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Defensive Failure

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The armed victim has the killer in her gunsights and at her mercy (it's usually a woman in these situations), but the killer knows they have nothing to fear. The victim is either unable or unwilling to use her weapon as the killer walks up to her and plucks the gun out of her hands, leaving her a tearful heap begging for her life. Often involves a Breaking Speech. If she had captured him beforehand or otherwise cornered him but doesn't shoot, then it's a Hannibal Lecture.


Compare You Wouldn't Shoot Me, where the targeted character calls the gunman's bluff, and Distract and Disarm, where the targeted character distracts the gunman in hopes of being able to snatch the gun. Can combine with It Works Better with Bullets, where the unarmed character has no fear because he already knows the weapon is harmless.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • Occurs in One Piece, where Usopp's childhood friend Kaya draws a flintlock from her cloak and points it at her traitorous butler, who is the main villain of the arc. The butler recounts seemingly happy memories with her, takes away the gun, and dismisses all of those times as "endured" and "humiliating".
  • Double Subversion in Hellsing. Seras does fire her weapon at the vampiric priest - for all the good it does her. Then he disarms her.
  • In Planetes, Hachimaki is outrage at finding Hakim sabotaging the Von Braun mission, and trains an armor-piercing anchor gun on him. Hakim is utterly unfazed; he knows Hachimaki won't shoot, as he "doesn't have the eyes of a killer." He then delivers a devastating Breaking Speech at Hachi, steadily walking towards him. The lecture climaxes as Hakim walks past Hachi, who remains standing perfectly still, and barely has time to scream at his betrayer's back before a bomb goes off.
  • In Monster: Tenma has Johan at gunpoint, but hesitates. The latter calmly approaches the former in a way that suggests this trope... then he just stands there, points at his own forehead, and smiles.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Flay Allster gets her hands on a gun and points it at Rau le Creuset after being captured by ZAFT. Le Creuset isn't worried though, and proceeds to outline the reasons Flay won't shoot him: she's on a ZAFT ship and if she shot him she would immediately be arrested and likely killed for it, he is the closest thing to an ally she has aboard the ship, and she is obviously not a trained killer despite her uniform so he doubts she has it in her to actually pull the trigger. He also off-handedly asks whether she even checked that the gun was loaded. Flay breaks down and the gun is taken from her without resistance.
  • Subverted in the Rurouni Kenshin anime. Misao and a minor character, a young boy who's brother is taken hostage during one of Shishio's schemes, are attempting to sneak into the villain hideout and capture a nearby guard, with the boy holding him at swordpoint. The guard assumes it's a bluff and points out to the boy that it's harder to kill someone than an innocent would realize...rather severely underestimating just how desperate and angry the boy is. Misao barely manages to prevent him from killing the guard, who becomes instantly cooperative.

  • 8mm: Tom Welles has the director of a snuff film tied to a support bar in the building the film was made at, has his gun trained on him... but can't bring himself to fire, even as the director taunts him (to the point of licking the gun). The hero then steps outside, calls the mother of the snuff film's victim, and begs for permission to kill the man. He gets it. Five seconds later, he pistol-whips the director to death.
  • One of the few tropes played straight in Last Action Hero, when Danny repeatedly has villains at his mercy but can't pull the trigger. Understandable, since he's a scared kid, and we wouldn't want him to become a killer anyway.
  • Variant in Disney's version of Tarzan: Tarzan doesn't fire the rifle because he can't figure out how to make it fire. At the end he does know how to fire it, but chooses not to so he won't be like Clayton.
  • The Host (2006): The heroes are not afraid to shoot. They're just (mostly) shitty shots. Add to that one of the characters, a national bronze-medallist in archery, has a nasty habit of hesitating before taking a shot, and you know the monster has nothing to worry about. Hence why it charges the main characters at every available opportunity.
  • The Rock: Just after Goodspeed and Mason's Navy SEAL teammates are all drawn into a trap and killed, Goodspeed tries to stop Mason from leaving Alcatraz Island by pulling his pistol on him. Mason replies that Goodspeed doesn't have what it takes to kill him, and also remarking "Besides, the safety's on", before grabbing the gun away.
  • A rare good-guy/good-guy example occurs in Independence Day, as Major Steven Hiller is climbing into a helicopter to go look for his girlfriend:
    NCO: Hey, what the hell you doing? (Draws pistol, points it at Hiller) Get out of there, sir.
    Hiller: Something I gotta do. I'm just gonna borrow it for a while.
    NCO: No you're not, sir.'
    Hiller: You really gonna shoot me? (NCO hesitates, and then lowers the gun.)
    Hiller: Just tell 'em I hit you. (the [rather large] NCO looks insulted as Hiller takes off.)
  • In The Sound of Music, Rolf becomes a Nazi soldier, but proves unable to kill Captain Von Trapp:
    Captain Von Trapp: You'll never be one of them.
    • Partially subverted, as this was probably intended as a (stern) compliment but provokes Rolf to call the other Nazis in the area.
  • Parodied in Loaded Weapon 1, where a character seizes up and — rather than merely trembling — begins to convulse in an exaggerated manner, wagging his pistol in every direction. Said character, by the way, is played by Samuel L. Jackson.
  • The Ref. Denis Leary gets distracted, leading to the son of his two hostages grabbing his gun and demanding that Leary untie his parents or he'll shoot. However, Denis knows the kid's not a killer, and starts moving towards the kid. When the phone rings and momentarily distracts the son, Leary simply takes the gun back.
  • Vibes. Nick (Jeff Goldblum) has the Big Bad held at bay with an M-16.
    Dr. Steele: Have you even held a machine gun before?
    Dr. Steele (starts inching forward): Don't lie to me. You wouldn't know how to use that thing if you tried.
    (Nick points the gun up and fires a few bursts into the air. Steele instantly jumps backwards to where he started.)
    Nick: Oh, I dunno. Seems pretty simple to me.
  • In Die Hard with a Vengeance Zeus (another Samuel L. Jackson character) is holding up the entire bad guy parade with a gun and does try to pull the trigger, only to get an ineffectual click. Big Bad Simon Gruber then walks up to him, promptly explains that he forgot to turn the safety off, then shoots him in the leg and captures him.
  • In Bunnyman, the final victim-to-be has the titular serial killer at gunpoint. For some unexplained reason, she turns the gun on herself.
  • In Jack Reacher, the namesake protagonist is attacked by a pair of bumbling criminals inside a narrow bathroom and hallway. After dispatching them, a third criminal points a gun to his head. The protagonist calmly turns around and informs the criminal that he should shoot now. Naturally, the criminal is quickly disarmed immediately after.
  • Subverted in The River Wild. Gail has Wade at gunpoint but decides to spare him and fires the revolver's last bullet into the air, so he orders Terry to kill her family while he kills her. Turns out, there were two bullets left, and she kills him with the last one.

  • In the Discworld novel Jingo, eccentric inventor Leonard of Quirm has captured Sgt. Colon and Corporal Nobby using a firework missile and a rifle mechanism he invented. He then stops, hands the pieces of his weapon to his captives and proceeds to redesign it on the spot. The two ex-captives simply fire the incredibly inaccurate weapon. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Oddly featured in Nation where Daphne points a gun at Mau. She seems so scared of it that he tries to take it from her to relieve her concern. She does actually fire it, but fortunately the powder had got wet, and he thought she was giving him a tool for lighting fires with. So easily could have been Poor Communication Kills.
  • Svidrigailov and Dounia in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dounia has a defensive failure in front of Svidrigailov while Svidrigailov attempts to disarm her, laughing at her and taunting her to kill him. She doesn't, of course.
  • A small but memorable scene in one issue of Perry Rhodan has Pyon Arzachena, perpetually down on his luck interstellar prospector, threaten the former galactic conqueror Hotrenor-Taak with his own weapon because he suspects the latter of being merely an impostor whom he wants to unmask. Turns into a Not With the Safety On, You Won't moment when Hotrenor-Taak calmly walks over and retrieves his gun — which only works when held by its owner.

     Live Action TV  
  • Occurs in the pilot of Angel, except the gun wouldn't have stopped the vampiric villain. Not that the victim knows that.
  • In an early episode of Stargate SG-1 Samantha Carter has an ex-lover at gunpoint as he has been suffering delusions of grandeur. He even tells her to shoot him but she still cannot.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Doctor Who - Martha has an enemy at gunpoint who says she doesn't have the nerve to fire - she replies that nervous people with guns are not a safe combination, and asks him if he wants to risk it.
    • And reversed in an earlier episode. The Doctor is holding a man at gunpoint. He, being the Doctor, handles it differently when the man starts getting nervous...
      Doctor: Like I was ever going to shoot [throws him the gun]. So you were saying?
      Man: But...I've got your gun?
      Doctor: Okay, so shoot me. You were saying?
      Man: Well, uh...can I put this down?
      Doctor: If you want, just hurry up.
    • But played straight in "Utopia" when Chantho won't shoot Professor Yana even though it's pretty clear at that point that he's become The Master.
    • And played straight in the Doctor's Daughter where Ten makes a point that even if he has the villain at gunpoint, he never would shoot.
    • In another episode, a scared kid genius has the Doctor at gunpoint. The Doctor just sighs and simply takes the gun barrel, complaining about humans and guns.
    • Happens to Amy Pond in Cold Blood.
    • "The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe". The titular widow manages to trick a group of soldiers and turn a gun on them. The Leader tells her that he doesn't believe she'll shoot. Then she informs them that her children are missing. He takes her much more seriously after that.
  • Played with Lost: Kate is in a bank during an armed robbery. After a skirmish, she ends up holding a gun on the ringleader, but the safety is on. As the other hostages call out to shoot the bad guy, she yells, "I don't know how to use a gun!" The bad guy takes the gun back and drags her into another room, ostensibly to beat her up. That's when we learn that Kate masterminded the bank robbery, is playing the inside woman, and most definitely knows how to use a gun.
  • Wendy Patrakas falls victim to this on Drive (2007). She's assigned to shoot Ivy to stay in the race. However, street smart Ivy easily disarms the Ohio housewife. After seeing what Ivy's capable of, Wendy tells her "I think maybe I should've shot you."
  • Crichton's Love Interest in Farscape falls victim to this. Scorpius holds Crichton hostage. Then the Love Interest confidently walks in with a pulse rifle. Crichton laughs and tells her to shoot Scorpius. She then hesitates, and Scorpius calmly shoots her instead.
  • Attempted and miserably failed in Daredevil (2015): James Wesley takes Karen prisoner and tries to intimidate her into saying false things about Fisk. He thinks she'll be no different from any of the other times he's intimidated an underling on Fisk's payroll, which is proven wrong when she manages to grab his gun and aims it right at him. Wesley acts unperturbed and tries to bluff her that the gun's not loaded, but Karen (who was taught by her drug-dealing ex-boyfriend in Vermont how to fire a gun, and even shot him in self-defense of her brother) calls his bluff by emptying the gun into him.
  • In The School Nurse Files, Eun young points her pistol at Mckenzie, but he snatches it from her hand and pokes her with it.

     Video Games  
  • Happens a couple of times in the Metal Gear series
    • In the first game Meryl points her rifle at Snake, and Snake taunts her about not being able to pull the trigger. Snake even points out that she hadn't even taken the safety off.
    • Near the beginning of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Ocelot points his revolver at Naked Snake. Snake responds by calmly stating, "You don't have what it takes to kill me." An enraged Ocelot pulls the trigger, only to discover that Snake was speaking literally, and his gun is empty. Whoops. There are implications that Ocelot intended for this to happen all along. It's hard to maintain an image of being a Russian soldier if you refuse to shoot an American spy, after all. Emptying your weapon beforehand is a nice third option.
  • LucasArts FPS Outlaws. When he was a young boy, the hero was in this situation, holding the gun, trying to save his father, but failed. At the end of the game, he is one staring down the barrel, but is saved by his daughter.
  • Happens in Grim Fandango when Meche threatens Domino with a Sprouter.
  • A version appears in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, where Drake points a gun at Sully, Drake's father figure, whom Drake had recently seen gunned down and killed, reappears and looking unharmed. Sully plucks the gun out of Drake's hand, and flicks him on the nose, telling him never to do it again.

  • A friendly-on-friendly version happens in an early chapter of Terra when Grey meets Rick MacFarlane, the latter of whom had just parachuted to safety after his and Alex's Space Fighter was shot down. Rick pulls a gun on Grey but it's abundantly clear to the latter that the former is a Non-Action Guy who's never actually had to use his gun in combat before. Grey easily disarms him, then gives the gun back handle-first to prove he's not an enemy.

     Real Life  
  • Reportedly happened when Fidel Castro's lover, Marita Lorenz, tried to assassinate him.
  • The possible reality of this trope is why all decent mandatory gun safety courses will emphatically point out that if one has drawn the gun and taken aim, they must immediately use it to shoot the aggressor(s) until they fall down. On such a gun safety test, mentioning that one would consider using the gun as a threat is grounds for immediate failure.
    • To elaborate a bit further, DO NOT BLUFF with a weapon. A person who is used to killing people (i.e. most violent criminals) will kill you right then and there if you pull out a weapon and don't attack immediately. Unlike you, they have no resistance to killing. This is where Hollywood sort of gets it right and sort of gets it wrong—a lot of people get killed by waving around a gun they're not prepared to use, but the killer rarely bothers to disarm, taunt, or otherwise interact with the victim before murdering him.
    • Also, depending on your jurisdiction, it may be legal to shoot someone in self-defense, while at the same time being illegal to brandish a weapon, which is to say, displaying it openly or threateningly. Which means, due to an odd intersection of laws, someone who draws a gun in self-defense and does not shoot can get in more legal trouble than someone who does shoot. Of course, firearms laws vary from place to place, in the case of the US, they vary wildly between individual states, so become familiar with your local laws and act accordingly.
    • A related aspect of this is the general rule that you just don’t point the gun at something unless you intend and are willing to fire. Not just because of this trope, but to prevent any I Just Shot Marvin in the Face situations. Even if you’re only trying to bluff someone, there’s still a chance your gun could go off on accident for any number of reasons, leaving you with an unwanted dead body.
    • On the other hand, attempting this trope is not necessarily a good idea either. Most guns can be fired very fast and easily, so if you’re even slightly wrong about someone’s willingness to shoot, you’re probably going to get killed if you try to charge them or snatch the gun away. They may even shoot you by accident, as previously noted. And you can’t always tell if a gun is loaded just by looking at it, which leads to yet another firearm safety rule; assume every gun is loaded and treat it accordingly, even if you unloaded it yourself.