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Instant Marksman: Just Squeeze Trigger!

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The use of guns is, of course, a standard of certain genres, and many a trope has been dedicated to analyzing their use and the various Stock Phrases that they bring.

In this case, you have two characters: one is an experienced marksman, and one is inexperienced. At some point in the story, the need for the inexperienced individual to use a gun comes along. Sometimes the training takes place on a simplified Shooting Gallery, perhaps during a montage of some type. It may also work as a moment for the relationship between the two characters to be showcased: sometimes as parent and offspring, sometimes as mentor and student.

During this scene, the inexperienced shooter is having difficulty hitting their targets. At this point, the experienced marksman approaches, and gives one piece of advice:

"Don't pull the trigger. Squeeze the trigger."

Sometimes this particular stock phrase is followed up by further advice, the most common being a breathing method (such as "take a deep breath"). Often, this advice is shown as the only thing the novice needed, as they now hit the targets with relative ease.

This is, of course, partially Truth in Television: many novice shooters do yank on the trigger and thus pull their gun way off.

But it's not the sole barrier between a novice and an elite sniper.

Fortunately, much like real life, most movie shooting happens at ranges of 50m or less, where the main barrier to hitting something is simply remembering to aim at all. With that particular low barrier to entry, movie style coaching is probably sufficient, at least to ensure you don't shoot yourself.

(It is worth noting that without some form of coaching, most people will copy their shooting style from what they see in film and TV. The problem with that is that actors certainly don't need to be carefully aiming when they pull the trigger, and may in fact be hamming up things like recoil for dramatic effect.)

A Sub-Trope of Instant Expert.


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    Comic Books 
  • Horrifically averted in The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye. Swerve is told that he must take down a crazed Fortress Maximus with the large riveter gun he has. Swerve freaks out and explains that he's not trained in weapon combat and is a horrible shot. Rodimus tells him to do it anyway (apparently being a firm believer in this trope). Swerve misses his target and ends up shooting Fort Max's hostage instead. He survives, but is in a coma for the next few issues.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Pocahontas, John Smith gives the inexperienced Thomas advice on how to handle his gun, including a gentle reminder to "keep both eyes open". This is echoed when Thomas shoots Kocoum.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bangkok Dangerous 2008, has a scene in which Joe gives this advice to his student Kang.
  • Cowboys & Aliens has this line from Meacham when he teaches the shopkeeper how to shoot (similar to that in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, below):
    "Don't yank it, now, it ain't your pecker."
  • Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man:
    • The Marlboro Man says "Squeeze the trigger, Harley. Don't yank it, it's not your dick. Squeeze it." In this case, however, there's no training taking place; the Marlboro Man is making a snarky comment on Harley's piss-poor shooting skills.
    • Later, when the two eponymous heroes are facing the Big Bad and his legion of bulletproof henchmen, Marlboro Man says it again as sort of crash course training: "Don't yank. Don't pull. Squeeze." The trope is partially averted in this case, though, because no matter how many times he hears this advice, Harley Davidson's gun skills never get better.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen shows Quartermain giving this advice to Tom Sawyer. Quartermain has Improbable Aiming Skills in this film (he can fire an ordinary rifle at a great distance without aiming for the center of mass), which he passes to Sawyer after one session (in which the latter fails to hit the target).
  • From Love and Death:
    Sonya: I'm not leaving here until we shoot Napoleon. Here. (Hands Boris a pistol)
    Boris: Oh, I see. Thanks. I'm the hit man.
    Sonya: Remember, you can't take any chances. Now, make sure the barrel of the gun is pressed against his head or his chest. And don't pull the trigger, Boris. Squeeze it.
    Boris: Where did you go to finishing school? On a pirate ship?
  • Played with in The Magnificent Seven (1960). O'Reilly is training a farmer to shoot a rifle, giving the "squeeze, not pull" advice, but when the farmer still keeps pulling it (and missing wide), O'Reilly exasperatedly tells him to just use the butt of the rifle as a club. A similar scene occurs in the 2016 version as well, this time with Robicheaux giving the advice to take it slow ("You can't pull it slow enough!") to an entire line of townsfolk, who promptly continue to miss every single target. This time, Faraday suggests that they should polish their rifles in the hopes that the glint will scare off the enemy forces.
  • This happens in The Mountie when Grayling is teaching Cleora how to shoot. Her first shot misses the target by about a foot. After showing her how to squeeze, her next shot hits.
  • Leon gives this advice to Mathilda in The Professional, allowing her to hit her target on the first try, with a paintball rifle from a rather long distance too.
  • Punisher: War Zone: Frank Castle mistakenly shoots an undercover Fed, and finds himself at gunpoint from the distraught widow. He advises her to aim at his heart and squeeze the trigger — in this case, they're at point blank range so it's done to show Castle's willingness to face death for what he has done.
  • In Zombieland, Tallahassee gives this bit of advice to Little Rock, something that comes in handy later when she and Wichita are under attack by a horde of zombies.
    • Little Rock, a 12-year-old, had brandished firearms before this, but had not fired except into the air while brandishing. She was unable to hit a large vase with a long arm at twenty yards, a feat which would be considered laughably easy by most youth shooting programs. As soon as she hears Tallahassee's advice, she hits the target, playing this trope straight.
    • Also, Tallahassee's advice is more focused on having her relax, calm down, and take her time while aiming down the sights. And she never displays any amazing feats of marksmanship, so this makes for a comparatively realistic example.

  • Ciaphas Cain: Early in Duty Calls, Cain, Jurgen, and snack-seller Zemelda Cleat are pinned down by ambushers. When Zemelda picks up a fallen weapon, Cain gives her a one-sentence lesson in weapon handling.
    Tuck that into your shoulder, pull the trigger gently, and Emperor guide your aim.
  • Inverted in Four Day Planet by H. Beam Piper. The protagonist (a good pistol shot) has trouble with the 50-mm gun on a monster-hunting ship until he is told, "I see what your problem is. You're squeezing the trigger." There follows a realization that jerking the trigger is actually the best technique: It's a fixed mount gun, and the usual reasons for squeezing the trigger on a pistol or rifle don't apply.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used in the Criminal Minds episode "L.D.S.K.", wherein resident geekboy Reid is trying to pass his firearms qualification test, and resident sharpshooter Hotch is giving him lessons, telling him "front sight, trigger press, follow through". Hotch also mentions the "squeeze, don't pull" advice. Reid fails his test twice, even with Hotch's help, but proves his competence in the climax of the episode, where he gets a perfect headshot to the UnSub via Hotch's distraction gambit and his spare gun. He went on to joke that he was actually aiming for the leg (or at least, we think it was a joke).
  • In the Masters of Horror episode "The Screwfly Solution", this advice is given from mother to daughter, with the usual effect.
  • In one episode of NUMB3RS, Charlie, in order to understand how a criminal sniper operates in the field, tries to learn what shooting a gun feels like because his usual math-heavy approach is failing to give him the whole picture. After struggling with a rifle in the shooting range, Don gives Charlie a few pointers; relax his hands, fire the shot in-between breaths, etc. It works; Charlie's next shot is a lot closer to the bullseye, and his prediction on where the suspect will set up his sniper nest is off by only one window.
  • Torchwood: Gwen is a PC (constable), who are not issued guns, so Jack teaches her how to fire one in the second episode. She becomes an expert after that one session. Possibly justified in that we're never really sure how long the session goes on for (possibly hours), and some people do have a natural gift.
  • Played with in an episode of Ultimate Force when Henno gives a pistol to an ambassador he is protecting with the titular instructions. However, he then reveals he was actually suggesting a suicide method.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Zigzagged in Dark Heresy:
    • For roles that are not optimized for ranged combat, an amateur probably has a ballistic skill of about 20 (meaning they would hit about 20% of the time at an unobscured target assuming the shooter was proficient with the gun. If the wielder isn't proficient with the gun? -20 penalty to ballistic skill, meaning they likely can't hit that same target without using skills or equipment to boost their accuracy.
    • Given the above point, characters who choose a role not suited for combat may find themselves wondering how to contribute during gunfights. Suppressing fire is highly inaccurate, however suppressing fire still forces a suppression check on the target regardless of the shooter's accuracy. Even better, suppressing fire can be performed even if the shooter isn't even proficient in the weapon. This means some random guy from the administorum can fire wildly into gunfights and the enemies will be forced to dive into cover to avoid shots that would never hit them anyway.
  • Strictly averted in Violence™: The Roleplaying Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed (a dark satire of hack-n-slash RPGs). Player characters are not allowed to have a Handgun Skill greater than 10 because they're not professional marksmen. Any exceptions must be justified to the GM.


    Video Games 
  • Averted in Silent Hill. Harry, who's never handled a gun before, is given one by policewoman Cybil Bennett. Her instructions are pretty terrible and do not include this advice. She even says, "Before you pull the trigger...", which of course is the wrong way to manipulate a trigger. Calling Harry a mediocre shot is being charitable. The scene can be seen here; Cybil dives pretty deep into Artistic License – Gun Safety.
  • Inverted in the beginning of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune when Drake hands Intrepid Reporter Elena a pistol. His advice is "Just point... and shoot", which is something one would only expect to hear from somebody who's never, ever held a gun in their life.

  • Somewhat averted in Dead Winter. After Liz headshots the wrong zombie, Alice gives her the usual "squeeze the trigger" advice. She fires again...and hits a vending machine.
    Liz: It seems that hat grants him some sort of magic shield...

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Marge is shown how to shoot by former neighbor Ruth Powers in "Marge on the Lam". Ruth tells Marge to squeeze the trigger, although she does not mention the part about not pulling the trigger. Marge does show immediate skill as a marksman.
    "My cans! My precious antique cans! Aw, look what ya done to 'em..."