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Little Useless Gun

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"Feels like I'm gonna break this damn thing!"note 

"Oh, I'm queer? From the guy whose tiny gun came with a matching purse."
Conway Stern, Archer
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A character treats a small firearm with contempt. The firearm will likely be physically small and will probably fire small-caliber ammunition, which is considered by some users to be weak.

There is a common perception that any round smaller than a .38 Special is essentially a joke bullet unable to do any real damage. The truth is that Guns Do Not Work That Way. Guns, by definition, are weapons that are designed to kill. Just about any gun made today can inflict a mortal wound in one shot, though a small caliber bullet probably won't drop you on the spot. Even the oft mocked .22 Short can tear deep enough into a human body to tear major veins and arteries, and if the bullet reaches the throat or vital organs the damage will be severe. Even pneumatic weapons firing small pellets at low speed can inflict lethal injuries if they hit someone in a critical area such as the temple or the heart. This is exactly why airsoft events have very strictly enforced safety rules about minimum engagement distances and protective equipment. It's also why it's both frequently forbidden and a bad idea to use frozen paintballs.

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The idea that small-caliber and/or low-powered weapons are useless in combat probably comes from the somewhat vague notion of "stopping power" and that Bigger Is Better in this regard. Even wounds that are fatal will generally not result in an Instant Death Bullet, and it is not unknown for a target to keep going after having been shot, sometimes not even noticing. So the theory goes that larger caliber weapons are more likely to ensure that a target will actually stop in fewer shots. The other side of the argument is that most of the "evidence" for stopping power is almost purely anecdotal and no scientific mechanism for its function has been confirmed. Furthermore, many comparatively smaller guns can have twice the rounds (or more) per magazine versus a massive Hand Cannon as well as far less recoil and weight, and so are "more likely" to be accurate. While size certainly does matter in ballistics, the debate mostly centers around weapons of the same type (pistols vs pistols, rifle vs rifles) not a Derringer next to a .50 BMG sniper rifle, thus the differences are comparatively small.

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On the other hand, small-caliber firearms, such as .22 rimfire "Purse Guns", are worthless against most forms of ballistic armor, which will stop a small caliber round flat. Literally, the bullet will flatten to the width of a coin, or thereabouts. Higher caliber pistols like the .45 and 9mm are more likely to get through lighter armors, but aren't guaranteed to do so, while rifle rounds like the 5.56 require modern heavy-duty armor to have any chance of stopping them. Even then, some bruises or even broken bones will result from the force of the shot.

On the other other hand, there's also the issue of "Over-penetration"—when a bullet goes straight through a target. The result is that (1) you wind up hitting things you didn't intend to and (2) you wind up preventing the bullet from transferring all of its energy to the intended target.

Since you can't exactly subject live humans to rigorously controlled lethal testing, it's doubtful this debate will end any time soon.

Often popular as a Hidden Weapon stored in Victoria's Secret Compartment. For the opposite end of the spectrum, see Hand Cannon and BFG, with Punch-Packing Pistol inbetween. In shooter games, a Little Useless Gun tends to be a Ranged Emergency Weapon.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Akumetsu: The eponymous character states that .22 slugs aren't good at doing a lot of damage. Later despite several bodyguards' successful shots to various parts of his body, he powers through to kill one of his targets.
  • In Master Keaton, a cop tells a suicidal man not to shoot himself in the head with a .22, because it's more likely to leave him an invalid than to kill him.
  • Meryl Strife of Trigun gets some mockery over her Weapon of Choice, the derringer, both because of its two-shot capacity and its low penetration. She overcomes the former problem by carrying several dozen at a time.
    • The justification for her choice of weapon seems to be that, in accordance to this trope, it's treated as a nonlethal weapon due to its small caliber. Thus, she can use it with impunity and not worry about deaths or serious collateral damage (which is a reasonable concern for an insurance representative). Her partner Millie uses the opposite approach, a huge multi-barreled stun gun whose slugs spread out in to a cross pattern to reduce stopping power. This would similarly be potentially lethal in real life - at the very least, given she knocks a truck over with two shots from it at one point, it would tend to cause a lot of broken bones - but in the work it just harmlessly knocks people over.
  • Subverted in Black Lagoon. While Fritz Stanford is bragging about the enormous handgun he plans to use to kill Revy, a custom-built gold-plated Luger chambered for .454 Casull, she's loading her regular handgun, a custom-built 9mm Beretta, and shoots him before he can finish speaking. Before she finishes him off, she tell him that "if you can hit your target, pretty much any gun will do the trick."
    • Later on, Balalaika is negotiating with some Yakuza and demands they let her examine the bodyguard's gun. Then she insists he also hand over his backup gun and she begins to mock him for having such a little weapon. However, she then opens fire and kills the two men with that gun, stating that perhaps it wasn't so useless after all.
  • In Desert Punk, Kosuna shoots one goon coming at her several times with her small handgun and he barely even flinches. Although she learns a ridiculously huge gun wouldn't be best either, Kanta does end up getting her a more powerful sub-machine gun by the end.
  • In the episode "High School Nudical" in Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, the ghost of the week steals Panty's... well, panties, which prevented her from summoning her gun to kill him off. She starts grabbing the underwear of all the boys in school, transforming all of them into guns to see what she can get. All of them are puny, worthless, and useless little guns fitting the same general size and shape as the trope image. A great amount of visual innuendo makes it quite clear the guns' sizes were directly proportionate to the size of the boys' dicks... When she grabs Brief's underwear, she's rewarded with a shotgun that blows the ghost away in one hit, but is only good for that one shot.
  • Discussed in Sword Art Online; while Kirito is weapons shopping in Gun Gale Online, the gun Sinon recommends for him has a smaller caliber than a considerably cheaper gun. Sinon starts to lecture him on penetrative power versus stopping power, but Kirito is quickly distracted by a photon sword.
  • As the author took care of learning about guns and become a passable shooter before making his manga, City Hunter averts it:
    • Ryo's usual sidearm is a Colt Python in .357 Magnum, not for the stopping power against people, as he has shown himself just as deadly with his .38 Special spare gun, but because he occasionally has to face vehicles and a .357 Magnum will take care of it with one shot, and he loves being prepared for anything. It also backfired on him on one occasion, as a criminal with a hostage had the presence of mind of putting himself with the back at a glass window because the .357 Magnum is so powerful the bullet would go right through him and the window and kill some bystander (Ryo solved it by shooting through his own hand to slow the bullet down, also shooting between the bones so he wouldn't cripple himself).
    • Kaori's .38 Special is useless... Because she's a horrible shot with it, and when she started getting better Ryo had it modified to throw her aim off and make sure she wouldn't kill anyone. She's better with bazookas and hand-held machine guns... Because she can't handle the recoil, so the bazooka rounds come close enough to knock the enemies out with the shockwave but not enough to kill them and the machine gun leaves everyone terrified at the madwoman.
    • Umibozu uses a gigantic .44 Magnum... Because he's so big any smaller handgun wouldn't fit with his hands.
    • Many other sweepers who don't specialize on shooting everything use smaller handguns as their sidearms, and are quite deadly themselves, though not as Ryo.
    • In one occasion someone was shot with a .38 Special, and shrugged it off... Because he's Umibozu, and you need more powerful rounds for him (the shooter later came back with a Magnum specifically for him).

    Comic Books 
  • Sin City:
    • In the comic A Dame To Kill For, the main character, Dwight, is shot up pretty badly by the title character, a Femme Fatale to the last. As Marv is hauling him to Old Town, he comments: "...Here I am jabbering with you leaking all over the place. You're damn lucky all that dame had was a .32 — we wouldn't even be having this conversation if she'd used a real gun on you. Even so, getting shot in the face isn't high on my list of how to have a good time." The femme fatale herself notes that she's not a great shot, adding to this trope.
    • And later, when Dwight changes his faces and comes back to confront her, all he's able to conceal up his sleeve is "a crummy little .25", all six rounds of which are nowhere near enough to stop Manute (the bullets were used against his Made of Iron body rather than his head).
    • It seems carrying anything smaller than a .45 Automatic or a .357 Magnum is a good way to lose a gunfight in Sin City (unless you're Wallace), as many of its denizens are, if not simply Made of Iron, at least Immune to Bullets.
  • In an issue of Jon Sable, Freelance, a woman threatens Sable with a small .22 caliber pistol. He's more disdainful of the weapon than afraid, and threatens that if she shoots him with it, he will take it off her and stick it someplace very uncomfortable.
  • Gamblers in Lucky Luke tend to have a derringer since it's easier to pull out of their sleeves or hat than a Colt, but they rarely have any success with it (of coure, when Luke is present, they often don't get the chance to fire it in the first place). Luke's problem when he uses one is less the firepower and more the capacity and reliability. And then there is this ridiculously miniature gun a gambler drops into Luke's hand when they are threatened by a highwayman. Luke fires... and does no damage? Nope. The mini bullet corks the barrel of the enemy's gun, and it promptly explodes on firing.
  • The Punisher: Discussed by Frank Castle in one of Eliot Brown's Punisher's Arsenal comics, where he mentions the practicality of the size for concealed-carry guns to use while undercover — ok, sure, a .22 Winchester Magnum isn't a big round, but a derringer chambered for it literally fits in his wallet, and the size of the round doesn't matters when you're going for a point-blank Boom, Headshot!. Frank has killed several men with the aforementioned round throughout the comic doing exactly that, at least once by drawing the gun when the other guy was standing over him monologuing.

    Fan Works 
  • Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space. Captain Proton isn't impressed when Demonica offers him the 0.09mm Nano-Uzi, a weapon so small he can barely see it. Demonica insists the ammo makes it the exact opposite of this trope, however:
    "What's that for?" asked Proton. "Killing ants before they mutate to man-eating size?"
    "Laugh if you will," said Demonica, "but each round contains one twentieth of a gram of Anti Matter giving a two-kilotonne yield. We take no responsibility for what might happen should you fire at any target closer than three kilometers."
  • Wings Of Rebellion: Minerva (aka Sae) has a very tiny revolver, smaller than a toy, but it's just as effective as the guns of the others. Morgana thinks that it's small on purpose to trick enemies into thinking it's weak.

    Film 
  • Buster Keaton sports a ridiculous tiny gun in Go West. After once being unable to retrieve it when it falls to the bottom of the holster he's wearing, he ties a string to it.
  • James Bond
    • Because Dr. No was the first film of the franchise, we never see the Beretta .25 that Bond uses in the novels; as in the book, Bond is forced to give it up for his now iconic Walther PPK.
      M: This damn Beretta again. I've told you about this before. You tell him — for the last time.
      Armourer: Nice and light — in a lady's handbag. No stopping power....
      M: You'll carry the Walther. Unless you'd prefer to go back to standard intelligence duties?
      Bond: No, sir. I would not.
      M: Then from now on you carry a different gun. Show him, Armourer.
      Armourer: Walther PPK. 7.65mm with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window. The American CIA swear by them.
    • The film ironically gets it backwards due to an inability to secure the right prop weapons; in that scene, Bond is instead turning in a Beretta 1934 in .380 ACP, which M continues to disparage as he proceeds to force Bond to use a Walther PP in the same caliber, which the dialogue insists is actually the lower-caliber PPK in .32 ACP.
    • The 4.2mm handgun used by The Man with the Golden Gun should be this, but since it's only used by Scaramanga, who has Improbable Aiming Skills, every shot is an instant one-hit kill (ironically in the original novel Scaramanga uses a Hand Cannon which an MI6 psychiatric report suggests is Compensating for Something). Bond-based video games that include the gun continue to make both it and gold-plated variations of whichever Walther pistol Bond swears by for that game an instant kill, regardless of who's using it (or sometimes even what is being shot with it), as a Mythology Gag.
    • In Licence to Kill, when Bond meets up with Pam Bouvier, she asks him if he's armed. He shows her his PPK, which she derides. She shows him her sawed off Mossberg 500 and tells him to just stay down if trouble happens. Ironically, Pam herself uses various .25 Berettas later in the movie, one of which she lends to Bond.
  • In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Gay Perry has a tiny Derringer that he refers to as his "faggot gun," because "it's only good for a couple of shots and then you gotta drop it for something better". Given the film's penchant for subversion, the little gun ends up being quite fatal.
  • Invoked in Back to the Future Part III, where Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen threatens Doc with a derringer specifically because it will make his death slow and painful, mentioning a guy who took two days to die of his wounds. It's implied he shot him in the belly to cause a death from infection and poor medical treatment.
  • In Men in Black, the "noisy cricket" is the size of a small, cheap water pistol, and it's dismissed as "completely useless". It's capable of blowing a hole through a completely sealed door and sending the user flying the opposite direction. The funny thing is that it functionally is near-useless, but for the exact opposite reason of what it looks like it would be. Background materials suggest that the Noisy Cricket's standard function is significantly toned down from what is seen; it's meant to be a holdout gun. It's given in an overpowered state to rookie agents as an object lesson... or a form of hazing. In Men in Black II, Agent K in his neuralized state is given one that does not have the comical level of overcharging, and in the animated series J receives a silencer for his (which is much longer than the actual gun it's screwed to) that reduces the power of each shot but also allows him to fire it without bowling himself over.
  • In Tremors 4: The Legend Begins an Eastern dandy shows up in a Nevada mining town, and prefers to use one of these, even when confronted with giant burrowing worm-monsters. It's an additional joke in that the man's previously-seen descendant is a rifle-toting survivalist.
  • In Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), the eponymous characters are getting guns from a stash. Mrs. Smith complains when she is given the visibly smaller "girl gun".
  • In In Bruges, Ray steals a Smith & Wesson Model 60 from Eirik and shoots him in the eye with a blank round. When Ken comes to kill him and prevents his suicide, he compares weapons with him, lamenting that he has "a bloody girl's gun".
  • In The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, Romeo is given a dinky little .22 caliber pistol on his first vigilante mission as a form of hazing. It's so small it can't even be used for a decent Pistol-Whipping.
  • In The Enforcer, when asked why he carries a Hand Cannon, Harry explains that he's seen shots from a .38 bounce off a car windshield, something shots from his .44 Magnum have never done.
  • At the end of Die Hard with a Vengeance, McClane asks for a gun and is given a tiny revolver of which he is extremely disdainful, especially since the guy he's up against is toting an M60 machine gun. Subverted in that he manages to take out the helicopter attacking him with it by shooting some overhead power lines.
  • Subverted in The Guard. When Gerry is given a tipoff from a young boy about a stash of weapons, he discovers that the boy has taken a Derringer from the stash. Gerry keeps it for himself, along with a Glock and a Kalashnikov. Later, when O'Leary pays him a visit, he has been Crazy-Prepared enough to keep the Derringer stashed in his pants and uses it to kill O'Leary. It takes O'Leary some time to die, but even when he's still alive, the puny round is enough to keep him from returning fire.
  • In Big Trouble in Little China, Jack, Wang and Eddie loot a shotgun, a submachinegun, and a snub-nose revolver from some mooks. The unwanted revolver is passed around until Eddie gets stuck with it.
  • Scaled up to vehicle size in The Pentagon Wars. The first Bradley prototype sports but a single M2 machine gun. For comparison, the same weapon when not hooked up to an armored vehicle is the standard definition of a BFG. One of the reviewing Generals openly mocks it before ordering a turret-mounted cannon and missiles added on. Then deconstructed:
    "That's one hell of a cannon."
    "That's a problem."
    "... Why?"
    "You go out in a battlefield with this pecker sticking out of your turret, and the enemy is going to unload on you with all they got."
  • Inverted by Taxi Driver. Travis buys four guns, one .44 Magnum revolver and three smaller pistols. The guy selling him the guns tells him that the .44 is Awesome, but Impractical and, indeed, Travis only manages to use it to blow a man's hand off, while his actual kills are made with the smaller guns.
  • The main villain of Hard Boiled, Johnny Wong, mocks the police's .38 special revolvers for this trope. Ironically Johnny is killed by Tequila at the end of the movie with a well placed shot to the eye using the very weapon Johnny mocked.
  • In the first Police Academy film, the cadets are issued standard police revolvers. Tackleberry picks his up with a hugely disappointed look on his face. Cut to the next scene where he uses his Hand Cannon (a gift from his mother, no less) to obliterate targets on the firing range.
  • During the Storming the Castle sequence of Tango & Cash, Cash winds up unarmed at one point and asks Tango for a weapon. Tango passes him a tiny revolver which he complains about. Strangely enough, Cash seems to have forgotten about the BAP he's been carrying for half the film.
  • In the Stanley Kubrick movie of Lolita, a drunk Claire Quilty giggles over the darlin' little gun Humbert is about to kill him with. It takes several shots to do so, too. Quilty's Famous Last Words are a petulant, "Ow, that hurts!"
  • 8mm. Underground filmmaker Velvet isn't impressed when an accomplice threatens him with a .32 automatic, but dies after being shot in the neck, complaining that his death should be more dramatic.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road. Furiosa tells Toast the Knowing to inventory their ammunition. She says they've only got four rounds for their Sniper Rifle, then dangles a handmade .22 single-shot from her fingers, saying "but we can squirt off this little pinky here a grand total of 29 times."
  • Bullet Tooth Tony in Snatch. is shown in a flashback to have been shot by an Asian gangster wielding a small pistol. After six shots, the gangster realises that Tony isn't dead and Tony just bum rushes him with a sword. Later, Tony is killed when Avi accidentally shoots him with his own Desert Eagle, showing that it just takes a bigger gun to do the job.
  • Played with in Strapped. Most of the guns bought, sold, carried and seen are Saturday Night Special-types in .22, .25, and .32 calibers, however the ones actually used for killing are in large calibers and frame sizes.
  • Inverted in the production of RoboCop. Originally, like every other action hero of The '80s, RoboCop was supposed to carry a Desert Eagle. However, once the actual suit for the eponymous character was finished, it turned out that the Desert Eagle - even with an extended barrel to take a suppressor - still looked like a toy in RoboCop's hands. The solution ended up being to take a regular 9mm gun - a Beretta 93R - and size it up with a barrel and compensator almost double the length of the normal barrel and noticeably taller sights.
  • Discussed in The Irishman. Frank Sheeran has to pick a couple of guns for a hit. He rejects the .22 calibre as too light, but also the .45 because you can hear it a couple of blocks away, which risks drawing the attention of police.
    "The cops call a .32 a woman's gun...because it's easier to handle, don't do the damage a .38 does but, y'know, it does enough."
  • In The Gentlemen, Matthew gives Mickey a gold-plated derringer as a peace offering. Mickey gives it to his wife Ros. When Ros eventually pulls it on Dry-Eyes when he invades her office, he is incredulous that it is even a gun. Ros demonstrates how effective it can be by killing his two bodyguards with single shot through each of their foreheads. Unfortunately for her, it only has two shots.
  • The Island (1980): When Maynard is attacked by a pirate on his fishing boat, he unloads multiple shots from his son's target pistol into the pirate. The pirate isn't even slowed down and knocks Maynard out. Only when he wakes up does Maynard learn that the pirate had subsequently died of his wounds.
  • Discussed in Get Shorty: When Ray Bones threatens Ronnie with his little gun (an AMT Backup, which is actually pretty reliable as pocket guns go), Ronnie (who was sent by a corrupt film producer and probably has more experience seeing gangster films than actually killing people) calls it "the Fiat of guns" and expects this to happen. Ray kills him with four bullets to his chest.
  • In The Man from Colorado, Owen shoots Del In the Back with a small holdout pistol when Del is attempting to flee town with Caroline and Doc. Because of the gun's small calibre and the range at which Owen shoots, Del survives and is back on his feet in a day or so, but the wound is still enough to hamper him in the final confrontation.
  • Hanna. While Marissa's Walther PP in .32ACP usually is enough to put down most people she's up against, it proves mostly ineffective against Hanna in the final confrontation. A bullet to the hip barely inconveniences Hanna more than being knocked on her ass for a few seconds and barely affecting her mobility. Although, being a genetically engineered Super Soldier might have something to do with it.

    Literature 
  • James Bond originally carried a Beretta 418 (.25 calibre) before switching to his signature Walther PPK. Behind the scenes, the change happened after one Geoffrey Boothroyd—for whom the character who would become Q would be named—wrote to Fleming objecting to the use of the Beretta and, after some back-and-forth, suggested the Walther. Calibre size is not the only reason he has to turn it in, at least, as his Beretta had jammed on him and he was wounded as a result (in the preceding book, From Russia With Love, it became stuck in a holster when Bond attached a suppressor to it, allowing him to be stabbed with a poisoned knife; this was not included in the film version, as the chronology was changed between films, what with Dr. No being the first one adapted). Incidentally Bond does carry a .45 single-action Colt revolver in his glovebox should he ever need a Hand Cannon.
  • In the first of the Tom Clancy's Net Force books, a female assassin carries around a .22 pistol, favoring its discretion and concealability. She then proceeds to work around the "stopping power" issue by shooting her target in the eye.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Defied in Turn Coat. Morgan tries to shoot Molly with a .22. When Harry arrives, Murphy says that such a small caliber gun might have meant Morgan was only shooting to wound, since it would've been hard to kill anyone with it. Harry immediately shoots this down because Morgan would never shoot a suspected warlock to wound, and points out the only reason Morgan used such a small gun is because it was all he had.
    • In Fool Moon, the loup-garou can only be harmed by inherited silver. Murphy has some jewelry that qualifies, and the equipment to cast it into Silver Bullets, but only for her .22 target pistol rather than her service weapon, to Harry's annoyance. Since the loup-garou also has a Healing Factor, she only manages to slow it down a bit, until it gets into point-blank range—just after she empties her mag.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide states that because a .22 bullet doesn't have as much penetrative power as other ammo, a headshot is likely to result in the bullet bouncing around inside the skull rather than punching through the back, doing lots of damage to the brain even if the initial shot might not have been a kill. This, it should be noted, is a common and widely held belief about .22 ammo that is totally wrong. .223 rifle rounds will do extra damage by tumbling end-over-end upon striking a soft target, but that's not the same thing as claiming that a .22 round will continuously ricochet around inside someone's noggin like a pinball, because they definitely don't do that in real life. A .22 LR or Short round is more likely than most to stay in a skull rather than punching all the way through after a headshot, but that's simply because the bullet has less energy than a more powerful round would and thus it takes less resistance to get it to stop moving entirely.note 
  • Wolfie in Incompetence carries a Derringer that Harry surmises is only good for shooting people in the eye at point blank range. Thus, he doesn't even bother to use it against Klingferm, who is armed with something a little more useful in a firefight.
  • No calibers are mentioned, but a small, ornate gun appears briefly in The Grand Ellipse. It's compared to a bee sting.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Shadows of Steel, Big Bad Iranian general Buzhazi is nearly assassinated, but though he is wounded he doesn't die because he manages to get treatment in time. It is said that if the assassin had used a more powerful gun, he wouldn't have lasted long enough to get treatment and the attempt would have been successful.
  • Jacqueline's pearl-handed pistol from Death on the Nile is referred to several times as "a toy," but it's also made clear that it's a lethal weapon and Jackie (or someone else) is perfectly capable of killing someone with it.
  • The Terror. During The Mutiny Captain Crozier shoots Manson with a derringer hidden in his pocket, to little effect. When Dr Goodsir examines Manson, he reports the bullets barely penetrated the heavy clothes he was wearing against the cold. It turns out Goodsir is lying, and Manson slowly dies of his injuries.
  • Subverted in Kill Decision. The smaller drones can only mount low-calibre weapons, but at close range and in enough numbers, that's enough. Indeed, several characters are badly hurt from them.
  • Avoided in Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy when the title character pulls out a “small but eminently serviceable” pistol.
  • Torch of Freedom: The Kettridge Model A-3 is seen as one of these. When a mercenary asks a crime boss to sell him one, the boss wonders if the merc is really good enough to get kill-shots out of a Kettridge, or if he's a fake who doesn't want to carry a "man-sized gun". (The merc in question is a disguised Victor Cachat, and Option One is the correct answer.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of M*A*S*H focused on negotiating a prisoner exchange with the Chinese. One condition of the exchange was that the Americans had to come unarmed, but Margaret gave Frank a tiny pistol to carry in case he needed it. When the Chinese realized that the agreement had been broken they were ready to call the whole thing off, but when they actually saw the pistol in question they laughed it off as a joke. This is slightly justified since the Chinese soldiers are heavily armed with automatic weapons.
  • In an episode of Sledge Hammer!, the hero's iconic Hand Cannon is taken away from him, and he's forced to carry a pistol that is so tiny that he holds it in two fingers to shoot and it's so underpowered, the tiny bullets don't go anywhere near the target. They fall right in front of Sledge like shiny confetti.
  • Black Saddle: In "Client: Dawes", Maggie Dawes pulls a derringer on Clay, only to have Clay contemptuously slap it out of her hand.
  • Farscape. Played with in "Scratch 'N Sniff" when our heroes have to Storm the Castle and the only weapons they have are their usual pulse pistols. The woman with them is not impressed.
    Raxil: Two guns? You brought just two guns? I mean...I thought you were the Great Crichton & D'Argo! (brief clip of D'Argo and John Crichton high-fiving each other on Moya) I mean, you blew up a shadow depository! I mean, I thought you'd bring pelshfer charges! (clip of detonation in space that looks like a small sun) And a plasma bomb! (clip of the explosion that obliterated Scorpius' Gammak Base) And a really big gunship! (clip of nothing less than a Peacekeeper Command Carrier complete with its cloud of small fighter craft) BUT NO! YOU BRING NOTHING! YOU BRING TWO LITTLE WEAPONS THAT WOULDN'T KILL A NEGNIK! (clip of a negnik)

    Tabletop Games 
  • In GURPS, the .22 Short round has almost no chance of killing someone unless you shoot them a dozen times (or hit them in the Eye, Skull, or Vitals), although an incredibly lucky shot could be dangerous. Of course, with the bleeding rules, it is possible to die from sheer blood loss...though that takes some time.
  • A common belief held by the Orks of Warhammer 40,000, who follow the rules of Bigger Is Better and named More Dakka.
  • Shadowrun. In some versions, light and holdout pistols do Light damage, which, as you might guess, isn't much. It takes a decent amount of skill and additional aiming gear for the damage of a single hit to scale up into something significant. There is one exception, though: Stick N Shock rounds are, as the name suggests, taser bullets that deal nonlethal damage and it's the same amount of damage whether fired out of a sniper rifle or a holdout pistol. That means that light and holdout pistols are extremely efficient for using such rounds.
  • BattleTech's tabletop RPG spinoff Mechwarrior has this. The hold-out pistol is a bit of a joke, with a pathetic range of 10 meters and can be out-damaged by a basic small crossbow that's even cheaper than the pistol and yet reaches to 50 meters. The much more expensive Myrdon pistol actually reaches to 60 meters, but does no more damage than the standard pistol, made up for slightly by carrying 20 rounds in its magazine. The needler gun and hold-out needler, while even weaker in terms of raw damage potential, avert this trope by being ruled as completely going through normal armor and dealing their damage directly to the target, something the aforementioned pistols cannot do. The fact that needler shots are also fluffed as being incredibly difficult wounds to treat and heal can also be a problem for anyone attempting life-saving procedures, helping steer these weapons out of the 'useless' category. The same can be said of the hold-outflamer pistol. The initial damage is hardly anything speak of, but the fact that you are now on fire kind of makes up for any shortcomings—no forms of standard infantry armor provide protection against being burned to death.

    Video Games 
  • It's unclear what caliber everything is in Borderlands (and it wouldn't matter anyway) but almost every repeater pistol certainly fits this, doing pitiful damage compared to your average revolver, which the wiki refers to as "A hybrid of pistols and sniper rifles". Possibly more a case of Automatics are Useless. Turned on its head in Borderlands 2.
    • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! has Miss Moxxi's Probe, a rather sad little unique weapon. It has the Life Drain ability of all Moxxi weapons, but it does minimal damage and has such low life drain values that it is practically worthless—expect maybe 1 to 2 HP returned to you per hit. Its only real purpose is pissing off some otherwise peaceful kraggons so they can open a path for you.
  • The Ladies Gun, a Remington 1886 Derringer, is the weakest gun in the entire Call of Juarez series. It has poor range and does barely any damage.
  • Fallout 3: the .32 pistol and the Chinese pistol have the dubious distinction of being outclassed before you can even find them. Both weapons deal less damage than the standard 10mm pistol you're given in the final introductory mission - the .32 pistol might conceivably come in handy in a pinch should stronger weapons degrade too much or run out of ammo, and you don't having a hunting rifle handy, but the Chinese pistol uses the same ammo as the 10mm and does less than half its damage with it. If you're a bad enough shot that its ability to fire more than twice as many shots before breaking might be a valuable advantage, overall you'd be better off just finding a melee weapon instead.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has only two weapons that use .22LR ammunition; a silenced .22 pistol and a silenced .22 SMG. They both have free silencers and high critical chance, but do such low damage you'd be better off smacking your foe with a bit of pipe. Literally: these guns have base damage of 9 and 10 - a BB Gun has a base of 4, a lead pipe has a base of 22, and the high end automatic weapons are in the 30s or 40s. The 9mm pistol doesn't fare much better, with a base of 16.
    • However, the complete silence of the .22 makes it great for assassinations, since if you can find a dark corner to hide in you can kill a target in the middle of a crowded room without anyone noticing, and the combination of high critical rate, double crit damage, high accuracy, and low AP cost means that you can take down an unarmored target with headshots almost as easily as with your big hand-cannons. Not to mention that it's the only gun that you can take in places where weapons are forbidden without a high sneak skill, meaning unless you deliberately pour most of your skill points in the first part of the game into stealth, it's going to be your only easily-usable ranged option if you decide to cause trouble in any of the Strip's casinos. There is even an achievement you get for scoring a killing blow on a deathclaw, one of the toughest predators in the wasteland, with the .22 pistol.
    • The .22 SMG, meanwhile, makes itself more useful by playing to the intended strengths of a low-damage weapon, by negating it with a high rate of fire and a very large pan magazine; it can deal with most low DT enemies through Death of a Thousand Cuts. The downside here is that .22LR ammo is rather scarce, since very few enemies carry it and it can't be built at a reloading bench without mods, though what supply vendors have it very cheap. 9mm ammo in comparison, is much more common, as are other 9mm pistols you'll need to repair yours for most of the game.
    • Benny makes a reference to this if you manage to talk to him in private once you catch up to him - he asks upfront how you're still alive after he shot you in the face, and if you tell him you're just that hard to kill, he jokes that it "serves me right for using a 9mm".
  • Fallout 2, on the other hand, features some aversions. The G11, G11-E and Vindicator Minigun are Awesome, but Impractical, not because of the size of the 4.7mm round they fire, as it does plenty of damage, but because ammunition is so rare, it's Too Awesome to Use. The Gauss Rifle and Gauss pistol are among the most powerful weapons in the game despite firing a 2mm round, though this is down to the fact that these rounds are fired by electromagnetic fields at super high velocity, giving them more momentum than traditional rounds of comparable calibres.
  • The Resident Evil series rarely features small-bore weapons, but they invert this whenever they do appear, instead frequently saving its ire for anything full-auto. The Calico M100-P guns you can find in Code: Veronica are large handguns chambered in the comparably tiny .22LR, and can do slightly more damage per shot than the basic 9mm handgun. Meanwhile, the Derringer you can find in the 2002 REmake has only one unfired .22WMR round, but it can kill any regular enemy with its single shot.
  • The SC Pistol from Splinter Cell, while offering a 20 round magazine, has pathetically little stopping power and, past a couple feet, even a headshot is not a guaranteed kill. Truth in Television, particularly if using armor piercing roundsnote , as Fisher is using SB 193 subsonic rounds, which greatly reduce armour-piercing capabilities as well as over all stopping power in favor of making it easier to silence the gun. Same goes for the SC-20K rifle, which seems to have a similar subsonic load and can often take a longer than necessary burst to take down some enemies if you're not aiming for the head. Averted in Conviction, where the SC Pistol is pretty much the best weapon in the game.
  • Hitman: Contracts has the SG220, a pistol with a seven round magazine and almost no stopping power. It is, however, very quiet.
  • Silent Assassin also had the Makarov and .22 pistols, both of which had little stopping power. The .22 is just about the only gun in any of the games that doesn't always kill with a single headshot — you can perforate a man's brain with this gun and it will just make him mad.
  • Deus Ex:
    • The PS20 is an energy weapon example. A one-shot plasma derringer that you're inexplicably restricted from carrying more than one of, it can't even one-shot basic mooks from point blank range with a headshot, defeating its purpose entirely. Apparently in early versions of the game it actually did a more-than-respectable 40 damage, but then something broke with both of the plasma weapons in the update that added multiplayer, making them both deal such low damage per-projectile that they're only an upgrade in damage over melee weapons without any training.
    • The assault rifle is an odd example, playing perfectly to the stereotype of "faster fire rate = weaker damage per-shot", with it dealing a base of 3 damage per-bullet, compared to the basic 10mm pistol doing 14 damage or so. Barring its 20mm grenade launcher, it only outdamages the pistol through volume of fire, each trigger pull letting off five bullets for 15 damage in total, the downside being that the ammo doesn't go nearly as far for the same damage. This is especially jarring since it's firing 7.62x51mm, which realistically should be in the same power class as the .30-06 used by the sniper rifle.
    • The Stealth Pistol is another example, dealing damage on par with the bugged PS20 and poorer accuracy in return for an integrated silencer and a larger unmodified capacity than the normal pistol, though it's not nearly as bad since you get ten shots at once rather than just one.
  • The SNS Pistol from Grand Theft Auto V actually does roughly the same amount of damage as the starting 9MM pistol, but has very poor accuracy and a small magazine.
  • The M7 caseless submachine gun in Halo 2 is mechanically almost a direct copy of the MA5B assault rifle from the first game, which means it has an enormous mag size but poor accuracy and horrible damage against anything more threatening than a Grunt. Part of the issue seems to have been due to the addition of Guns Akimbo for this game — the SMG is clearly designed to be used together with another gun, e.g. stripping away shields with a plasma weapon and then perforating the meaty bits underneath with a wall of lead, so it's absolutely worthless when used on its own.
  • XCOM Terror From The Deep will start players with dart and harpoon based weapons, among other things. The dart pistol is weak to the point of uselessness. It does so little damage that Aquatoids, the weakest starting enemies, will take at least three direct hits to bring them down, whereas the harpoon rifle will often drop an Aquatoid where it stands after just one shot. For the price of the dart pistol and a single clip of 12 darts, you might as well buy three grenades and actually kill some of the aliens instead.
    • The pistol in the first game is not any better: with worse accuracy than the rifle and less than half the power, the only redeeming quality the pistol has is that you can put it in your belt inventory. The fact that you could replace that pistol with a couple of grenades for about the same cost...
    • Note that this doesn't apply to the advanced weapons you can get: the laser pistol in the first game is more accurate than a basic rifle and almost as powerful, and the plasma pistol is more accurate and more powerful than the laser rifle. In the second game, the Gauss pistol has better ammo capacity and damage than the Jet Harpoon, plus the addition of auto fire, and the Sonic Pistol, while it loses the auto-fire capability, does almost as much damage as the Torpedo Launcher, and is only beaten for accuracy by the Sonic Blasta-Riflenote .
  • In Hotline Miami, any gun that's not a shotgun is this against the Fat Bastard mooks - they take time to bleed out when shot by non-shotguns, which in tight confines is usually more than enough time for them to close in on Jacket and punch out his blood.
  • Delta Force:
    • While gearing up in Delta Force: Land Warrior, you might come across a weird little pepperbox-like gun called the P-11. The game would have you believe that the 7.62mm steel darts it fires are frighteningly lethal. They're really not. Even on the most realistic settings, you will need at least two shots to put down a target, and this is inside its criminally short effective range. Outside that, you might as well not bother. Its major selling point is the fact that it can be fired underwater, but this borders on utter irrelevance because of just how few missions involve water, let alone shooting people in the water.
    • The original game played with this trope with its choice of two sidearms. The .22 pistol is arguably a superior choice to the 1911, since both pistols do the same damage due to enemies being One Hit Point Wonders and the .22 has a larger magazine and an integral suppressor. On the other hand, pistols are only a Ranged Emergency Weapon due to short range, small magazine size, and low number of spare magazines.
  • Knights of the Old Republic I and II gave enemies health based on the Dungeons & Dragons-based Star Wars d20 RPG, which meant that the pitiful damage done by hold-out blasters and even the blaster pistol would wind up useless very, very quickly. In the first game, lightsabers and force powers overshadowed blasters so much that non-Jedi party members had little role in combat, becoming obsolete almost the instant you left the starting planet. In the second game, a modified Hand Cannon or BFG could be viable, but it required spending multiple points on gimmicky Force powers (such as the ability to deflect blaster fire with your hands) and abilities (such as a penalty reduction for shooting enemies who are in melee range) to make up for inherent disadvantages that lightsabers (or even regular melee weapons) don't have, and even with all of these would still be suboptimal.
  • Battlefield 1 has the Kolibri Pistol (see the Real Life section below). It's so small that the Player Character has to hold it with only their thumb and forefinger. Also, it takes about four headshots to kill someone. However, it can be a deadly combination while shooting explosives placed on top of a blimp.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II manages this with a revolver, of all things, with the Executioner. Based on an unproduced 28-gauge version of the Taurus Judge shotgun-revolver, it's presumably intended to combine the upsides of a pistol (such as quick times to draw and aim, less slowed movement when aiming, etc) with the extreme power and pellet spread of a shotgun. This does increase its power to even more extremes, enough so that it's the only pistol in the game that can kill a man in a single shot, but the problem here is that shotguns are basically melee weapons in the Call of Duty series - a one-shot kill requires you to be close enough to the target that you could just as well use your knife instead and achieve the same result, and being even a few inches further will require the entire five-round cylinder to kill someone. Plus, this also means it's not possible to cherry-tap people from beyond about a foot like you could with the other pistols, either, because like the full-size shotguns, the pellets disappear at their maximum range.
    • Now apply this logic to Apex Legends, but with a 3 round magazine. Ladies and gentlemen, behold, the Mozambique.
  • Averted with the Judge revolver in Phantom Forces, due to the fact that the game doesn't impose Short-Range Shotgun, as it would otherwise result in the above entry, besides the fact that it's the same weapon as in Black Ops II.
    • Played straight, however, with both the Zip 22, and the M231. Word of God for the former (just look at the thing!), and officially by the latter. The Zip 22 is your average, low damage 22 LR pistol, which is basically the modern rendition of the Kolibri (see below). The M231 is the complete opposite: so opposite it loops back around the spectrum and ends up being useless again, featuring a firerate of over 1000, which wouldn't be so bad if the recoil wasn't terrible. So terrible, in fact, that you literally have to aim at the ground so the recoil can kick up and actually hit your enemy, besides the fact that there aren't any iron sights. The fact that the stock is just a cylinder explains it: firing the weapon while braced against your shoulder in real life would more than likely result in extreme pain, which is why it's mounted in real life.
  • No More Room In Hell features the .22LR as the most lightweight ammo type in the game, with the drawback that it doesn't kill adult zombies (zombie kids drop in one bullet) in one headshot unless you focusnote  or have "Realism" enabled. Not that it's saying much, as the same goes for the general-purpose 9mm Parabellum.
  • While not exactly "little", the Klobb from GoldenEye is infamous for being the weakest and least-accurate firearm in the game – it's the only gun in the game that requires two headshots to kill someone, and there's even a run of the Archive level in 007 mode, with all enemy stats cranked up to the maximum, which means any guns the enemy can shoot the player with are a One-Hit Killexcept the Klobb.
  • Phantom Doctrine: Zizagged by the "French DAO" starter pistol, which is the smallest and weakest gun in the game, but can still perform one hit kills if you're sneaky. This does require a proficiency perk in the weapon to fit a suppressor, though.
  • Prey (2017): Since the game takes place on a space station, the pistol commonly found throughout the game is low-caliber and suppressed, to minimize the chance of one of its projectiles causing a hull breach. The downside of this is that it does minimal damage, unless you go for headshots or upgrade it with weapon kits.
  • Bond's PP7 in NightFire is this, being his Emergency Weapon with low damage and a tiny magazine. Thankfully, it can be suppressed, making it ideal for stealth kills (although the first level that encourages stealth, also has plenty of suppressed assault rifles in its stealth stages). The golden upgrade helps negate the low damage. The next pistol upgrade flat-out replaces it with the more modern, powerful, and high-mag P2K, which is definitely the preferred signature firearm. And that gets a golden upgrade too.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • There's an episode where they were parodying Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer; they get involved in a bar room shootout and proceed to sit there calmly while derringer bullets bounce off the furniture, the glasses holding their beer, and their skin and eyes.
    • Another, showing a scene from McBain portrayed his superior attempting to get him to surrender his Hand Cannon for something smaller. McBain asks how he is supposed to avenge his partner with a pea shooter. When the chief tells him he is supposed to do things by the book, he shoots it, quipping "Bye, book".
  • Parodied in the Looney Tunes short "Drip Along Daffy", where burly outlaw Nasty Canasta is felled by a wind-up toy soldier whose tiny rifle packs a surprising amount of heat. Had Canasta not picked it up and raised it at face level to laugh at it, he might have gotten off easy.
  • In the Men in Black animated series, the opening sequence ends with Jay drawing the Noisy Cricket (pictured above) out of his jacket and Kay (who pulled out what looks like a shotgun) giving it a skeptical side-eye.
  • In Sealab 2021, Captain Murphy gives a baby a real, loaded pistol as part of a Feast of Alvis pageant. When the baby's mother complains, he tells her to relax, it's only a .22, couldn't hurt a flea.
  • Archer carries a Walther PPK in .32 ACP, much like James Bond. He thinks it's more than good enough, commenting once that anything that can survive all 7+1 shots from it is "probably a dragon", but he gets mocked for it from time to time. It actually winds up being the single most effective firearm in the series, not necessarily because of its capabilities but because Archer himself is a crack shot with it. His team-mates, who all sport much bigger guns, are graduates of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy.
    Conway: [laughs] Oh, I'm queer? From the guy whose tiny gun came with a matching purse.
    Archer: Hey, it's got plenty of stopping power.
    Brett: Hah! That little...
    [Archer shoots Brett]
    Conway: Oh shit!
    Brett: God damn it, Archer!
    Archer: See that?
    Brett: Again!
    Archer: He was putting on his pants, and I stopped him.

    Real Life 
  • The Israeli Defense Force once supplied its troops with a Ruger 10/22 as a "less than lethal" sniper weapon. Reality, a judge, and a number of corpses made with this "less than lethal" weapon eventually forced them to remove the classification.
  • The High Standard HDM and similar firearms are widely used by Special Forces because of the upsides to being small and relatively weak; .22LR has almost negligible recoil and muzzle climb compared to common calibres for service sidearms, it's very easy to reduce its sound signature, and it can be obtained in every country in the world.
  • The Kolibri pistol is a weapon intended for women to defend themselves with in the 1910s; as weapon historian Ian Hogg put it, "What the lady was expected to defend herself against is open to some question." With a 2.7mm caliber, smoothbore barrel and maximum of 1.5 inches of penetration in pine board, we have a sterling real life example of a Little Useless Gun. In fact, it is the smallest centerfire, magazine-fed pistol to be produced. To get a sense of the energy coming out of one, a heavy (0.43g) airsoft pellet traveling at 120m/s (for high end models) has roughly 3/4's the energy of the bullet coming out of a Kolibri. Technology at the time was not advanced enough to rifle a gun barrel that small, so the bullet had no spin, and thus was also terribly inaccurate. Strong language would've protected you better than this pea shooter, and it may be the only gun that is potentially more lethal if you swallow it.
  • The FP-45 Liberator. This pistol was intended to be dropped in large quantities into France during World War II for use by La Résistance, the idea being that they could use it to pop an occupying soldier and then acquire his weapon. Stopping power wasn't necessarily the problem (it was chambered for the beefy .45 ACP round, and poor accuracy due to the non-rifled barrel wasn't a problem at point-blank range), but its range was pitiful (even modern reproductions with rifled barrels can't consistently hit from ten yards, as Ian McCollum and Karl Kasarda of Forgotten Weapons demonstrated) and the gun itself could be built more quickly than it could be reloaded. It was often described as "a great weapon with which to obtain another weapon". Since they were meant to be disposable, Liberators were not in any way built to last. Thus despite one million being produced, few original Liberators still exist.
  • The whole reason for the US military's adoption of the Colt 1911. During the Philippines War, the .38 Long Colt revolvers they had been using were ineffective against charging tribesmen, who would shrug off several rounds for a variety of reasons, including a quirk in how the revolvers themselves worked that gave them inconsistent shot placement. Of course, that fact in particular wasn't realized at the time, so the military came to the belief that the reason for it was solely based on its calibre, not helped by the fact the situation was remedied by temporarily readopting the Colt Single Action Army. This lead to a long-standing belief in this trope among the US armed forces, enough so that after the adoption of the 9mm Beretta 92 in The '80s, almost all of the near-constant attempts to replace it seemed to even ignore legitimate issues with the pistol in favor of focusing on "it's not .45, get rid of it".
  • Sammie Foust's home was invaded, and when she got the chance she shot her assailant four times with a .25. He took an hour to bleed out, during which he beat the living crap out of her. She survived... barely.
  • An interview with a veteran Australian policewoman had her saying how female officers used to be trained on a .22 automatic 'ladies gun' instead of the issue .38 special revolver. The weapon was useless not because of its low calibre, but because it kept jamming all the time (many .22 autoloading pistols are very finicky about the ammunition you feed them).
  • Over in Georgia, a single mother shot a home invader five times in the face and neck with a .38 caliber revolver. The suspect reportedly cried, before stumbling out of the house and attempted to flee in a car, before promptly crashing it at a neighbor's house, and being found alive by the police when they arrived.
  • Apparently the reasoning behind the American-180 submachine gun, a .22LR weapon that fitted magazines carrying anywhere between 165 to 275 rounds, and which fired them at about 1,200 rounds per minute, but which was designed to be a riot control weapon. Considering the gun can easily chew through a solid concrete block in a matter of seconds, "control" is one way of putting what it can do to human targets - in fact, much was also made of its ability to chew through body armor by simply hammering on it until it gave way, the designers apparently completely blind to the irony. Hard to tell whether this is a more or less sane approach to riot control than the nearly-concurrent Soviet KS-23, a shotgun/carbine made from the rejected barrels for 23mm anti-aircraft guns, which was on paper designed for less-lethal usage but in practice had several very much lethal ammunition types produced for it.
  • During The Irish Revolution, the IRA initially used .38 calibre sidearms for assassinating RIC members until one attempt resulted in the officer in question being only wounded and escaping. While he did die from complications from his wounds several days later, the IRA decided to switch to .45 pistols after that.
  • .22 pistols are often seen as this due to their iffy penetration and minimal stopping power, which is why they're typically used for shooting targets and small animals instead of people. Most gun enthusiasts and experts consider them better than nothing, but worse than almost everything else.
  • In spite of how impressive it may sound, the Pocket AR pistol qualifies, being a very neat range toy but pretty terrible as a self-defense gun. It fires the .223 round and advertises as featuring the "ultimate stopping power in the smallest pistol available", but shooting a full-sized rifle round from a tiny 1-inch barrel means accuracy is pitiful and it doesn't pack much of a punch outside point-blank range; that cool-looking huge muzzle flash means most of the cartridge's powder is uselessly burning off outside the barrel instead of propelling the bullet up to speeds where it will go where you aim it or hit with any real force.
  • Scaled up to tank size with the German 37mm PaK 36 anti-tank gun. It received the nickname 'door-knocker' owing to its inability to penetrate the armour of all but the lightest of enemy tanks. The Americans also used a 37mm anti-tank gun, but it proved to be more useful because much of the German tanks in use when it was first deployed were poorly armored Panzer IIs, Panzer IIIs, and Panzer IVs. Its use in the European theater diminished after Germany began improving the armor of the Panzer III and Panzer IV, and it was completely ineffective against the Panther and Tiger unless it hit the optical slit, but German tank crews reported that American troops quickly became disturbingly skilled at doing so. And it was still useful in the Pacific theater, since the Japanese never deployed any armor heavier than tiny two-man tankettes that were so poorly armored they were vulnerable even to machine gun fire.


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