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"I dare to assume you ignorant jackasses know that space is empty! Once you fire this hunk of metal, it keeps going 'till 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!"

Sir Isaac Newton's first law of motion: a body in motion will tend to stay in motion, in the same direction and at a constant speed, unless acted upon by an outside force.

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So, if one were to fire a projectile at someone, whether it be a bullet, arrow, stone, laser beam, nuclear missile, or what have you... and you happened to miss the target, anything and anyone standing downrange from that target would run a pretty good risk of getting hit themselves. It is for this reason that gun safety is really, really important: you wouldn't want to make a mistake, like say, accidentally shooting Marvin in the face. Sometimes you may actually hit the target... and someone/thing (who you don't intend to hit) who may be in the front of or behind it or (in case of explosives) around it.

This trope covers those moments when a character intends to shoot one thing, but ends up hitting someone or something they were not intending to. Thanks to The Law of Conservation of Detail, any scene featuring this trope is going to be a dramatic moment, as neither the shooters nor the audience expected the stray shots to actually hit anybody, or (in case of explosives) for the blast to hit unintended targets around them or cause more damage to the surroundings than intended.

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This is a Supertrope to Spectator Casualty (in which someone just watching a deadly sport is unintentionally injured) and Deadly Dodging (which weaponizes this trope).

Compare and contrast:

See also Artistic License – Gun Safety, Reckless Gun Usage and the Friendly Fire Index.

This is a Death Trope, spoilers ahead.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Batman Black and White: In "Monsters in the Closet", the mad scientist tries to kill Batman with a shotgun, but aims wide. The shotgun blast hits the containment unit Batman was examining, letting all the monsters loose.
  • Gotham Central: When Renee and Crispus encounter the Black Spider, they have already arrested and handcuffed two members of Burnley Town Massive in the room behind them. When the Spider shoots Renee with two machine pistols on full-auto, spraying bullets wildly, the two other suspects and everything in the room with them is also sprayed with gunfire. Afterwards, when Allen shoots the Spider, one of the gang members shot by the Spider claims that it was him, but the ballistics and angle of the shots mean that Allen physically could not have shot him from that position.
  • In MAD's 1960 feature "The Mad 'Comic' Opera," Dick Tracy talks a lot about his bad aim, but still shoots at Rex Morgan, M.D. to try to stop him from kidnapping Little Orphan Annie (it makes only slightly more sense in context). He instead shoots through the window behind Rex and hits Dagwood Bumstead, who happened to be walking by. Dagwood gets one song in before dying.
  • Paper Girls: The bullet accidentally fired as Mac and her stepmother struggle for her father's gun hits Erin in the stomach, just to the lower left of her navel.
  • Queen and Country: 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.
  • Sin City: In 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.

    Fan Works 
  • A Dragon in Shining Armour: Anubismon is killed when Examon fires blindly into a cloud of smoke.
  • Kitsune no Ken: Fist of the Fox: This caused a lot of problems in the immediate aftermath and also several years later going into the 365 days, and plays a crucial role in the present-day plot. Jiraiya accidentally triggered a missile launch while having a drunken tryst with the ambassador to a foreign power, and the rocket wound up killing some of their own soldiers, including Gaara's parents. The subsequent effort to cover up the cause of the incident only caused everything to go downhill, culminating in the 365 days.
  • Stupid Devil Dog: Andre's and Gerald's spells that miss Saito during their fight hit several homes and kill at least a few people.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (Killbles): In one of the tales of Midsummer Night's Kaiju battles, in that the National Guard was firing at a Kaiju, and not only did they not help in the battle, they actively hurt, as one of their missed rounds hit Midsummer Night in the lower spine. This crippled the Jaeger and turned what would have been a Curb-Stomp Battle into a far more drawn-out affair.
  • Superwomen of Eva: Emerald Fury: One of the tranquilizer darts that bounce of She-Hulk's body hits Shinji and knocks him out.
  • Savior of Demons: King Kold doesn't initially join the fight because he's not only content to watch his son battle the humans, but he's also making sure that any stray ki blasts don't render their ship incapable of flight. Later on, this comes back to bite him (and Frieza by extent) when the attack that kills him also punches a hole in the ship.
  • Stories and Tales from Dimension 63: In chapter 21, when Trevor tries to take Loki's rifle, it goes off and the bullet shoots through the floor of Loki's bedroom into the living room below, hitting Lars in the arm.
  • The Days of Reckoning Are Upon Us: When Peggy shoots at the vibranium shield, one of the ricochets hits a technician in the shoulder.
  • The Fourth Council Race: The "Six Minute War" came to an end when a missed shot wipes out a colony of fifty thousand people.

    Films — Animation 
  • Batman: Gotham Knight: The deflector in Field Test turns every bullet fired at Batman into a stray shot that no one has any idea where it's going. When a mobster gets hit, Batman realizes how dangerous ricocheted bullets are and refuses to use the deflector again.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Casino Royale (2006): A guard at the embassy is shot by his fellow guards as they fire at Bond.
  • The Cotton Club: Vincent got his nickname of "Mad Dog" after his cohorts hit several innocent bystanders along with their target.
  • Dead End Drive-In: The cop fires off a wild shot while dying after being shot by Crabs, and shoots Tommo dead.
  • Edge of Tomorrow: During the scene in which Cage trains with Rita in the target range for the first time: If you look closely in the background, you will see soldiers reacting to Cage's gunfire when it ricochets off the floor after he attempts to take down one of the spinning targets.
  • Everly: Zelda's client was accidentally shot when few bullets penetrated a plaster wall separating two apartments.
  • In Face/Off, Castor Troy tried to kill his nemesis Sean Archer with a sniper shot, but the bullet went through Archer's son, killing him and wounding Archer non-fatally. Archer spent the next few years mercilessly hunting Troy down.
  • The Inciting Incident of In Bruges (though we don't find out for a while) is that Ray accidentally shot an altar boy when he was sent to take out a priest. He actually hit the priest, at close range, but the bullet went straight through. This haunts him as My Greatest Failure, and is the reason Harry, who Would Not Hurt A Child, wants him dead. At the climax, Harry accidentally shoots a dwarf, thinks it's a child and sticks to his principles by summarily committing suicide.
  • The Killer:
    • The plot is launched when Hitman with a Heart Ah Jeong accidentally grazes a noncombatant nightclub singer with a bullet during a shootout in a bar. She is blinded, which is a source of great regret for Ah Jeong which causes him to insert himself in her life and go to great personal risk to get money to pay for her cornea transplant
    • Later on in the movie, a shootout between Ah Jeong and some mooks that want to kill him leads to a little girl being shot accidentally. Ah Jeong immediately leaves the battle in order to rescue her and take her to the hospital, leaving a great impression on Inspector Li, who has been shadowing him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pulp Fiction: A disoriented Marsellus 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.
  • Shaun of the Dead: A zombie in the pub is hit by a stray bullet.
  • Snatch.: When Avi is trying to shoot the dog with the diamond in him, he ends up accidentally killing Bullet-Tooth Tony.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2020): Near the film's finale, after Tom insults him, Robotnik retorts by gleefully suggesting that he intends to kill both him and his wife Maddie, referencing this trope in the process:
    Robotnik: You are catching fire, Thomas. Oh, and speaking of heat, I see you've taken a lover. Does she have a name or should we just call her collateral damage?
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Prideaux realises he's in a trap and starts walking way from his contact. A Hungarian agent panics, rushes into the street and fires a warning shot...right into the head of a woman breast-feeding a baby.

    Literature 
  • Books of Kings: King Ahab is killed by a stray arrow fired at random.
  • Death Is Forever: Easy is shot when Dominic, blinded by the flashbang that Bond built into a lightbulb, fires two shots at random with his pistol.
  • Eldraeverse: During the Core War a mass driver accidentally strikes an uncontacted planet. An epilogue entry reveals that the overhead battle had been taken as a favorable sign from the gods by a warmongering native polity and the stray shot happened to wipe out their army. Suggesting that the Eldraic Transcend had been meddling.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Rowle casts a Killing Curse at Remus Lupin, but it misses him and hits Gibbon instead.
  • The Institute: Tim was forced to resign from his previous police job when, during a confrontation with an armed and intoxicated teen, he fired a warning shot, but the bullet ended up knocking down a lamp from the ceiling, which then fell on top of a bystander, seriously injuring the guy.
  • Jedi Apprentice: While Grelb is being devoured by a local creature, a wild, panicked shot he fires kills Jemba.
  • Life, the Universe and Everything: Arthur Dent meets Agrajag, an extremely angry being who has been reincarnated many times and is apparently cursed to be killed by Arthur in every life (generally through accident or carelessness, but he's convinced Arthur is doing it deliberately). One of his deaths apparently occurred when someone tried to shoot Arthur, he ducked and the bullet hit Agrajag instead, which baffles Arthur since nothing of the sort has ever happened to him. Two books later, the event in question actually happens, and we learn that the shooter was Arthur's daughter, Random.
  • Matthew Scudder: Matt left the police force because he accidentally shot a little girl in the line of duty.
  • Worm: This is an enormous problem with Glory Girl, to the point that she is nicknamed "Collateral Damage Barbie." While she has never been observed injuring a person she didn't intend to harm, her tendency to wreck everything that gets in her way causes enormous problems for the Wards, as it is a nightmare for PR.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100: Commander Lexa dies from one of Titus's stray shots.
  • At the end of the Adam-12 episode "Log 52: Good Cop - Handle With Care", Reed and Malloy are questioning a couple suspected bank robbers when the pair of journalists that have been hassling them all episode claiming they're a couple of "badge heavy" thugs show up. In the confusion, one of the suspects pulls a gun and fires at the cops. He misses and hits an innocent bystander across the street. The denouement states the victim, a father of three, died of his injuries at the hospital.
  • In the season four finale of Boardwalk Empire, penitent hitman Richard Harrow is talked into doing One Last Job, and shoots Chalky's daughter Maybelle when she strays between him and the target, Narcisse. He's appalled, but takes a bullet in his escape and dies of his wound soon after.
  • In The Boys (2019), Billy Butcher takes Hugie, his newest companion, to a meeting of the local chapter of A.C.D.S. (the Association of Collateral Damage Survivors), a support group composed of people who were seriously injured after being "rescued" by a super hero, and who now move about in wheelchairs and have been outfitted with prosthetic limbs. When first recruiting Hughie, he explains that Supes kill hundreds of people per year through collateral damage, but a combination of generous compensation payouts coupled with Non-Disclosure agreements, corporate and political pressure, and people just not wanting to know keeps a lid on most of it.
    • In the first episode of Season 2, the CEO of Vought Industries is hammering out an agreement for the deployment of military superheroes. He presents a standard clause where the superheroes are required to make their "best effort" to avoid collateral damage. When the Secretary of Defense demands to know what the acceptable level of collateral damage is, he's told that officially it's zero, but secretly it's 34%.
  • Criminal Minds: In "Minimal Loss" Nancy offers to negotiate with the police on behalf of the cult but is shot by a bullet during the initial botched raid.
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation:
    • The two-parter "A Bullet Runs Through" deals with the aftermath of a massive gunfight between police and a gang of drug dealers. The police are accused of shooting a teenaged bystander and it turns out that a cop was accidentally shot by another cop. The bullet that killed the cop turned out to have been fired by Brass, the teenager turns out to have been (deliberately) shot by one of the gang members to steal his bike.
    • One episode centers around the possibility that an officer might have accidentally shot a bystander during a robbery at a corner shop after mistaking her for another robber. However it turns out to be this trope (the guy he was aiming at managed to run away and he didn't even notice the victim when he opened fire).
    • One episode's Victim of the Week turns out to have been hit by a stray bullet fired by a guy a couple of city blocks away, who was in his backyard Firing in the Air a Lot for funsies. He has no idea he's hit anyone until he's arrested, whereupon it's pointed out to him that this trope is the reason it's illegal to discharge a firearm within city limits.
  • Fargo: In "The Gift of the Magi" Virgil takes a shot at Ed, but it misses and ends up hitting Charlie, knocking him out.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In "Damaged" the guy in the opening is killed by a stray bullet. Once the real conspiracy comes to light, Cabot makes a point to add his murder to the list of charges.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Greg Costikyan's Violence has its vicious way with this 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 player character) 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 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.
  • BattleTech normally assumes that missed shots simply miss and have no other effect. There are three exceptions to this:
    • If a mech has partial cover, then any shots that would normally hit the location behind the cover hit the cover instead. If this is because a battlemech is standing behind a low hill, this doesn't really matter. If it's because the mech is standing behind a small building, on the other hand, the building takes the hit. This can potentially destroy the building if it takes enough damage.
    • Weapons that strike entire hexes, like artillery, always hit something. If you miss the target, you roll on the scatter chart to see which direction the shell drifts off-target, then calculate the distance based on how badly you missed by. This could mean that it hits another enemy unit. This could mean that it hits one of your own units. At point-blank range, this could potentially wind up drifting so badly that it lands behind the unit that fired the shell.
    • There are advanced rules for calculating a missed shot to see what it's chances are of hitting something else that's on the line from the attacking unit to the target. As this adds a lot of extra work, it slows the game down considerably and is therefore not used very often.

    Video Games 
  • BattleTech: At first, missed shots in the base game would never hit anything but the scenery even when there was another 'Mech in the way; they'd just pass through it without any effect... until the Urban Warfare DLC rolled around. Now missed shots will hit world objects including other 'Mechs regardless of affiliation if they're in the projectile's randomly determined path. This can have hilariously destructive consequences on urban battlefields when, for instance, an Awesome misses with its PPCs and instead brings down the downtown high rise behind the target. It also makes it inadvisable to cluster 'Mechs together as shots that miss the intended target are highly likely to hit the one next to it instead.
  • Centipede (1998): It's possible to accidentally shoot and destroy Wee people and buildings. Buildings can typically take a few hits and stay standing, but people go down in one shot.
  • Cogmind: Stray shots that hit reactors can result in large explosions. If they hit an engineer or conveyor, reinforcement squads may get called in. This is a gameplay mechanic that frequently increases the danger in the area.
  • Deadnaut: Stray shots cause damage to both the room you're in and the ship overall. Special care must be made when avoiding enemies in red (heavily-damaged) rooms, since once the ship's hull integrity hits zero, it's Game Over for your entire squad.
  • Fallout
    • In Fallout and Fallout 2, stray projectiles can and will strike anything in their line of sight or blast radius with deadly results, including enemies, allies, and random passers by. Certain types of armor can also deflect bullets, injuring or killing unintended targets even when your aim is true. Stray shots can also provoke hostility from parties formerly uninvolved in the conflict.
  • Kenshi: The "Precision Shooting" skill determines the probability of a ranged character to accidentally incur into friendly fire when shooting in the midst of melees. Players should be extra careful when managing the equipment of their sharpshooters, and refrain from giving high damage crossbows (Eagle's Cross, Oldworld Bows, etc.) to newbies if they don't want their melee fighters to die from some stray shot hitting them in the back of the neck. The same skill also affects shooting from turrets.
  • Mass Effect 2: In addition to providing the page quote the planet Klendagon has a giant canyon that seems to have been caused by a stray mass accelerator round 37 million years ago. Cerberus back-traced the shot and found out that the weapon was used to kill a Reaper.
  • Mega Man Rock Force: Unlike other games in the classic series, deflected shots can still do damage to enemies. In fact, the intro stage forces you to learn this mechanic in order to proceed.
  • Pirates Vikings and Knights: All Projectiles can ricochet and still hit someone, though pulling it off deliberately is near impossible.
  • Return Of The Obra Dinn: One crewman dies when a bullet intended for a monster instead pierces the wooden wall behind it - and the unlucky crewman hiding on the other side.
  • Stellaris: A not uncommon event during surveys is for your science vessel to take a glancing shot from a stray kinetic weapon.
  • XCOM 2: Downplayed. Missed shots cannot hit enemy units, which leads to missed shots at targets from ranges where it would be physically impossible to miss to go off in a random direction to avoid the "Missed shots hitting targets for no effect" behavior from the first game. However, missed shots can destroy cover and hit/destroy environmental objects/destructibles. For example, an attack aimed at an ADVENT trooper taking cover behind a destructible (eg. a car) that misses could instead hit the destructible and, if it's a hazard, blow it up, killing the intended target anyway. Unfortunately, this can also happen to your troops as well.
  • XCOM: With the exception of map borders where the shots disappear, all missed projectiles will continue to fly until they hit something: walls, explosive materials, civilians, X-COM operatives, aliens, etc. To-Hit is calculated in two stages; wether your troops hit what they were aiming for, and what takes the hit if they miss. This can result in destroying cover or an alien behind the first one.
  • In Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts, guns are inaccurate enough that it's possible that your (or the enemy's) guns might actually land a devastating hit on a ship that they weren't actually aiming at. The tighter the formation that the target ship is sailing in, the more likely this will happen.

    Web Animation 
  • Bad Days: Downplayed. After Wonder Woman deflects bullets with her bracelets, the bullets ricochet into the wall she's next to and nearly hit several policemen, as well as breaking one's coffee cup.
  • Red vs. Blue: While Felix and Locus are hijacking the Tartarus during the Chorus Trilogy, Stassney accidentally shoots one of his own guys when he tries to defend himself from Felix.

    Web Comics 
  • Schlock Mercenary: In an early strip, during a confused and largely accidental firefight with far too many bullets flying around, the mercenary company's then-doctor stops one (which was actually fired by Sergeant Schlock, who's on the same side). Unfortunately, he stops it with his head. As the doctor turns out to have been something of a Mad Scientist with a complicated past history, this has some plot consequences down the line (even aside from the introduction of a new doctor character).
  • Servants of the Imperium: A lance strike misses the incoming Chaos vessel and strikes the moon the protagonists are investigating. Oops.

    Web Videos 

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