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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

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 Bullets 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.


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.


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. 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 that 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.


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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 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, it would tend to cause a lot of broken bones), but in the work it just knocks people over. At one point she knocks over a truck by shooting it twice.
  • 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.

    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.
  • Every gamblers Lucky Luke has a derringer since it's easier to pull out of their sleeves or hat than a Colt but rarely has success with it. 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 and promptly his gun 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.
    "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."

  • 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 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. From Dr. No:
    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 version, ironically, gets it backwards; 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 lower-caliber weapon (not that it matters too much, since the actual Walther used in the film was the larger PP in the same caliber as the M1934). 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).
    • 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. 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. Also subverted, as 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. 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!"
  • Averted in Sword of Gideon (1986). The Mossad firearms instructor tells a recruit (a former army commando) to pick a gun from a table full of them. Smiling, the recruit grabs a .44 Magnum revolver.
    Instructor: Who do you think you are: Clint Eastwood? You are not goddamn Dirty Harry! You want to carry cannon in your pocket? You are agent, secret agent. In your job, this is your gun: .22 calibre Beretta. Oh, you want big gun? [snip] If your enemy tank, no gun big enough. You want bazooka. If your enemy man, little gun enough.
  • 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 small pistol from her fingers, saying "but we can squirt off this little pinky here a grand total of 29 times."
  • Averted in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. A single shot from a dinky pocket pistol is enough to kill even the huge and fearsome Barry The Baptist
  • 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.
  • Discussed but averted 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 calls it "the Fiat of guns" and expects this to happen. Ray kills him with four bullets to his chest.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Jack Ryan:
    • In Without Remorse, John Kelly—a former SEAL—routinely uses a caliber conversion kit for his Colt .45 down to .22, since it's much harder to suppress the former. He's a master marksman, so his workaround the whole stopping power issue is to get relatively close and go for Pretty Little Headshots.
    • Clear and Present Danger has another aversion. A pair of assassins gets into a gun battle with an off-duty police officer and the neighbor kid fires on them with his .22 rifle. The police officer is killed and the assassins flee (the kid tries unsuccessfully to shoot them through their getaway car, but .22 rimfire bullets definitely don't have that ability). When investigators find their car, they discover one of the assassins has bled to death inside. The investigators reason that it was the kid who killed him, as the police officer had a subnose revolver at long range, while the kid had a rifle. The .22 rounds don't kill instantly, either. One assassin gets hit in the head, but doesn't die until he goes to investigate his other wounds, which causes the weakened blood vessels in his head to let go, essentially a case of Your Head Asplode.
  • 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.
  • Averted in a conversation in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The team is discussing a murder that took place, where the victim was shot with a .44. Munch reckons that the large calibre weapon is strictly for an amateur who is Compensating for Something and reckons that a professional would go for two head shots with a .22.
  • Averted in Burn Notice, where Michael's fellow burned-and-blackmailed-spy Victor favors a .22 semiautomatic that in his first scene, he threatens Michael's crotch with (Michael was threatening Victor's radial artery with a chess piece at the time). He explains that the bullet probably ricochet around Michael's groin and likely nick his femoral artery.
    Victor: Now, I'm no expert, but I think you bleed out first.
  • Black Saddle: In "Client: Dawes", Maggie Dawes pulls a derringer on Clay, only to have Clay contemptuously slap it out of her hand.

    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.
    • Averted by many other factions, digital weapons (that fit on a finger) are very much effective and in use by Inquisitors and nobles.
      • And the Jokaeros (some super intelligent space monkeys who invented those weapons) have their own variant: a reloadable version that can fire as a Lascannon, a Multi-Melta and Heavy Flamer. And those three weapons fit in a ring while they normally are so heavy a Space Marine needs both hands to carry one).
    • The standard issue Imperial Guard flashlight- uh, I mean Lasgun gets this treatment in the fandom. Lasguns are actually described as being powerful enough to blow a man's arm off, or sear a clean hole straight through a man's head, but in-game, they have a rather puny Strength stat of 3. That speaks more about the other factions, really. However, 40 Guardsmen in a squad in Rapid Fire range with the "First Rank Fire, Second Rank Fire" order can pump out a mind-blowing 120 shots. There's only so many armour saves you can reliably pass, xenos filth.
  • Shadowrun. Light and holdout pistols did Light damage, which on average resulted in one box of Physical damage. Characters could take 10 boxes of Physical damage before they even started to bleed out, and could take a number of additional boxes equal to their Body attribute before finally dying. In other words, to kill someone with a small pistol you'd have to hit them 10 times before they were even at risk of dying, and even then death wasn't inevitable if any form of healing was available.
    • Of course, in 2nd and 3rd Editions, given the skill level of the average runner, between the combat pool and the smartlink, getting half a dozen net successes against an unarmored target to stage the damage up from Light to Deadly was hardly out of the question.
    • In 4th Edition, they're more powerful - now they deal only 1 point of damage less than Heavy Pistols and are a little less effective against armor.
  • 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 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. 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 however, is quite useful. It mostly negates it low damage with high rate of fire and a very large pan magazine, in addition of having a silencer by default. It can deal with most low DT enemies through Death of a Thousand Cuts.
    • .22LR ammo is rather scarce however, since very few enemies carry it and it can't be built at a reloading bench, 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".
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • The Derringer in Call of Juarez is typical of this trope.
  • The PS20 in the original Deus Ex 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.
  • 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.
  • Halo:
    • Halo: Combat Evolved ironically manages this with a 7.62mm battle rifle, the UNSC MA5B Assault Rifle. It's looked down upon as it requires emptying its whole magazine to take down a fully-shielded enemy, and almost every truly dangerous target you can shoot with it will be shielded.
    • Halo 2 has the M7 caseless submachine gun meant as a replacement for the aforementioned assault rifle - same mag size, same rate of fire, same poor accuracy, same 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 two at a time, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • Averted in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. Even the 9x18mm Makarov, the smallest caliber in the game, kills in one headshot if the target isn't using good head protection, and an SMG fitted for said caliber chews through low- and mid-tier mutants like dogs, rodents and boars. Later on in the game, pistol calibers like it drop in effectiveness against other humans because of the increasing effectiveness of their armor, but mutants never get that - just a lot of health, so lower-weight and faster-firing submachine guns are still good for tearing through them while saving your heavier ordnance for heavily-armored enemies.
  • 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 most inaccurate, 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: Averted 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.

    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 shows Jay drawing the Noisy Cricket (pictured above) out of his jacket and Kay 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.
  • "Stopping Power" doesn't necessarily translate to lethality, but it's still an important factor in choosing a defensive firearm. In such an event, the objective is to stop the immediate threat as soon as possible, and a bigger bullet generally translates to more energy transferred to the target, increasing the likelihood that the attacker will be incapacitated quickly. Nobody's saying that small calibers are harmless, but there's a reason no police departments issue .25 caliber sidearms to their officers.
    • Especially since the goal of a gun fight is not to ensure your attacker dies, but to ensure you live. It doesn't really matter if the bad guy dies if he ends you in a brutal fashion beforehand. The solution is to keep shooting them until they stop. In a defensive situation, it behooves you not to have to wait an hour for your assailant to bleed to death. This is in large part why (in the USA at least) police departments stopped using the .38 as their service weapon in the early '90s. It was not so much for reasons of lethality, for 9x19 and .38 Special are very similar in terms of actual performance, so much as it was that modern 9mm pistols offered wonderful advantages in terms of magazine size (an average of 6 shots vs an average of 15 shots), ease of use (sights and triggers tend to be more user friendly on pistols), and companies like Glock and Beretta were just hurling the things at them (which made the damn things irresistible bargains). As Massad Ayoob wrote in his book In The Gravest Extreme, the purpose of using a defensive gun is to stop someone from hurting you. Any bullet can kill someone, but it can't reliably stop them.
    • That said however, getting shot in a not-immediately-lethal fashion will still hurt like hell and make your average would-be robber reconsider their options, so smaller calibres can be surprisingly effective as pure self-defence weapons. Don't count on this, though: due to stress of the situation and adrenaline, you might well kill them by reflexively emptying the magazine, or they might retaliate if you wound them.
    • Considering that a significant majority (over 80% by many accounts) of firearm self-defense cases involve simply scaring the punk away, it's obvious there's no such thing as a truly useless gun in that context. Better and worse, maybe, but nothing is useless and nothing is guaranteed.
    • When it comes to factors affecting lethality, there's a clear pattern. Hit location and bullet path are more important than velocity, and velocity is more important than caliber. However, the problem is a lethal injury may only actually kill a person days later, as the injured person enters Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome, pneumothoracic tension, cardiac tamponade, organ failure, or secondary infection, especially in abdominal injury. Additionally, permanent disability is also best predicted based on what was hit. This doesn't mean that that fatal injury will stop an aggressor from shooting back immediately after your bullet has dealt an injury that will only be lethal days after it matters.
  • All the above notwithstanding, the High Standard HDM and similar firearms are still widely used by Special Forces; .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.
  • Ladies and Germs, behold the Kolibri pistol, a weapon which was apparently intended for women to defend themselves with in the 1910s. 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. The 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 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.
    • In addition to actual use by resistance fighters, it was considered inevitable that German soldiers would recover some of the Liberators, thus finding out what was going on. But this was all part of the plan. While the Nazis would know that small, easily-concealable pistols were being dropped into occupied territory, they'd also know that they could never be able to confirm they'd found or confiscated all of them. Thus, any civilian they saw might have one in his pocket, waiting to shoot them in the back once they walked by.
    • The Liberator had a successor, the Deer Gun, which was chambered for 9mm and intended for use in Vietnam. The idea was scrapped when the conflict escalated into a full scale war. Like the Liberator, it is now considered a collector's item, putting it square into the Rare Guns category.
  • Scientists are researching the possibility of genetically engineering humans with spider silk in their skin instead of keratin. They believe this would make the skin tough enough to resist .22LR bullets, rendering guns of that calibre fairly useless at killing people.
  • Subverted in the case of Perry Saturn in 2004. He came across two men attempting to rape a woman and fought them off, having received what he thought was a punch. Turns out, he'd been shot with a .25 pistol. While he survived, he was forced to retire from wrestling for a number of years, as doctors refused to clear him medically.
  • Averted by the NKVD under Joseph Stalin, which used .25 ACP as its caliber of choice for executing their prisoners. Admittedly, they shot unresisting victims in the backs of their necks, which is a pretty vulnerable spot you'll never hit in real combat.
  • The whole reason for the US military's adoption of the Colt 1911. During the Phillipines 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".
  • Several emergency room doctors have said you should never use a .22 caliber to kill yourself. You'll usually miss, since your hand is shaking, and just cause yourself brain damage. One doctor had a guy that was shooting himself from below the jaw, and had the bullet enter into his head, travel along to the jawline, and exit out behind the guy's ear. They didn't even have to put stitches in him.
  • Then there's the case of Sammie Foust, who 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).
  • Small-calibre ammunition is not always less powerful. The 5.56x45mm NATO round, as used in the AR-15 and M4, is of equal calibre to the .22 rimfire, but is twice as heavy and has twice the muzzle velocity of the .22, giving it energy comparable to the .44 Magnum round. The thing to keep in mind is that the size of the actual bullet isn't the sole determining factor in power - the .22 Long Rifle is a straight-cased cartridge with a casing only about fifteen millimeters long, whereas 5.56mm is bottlenecked, with most of the casing being equivalent size to 9mm and being three times as long as the .22's casing, meaning there's a lot more room for propellant. It's hard to imagine them even being the same caliber because the sheer size of 5.56mm means magazines for them are typically bigger than .22 pistols, and even the smallest guns chambered in .223 are still Hand Cannons compared to 9mm or .45 pistols (example here).
    • In spite of how impressive it may sound, the Pocket AR pistol seems to qualify, being a very neat range toy but pretty terrible as a self-defense gun. It fires the aforementioned .223 round, 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 muzzle flash means most of the cartridge's powder is uselessly burning off outside the barrel instead of propelling the bullet.
  • The gun's size can affect its legality independently of its calibre. In Queensland, Australia, for example, a sporting user would have an easier time getting a licence for handguns up to .38 than a larger calibre, as calibres up to .45 are only permitted if your pistol club/section has officially stated that you intend to compete in heavy-calibre competition, at which point your licence may be endorsed for calibres from .38 to .45 (black-powder pistols do not have this restriction). However, there is the rather paradoxical rule that a self-loading pistol must have a certain barrel length or longer, or be longer than a certain size overall; revolvers can be a little shorter, but must still exceed a certain length, which makes many of the tinier guns mentioned on this page flatly illegal, purely by dint of being too small - even if they are 9mm or .45.
  • Even a rifle may be considered a little useless gun, if hunting certain types of game with too small a calibre; if the weapon cannot kill the animal as quickly as possible, it's not only cruel, bad form and dangerous, it may, in many areas, also be illegal.
  • Whilst only a "little" weapon in a relative sense, the German 37mm PaK 36 anti-tank gun received the nickname 'door-knocker' owing to its inability to penetrate the armour of all but the lightest of enemy tanks.
  • 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.
    • Another story in Georgia is an inversion of this: A local small-town police department had resisted the call to switch to 9mm and .40 caliber automatics as sidearms, preferring instead to remain with their old-fashioned .44 Magnum revolvers. This was all well and dandy, until one night when a call came in for an armed robber. The robber in question fired upon police as they pulled up, then changed his tune and ran as the officers obliged with the massive booms from their revolvers. He was eventually caught, alive, about three miles away, but when they sat him in the back of the squad car he jumped up and complained of a sharp pain in his buttocks. The officers noticed the puddle of blood he left on the seat and called an ambulance, and when he was examined, they found a .44 round lodged in his ass. While hilarious, the more savvy members of the force realized that this guy, barely out of high school, just ran three miles with a .44 bullet in his backside and and didn't even notice, which could spell real trouble down the road if their revolvers failed to stop someone who didn't run. The force promptly swapped over to automatics within a few months.
  • 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.


Example of: