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Not With the Safety On, You Won't

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Ah, the old "safety's on" distraction; it's like buttUUUHHH...

Zeus: You call in that code right now or I'll blow your sick ass into the next world.
Simon Gruber: Well, if that's what you gotta do.
Simon Gruber: [calmly takes gun, releases safety] You forgot to take the safety catch off. [shoots Zeus in the leg] See, that works.

If guns are featured in a movie, and someone inexperienced takes to using one (the Damsel in Distress or similar character), there's a good chance of this phrase being uttered. There are three versions:

In the first case, the character being held up might use it as a ruse to try to wrong-foot his opponent. Usually in this instance, the character at gunpoint is a veteran, his savvy attitude being contrasted to his inexperienced opponent. It is extremely rare for the opponent to call his bluff; instead, he will usually tilt his gun and look down to check if the safety is on, letting the other person get the drop on him. Note that in this case, the safety need not actually be on; all that's necessary is to trick the guy holding the gun into checking.

In the second, the person at gunpoint is generally a villain and the one holding the gun is an inexperienced good guy; in this case, the villain will grab the gun after it fails to fire, mocking his opponent for their lack of expertise only afterward.

The third example is when a Magnificent Bastard is on the other end of the gun along with some other villain. Once the other guy is knocked out and the hero is securing him, he'll casually comment that you can't fire a gun with the safety on, and that 'next time' the hero should check first; thus showing that really he was just going along with it because it suited him and enhancing his Magnificent Bastardry.

Variations exist; it might be that the gun is recognizably jammed, is physically impossible to fire at the target for some reason, would kill both of them if fired, is not cocked, or even is not loaded. Note that in Real Life, any (competent) gun user or owner will leave the safety on until ready to fire, and especially make sure the safety is engaged if they are going to hand it to someone else. In addition, nearly all revolvers and many automatic pistols (Glock, Sig, and others) do not feature a safety catch, relying on internal mechanisms and a strong trigger pull.

When the safety has been deliberately left on in case the weapon gets stolen, the person stealing it may find It Works Better with Bullets.

The inverse sometimes shows up in movies where a gun is fired with the safety on, presumably to keep actors from death by blank. This annoys gun nuts; the appropriate special effects hide the phenomenon from other viewers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Done in the Battle Royale manga, in a flashback: a guy holds a revolver to Shogo's girlfriend's head and demands that Shogo drop his gun or else he will shoot her. Shogo casually says, "You're not going to shoot her — the safety's on," causing the other guy to check to see if that's true, and Shogo uses the opening to shoot the guy in the face. He then remarks: "Idiot. Revolvers don't have safety catches."
  • An interesting variant of this crossing with It Works Better with Bullets appears in Case Closed. Fake Shinichi is holding the rest of the cast at gunpoint when Shinichi calmly points out the gun is empty, dropping the bullets from his hands. Fake Shinichi checks and discovers it's a lie, but it's too late as it already gave Shinichi time to disarm him.
    • Jodie successfully puts the gun's safety lever on during an episode about a bus-jacking. The other guy found out too late.
  • Eureka Seven has Holland using this trick while calmly walking up to a man that tried to steal the Nirvash (and did reveal their location to the military), then knocking the gun out of his hands. It was a revolver, so it didn't even have a safety.
  • Somewhat subverted or at least tongue in cheek referenced in Gundam SEED. Two characters are in a stand-off with Athrun, an experienced soldier and ace pilot holding a knife and Cagalli, his temporary "prisoner", having snuck his gun away from him while he slept, which Athrun'd told her he'd kill her if she tried to do. The standoff breaks with Athrun charging with the knife just as Cagalli loses her nerve and throws away the gun because she doesn't want to shoot him, even to save herself. We hear a gunshot...and then the scene cuts back to the gun lying on the ground as Athrun angrily demands why she'd be stupid enough to throw a gun with the safety left off. Later referenced pretty much exactly in an exchange between Kira and Mu as they chase down Rau Le Creuset.
    • Also used by Rau himself when Flay Allster attempts to attack him with his own gun during their first formal conversation. He lectures her about how idiotic it would be to kill him while she's in the middle of a building filled with his men, then asks dryly if she even checked to see if the pistol was loaded at all.
    • Again uttered by Mu La Flaga when Kira charges into the Mendel colony to help him face Rau. "If you want to use that, you might want to remove the safety."
      • It makes for a bit of Fridge Brilliance when you realize that Kira for the most part would never want to use a gun as he probably can't shoot someone without accidentally killing them. Every shot he fired with it ends up being wasted because he had convinced himself that killing is wrong... in a war.
  • In Izetta: The Last Witch, Princess Finé manages to snatch away a Germanian officer's pistol and tries to shoot him, but the safety was on. She then gets shot in the arm.
  • In Hentai anime/manga Kamyla, the main character escapes from confinement because she sees the mook's gun having safety on, and beat him up.
  • A variation of the third example is used in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam when Katz uses a pistol borrowed from Amuro Ray to force Quattro Bajeena to take off into space without Kamille, lest they miss the launch opportunity. Quattro isn't a villain by any means, but he later expresses his awareness that the gun's safety was on as the shuttle launches, and that he was going along with it because it really was the most sensible decision.
    • Earlier, Quattro tells an inexperienced Kamille to take the safety off during a firefight in Granada. Kamille had just been standing there with his eyes closed pulling the trigger with nothing happening while the enemy shot at him.
  • In Orguss 02, this is used by Manning, who notes as he's being tied up by the series' naive hero Lean that 'you can't fire that gun without a bullet in the chamber. Next time, pull the bolt first.' (Manning didn't bother to act on this before being tied up because, basically, Enigmatic Minion.) Lean himself provided an inversion in an earlier episode, realizing the Derringer his companion Nataruma has repeatedly pointed at him isn't loaded, reminding her that a professional soldier might recognise this immediately.
  • Sword Art Online: In the Gun Gale Online arc, protagonist Sinon pulls this on a group of bullies who brandish a (model airsoft, but still dangerous) gun to exploit her phobia of firearms. They even make a show of turning off the safety. Sinon, however, has been (slowly) conquering this phobia; she takes the gun from them, lectures the bullies on the fact that this particular gun has two safeties, switches the other one off, and shoots a nearby can. The bullies are stunned and terrified, and leave her alone after that.
  • A very well done example in the Venus Wars movie. A reporter gets a chance to interview the Big Bad, struggles with her sense of journalistic ethics, and after much angst works up the courage to conduct the interview then point a weapon in his face. The Big Bad has a look of fear and horror cross his face, then bemusement when he realizes she left the safety on.
  • Zoids: Chaotic Century: A flashback episode reveals this was how Raven and Proizen met each other. After Dan Flyheight sacrificed his life by self-destructing his Zoid, wiping out almost the entirety of Proitzen's troops, Raven tries to threaten him with a gun. Proitzen calmly walks up to Raven and commends him for his boldness, then slaps the gun out of his hands while stating that he won't be able to fire it with the safety on.

    Comic Books 
  • The Doctor Who comic-strip adventure "Dragon's Claw," serialized in Doctor Who Magazine, has the Fourth Doctor use this to bluff his gun-wielding foe while he gets a door open with his sonic screwdriver. Justified, too, in that said foe was a man in 15th Century China with a 23rd Century-era blaster—he wouldn't have known what a safety catch was.
  • Done hilariously in an old G.I. Joe comic, where Snake Eyes' old master, pretending to be a simple chef, deals with an attempted robbery by a young teenager. First he points out that the safety is on in the boy's gun, and when the boy takes it off, he grabs the gun's slide, pops out the bullet from the chamber, drops the clip off, and then offers to buy the empty gun from him for $100, dropping it in a crate full of empty pistols!
    • The Baroness pulls this trick on Hashtag in IDW's G.I. Joe #5, telling her that the clip in her pistol is empty. When Hashtag tilts the gun to check, the Baroness attacks and wrests the gun off her.
  • Hitman: Marc Navaronne spent years honing his Improbable Aiming Skills to kill Tommy and avenge his father Johnny's death. When he finally gets the drop on Tommy, he forgets his safety is on.
    Tommy: You've never shot at a person before, have you? Well, you never will.
  • In Jon Sable, Freelance #8, a woman sneaks into Sable's house and points his own Mauser at him. Sable, who had just got out of the shower, makes a few jokes at gunpoint and the woman says she just wants a few minutes of his time. He asks to put on his pants, then tells her the gun isn't loaded. The woman glances down at it, with the barrel pointed upwards and pulls the trigger. It goes off and Sable grabs her wrist and then backhands her across the face.
  • Mortadelo y Filemón: Played for Laughs in "Los bomberos". At the end, the Big Bad is about to hammer in a huge missile to blow everything up, but Mortadelo tells him he won't be able to do it because the hammer's safety is on. When the Big Bad looks at the hammer, confused, Mortadelo knocks him out.
  • The Evronians from Paperinik New Adventures equip all their weapons with DNA locks that prevent them from being used by non-Evronians (if they don't it means the weapons are being given to alien collaborators), with generals having sidearms that fire only when used by their owners. Paperinik finds out when, on an Evronian starship, he takes an Evronian general hostage and tells him to have his troops stand down only for the general to reveal the DNA lock.
  • The trope picture is from Preacher, and that's protagonist Jesse Custer giving the would-be shooter the boot. The artist omits the manual safety on the man's 1911 but does show the hammer as down, so it wouldn't fire anyway.
  • X-Factor (2006): In issue #247. The morning after their wedding night, Jamie wakes up to a knock on his and Layla's bedroom door and assumes someone is trying to kill them, having been informed of this happening in at least one alternate universe. Jamie pulls out a gun he had under his pillow but Layla points out he still has the safety on. Fortunately, it is the police requesting Jamie and Layla's help to solve a murder.

    Fan Works 
  • The Secret Return of Alex Mack: Subverted when Marsha and Louis are facing a kidnapping attempt. She telekinetically flips the safety on. The kidnapper just pulls a knife.
  • Ultrasonic has a variant when Nick's jailbreak of Marinette is interrupted by an unnamed tiger police officer, who shoots at Nick and narrowly misses. Nick points out that it's a new model of gun whose safety turns back on automatically when the magazine is emptied. This gives Nick an opening to kick his own tranquiliser gun at the tiger and for the two to get away.

    Film — Live Action 
  • A variation in Battlefield Earth, when Terl tells Johnny and his friends after they threaten him with stolen weapons, "If you rat-brains knew anything about firearms, it's that you never store loaded weapons!" Subverted later when Johnny does get hold of a loaded weapon, then hands it back to Terl under the assumption of this trope. However Johnny is playing a long game and needs Terl alive, so this gives him an excuse not to escape when he has the chance.
  • In Big Trouble in Little China, Jack has a little bit of trouble plugging a mook until his partner reminds him to take off the safety...
  • Black Sheep (2007) has an example where a woman (Experience) who was very anti-gun points a rifle at the other two protagonists, threatening to shoot. One of them points out that the safety is on, then when she can't fix it, he takes the gun, sets the safety to on, then gives back the gun. Although he then pulls back and keeps it.
  • Early in the John Woo Broken Arrow, Terry Carmichael's handgun passes between herself and Riley Hale twice courtesy of this trope. Hale manages to wrest the gun from Terry when she tries to hold him at gunpoint, but when he attempts to order her at gunpoint, she replies that she never keeps it loaded... which gives him pause long enough for her to get the weapon back from him. When he protests that she said it wasn't loaded, she fires off a warning shot to prove that she was lying.
  • A cool variation in Damnatus, where an enemy mook gets a hit in on tech-priest Oktavian and uses the opening to pull a gun. The gun fails to fire. A now-recovered Oktavian explains "Machine empathy..." and whacks the mook with his power axe.
  • The remake of Dawn of the Dead features a bit where Kenneth, a policeman, has to disengage the safety on Michael's shotgun before they go into a confrontation with some zombies. It's not exactly clear if C.J., also present there and familiar with firearms, wasn't deliberately setting Michael up to later take his gun.
  • In Die Hard with a Vengeance, hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) gives his reluctant ally Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) a submachine gun lifted from a fallen mook to defend himself as they search the bad guys' boat, even giving him a short primer on how to use the gun. Zeus later comes upon Big Bad Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) and holds him at gunpoint. Simon takes the gun away, casually notes (of course) he's got the safety on, flips off the safety, and shoots him. Whether McClane made a mistake due to unfamiliarity with the MP5K, or if he did it intentionally with the idea being to prevent Zeus from becoming a killer, is up for debate.
  • Dredd: Dredd pulls this trick on two juvies who hold him up. They check anyway, giving Dredd enough time to draw his Lawgiver.
  • Edge of Tomorrow has safeties on the weapons built into the Powered Armor worn by the soldiers. Cage, who has never worn the armor and is a PR officer, struggles to unlock the safety. He accidentally changes the armor's computer language to Japanese instead. By pushing random buttons he eventually does get the safety switched off, but not in time to do him much good. The trope is named when he tries to convince Griff that he shouldn't go into combat while being fitted for the armor.
    Griff: Not with the safety on, you won't.
    Cage: (as Griff walks off) Wait! Where is the safety?
    Griff: Exactly. (everyone else laughs)
  • Played with in Fierce Creatures, first successfully to disarm a gunman then, while explaining to someone that the safety was on all the time it ventures into I Just Shot Marvin in the Face.
  • At the beginning of The Fifth Element, Korben is confronted by a crazed robber with a rather nasty-looking gun. Korben informs him that the safety's on, but is even helpful enough to point it out to him and give him a chance to flip the switch. Cue the subversion, as the poor dumb criminal has just deactivated the gun, and Korben pulls his own weapon on him and takes it.
  • In The Force Awakens, Han Solo loans Rey a blaster. Later, when Stormtroopers attack, she tries to shoot them, but nothing happens. She looks the blaster over, flips a switch, and then it is able to fire.
  • The captain pulls this on Ken in Fugitive Alien. It's justified, Ken's from an alien race that uses lasers instead of bullets.
    • Although laser weapons would need safeties for the same reason conventional firearms have them.
  • Gladiator: During the (failed) attempt to execute Maximus early in the film, the last soldier attempts to draw his sword only to learn too late that the frost can make the blade stick in the sheath.
  • Happy Death Day, Tree steals a gun from a security guard to use on John Tombs, who mockingly points out the safety being on after she fails to fire and before he knocks it out of her hand. When Tree retrieves it shortly after, she turns it off and thanks him for the tip before shooting him dead.
  • In High Heels and Low Lifes, Shannon is holding the tied-up Mason at gunpoint. Mason tells the obviously nervous Shannon that she is not going to shoot him, and when she tries to bluff him that she will, he tells her that she hasn't taken the safety off.
  • James Bond:
    • In Live and Let Die, rookie agent Rosie Carver finds a hidden arsenal in Quarrel Junior's boat and confronts him with a revolver, only to be told she's left the safety catch on. This is a little odd since while revolvers can have safeties, most (such as hers) don't have a catch to operate them.
    • Licence to Kill: Q gives Bond a "signature gun" that will only fire when it registers Bond's palm print on the stock. This saves Bond's life when a ninja snatches it and tries to shoot Bond.
    • Skyfall: In homage to the above example, Bond gets another signature gun from Q, saving his life when a hapless guy in the Komodo dragon pit tries and fails to shoot him with it.
  • Perhaps the ultimate example is the Lawgiver 2 in Judge Dredd, which electrocutes any non-Judge who tries to fire it. It's also a subversion, as the one person who attempts to lampshade this gets shot — turns out the man he's addressing is a Judge.
  • In Jupiter Ascending, Jupiter holds Caine at gunpoint when she first meets him. Subverted in that he tells her how to disengage the safety, so when she holds it up again, it's primed to fire. He actually left the gun there for her to point at him, so she'd feel more comfortable.
  • This happens to One-Round, the Dumb Muscle member of the gang in The Ladykillers (1955).
  • Manhunt in the Jungle (1958). The evil native chief gets hold of the explorer's rifle and goes to shoot him with it, but nothing happens. The explorer takes the rifle back, surreptitiously clicks off the safety, and shoots a bird flying overhead, proving that only Mighty Whitey can fire the deadly stick!
  • In No Name on the Bullet, Gant bluffs Ann into glancing down at her gun, giving him the chance to grab it away.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: A period variant or not when your gun (and mine, and everyone else's) is soaking wet. A problem with early firearms.
  • The Rock: Just after Goodspeed and Mason's Navy SEAL teammates are all drawn into a trap and killed, Goodspeed tries to stop Mason from leaving by pulling his pistol on him. Mason replies that Goodspeed doesn't have what it takes to kill him, adding "Besides, the safety's on" before grabbing the gun away.
  • Possible subversion in Run Lola Run: Lola is threatening a police officer with a gun. The cop seems to be strangely unafraid of her until her boyfriend informs her that the safety is on, and tells her how to disable it. In a later scene in the movie (in a "Groundhog Day" Loop), Lola steals a gun from a security guard and immediately flicks off the safety catch before firing it.
  • In the finale of Scream, the Big Bad pulls this on Gale. She steals his gun as he holds the Final Girl hostage, and proceeds to run through a "the good guys win and the news reporter gets the scoop" scenario when he stops to inform her that he knows something she doesn't: "Works better without the safety on." As she pulls the trigger to no avail and starts panicking, he knocks her out with one kick. Later, when Gale gets the gun again and shoots him, she retorts "guess I remembered the safety that time, you bastard."
  • Shoot 'Em Up features this trope when, at the beginning of the movie, the hero, Mr. Smith holds the villain, Mr. Hertz at gunpoint with his own gun. Hertz appears quite jolly, even reciting a limerick, until Smith tries to shoot him, only to find that the gun has a fingerprint sensor to prevent anyone but the owner from discharging it. Later, it is inverted when Smith corners Hertz in a brothel, who chuckles again as Smith pulls out a gun, the freezes in horror as Smith pulls out the previous owner's hand, and places the thumb on the sensor to authorize the gun. Hertz is saved by his bulletproof vest.
  • Snatch. has a variation, when Bullet-tooth Tony points out that the guns being wielded by his would-be attackers have the word 'replica' written on them, while his has the words 'Desert Eagle'.
  • Strange Days: when Mace is battling some mooks, one gets the drop on her with a pistol. She says "Safety's on!" and then uses his momentary distraction to punch him and snag the pistol away.
  • Terminator Salvation: Blair's gun gets stolen, and when somebody tries to use it against her she tells him. "You forgot to chamber a round." Whether it was true or not didn't matter because it bought her enough time to get the jump on him.
  • In Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, the sheriff suffers a fatal accident in Tucker and Dale's cabin. One of the panicking college kids takes the sheriff's gun and tries to kill Tucker and Dale, but fails thanks to the safety. Dale helpfully points this out to him while Tucker gives him a look that just screams "What the hell is wrong with you". Fortunately for Tucker and Dale the kid points the gun at his own face while trying to disable the safety, with predictable results.
  • In XXX, Xander Cage is very excited to be handed a lightweight machine gun for the final fight, and then nearly gets killed rolling in front of some mooks and letting off an audible "click click." Luckily his more experienced girlfriend is there to save him and quote this trope to him.

  • Able Team. In Texas Showdown, a street thug holds a knife to a girl's throat and forces her father to hand over his Colt .45 pistol. However, he puts the hammer on half cock first. The moment the now-confident thug takes the knife from her throat, he kills him while the one holding his pistol is futilely trying to pull the trigger.
  • In Artemis Fowl Book 3, Juliet disarms a hitman's pistol without him realizing it. After he threatens her with the useless weapon, she taunts him with the slide she removed from the weapon, then knocks him unconscious.
  • In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan Vorpatril jumps a slaver who is pointing a stunner-beam at him. Ivan later reveals that the stunner in question was his, and was keyed to his own fingerprints, meaning that no one else could make it work.
  • Dan Brown's Deception Point sees a protagonist acquire a machine gun from the assassins out to kill him, after incapacitating two of them, and uses it to hold the NRO's Director at gunpoint. The third assassin then calmly walks into his line of fire with his own weapon and states that he's out of ammunition.
  • In the Dirk Pitt Adventures novel The Mediterranean Caper, Al Giordino gets himself and Dirk out of a tight spot by producing a .25-caliber Mauser pocket pistol. Later, Pitt looks at the gun and comments that it would have been interesting to watch Giordino's expression when he tried to pull the trigger, because the safety is still on.
  • Discworld:
    • An amusing variant appears in Making Money when Moist tracks down escaped forger Owlswick Jenkins in his workshop. Terrified of going back to prison, Jenkins threatens to commit suicide by eating a tube of highly toxic paint, but Moist snatches it out of his mouth when he tries.
      Moist: Just as I thought. You forgot to take the cap off. It's the kind of mistake amateurs always make!
    • Inverted in Men at Arms; When Detritus first hefts up the hundred-pound siegebow later known as the Piecemaker to threaten an armourer, Corporal Nobbs expresses (possibly insincere) hope that the safety catch is on, and that the armorer has properly maintained it as it was known to succumb readily to metal fatigue. Detritus's reply: "What are a safety catch?" (By Night Watch, Vimes has taught Detritus that "When Mister Safety Catch Is Not On, Mister Crossbow Is Not Your Friend".)
  • Earthsearch 2: Deathship by James Follett has an example where the villain is actually told to take the safety off, only to have the weapon taken off them anyway as it wasn't loaded either.
  • In Mark Walden's H.I.V.E. Escape Velocity, there is a subversion of type 1 when Otto turns out to be more familiar with guns than his enemy had hoped:
    Otto: [picks up Constance's gun and aims it at her] One more step and one of you gets a bullet, understand?
    Constance: You might find that difficult, Mr Malpense, especially with the safety catch still on.
    Otto: What do you think this is, amateur hour? [fires a shot at the ground]
    • Later in the same book, Raven tries the same bluff against Constance and Verity themselves...and it succeeds.
  • Ice Station by Matthew Reilly uses a type 2. Shane Schofield gives his ally James Renshaw a pistol, who then uses it to hold up Barnaby. Barnaby just laughs and pulls out his own gun because Renshaw didn't chamber a round. Renshaw decided to run before he was shot.
  • In The Lady in the Lake, when Marlowe is being held at gunpoint by the murderer, he notes that she's not confident with the gunnote , and tells her that she's still got the safety catch on. This distracts her just long enough for him to knock the gun away and turn the confrontation into a contest of physical strength. Lampshaded by Marlowe, who refers to it as "that old business of the safety catch not being off".
  • Fantasy variant in The Lay of Paul Twister. At one point Paul points a stage prop crossbow at Fiona Khal, trying to bluff her into backing down, but she points out a few reasons why it's not actually a real weapon.
  • Subverted for comedy in Mr Blank. The hero has a gun, the mook tells him the safety's on, our hero sneers "Like I'm really going to fall for that." Then the gun goes off (proving the mook was lying while trying to invoke this trope), and our hero apologizes for shooting the guy.
  • At The Climax of the Tom Clancy Ryanverse novel Patriot Games, Ryan seemingly has every intention of killing the Big Bad after the man surrenders and is in custody — to the point that he puts the barrel of his pistol in the man's mouth and pulls the trigger. But nothing happens, because the gun (a single-action Browning automatic) isn't cocked. Marine Sergeant-Major Breckenridge points out that if Ryan had really wanted to kill the terrorist, he'd have remembered to cock the hammer. As a Marine veteran himself and an experienced shooter, Ryan would be more than familiar with this fact about his pistol, broadly implying that Breckenridge is correct when he says Ryan didn't really want to murder the man in cold blood.
  • There is a memorable scene in Neal Stephenson's REAMDE where Zula jams her finger between the hammer and firing pin of Abdallah Jones' pistol, allowing Csongor to shoot Jones without worrying about Zula's safety.
  • In the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Momaw Nadon lures an Imperial captain into an alley and threatens to kill him. The captain laughs ruthlessly and says, "You can't kill me with a blaster set to stun." Momaw knows he set the blaster to Kill, but fears he may have knocked the setting aside, and looks. Of course, it is set on Kill, but he has lost his chance, and the captain shoots him. (Luckily, his blaster is set on Stun.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • 21 Jump Street: An interesting subversion happens in one episode. Hanson, posing as a student, is being threatened by another student (named Ronnie) with a gun. He is saying things such as, "you could end up dead". The gun is cocked and incredibly close to Hanson's face. After the student is satisfied and begins walking away, the following exchange takes place:
    Hanson: The safety's on the left, man. You ought to take it off if you want to threaten somebody.
    Ronnie: The safety don't work, man. Never did.
  • Adam-12: A variation happened in one episode. Malloy chases a guy armed with a shotgun over a hill, only to find the shotgun leveled at him. Then the guy gives up. Turned out he left the safety on and pulled the trigger so hard it broke.
  • Arrow: Malcolm Merlyn is being held at gunpoint by Thea, who has recently found out that she's his daughter. While she's pointing the gun at him, he helpfully points out that the safety is on. Unusually for this trope, she does eventually shoot him... but he's wearing a Kevlar vest. And he's actually pleased that she shot him, because when his son Tommy had him at gunpoint the previous season he had been unable to pull the trigger.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): In one episode, Centurions have boarded the ship. Billy is about to help a Marine flank two that are fighting Lee, Jammer, and two other Marines... but not before Dualla reminds him to remove the safety. Note that the safety was on in the first place because Dee told him to use it before putting the gun in his pants.
  • Breaking Bad: In the pilot, Walter, convinced he is about to be caught by police, tries to shoot himself with one of the drug dealer's guns. This saves his life.
  • Burn Notice:
    • Michael tells a man pointing a gun at him, "By the way, Vince, you're gonna have a hard time blowing my brains out with the safety on." When Vince looks at the gun to check, Michael wrestles the gun away from him and it discharges away from the two of them in the process: "What do you know, the safety was off! My mistake." (A little hard to believe, since Vince is said to be a former Army Ranger, but then again he's also said to have washed out of the Rangers, so...)
    • A similar occasion occurs later on in the series, except instead Michael notes that the contact, Seymour was using hollowpoints. Seymour expresses surprise that Michael could tell just by looking at it, allowing Michael an opportunity to wrestle the gun away again. Seymour acknowledges that Michael is indeed a badass. Then again, Seymour's an idiot.
    • Later with a shotgun, when he points out the gun is loaded with birdshot, which at the range to the target would probably just bruise hi-*grabs gun*
    • Later Michael has two guns pointed at him, he manages to convince the owners to put them down, before commenting that that week's big bad's Dragon had the safety on on his gun.
  • Castle: The murderer is cornered by Beckett while holding Castle hostage at gunpoint. After uncovering the murderer's motive, Castle knocks him down and wrests the gun from him. Beckett tells him he could have been killed, and Castle replies that the safety was on the whole time.
    Beckett: Y'know, you could've told me.
    Castle: Where's the fun in that?
  • Chuck: Chuck is supposed to get Sarah out of a locked freezer by shooting out the lock, but the gun doesn't work. Then Sarah tells him to take the safety off.
  • The first episode of Constantine (2014) has a non-firearm example: Liv, startled by Constantine's appearance, whips out a can of mace to threaten him. He just calmly introduces himself before pointing out that she's pointing it the wrong way.
  • CSI: NY:
    • The reason Stella wasn't shot by Frankie in "All Access". Frankie didn't know enough about guns to take the safety off. When Stella manages to get her hands on the gun in the ensuing struggle, the show makes a point of her taking the safety off before firing.
    • Later, there's a variation. When Jo is attacked by the DC rapist, he empties all the bullets from her gun and tosses it aside. However, he didn't know enough to clear the one in the chamber, allowing Jo to grab it, fire one at him, and then reload to fire another (he was still trying to get her after the first one).
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the novelisation of "The Sea Devils", after realising the Master has manipulated him, Trenchard decides to go out in a gallant Last Stand holding off the Sea Devils, but realises too late that he's forgotten to take the safety off his service pistol.
    • "Last of the Time Lords": The Master scuppers a plan to hold him at laser-screwdriver-point by setting it so it only works for him.note  He is then able to steal it back and nick the protagonist's mother with it.
    • A unique example occurs in "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky". UNIT guns are useless against the Sontarans' Cordolaine Signal, which expands the copper casings in UNIT's bullets and renders their guns inoperable. So they just switch to steel-jacketed bullets.
  • Due South: In "Free Willie":
    Fraser: No you won't. You're going to hand me that gun. You're going to return that purse and you're going to apologize to that lady.
    Willie: Why? I got the gun.
    Fraser: Cause you don't want to hurt anyone, and because if you don't, you might end up hurting yourself.
    Willie: (reluctantly hands him the gun) Well, you know you're a lucky cop. 'Cause I coulda shot you right through the heart.
    Fraser: I don't think so, because that would require knowing how to take off the safety.
  • F/X: The Series: When a former friend turned foe is handed a gun and told to watch the good guys, Rollie promptly beats the crap out of him as soon as the opportunity arises, pointing out that "Real gunmen use the safety, you moron."
  • Leverage:
    • This happens in the pilot, "The Nigerian Job":
      Nathan finds Hardison holding Eliot at gunpoint
      Eliot: Did you do it? You're the only one that's ever played both sides.
      Nathan: Yeah, and you seem pretty relaxed for a guy with a gun pointed at him.
      Eliot: Safety's on.
      Hardison: Like I'm gonna fall for that.
      Nathan: No, no, actually he's right. The safety is on.
      Hardison looks down to check, and Nathan grabs the gun.
    • Similarly, in "The Girls' Night Out Job", Sophie tells a thug pointing a gun at her that the safety is on. While he's checking the gun, Tara comes up behind him and breaks a vase over his head, commenting that the safety was off. "Not to a grifter."
  • Lost: Subverted; while playing inside woman in a bank robbery, Kate pretends not to know the safety is on, and then how to take it off. Another variant is Rousseau removing the firing pin from Robert's rifle, which has the bonus of letting her find out if he was really going to shoot her (he was).
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: In "The King of Knaves Affair", Napoleon Solo (undercover) takes advantage of a failure to check the safety to disarm a woman accosting him in his hotel room.
    Ernestine Pepper: Mr. Smith, the first shot goes into the floor, the second goes into your head.
    Napoleon Solo: [slowly walking towards Pepper] Alright then, better shoot and get it over with. [Pepper fumbles with the pistol, which does not fire; Solo disarms her] You see, the safety catch is on; it limits the range of the weapon considerably.
  • The New Avengers: In "The Deadly Angels", Gambit is held at gunpoint by a secretary. He starts instructing her on the proper way to hold and search a prisoner at gunpoint. When he tells her to take the safety catch off the gun, she goes to obey. As she does so, he turns around and snatches the gun off her. He then gives it back to her, kisses her, and asks her for a date.
  • One Life to Live: A classic Type 1 example as deranged mafia chief Alex holds a patsy hostage. He tells her her safety is on, she checks, and he's able to knock the gun out of her hand and restrain her. What makes this an especially awesome example is that he's usually a spineless wimp, while she's not only a mob chief, she's a former federal agent (presumably a weapons expert), and he's still able to get the better of her.
  • Quantum Leap: Sam is being held hostage by a woman he's been charged to protect (although, the person he's leaped into is really in cahoots with the bad guy, and the woman has just found out). Subverted in that it is Al who tells Sam that the safety is on. Since he is a hologram and the woman can't see him, he can examine the gun closely and at length. Also, the woman checks by actually trying to fire the gun, which doesn't work, and then throws the gun at Sam. Which is strange when you think about it because that basically meant she gave a man who she thinks wants to kill her a loaded gun.
  • Scorpion: In "Going South," Happy is held at gunpoint by a kidnapper. She tells him his gun has no firing pin. When he turns the gun away from her to check, she jumps him.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "A Matter of Time", Data goes inside the time vessel of the phony time-traveler Berlinghoff Rasmussen, where he finds various items from the Enterprise taken by Rasmussen, including a phaser, which Rasmussen sets at the highest stun setting and tries to fire at Data, but doesn't work. Data calmly explains that the Enterprise computer deactivated it once it sensed it.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: A variation; in "A Private Little War", Nona manages to steal Kirk's phaser and approaches some enemy soldiers trying to make a deal. She rants about the "new weapon" she is holding... but since she has only seen it used once from a distance and has no experience with push-button devices, she has no idea how to use it, and ends up stabbed to death.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Used in "The Good Wound". Reese points this out to someone holding a gun on him, and it distracts them long enough for him to draw his own (although not long enough for him to shoot).
  • V.I.P.: Valerie gets a terrorist to surrender by pointing a gun at him. After the terrorist is apprehended, Tasha informs Valerie that the safety was off and it's a good thing the terrorist didn't notice either.
  • The Walking Dead (2010): In the second episode, Andrea threatens to shoot Rick for bringing a horde of "walkers" to their location. Later, he advises her to take the safety off next time and even gives her a quick lesson in handling a gun. She points it at him again in the sixth episode and mentions she knows how the safety works (and it actually is off). Earlier in the pilot, Rick tells an inexperienced deputy to make sure he had a round chambered and the safety off (despite being a Glock, which has no manual safety). He then racks the slide to chamber a round, then presses the slide stop release, though the deputy seems rather new and naïve, perhaps he was being hazed.
  • The Wild Wild West: In "Night of the Deadly Bubble", the female professor thinks West is an intruder, but West knows she won't shoot him because the safety's on.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess: Non-gun example: In an early episode, Gabrielle finds herself holding a hostile warlord at swordpoint. He retaliates by mocking her, telling her that she has no business pretending to be a warrior and that she isn't even holding her sword properly. Sure enough, Gabrielle takes her eyes off the warlord for a moment to check her grip, and he knocks the sword out of her hands.
  • In Yellowjackets, Nat's father catches her with a boy in her bedroom, and is about to administer a beating to her as punishment, but she grabs his gun to protect herself. However, he points out this trope, and takes the gun away from her—only to trip, fall, and accidentally blow his own head off.

    Video Games 
  • In the opening cinematic of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the elderly Frank Woods' only response to Harper's rifle in his face is a nonchalant, "Safety's on, dipshit".
  • The mugger who keeps pestering you in Déjà Vu (1985) repeatedly forgets to take the safety off, meaning you can score a punch to the nose and make him scurry off. The first few times, anyway. This is particularly strange because he's clearly threatening you with a revolver, which would lack a safety.
  • The Evil Within 2, when Sebastian and O'Neal first meet, the latter holds the former at gunpoint. When the situation is defused, Sebastian (a police detective) notes that O'Neal (a technician) never even took the safety off his pistol.
  • Played with in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. A random encounter character accuses Huang of supplying him with defective guns. Huang suggests turning the safety off, so the man does and accidentally kills several bystanders.
  • An inversion happens in the original Max Payne when Max runs into Mona Sax, her signature Desert Eagle aimed point-blank into his face. He returns the favor with his own Beretta, uttering: "Your safety's off, Evil Twin. You could hurt somebody with that gun of yours."
  • Played straight twice in the Metal Gear series:
    • In Metal Gear Solid when Snake meets Meryl he tells her she doesn't have what it takes to shoot him, ending with "You haven't even taken the safety off, rookie." note 
    • Naked Snake does this to Ocelot twice in Metal Gear Solid 3; the first time, his Makarov jams because he's tried to load it improperly,note  and the second time, because he's used to the Makarov's eight-round magazine, he doesn't realize that his new Single Action Army runs out after only six.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake snatches Johnny Sasaki's gun away after almost exactly the same lines, and the less experienced soldier visually inspects his XM8. Since the XM8 was designed to evoke muscle memory from years of training with the M16 family, and it's almost impossible to pass even rudimentary military training without being able to tell the safety's position by feel, this succeeds in making Johnny look like an absolute moron. Snake even sardonically asks how someone like him lasted ten years in the military like he claimed.
  • In the preview showcasing Remember Me's Memory Manipulation mechanic, Nilin is trying to make her victim believe he killed someone. When he grabs his gun, however, the intended victim mocks him because she knows he always leaves the safety on. She's so confident about this that she tempts fate by walking right up to him and grabbing the barrel of the gun.
  • Slash'EM: Laser Blades don't work unless you turn them on.
  • An inversion of the second type occurs in Tales from the Borderlands, "Atlas Mugged". Despite constantly insisting that he knows how to fire a gun, villain Vasquez just can't figure out how to shoot Rhys. Rhys can either use this time to escape, wait until he does figure it out, or politely disable the safety for him.

    Visual Novels 
  • Subverted in Brass Restoration: Ryo invokes this against the bookstore owner, who then fires without hesitation. Turns out that that was exactly what Ryo was expecting—the question about the safety was to provoke him into firing. "...You can avoid a bullet if you know when it's fired."
  • Subverted in the trick ending of Umineko: When They Cry when Ange understands what Amakusa's mission really is and holds him at gunpoint with a Tokarev. The latter tries to get away with this trope, but fails since Ange knows that a Soviet Russian-made Tokarev has no safety lock.

  • Somewhat averted in Kiwi Blitz. Benzine (as Donner) pulls a gun only to be informed that the safety is still on. Without missing a beat, he responds "Revolvers like this don't have safeties, smart guy."
  • Played for Laughs in Manly Guys Doing Manly Things where Jared wants to accompany Commander Badass on a mission and claims to be proficient with weapons.
    Commander: D'you two have any marksmanship skills?
    Jared: [holding a carbine] Phft, if you ever saw my Call of Duty stats, you'd feel embarrassed even asking that.
    Commander: Th' safety's on. ... It's still on. ... Now yer holdin' it upside down. ... That's a good way t' blast yer fingers off. ... Naw, that just ejects th' magazine.
    Jared: [tears in his eyes] Commander I think I'm really bad at this.
  • Subverted in Schlock Mercenary, during the Tough's first encounter with Doyt Gyo and Haban, where their weapons failed to work. When Kevyn points out that all Haban did was use field-effectors to jam the safeties on all the guns, Tagon curtly points out that their mil-spec weapons didn't have safeties - meaning that it wasn't a simple jamming of the safeties, it was installing safeties on their weapons, without anyone noticing until later.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: Used as a bluff, by Vamp, who needed the distraction. She had just finished a secret conversation with her mother about who her biological father really was, when suddenly the man she had thought was her father up to that point burst in, and threatened both Alex and her mother with a shotgun. Alex used a Devise she had borrowed from another student, disguised inside a cellphone, to prime him for a memory-blanking effect, but to keep him busy she said, "I just wanted a picture of your face when you realized that you hadn't taken the safety off on that shotgun."

    Western Animation 
  • Another variation occurs in an episode of Futurama. Bender attempts to shoot the Professor but finds that he physically can't because his programming prevents this. So he switches on his recently installed Free Will Unit to override the program...only to find that he still can't shoot the Professor. Aw, it looks as though Bender has a conscience after all, and can't bring himself to - Oh, no, wait, it was just because the safety was on. BANG.
  • An episode of Men in Black: The Series had a variation; J grabs an alien weapon he's unfamiliar with and points what he thinks is the business end at his attacker. The alien identifies the gun and informs him that he's pointing it the wrong way; J assumes the alien is trying to bluff him and fires anyway. Sure enough, a beam shoots out of what appeared to be the scope and just misses J's head, and the alien smugly comments that he was just trying to help.
  • The Monarch of The Venture Brothers is once shown telling an anecdote about when Captain Sunshine, a superhero, had a Ray Gun to his face, but the Monarch noticed he didn't touch the safety. The Monarch then claimed he was protected by his invulnerable exoskeleton, and when the gun didn't do anything, Captain Sunshine ran away and has thought the Monarch was invulnerable ever since.

    Real Life 
  • Massad Ayoob wrote in his eponymous column for American Handgunner of a Florida cab driver whose life was saved by this trope. The driver picked up a fare who'd earlier stolen a Smith and Wesson 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Before long, attempted robbery turned into attempted murder after the driver refused to give up his wallet. What the robber didn't know was that the stolen pistol's safety was engaged (the owner left it on), which disconnected the trigger from the rest of the firing mechanism. Even more unfortunately for the robber, the driver was armed and well aware of how to disengage the safety of his own pistol. The robber did not survive.
  • Cofounder of Magpul, former Force Recon Marine, and current self-defense trainer Travis Haley has stated that this trope once saved his life while serving overseas in the Marine Corps. Haley had let his guard down as he was processing weapons while dealing with a suspected arms trafficker when the suspect pulled an AK. Looking up at the man, Haley noticed that his would-be killer had forgotten to take the safety off, allowing him precious moments to push the man's weapon aside, grapple him, and draw his own sidearm, which he then used to shoot the man in the head.
  • This is the reason why many handguns oriented towards the law enforcement duty weapon or self-defense markets are double action or striker-fired without a manual safety. In both situations, the number of times the weapon will be fired "in anger" will be rare indeed. Hence a trigger mechanism that allows one to simply draw and fire, without the need to cock the hammer or manipulate a safety catch. Precautions against accidental discharge are provided by other safety mechanisms or design features (e.g. grip and/or trigger safeties, heavy trigger pull, firing pin blocker).
    • It should be kept in mind, though, that a safety being on does not guarantee that a firearm won't discharge if a round is chambered. Even in modern firearms, there is still a chance that even a properly functioning safety can fail.
  • Manson Family member Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme's attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975 reportedly failed because the .45 semiautomatic she used didn't have a round chambered; although years later she claimed that was deliberate.
  • Militaries usually teach the soldiers to have their pistols out of safety mode but also firmly set in the holsters, to quickly react against ambushes. Assault rifles, on the other hand, are nearly always in safety mode, with the soldiers trained to thumb the safety off in the same motion they use to aim down the sights.
  • For this precise reason, some weapons carried by some law enforcement in some places are not loaded or have the safety on - if the officer is attacked and the weapon is stolen, the assailant can't use it. However, this tends to differ from situation to situation and also depends on the approach of the law enforcement agency. If they're only there to "show presence", guns will be used so rarely, they might not be ready to be used. If they're sent into a dangerous situation, they may not even have the safety on.
  • "Israeli draw" is the somewhat-controversial practice of leaving the chamber of a pistol empty and quickly racking the slide to chamber a round as the weapon is drawn. The benefit of this is the added margin of safety should an unauthorized person get hold of the pistol (i.e. this trope, divided by It Works Better with Bullets), with the drawback being a bigger risk of making a mistake and failing to have the weapon ready to fire when it's needed most.


Video Example(s):


How to back off guys with guns

Some hapless thugs try to intimidate Bullet-Tooth Tony but he wastes no time telling them why he's not impressed. It helps that Tony's got a BFG in his pocket, but Tony probably could've done it on his own.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / TheReasonYouSuckSpeech

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