the boy's gun, and when the boy takes it off, he grabs the gun's slide, pops out the bullet from the chamber, drops the clip off, and then offers to buy the empty gun from him for $100, dropping it in a crate full of empty pistols!
- The Baroness pulls this trick on Hashtag in IDW's G.I. Joe #5, telling her that the clip in her pistol is empty. When Hashtag tilts the gun to check, the Baroness attacks and wrests the gun off her.
- The Doctor Who comic-strip adventure "The Bronze Men," serialized in Doctor Who Magazine, has the Fourth Doctor use this to bluff his gun-wielding foe while he gets a door open with his Sonic Screwdriver. Justified, too, in that said foe was a man in 15th Century China with a 23rd Century-era blaster—he wouldn't have known what a safety catch was.
- Hitman: Marc Navaronne spent years honing his Improbable Aiming Skills to kill Tommy and avenge his father Johnny's death. When he finally gets the drop on Tommy, he forgets his safety is on.
- The Preacher example pictured above, though the art style omits the manual safety on his 1911, but does show the hammer as up, so it wouldn't fire anyway.
- In the Star Wars Extended Universe book Tales from Mos Eisley Cantina, Momaw Nadon lures an Imperial captain into an alley and threatens to kill him. The captain laughs ruthlessly and says, "You can't kill me with a blaster set to Stun." Momaw knows he set the blaster to Kill, but fears he may have knocked the setting aside, and looks. Of course, it is set on Kill, but he has lost his chance, and the captain shoots him. (Luckily, his blaster is set on Stun.)
- Ice Station uses a type 2. Shane Schofield gives his ally James Renshaw a pistol, who then uses it to hold up Barnaby. Barnaby just laughs and pulls out his own gun because Renshaw didn't chamber a round. Renshaw decided to run before he was shot.
- At The Climax of the Tom Clancy Ryanverse novel Patriot Games, after the Big Bad is taken into custody, one of the Marines that joined Ryan on the would-be escape ship points out that if John had really wanted to kill the terrorist (whose head he had his gun to), he'd have had the safety off. As a part of the "Green Machine" legacy himself, Ryan would be more than familiar with the safety of the pistol he was holding, although the narration implied that Ryan had not consciously realized that he kept the safety off.
- In Artemis Fowl Book 3, Juliet disarms a hitman's pistol without him realizing it. After he threatens her with the useless weapon, she taunts him with the slide she removed from the weapon, then knocks him unconscious.
- An amusing variant appears in Making Money when Moist tracks down escaped forger Owlswick Jenkins in his workshop. Terrified of going back to prison, Jenkins threatens to commit suicide by eating a tube of highly toxic paint, but Moist snatches it out of his mouth when he tries.
- Inverted in Men at Arms; When Detritus first hefts up the siegebow later known as the Piecemaker to threaten an armourer, Corporal Nobbs expresses (possibly insincere) hope that the safety catch is on, and that the armorer has properly maintained it as it was known to succumb readily to metal fatigue. Detritus's reply: "What are a safety catch?" (By Night Watch, Vimes has taught Detritus that "When Mister Safety Catch Is Not On, Mister Crossbow Is Not Your Friend".)
- There is a memorable scene in Neal Stephenson's Reamde where Zula jams her finger between the hammer and firing pin of Abdallah Jones' pistol, allowing Csongor to shoot Jones without worrying about Zula's safety.
- Dan Brown's Deception Point sees a protagonist acquire a machine gun from the assassins out to kill him, after incapacitating two of them, and uses it to hold the NRO's Director at gunpoint. The third assassin then calmly walks into his line of fire with his own weapon and states that he's out of ammunition.
- In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan Vorpatril jumps a slaver who is pointing a stunner-beam at him. Ivan later reveals that the stunner in question was his, and was keyed to his own finger-prints, meaning that no one else could make it work.
- Subverted for comedy in Mr Blank. The hero has a gun, the mook tells him the safety's on, our hero sneers "Like I'm really going to fall for that." Then the gun goes off (proving the mook was lying while trying to invoke this trope), and our hero apologizes for shooting the guy.
Live Action TV
- Appears back in 1966 in the The Wild Wild West episode "Night of the Deadly Bubble", where the female professor thinks West is an intruder, but West knows she won't shoot him because the safety's on.
- Not really a gun, but in Doctor Who The Master scuppers a plan to hold him at laser-screwdriver-point by setting it so it only works for himnote . He is then able to steal it back and nick the protagonist's mother with it.
- And played straight on the Doctor's end as he went up against the Big Bad in the finale issue of IDW's The Forgotten miniseries.
- A unique example occurs in "The Sontaran Strategem." UNIT guns are useless against the Sontarans' Cordolaine Signal, which expands the copper casings in UNIT's bullets and renders their guns inoperable.
- In the Due South episode "Free Willie":
Fraser: No you won't. You're going to hand me that gun. You're going to return that purse and you're going to apologize to that lady.
Willie: Why? I got the gun.
Fraser: Cause you don't want to hurt anyone, and because if you don't, you might end up hurting yourself.
Willie: (reluctantly hands him the gun) Well you know you're lucky cop. 'Cause I coulda shot you right through the heart.
Fraser: I don't think so, because that would require knowing how to take off the safety.
- Chuck: Chuck is supposed to get Sarah out of a locked freezer by shooting out the lock, but the gun doesn't work. Then Sarah tells him to take the safety off.
- Burn Notice:
- Michael tells a man pointing a gun at him, "By the way, Vince, you're gonna have a hard time blowing my brains out with the safety on." When Vince looks at the gun to check, Michael wrestles the gun away from him, shooting Vince before saying: "What do you know, the safety was off! My mistake."
- A similar occasion occurs later on in the series, except instead Michael notes that the contact, Seymour was using hollowpoints. Seymour expresses surpise that Michael could tell just by looking at it, allowing Michael an opportunity to wrestle the gun away again. Seymour acknowledges that Michael is indeed a Badass. Then again, Seymour's an idiot.
- Later with a shotgun, when he points out the gun is loaded with birdshot, which at the range to the target would probably just bruise hi-*grabs gun*
- Later Michael has two guns pointed at him, he manages to convince the owners to put them down, before commenting that that week's big bad's Dragon had the safety on on his gun.
- In F/X: The Series, when a former friend turned foe is handed a gun and told to watch the good guys, Rollie promptly beats the crap out of him as soon as the opportunity arises, pointing out that "Real gunmen use the safety you moron."
- From Leverage:
- This happens in the pilot, "The Nigerian Job":
Nathan finds Hardison holding Eliot at gunpoint
Eliot: Did you do it? You're the only one that's ever played both sides.
Nathan: Yeah, and you seem pretty relaxed for a guy with a gun pointed at him.
Eliot: Safety's on.
Hardison: Like I'm gonna fall for that.
Nathan: No, no, actually he's right. The safety is on.
Hardison looks down to check, and Nathan grabs the gun.
- Similarly, in "The Girls' Night Out Job", Sophie tells a thug pointing a gun at her that the safety is on. While he's checking the gun, Tara comes up behind him and breaks a vase over his head, commenting that the safety was off. "Not to a grifter."
- In the first season The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode "The King of Knaves Affair" Napoleon Solo (under cover) takes advantage of a failure to check the safety to disarm a woman accosting him in his hotel room.
Ernestine Pepper: Mr. Smith, the first shot goes into the floor, the second goes into your head.
Napoleon Solo [slowly walking towards Pepper]: Alright then, better shoot and get it over with. [Pepper fumbles with the pistol, which does not fire. Solo disarms her] You see, the safety catch is on; it limits the range of the weapon considerably.
- The captain pulls this on Ken in the MST3K episode Fugitive Alien. It's justified, Ken's from an alien race that uses lasers instead of bullets.
- Although laser weapons would need safeties for the same reason conventional firearms have them.
- The same applies to Stan in an episode of Lexx.
- In an episode of Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined), Centurions have boarded the ship. Billy is about to help a Marine flank two that are fighting Lee, Jammer and two other Marines... but not before Dualla reminds him to remove the safety. Note that the safety was on in the first place because Dee told him to use it before putting the gun in his pants.
- Castle: The murderer is cornered by Beckett while holding Castle hostage at gunpoint. After uncovering the murderer's motive, Castle knocks him down and wrests the gun from him. Beckett tells him he could have been killed, and Castle replies that the safety was on the whole time.
Beckett: Y'know, you could've told me.
Castle: Where's the fun in that?
- Used in The Sarah Connor Chronicles season two episode "The Good Wound". Reese points this out to someone holding a gun on him, and it distracts them long enough for him to draw his own (although not long enough for him to shoot).
- Subverted on LOST: while playing inside woman in a bank robbery, Kate pretends not to know the safety is on, and then how to take it off. Another variant is Rousseau removing the firing pin from Robert's rifle, which has the bonus of letting her find out if he was really going to shoot her (he was.)
- In the second episode of The Walking Dead, Andrea threatens to shoot Rick for bringing a hoarde of "walkers" to their location. Later, he advises her to take the safety off next time, and even gives her a quick lesson in handling a gun. She points it at him again in the sixth episode, and mentions she knows how the safety works (and it actually is off). Earlier in the pilot, Rick tells an inexperienced deputy to make sure he had a round chambered and the safety off (despite being a Glock, which has no manual safety). He then racks the slide to chamber a round, then presses the slide stop release.
- An interesting subversion happens in an episode of 21 Jump Street. Hanson, posing a student, is being threatened by another student (named Ronnie) with a gun. He is saying things such as, "you could end up dead". The gun is cocked and incredibly close to Hanson's face. After the student is satisfied and begins walking away, the following exchange takes place:
Hanson: The safety's on the left, man. You ought to take it off if you want to threaten somebody.
Ronnie: The safety don't work, man. Never did.
- Happens in an episode of Quantum Leap. Sam is being held hostage by a woman he's been charged to protect (although, the person he's leaped into is really in cahoots with the bad guy, and the woman has just found out). Subverted in that it is Al who tells Sam that the safety is on. Since he is a hologram and the woman can't see him, he can examine the gun closely and at length. Also, the woman checks by actually trying to fire the gun, which doesn't work, and then throws the gun at Sam. Which is strange when you think about it because that basically meant she gave a man who she thinks wants to kill her a loaded gun.
- A variation happened in one episode of Adam-12. Malloy chases a guy armed with a shotgun over a hill, only to find the shotgun leveled at him. Then the guy gives up. Turned out he left the safety on and pulled the trigger so hard it broke.
- The reason Stella wasn't shot by Frankie in CSI NY 'All Access'. Frankie didn't know enough about guns to take the safety off.
- Later, there's a variation. When Jo is attacked by the DC rapist, he empties all the bullets from her gun and tosses it aside. However, he didn't know enough to clear the one in the chamber, allowing Jo to grab it, fire one at him, and then reload to fire another (he was still trying to get her after the first one.)
- A classic Type 1 example on One Life to Live, as deranged mafia chief Alex holds a patsy hostage. He tells her her safety is on, she checks, and he's able to knock the gun out of her hand and restrain her. What makes this an especially awesome example is that he's usually a spineless wimp, while she's not only a mob chief, she's a former federal agent (presumably a weapons expert), and he's still able to get the better of her.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Matter of Time", Data goes inside the time vessel of the phony time-traveler Berlinghoff Rasmussen, where he finds various items from the Enterprise taken by Rasmussen, including a phaser, which Rasmussen sets at the highest stun setting and tries to fire at Data, but doesn't work. Data calmly explains that the Enterprise computer deactivated it once it sensed it.
- Arrow: Malcolm Merlyn is being held at gunpoint by Thea, who has recently found out that she's his daughter. While she's pointing the gun at him, he helpfully points out that the safety is on. Unusually for this trope, she does eventually shoot him... but he's wearing a Kevlar vest. And he's actually pleased that she shot him, because when his son Tommy had him at gunpoint the previous season he had been unable to pull the trigger.
- Played straight twice in the Metal Gear series; in Metal Gear Solid when Snake meets Meryl he tells her she doesn't have what it takes to shoot him, ending with "You haven't even taken the safety off, rookie." note
- In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, he snatches Johnny Sasaki's gun away after almost exactly the same lines after the less experienced soldier visually inspects his XM8. Since the XM8 was designed to evoke muscle memory from years of training with the M16 family, and it's almost impossible to pass even rudimentary military training without being able to tell the safety's position by feel, this succeeds in making Johnny look like an absolute moron. Snake even sardonically asks how someone like him lasted ten years in the military.
- Naked Snake does this to Ocelot twice in Metal Gear Solid 3; the first time, his Makarov jams because he's tried to load it improperlynote , and the second time, because he's used to the Makarov's eight-round magazine, he doesn't realize that his new Single Action Army runs out after six shots.
- The mugger who keeps pestering you in Déjà Vu repeatedly forgets to take the safety off, meaning you can score a punch to the nose and make him scurry off. The first few times, anyway...
- This is particularly strange, because he's clearly threatening you with a revolver, which would lack a safety.
- An inversion happens in the original Max Payne, when Max runs into Mona Sax, her signature Desert Eagle aimed point-blank into his face. He returns the favor with his own Beretta, uttering: "Your safety's off, Evil Twin. You could hurt somebody with that gun of yours."
- Slash'EM: Lightsabers don't work unless you turn them on.
- Subverted in Brass Restoration: Ryo invokes this against the bookstore owner, who then fires without hesitation. Turns out that that was exactly what Ryo was expecting—the question about the safety was to provoke him into firing. "...You can avoid a bullet if you know when it's fired."
- In the preview showcasing Remember Me's Memory Manipulation mechanic, Nilin is trying to make her victim believe he killed someone. When he grabs his gun, however, the intended victim mocks him because she knows he always leaves the safety on. She's so confident about this that she tempts fate by walking right up to him and grabbing the barrel of the gun.
- In the opening cinematic of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the elderly Frank Woods' only response to Harper's rifle in his face is a nonchalant, "Safety's on, dipshit".
- Played with in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. A random encounter character accuses Huang of supplying him with defective guns. Huang suggests turning the safety off, so the man does and accidentally kills several bystanders.
- Subverted in Schlock Mercenary, during the Tough's first encounter with Doyt Gyo and Haban, where their weapons failed to work. When Kevyn points out that all Haban did was use field-effectors to jam the safeties on all the guns, Tagon curtly points out that their mil-spec weapons didn't have safeties. "Oh. Well, they do now." "That's not subtle, that's showing off!"
- The Monarch of The Venture Bros. is once shown telling an anecdote about when Captain Sunshine, a superhero, had a gun to his face, but the Monarch noticed he didn't touch the safety. The Monarch then claimed he was Immune to Bullets, and when the gun didn't do anything, the Captain Sunshine ran away and has thought he was invulnerable ever since.
- An episode of Men In Black: The Series had a variation; J grabs an alien weapon he's unfamiliar with and points what he thinks is the business end at his attacker. The alien identifies the gun and informs him that he's pointing it the wrong way; J assumes the alien is trying to bluff him and fires anyway. Sure enough, a beam shoots out of what appeared to be the scope and just misses J's head, and the alien smugly comments that he was just trying to help.
- Massad Ayoob wrote in his eponymous column for American Handgunner of a Florida cab driver whose life was saved by this trope. The driver picked up a fare who'd earlier stolen a Smith and Wesson 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Before long, attempted robbery turned into attempted murder after the driver refused to give up his wallet. What the robber didn't know was that the stolen pistol's safety was engaged (the owner left it on), which disconnected the trigger from the rest of the firing mechanism. Even more unfortunately for the robber, the driver was armed and well aware of how to disengage the safety of his own pistol. The robber did not survive.
- Subverted in the reason why many handguns oriented towards the law enforcement duty weapon or self-defense markets are double action without a manual safety. In both situations, the number of times the weapon will be fired "in anger" will be rare indeed. Hence a trigger mechanism that allows one to simply draw and fire, without the need to cock the hammer or manipulate a safety catch. Precautions against accidental discharge are provided by other safety mechanisms (e.g. grip and/or trigger safeties).
- It should be kept in mind, though, that a safety being does not guarantee that a firearm won't discharge if a round is chambered. Even in modern firearms, there is still a chance that even a properly functioning safety can fail.
- Manson Family member Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme's attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford reportedly failed because the .45 semiautomatic she used didn't have a round chambered; although years later she claimed that was deliberate.