"Damn straight! I dare to assume you ignorant jackasses know that space is empty! Once you fire this hunk of metal, it keeps going 'til it hits something! That can be a ship, or the planet behind that ship. It might go off into deep space and hit somebody else in ten thousand years! If you pull the trigger on this, you are ruining someone's day, somewhere and sometime. That is why you check your damn targets! That is why you wait for the computer to give you a damn firing solution! That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not "eyeball it!" This is a weapon of mass destruction. You are not a cowboy shooting from the hip!"In fiction, a bullet is a very simple thing. A bullet is a device that has some percentage chance of causing damage to a specific target. This chance can be reduced by interposing solid objects — like cars, or walls, or random bad guys — between the shooter and the target, but otherwise a bullet either hits the target or misses entirely. And "misses entirely" means no longer exists. Unlike actual supersonic pieces of metal, a fictional bullet doesn't hit whatever lies along its trajectory in the mile or more that it can travel while retaining lethal power — it just vanishes, as if every target had something behind it to catch stray rounds (what recreational shooters refer to as a "backstop"). Even if hundreds of bullets are fired during a fight scene, there will be no casualties we don't see on screen. This applies to far more than just bullets — Macross Missile Massacres and Frickin' Laser Beams are equally vulnerable. And, of course, it applies to more contexts than simple gunfights — first, that which is Fired In The Air A Lot must come down, and second, except when by pure coincidence they intersect some larger celestial body, missed shots fired during a Space Battle could keep travelling with the same energy for millennia. This trope tends to go hand-in-hand with Arbitrary Maximum Range for that very reason. Another consequence of the Rule of Perception. See also Bullets Do Not Work That Way and Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. One of the many factors contributing to cases of Artistic License – Gun Safety and Reckless Gun Usage — there is a very good reason why one of the most important rules of gun safety in real life is "Know your target, and what is beyond." Contrast with Precision Crash, where stray shots in space are practically guaranteed to strike something important. Also contrast with Spectator Casualty, where they actually hit something. Because this trope is so common, only lampshades and aversions shall be listed.
— Gunnery Chief, Mass Effect 2
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Anime & Manga
- In Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, of all places, Mai shoots several times at Gohan, who, being the superpowered warrior he is, deflects the bullets effortlessly. However, one of said bullets then goes on to hit Videl in the leg. Fortunately, Dende is on hand to immediately heal her, but Gohan is chewed out for showing off and not disarming Mai immediately. (Worth noting that nobody thought the gun was real until it was fired.)
- Averted in Aldnoah.Zero Episode 15. We open with Slaine seemingly firing his Kataphrakt's weapons into nothing while in space. It takes until the end of the episode that those shots return because he had fired them in such a way that they would be pulled into low Earth orbit and he was using the time delay of their return trajectory (approximately 6 hours) to plan out a trap for the upcoming space battle.
- Frequently averted in the Gundam series:
- Those set in the Universal Century timeline, at least, tend to note that beam-firing weapons are a bad idea when fighting inside of a colony - since nothing will stop a shot from one, that means that any ones fired within the colony will quickly puncture it and start sucking out the oxygen. Mobile suits going up will cause even bigger holes and exacerbate the problem, so fighting in colonies at all is a rare prospect (it only happens twice in the original series, and the issues are ignored in the latter case only because the colony had been abandoned at some point before the war).
- Mobile Suit Gundam 00 pulls an aversion in an early episode where the news reporters shows images of buildings hit by both stray gunfire and mobile suit wrecks from a battle earlier that day. They also mention that there were casualties due to this as well.
- In Outlaw Star, this is why guns (but not Casters, for some reason) are banned on board most space stations - it only takes one stray shot punching a hole in the hull to asphyxiate the entire area.
- In the first Queen and Country story, Tara Chace is ambushed by two goons with guns while unarmed. She rushes one, makes it within hand-to-hand range before he can hit her, and takes him down. After which she discovers that one of his shots hit the other one.
- In Sin City: Family Values, the Roaring Rampage of Revenge is to avenge a woman killed by stray bullets from a hitman taking potshots at a stray dog.
- Welcome Back, Frank story arc of The Punisher has three vigilantes team up to remove crime from the streets. One is a priest who goes nuts after hearing one too many confessions/bragging sessions, another is a Rich Bastard who shoots pot dealers near his upper-class neighborhood, and the third breaks into a Corrupt Corporate Executive meeting, ranting about their plans to close jobs to preserve their salaries, then opens fire. When Frank runs into them, he calls out the first two because of their twisted visions of justice, and the third because he unknowingly shot an innocent cleaning lady during his rampage.
- The Punisher himself generally invokes this trope by taking on gangsters and other criminals on their own territory — with his training he doesn't miss often, but if he does accidentally hit someone else, well, they deserved it anyway.
- Paper Girls: When Mac tries to wrestle her father's gun away from her suicidal stepmother it goes off and the bullet strikes Erin in the stomach.
- As the opening move in the attack on Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards in Red Fire, Red Planet, the IKS mupwI' drops a ten ton block of uranium out of a cargo bay while moving at 25,000 kilometers per second.note It hits its target dead center, but at least part of the weapon keeps going and hits the planet Mars behind the target.
- In Stupid Devil Dog the spells fired by a pair of nobles miss Saito but hit several homes in the area and kill at least one man.
- The Reveal in What Goes Up is that all the gunshot victims including Buffy who's now blind, Joyce who's paralyzed, and Willow who died were all hit by bullets fired from Xander/Soldier Guy's gun when he fired into the air to scare off kids turned into their costumes.
- In A Dragon in Shining Armour when Examon fires into a cloud of smoke in an attempt to hit a BlackMetalGarurumon. He misses and hits the guy's brother, an Anubismon, instead.
- In In Stark Contrast Xander fires a mini-stake with a railgun at Spike and successfully dusts him. He also hits Drusilla (non-fatally) who was standing on the other side of him, and Buffy (also non-fatally) who was holding Drusilla hostage.
- Luffy in Blood Man Luffy takes out several marines by letting them stand in a circle around him and fire at him. Since he's a logia, the bullets pass right through him and hit the marines on the other side.
Films — Live-Action
- In The Mexican, the man from whom Jerry picks up the eponymous gun is killed by a falling bullet from people Firing in the Air a Lot elsewhere in the town.
- In Snatch., when Avi is trying to shoot the dog with the diamond in him, he ends up accidentally killing Bullet-Tooth Tony.
- In Mulholland Dr., a hitman's efforts to make a hit look like suicide are complicated when the gun misfires and hits a woman in the next room over.
- Ronin features a car chase through a picturesque French town with the protagonists and antagonists emptying magazine after magazine from their automatic weapons at each other. Dozens of innocent bystanders are left bleeding on the sidewalk.
- An Uzi-wielding goon in The Corruptor fails to hit Detectives Wallace and Chen during the big Car Chase, but he does mow down several innocent bystanders in the process.
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. British spy Jim Prideaux realises he's been Lured into a Trap starts walking way from his contact. A Hungarian counter-intelligence agent panics, rushes into the street and fires a warning shot...right into the head of a woman breast-feeding a baby.
- The Cotton Club gives us gangster Vincent "Mad Dog" Dwyer, who got his nickname after his cohorts machine-gunned several innocent bystanders along with their target.
- Pulp Fiction: in addition to the trope namer for I Just Shot Marvin in the Face, it's also subverted when a disoriented Marcellus fires his pistol into the crowd surrounding Butch's wrecked car and hits a bystander who goes down and screams for the rest of the scene.
- In True Lies, when Harry attempts to shoot down a terrorist helicopter using his "borrowed" Harrier's cannon and misses, the rounds are seen hitting the water - and then taking a chunk out of an office building...
- A Walk Among the Tombstones. Scudder's badass credentials are shown in the opening shoot-out in which he defeats several criminals in a gunfight, while drunk. However later on in the movie, it's revealed that a stray shot from said gunfight hit a 7-year old girl in the eye. Worse, Scudder was decorated for bravery.
- In Doc Sidhe, at the summoning circle in Central Park, Harris Greene intentionally shoots at the ground rather than at the oncoming goons because any misses would be raining down on the museum.
- In the Honor Harrington books, particularly given how much energy is dedicated to anti-missile ECM, the various Space Navies are quite conscious of the danger of misses striking the wrong target. The tactics in a number of battles are shaped by the need to be sure that a missile fired at a defending fleet doesn't accidentally hit a planet. To avert the "racing on for millennia" part of this trope, it is mentioned that missiles usually auto-destruct after a programmed time if they miss their target so they don't ruin somebody's day down the road. And when it does hit the planet — it is five million dead, including most of the protagonist's extended family, and that was not as much from an actual stray shot, but rather from just general debris it generated.
- In Ghost Story, a handful of kids open fire on Karin Murphy's home while there's a meeting of the Better Future Society, a group of supernaturally inclined people (and not-quite-people) who've banded together to fight supernatural threats in Harry Dresden's absence. When Harry (who follows the kids and learns they're being abused and manipulated) tries to soften Murphy's wrath by pointing out the kids were spraying and praying and were unlikely to hit anyone, Murphy points out that not only did Abby, one of the BFS members, get hit in the gut and may not survive, but a stray bullet hit her neighbor and he bled out before anyone could find him.
- In Death Is Forever, The Girl of the Week dies when a henchman, blinded by the flashbang trap that James Bond built into a lightbulb, fires two shots at a random direction with his pistol.
- There was an episode of CSI where a man was shooting at a makeshift handgun target and talked his girlfriend into having a go. She fired over the target and accidentally killed a woman on the beach several blocks away. Sadly, it was probably inspired by one of a number of cases in Real Life where people carelessly firing off guns in celebration have killed innocent bystanders.
Nick Stokes: Well, that's why it's illegal to shoot guns within city limits, Genius!
- This is how Willow's girlfriend Tara dies in Buffy the Vampire Slayer +- hit by a stray bullet meant for Buffy.
- In one episode of The Closer, a man fires a warning shot at a couple of gang members who are trying to steal his car at a gas station. The bullet flies two blocks and kills a kid. The gang members are charged with Felony Murder, since they instigated the crime that led to the kid's death, and the actual shooter, while not charged with anything, is appropriately horrified when he finds out what happened.
- The Wire:
- At one point, two drug gangs get into a (laughably bad) shootout. There don't appear to be any casualties... until an Innocent Bystander mom tries to get her kids ready for school after the shooting dies down and finds her 9 year old son shot.
- In season 4, there's another inversion that plays an important role in the mayoral race. Carcetti tries to beat the incumbent Royce by promising to lower crime and focusing on the issue of how no witnesses will come forward to testify against criminals because Baltimore's witness protection fails them. This seems to be confirmed when a witness in an important case is killed in the weeks leading up to the primary. After the election is over and Carcetti has won, it turns out that the witness was killed by a stray bullet. A guy several blocks away was shooting at bottles, and the witness had tremendously bad luck. The irony is not lost on anyone.
- Averted in an episode of No Ordinary Family. Jim deflects a bullet a criminal fires at him, and it winds up hitting a child in the next room. While he initially goes into a Heroic B.S.O.D., it's later revealed that being hospitalized for the bullet allowed the child's doctors to catch and treat a much more serious disease. This manages to snap him out of it, and he is more careful in the future.
- Averted in Eureka. A blast of radiation from the artifact kills Kim, and residual radiation infects and slowly kills a few more people. Carter even compares it to a stray bullet, saying a woman was killed by a stray bullet on a raid he once went on.
- Discussed and averted in Golden Boy. In the opening scene of the pilot, the protagonist cop and his partner get into a gun fight with some robbers. Despite the tense situation, the cops are very careful with their shots and only one bullet misses its target. When he is later accused of being reckless during the shootout, the protagonist freely admits that having the gun fight out on the street was a bad idea but the robbers gave them little choice when they opened fire first. He then reveals that after got out of the hospital, he personally went back to the crime scene and spent hours tracking down that single stray bullet. He was greatly relieved when he discovered that it was lodged in a wall and did not hit any bystanders.
- A tragic aversion in an epsiode of NYPD Blue: A bodega owner who has been robbed several times buys a handgun to protect himself. The next time he is robbed, he fires at - and misses - the fleeing robbers. Since he didn't have a permit for the gun, and shooting at the fleeing perps wasn't justifiable self-defence, the investigating detectives advise him to say that he had picked up the robber's discarded gun. Next day, a man is found dead in an apartment facing the bodega, hit by the stray bullet. The owner now faces felony charges and the detectives have to take back their advice to avoid perjuring both him and themselves.
- Played for Laughs in Arrested Development: every time someone is shown firing into the air, you will see some extra in the background drop after getting hit by the bullet coming down.
- This is why PPGs (pulse plasma guns) are used aboard Babylon 5. A bullet that misses or goes through its target has the potential to either ricochet and hit someone else or puncture the hull. A PPG blast is stopped by the first solid object it encounters. Additionally, at low power, they can be used as Stun Guns of sorts. Planetside, regular guns are still common.
- As with all tropes concerning violence in Tabletop Games, Greg Costikyan's Violence RPG has its vicious way with this little trope in the section of Combat marked "Innocent Bystanders", and points out the consequences of a gun battle (if it can really be called such) between a violent scumbag with an Uzi (your typical Violence PC) and a little old lady with a revolver in her apartment. The old lady got two shots off before getting cut down, and neither one of them hit Uzi guy, but they did go through the wall (made of cheap modern wallboard which can't stop bullets worth crap), and now some poor immigrant in another apartment packed full of them is now without much of her lower arm. Meanwhile, Uzi guy got off twenty shots of which maybe three hit the old lady. The prewar brick wall behind her absorbed the impact of most of the bullets, but the rest went through a window, shattering it and resulting in casualty number two, a bike messenger who was riding below the window when it shattered and is now bleeding on the sidewalk and screaming bloody murder. Meanwhile, whatever bullets didn't go halfway through the bricks of a building across the street went through another window along the way, grazing the head of the kitty sleeping on the windowsill and possibly hitting the personal trainer who lives there, who is now prone on the floor and calling 911 on his cellphone. Needless to say, there's a reason that the law frowns upon firing weapons in city limits.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Averted (though with a melee weapon) with Kharn the Betrayer. Such is his devotion to Khorne (of "Khorne cares not from where the blood flows, as long as it flows" fame) that if he misses in close combat against an enemy he automatically hits the ally next to him.
- Averted, sort of, with Orks, who simply don't care whether or not they hit something, it only means they need More Dakka.
- Blast Weapons in general avert this. The template will never just "disappear", but rather can land on a patch of land that has no models. This means that firing them into clusters of enemies is usually the best way to use them; you will never get a full squad unless you are extremely lucky, but you are almost guaranteed to hit something when the enemy is spread out. The same goes for Warhammer Cannons; they explicitly embed themselves into the ground after their final "bounce" distance is determined, and if that position happens to be on top of something, it's going to end very badly for said something. The only exception to both is if the template's hole lands off of the table (even if the rest of the template would still hit something). This is the only time where it will simply "vanish".
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- 3rd edition has a variant rule suggested in one of the books, offering tables and rules to determine the outcome of range attacks which miss. The sidebar advises the Dungeon Master to ignore this suggestion, since it involves a tremendous amount of calculation and rolling to be done for every ranged attack, which would bog the game down, and be no fun for players uninterested in a simulation-style game. The entire exercise is offered as an example of the dangers inherent to house rules: It might be what you and your group really want, or it might make the game less fun for everyone involved.
- Earlier editions had this as a standard, however: firing into melee and missing the original target would instead hit someone next to them.
- Although Edition 3.5 doesn't have such a rule, unless you have the appropriate feat you do take a penalty to ranged attacks against an opponent engaged in melee with a friendly character, to avoid the risk of hitting your ally.
- The BattleTech advanced rulebook Tactical Operations unsurprisingly includes some rules on how to handle missed attacks more "realistically" (optional, like everything else in it) and like D&D above cautions against overusing them because they can easily slow down the game. There's also a minor aversion even in the standard rules — buildings used for cover can take damage from attacks that technically "miss" the covered target and may even end up eventually destroyed by it.
- Averted in Jagged Alliance and its sequels, where stray shots most certainly can and often do strike friendlies, civilians, explosive scenery objects...
- The Gunnery Chief in Mass Effect 2 delivers the quoted epic rant against careless firing of the mass accelerator for this very reason. Sadly, the people in charge of making space combat cutscenes did not listen to the Gunnery Chief, leading to some rather ugly inferences for Earth after the massive space battle in Mass Effect 3. BioWare had to step in to specifically clarify than in a conflict between cutscenes and Codex, the Codex wins, meaning that the anti-Reaper forces involved in the battle did not actually fight as if this trope was in effect.
- In the original games (UFO and TFTD), there's an invisible backstop at the edges of the map, but otherwise any shot fired will be traced across the map until it hits something — be that a wall, an alien, a civilian, or an X-COM operative — regardless of what it was aimed at.
- In the remake, Enemy Unknown, stray shots from laser or plasma weapons have a penchant for wearing down most covernote . On the other hand, it's jarring (and hilarious) that a miss deals zero damage to anything living the actual shots hit, be it a friendly, an enemy who wasn't being aimed at, or even the target itselfnote .
- Partially averted in the 2D Fallout titles. Accidentally hitting a friendly character is a common Critical Miss, and any weapon fired in bursts has a chance to hit characters close to the line of fire. In Fallout Tactics, this can create the odd sight of the player character emerging unscathed from machine gun fire while squadmates to left and right are reduced to Ludicrous Gibs.
- Missed shots in Deadnaut cause gradual damage against the derelict ship you're on, and once the ship has reached zero hull integrity, you lose your entire squad.
- Missed shots in World of Tanks usually just hit the ground or other obstacles near the target, but stray rounds occasionally strike an unlucky vehicle behind the intended target.
- The trope is fully averted In World of Warships, most often with torpedoes. These have very long range, and will travel in a straight line until they hit something or run out of fuel. When fired carelessly, any nearby friendlies who aren't cautious can (and often do) run into them, whether before or after they miss the intended target. It's possible with gun shells as well, occasionally with other enemy ships in the target area, but most often when a friendly ship sails close in front of the shooter, who is "scoped in" and doesn't notice that the line of fire to the target is not clear.
- As a rule, played straight in Real-Time Strategy games (you try keeping track of dozens of units firing hundreds of projectiles) but averted with artillery weapons, which cause damage wherever they land (and fire slowly enough that it can do so without bringing the computer to its knees).
- Averted in Dominions. Arrows (and other projectiles) will aim at a specific square, even if it's not exactly the one intended. So if they're aimed at a single enemy from far enough away, they have a good chance of landing in an empty square (and, naturally, hitting nothing), but if they're aimed at a squad of fifty soldiers, the "stray" shot may easily target a square with different soldiers (and, quite possibly, hit one). Of course, if you're aiming at melee soldiers, in both cases there's the chance you'll hit one of your units...
- Averted in Pirates Vikings and Knights. All Projectiles can ricochet and still hit someone, though pulling it off deliberately is near impossible.
- Averted in Ground Control. In higher difficulties stray and missed shots can and will harm your own units if you don't check if the line of fire and you can use the blind fire option to hit unspotted enemy units or buildings, in fact it isn't uncommon to enter a prolonged slugfest and see a large building blowing up before you noticed it was there in the campaign.
- Averted in case 1-4 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. A bullet accidentally fired through the door of an elevator struck a person on the other side of the doors. The gun had been thrown by a young Miles Edgeworth in an attempt to break up a fight. He thought the accidental discharge of the gun had killed his father, but this was not the case—the gun had been fired through the door of the elevator he, his father Gregory, and bailiff Yanni Yogi had been stuck in. The person struck by the bullet was Manfred von Karma...who, moments later, was still present when the door opened, showing the three people inside unconscious from either hypoxianote , hypercapnianote , or a combination of the two. Seeing an opportunity for revenge against Miles's father, who had managed to prove misconduct by von Karma earlier that day, Manfred seized the gun that Miles had thrown and shot Gregory Edgeworth. The bullet remained in von Karma's arm for fifteen years.
- Referenced in a possible random event in Stellaris, where a science vessel can be struck by stray mass driver rounds fired from another galaxy billions of years ago. Actual combat in this game plays the trope straight though - any shot that doesn't hit its intended target will simply not hit anything.
- Played with in The Order of the Stick, when Belkar kills an assassin who was preparing to fire a poisoned arrow at Hinjo. As he does so, the arrow gets shot in a random direction. The next comic shows the arrow fly, narrowly missing several main characters before hitting Vaarsuvius... who had cast "Protection from Arrows" earlier in the arc, so the arrow bounces off the magical barrier and harmlessly hits the ground.
- Because this trope is averted by Real Life bullets, a standard rule of gun safety is to be certain both that there is nothing behind or beside your target that you are unwilling to shoot and that there is something behind your target that can absorb your bullets safely (the aforementioned backstop).
- Unfortunately, some police officers in real life don't seem to understand how problematic stray gunfire is, when they open fire on suspects in a phenomenon called "contagious fire," which is basically every cop on a scene becoming Trigger Happy. At least one incident involving the Miami-Dade Police Department involved 377 rounds shot at unarmed suspects — with plenty of collateral damage to property and injuries to other innocent bystanders and even other officers themselves.
- The NYPD is particularly notorious for this, due to a very low standard for weapons qualification, lax enforcement of that standard, and officers who want to practice but can't get time on the department's crowded and overworked range (NYPD has over 40,000 sworn officers) find it nearly impossible to find a public range, thanks to excessively-strict city and state antigun laws. The alarming frequency of bystanders getting struck by police bullets has led some New Yorkers to accuse their police department of being "New York's largest street gang."
- Horrifically averted with casualties caused by celebratory gunfire. Repeat after me, boys and girls: Guns are NOT party poppers.
- In military operations, reports on casualties from missed shots are not commonly tallied (most people who die in bombing raids are considered to be casualties of bombs), but there are a few exceptions: at Pearl Harbor, between 48 and 68 civilians were killed by unexploded AA ammunition that landed outside of the military bases.
- Another exceptional case was the Great Los Angeles "Air Raid" that occurred in early 1942, where a suspicious radar contact thought to be a Japanese attack force triggered an hour-long salvo of anti-aircraft fire. Five civilians died as a result, and the rain of metal did cause some rather extensive property damage.
- Perhaps the best World War II example occurred shortly after midnight on March 1, 1942 during the Battle of Sunda Strait when the Japanese cruiser Mogami launched the deadliest torpedo salvo in history, sinking five ships with one spread of Type 93 "Long Lance" torpedoes. Unfortunately, they were the Japanese ships that she was there to protect: one minesweeper and four Japanese Army transports carrying the Java invasion force. The six torpedoes, fired at the cruiser Houston at a range of about 3,000 meters, struck the Japanese ships 11,800 meters down range about eight minutes later. The Type 93 had a 20,000 meter range at 48 knots, more than double any other torpedo in service at the time, and the transports would have been invisible to Mogami in the dark. The kicker to all this? One of the survivors was a high-ranking IJA officer, who managed to swim to shore and was picked up by friendlies. He blamed the Houston for the sinking of the transport he was on, only to be told that the neither the Houston, nor any of her sister ships, was armed with torpedoes. He asked them to "credit" the kill to the Houston anyway.
- Actually Truth in Television when it comes to space battles, despite the speech of the Gunnery Chief. Space is just so goddamn big that if you fire something with a random trajectory, it's extremely unlikely that it will hit anything before the heat death of the universe, and significantly more unlikely even if it does that it will hit anything important, rather than a star, black hole, or uninhabited piece of rock. Of course, none of this applies when the battle is happening right next to a planet, as with the Battle for Earth - every shell that missed will get picked up by Earth's gravity, though they might be weakened by Earth's electromagnetic field and burn up in the atmosphere.