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Reliably Unreliable Guns

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"Be careful. The safety's off, so it could go off for, like, no reason."
Sterling Archer, Archer

Evidently, Hollywood doesn't trust the "big brands" when it comes to guns, as there are two things you can usually expect to see with firearms depicted in fiction:

  1. Any jarring or dropping of a cocked, chambered gun will discharge it. Bonus point if the bullet hits a Mauve Shirt or other expendable mook.

    It doesn't matter if it's a cheap Saturday Night Special or a professional quality, $1200 SIG-Sauer, count on this one. Never mind that practically all weapons designed after 1968 include a special mechanism to stop the hammer from falling unless the trigger is properly pulled, and that gunmakers had been adding them for a long time before that. If you bump it, it will go off. That said, professionals who use weapons say there are only two classes of weapon users: those who have had a weapon accidentally discharge, and those who eventually will have a weapon accidentally discharge; this is why basic Gun Safety says to treat any loaded firearm as if this actually is true, just in case you're dealing with a weapon that's damaged or just poorly-designed enough that it is.

  2. Jammed equals broken every time.

    It's well-known that even the best guns still jam every now and then after repeated firing. Usual causes include a round failing to seat properly into the breech, a spent casing getting caught upon ejection (a condition known as "stovepiping"), poor-quality ammunition (insufficient pressure to cycle the weapon) or poor handling while shooting (not enough energy from the firing is absorbed by the hands/arms to let the slide or bolt move far back enough to cycle) Despite these errors taking only a second or two to correct in real life, when a firearm jams in a film or television show, such an event will render it completely useless. Even worse, the wielder, be they fresh-faced civilians who've never even seen a real gun before, or life-long hunters and trained soldiers who by all accounts should know better, will invariably discard the jammed weapon. Of course, in fiction, where guns never run out of ammo unless something takes it out of commission? A weapon-disabling jam may be the only way to make someone actually stop shooting without being killed.

For that matter, Hollywood treats a misfire as being the same as a jam as well. While very rare for modern ammunition made by reliable manufacturers, to the tune of about one-in-a-million or less, ammunition primers occasionally do not work as intended. If a round of ammo fails to fire, nobody in fiction simply pulls the trigger a second time if it's a revolver, or in the case of automatics, manually works the action to clear the dud so they can keep shooting.note  Then again, this fits in with the typical Hollywood approach to plans in general.

To a very limited extent, this can be Truth in Television, as it's possible to jam a weapon so severely that serious work is needed to get it back in order,note  and every now and then you will hear about gunmakers issuing safety recalls on guns that aren't drop-safe. But that does sort of prove the point about Hollywood's approach: the gun is being recalled because discharging when it's dropped is not considered normal operation in Real Life. Note too that at least in the US all such recalls are voluntary; firearm manufacturers are exempt from the Consumer Product Safety Act.note 

If the person is really Too Dumb to Live, they may look into the barrel to see why it isn't working. (If you have to be told why this is a bad idea, you should never touch a gun.)

Since this one's so common, it'd be easier to just list especially egregious examples and subversions. Also see Convenient Misfire. See Reckless Gun Usage, Juggling Loaded Guns and I Just Shot Marvin in the Face for when danger is caused by user carelessness or stupidity.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Averted in Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid. In "Her Problem," Yu Lan's silenced pistol jams when she tries to shoot Kaname. She just clears the jam and quickly resumes firing.
  • One of Havoc's two guns stovepipes in chapter 37 of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, thus allowing Riza to jump into action. He is not shown throwing away the jammed gun, but we can assume he did, since he only carries one afterwards.
    • In Brotherhood, a spent round gets stuck in Riza's pistol when she is fighting the leftover Fuhrer candidates, thus enabling her enemies to capture her (in the manga, she merely runs out of ammo). It actually made sense in this case, because the fight was at such close range that she didn't have time to clear the jam before she had a sword at her throat.
  • Referenced in Ghost in the Shell (1995), with the Major asking if Togusa uses a revolver because he is afraid of them both having jammed guns at once if he had a semiautomatic.
  • Averted in Gunslinger Girl — During the first encounter between Hillshire and Franca, Franca tricks Hillshire into misfiring his pistol. It instead merely caused a jam. Hillshire simply fixes the jam and starts firing at Franca.
    • There is also a scene where Henrietta is undergoing pistol training. Her gun misfires, and she looks down the barrel to see the problem. Raballo, the Fratello for another girl, promptly grabs the gun out of her hand and yells at her Fratello Giuseppe for not training her properly.
  • Another jamming aversion in an early episode of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, where after Teana's old magic-firing pistol jams at a critical moment during training, she just fixes the problem in a few seconds and goes back to shooting.
  • Justified in Lupin III: Operation: Return the Treasure. Jigen shoots his opponent to deliberately cause a jam, then kills him before he has the chance to clear the jam.
  • Type 1 is played straight in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Cagalli throws a pistol in frustration, causing it to discharge. Athrun very nearly gets hit by the stray round and immediately chastises her for being stupid enough to throw a loaded and cocked pistol.
  • Justified in Maiden Rose when Klaus' gun happens to jam in the middle of a Mexican Standoff (which is just bad timing) and when he gets out of that he can't fix it anyway because his one arm is badly wounded and the morphine has finally worn off. His teammate promptly fixes the issue for him.
  • Averted in the first season finale of Aldnoah.Zero. Slaine fires off about 10 rounds from his pistol shooting up Saazbaum after he headshots Asseylum before a stovepipe occurs. However, he pulls the slide back and clears the malfunction, then uses the same gun to shoot Inaho in the face.
  • Inevitable in Upotte!!, given that two of the four principle characters are the personifications of weapons that are infamous for being this in reality. Elle (the L85A1) in particular has some part of her weapon fall off or break at least once or twice an episode, nearly every time she tries to pull the trigger, but Sixteen (the M16A4) also gets hit with an extreme case of this during the jungle war-games arc, after eating a too-spicy chicken nugget before one round of the games (which translates to her weapon as running ammo that's too dirty through it). She ends up experiencing a failure to feed properly after every single shot, to the point that she only wins by adopting a ridiculous shooting method of holding the grip in her off-hand and fanning the forward assist with each individual finger of her other hand after every shot.

    Comic Books 
  • The Boys has the M20 assault rifle, an Expy of the M16 (it's stated in-story that the M16 was rushed into service pretty much just to get this thing out of the inventory). How bad was it? So bad that it helped create the story's parallel reality; the gun was so poorly-designed that it turned the Battle of Ia Drang from a slightly-American-leaning stalemate to a Curb-Stomp Battle that left every single American soldier dead (when they were found, all the Americans had been decapitated and the heads stuck on the worthless rifles). A later issue claimed that the magazine was the biggest problem, being made of an extremely light and fragile material (described as 'aluminum foil' by a bitter soldier) that resulted in the feed buckling altogether after only a few shots. It's stated that the only reason the rifle entered service was because Vought-American, its designers, thought that the gun would see little use in peacetime and they had bribed politicians into ignoring reports about how poorly it performed.
  • All-New Ultimates: One of the Skull's guns got jammed during the fight. His friend told him to throw it away, then.

    Fan Works 
  • In the segment of the Mass Effect fic The Translation in Blood set during the First Contact War, a turian scout (the future Councilor Sparatus) is able to capture then-Lieutenant Hannah Shepard (Spacer Shepard's mother) because her rifle got caught on something when she was fleeing and went off, wounding her in the arm.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Robin Hood (1973) there's a Running Gag where Trigger's crossbow Old Betsy goes off should Trigger so much as bump it. This happens regardless of whether the "safety" on the crossbow is set, and maybe even happens more often if the safety is on.
    Sheriff: There's something funny going on around here. Come on, you cover me. [they walk several steps with the Sheriff in front of Trigger, then stop] Wait a minute. Uh... is the safety still on Old Betsy?
    Trigger: You bet it is, Sheriff. [pats the crossbow affectionately]
    Sheriff: That's what I'm afraid of. You go first.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • From True Lies comes this epic example: Helen attempts to use a MAC-10 machine pistol and promptly loses control of it and drops it down a flight of stairs, where it continues firing all by itself as it tumbles down, taking out nearly every mook in the terrorist camp. To put just how unreliable this is into perspective, the film's armorer used a plastic zip-tie to strap down the trigger for these scenes. This scene took several takes, as the time it would take to strap down the trigger and drop the weapon is almost as short as the time taken for the M-10 to empty its 30-round magazine: it fires more than 20 rounds per second.
  • In Schindler's List, Göth is about to execute a worker, as he has done several times before already, but his Luger jams. As his lieutenant tries unsuccessfully to clear the jam, Göth takes out another pistol (a CZ 27) and tries to shoot him again... but the backup pistol also jams. Göth, after multiple attempts to shoot are foiled in this manner, eventually pistol whips the worker and then leaves in a huff. Like much of the film, this was based on a specific real-life incident.
  • In Help!, the idiot "scientist" and his assistant have a recurring problem: none of their equipment works when it needs to, leading the assistant to invariably blame whatever country the object in question came from. As a result, this trope pops up twice: once with a "cheap" English pistol, leading them to bemoan their lack of a Luger, and once with their time-slowing ray, leading them to curse "American rig."
  • In Airheads a character drops an MP5K, causing it to spin around on the floor and fire its entire magazine, all by itself. The entire MP5 line is widely regarded as among the world's finest sub-machine guns, in use by numerous special forces, and they typically cost in the low five-digits.
  • In the cult flick The Boondock Saints, Rocco emphasizes a point by slamming his hands down on a table, causing the Beretta 92 pistol sitting on the table — which, mind you, is standard issue for U.S. soldiers (although the military version (M9) is not 100% the same) and costs about $700 — to fire, killing the poor pussycat that was laying next to it.
    • The sequel averts this, however, when the brothers drop their Desert Eagles when surrounded by police and SWAT after the last shoot-out.
  • One of the Feast movies has an example so outrageously absurd that it almost has to be a parody of this trope. A gun discharges on its own and blows off some guy's face, but the gun is a single action revolver — with the hammer down. For those not in the know, even pulling the trigger on one in that state does nothing; a single-action revolver is impossible to fire unless the hammer is cocked back first.
  • Game Night has another head-shakingly daft example crossed with Guns Do Not Work That Way. Annie drops a revolver, which goes off and hits Max in the arm. Annie had dropped the gun because she was startled by the fact that she had just fired it, meaning the hammer was safely down on an empty cartridge. One wonders if there was a deleted scene with the characters making certain the gun had a full tank of gas, too.
  • Back to the Future:
    • Marty is saved repeatedly from being shot by Libyans because their rifle jams. They are shooting an AK-47, which are famed for their reliability even under the harshest conditions. However, we do see them simply trying to clear the jam rather than abandoning the gun immediately.
    • And then Doc's own gun fails to fire, too. The gun — a Single Action Army revolver — uses one of the simplest repeating actions in existence, so it could be either that the round was a dud, or Doc never loaded it in the first place.
  • Seen in Hot Fuzz, where one of the heroes intentionally throws his shotgun at the cobblestone street while surrendering, causing it to go off and hit a bad guy. Surprisingly semi-accurate; the shotgun they drop, a Winchester 1300, is a model that isn't listed as drop-safe in real life.
  • In The Untouchables (1987), one gangster's Thompson jams during a fight. This was a problem real Tommy guns were frequently subject to, which is one of the reasons it was never as widely used as gangland movies would have you believe. To the gangster's credit he tries repeatedly to clear the jam, but he gets so distracted doing this that it gives the mousy accountant among the Untouchables time to get close enough to KO the gangster with the butt of his shotgun.
  • In Get Shorty, Ronnie Wingate comes across Ray Barboni beating up movie producer Harry Zimm, who owes Ronnie and his partner money. Ronnie, who is more experienced with threatening violence than actually performing violence, tries to intimidate Ray by revealing the gun tucked into his waistband. Ray, who has much greater experience enacting violence and is already holding his gun in his hand at the time, mocks Ronnie by pointing out that he would need to be a quick-draw artist for his gun to be any use in the situation. Ronnie (visibly nervous at this point) tries to bluff his way out of the situation by asking if Ray's gun (an AMT Backup, a small but effective pistol) is a "Wop 9", calling it "the Fiat of guns, always jammin' on you at the wrong time." The second Ronnie finishes his sentence, Ray shoots him in the chest four times.
  • In Lord of War, Villain Protagonist and Arms Dealer Yuri is nearly executed by a pair of thugs in Africa. One aims his AK-47 (which was sold to the thug's boss by Yuri, naturally), pulls the trigger... nothing. Clears the jam, sticks it in Yuri's face again, pulls the trigger... nothing.note  Yuri (who is both completely stoned and suffering the effects of a Villainous BSoD to the point where he'd willingly embrace death), points out that they'll do that sometimes and offers to fix the jam for him... the thug just hits him with the butt and knocks Yuri out. Well, it was worth a shot, anyway.
  • Misfiring guns feature prominently in both the backstory and the climax of Unforgiven, which is more appropriate for the time period, in which lower quality guns and ammo were more common. The rainy night of the climax might also have played a factor.
    • Little Bill, when telling W.W. Beauchamp the real story about how English Bob killed Two-Gun Corcoran, explains that Corcoran's Walker Colt exploded on him, allowing Bob to get the drop on him. This was a problem that Walker Colts really had.
  • In the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy escapes capture/execution by the Soviets by dropping an M1 carbine, causing it to shoot one of the soldiers in the foot. It's not completely implausible, as the M1 Carbine has a free-floating firing pin just like the Soviet SKS (which is a bit more known for this), but despite that M1 carbines are not remotely being known for going off when dropped. Possibly lampshaded by the fact that Indy looks as surprised as the Soviets when it happens, though he's quick to take advantage.
  • Franz Liebkind's Luger in the 2005 version of The Producers jams and fires when dropped, with great comedic timing. The classic Luger's toggle action actually is somewhat temperamental.
  • In The Last Dinosaur big game hunter Masten Thrust throws away his hunting rifle after it jams while trying to shoot a Tyrannosaur that's about to attack them. Not only does he make no effort to clear the jam, but he never even tries to reacquire the rifle later, instead only taking the scope to attach to his new crossbow. The fact that he's both a lifelong hunter and a firearms collector makes this all the more implausible.
  • During a combat sequence in Kelly's Heroes, a 30-cal machine gun jams at a very inopportune time; possibly because the operator didn't have someone to help him feed the belt ammo. Fortunately, the Germans shooting back at him apparently attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, because he manages to clear the jam and kill them all anyway. The ambush on the road beside a minefield has one of the Americans gun jam on him at the worst possible time, and unfortunately he gets shot while trying to clear the jam.
  • The Killer (1989): An inversion where Ah Jong angrily throws his cocked and loaded Beretta 92 into the back of the truck he was driving. By all means, Hollywood logic dictates it should've gone off.
  • In the sci-fi comedy Sleeper, a Running Gag involves a different part of a laser cannon blowing up every time they try to fire it at Woody Allen.
  • The villain of Double Take manages to dispatch himself this way; bragging about his shooting skills when about to kill the protagonists, he ends up falling down a long flight of stairs with his gun going off several times. He hits the floor with a Gory Discretion Shot (pun unintended for once) with the gun clearly pointing at his head before the switch. One character comments: "He was right, he didn't miss once!"
  • Averted in The Hard Way. Michael J. Fox's character, a spoiled naive actor researching a cop role with a tough cop played by James Woods, gets lucky in a shootout where a man firing at him seems to run out of bullets. The cop demonstrates that it had merely jammed by knocking the gun against a newsstand to clear the jam, and then shooting into the newsstand with that gun.
  • In the finale of The Warrior's Way, one of the outlaws has a machine gun braced on another's shoulder. After he has his arms cut off, the gun starts firing on full auto, pivoting on the corpse of the partner and neatly stitching across a horde of outlaws who were standing behind him.
  • In Taps, a dropped M16 sparks a firefight when it discharges accidentally.
  • In Lockout, set in 2079, a gun not only falls out of a man's pants, it discharges directly at the policeman who bothered the man. But then, everything in the movie seems to be made exactly so the incredibly ridiculous plot could happen, even if it doesn't make any sense at all.
  • In Trading Places, Winthorpe (played by Dan Aykroyd) tries to kill himself with a Colt .45 automatic that he just purchased from a pawn shop; the gun fails to fire. Disgusted, Winthorp throws the gun away. It promptly discharges when it hits the ground.
  • Near the end of Jurassic Park, Alan Grant uses an SPAS-12 shotgun against the raptors trying to break into the control room, but drops it and runs after firing only a few shots. The problem turns out to be a simple stovepipe jam, which he could have cleared simply by pulling the spent shell out of the ejection port - assuming he would have known enough about the weapon to do so. There's really nothing in the film to suggest he's ever handled or fired that type of weapon before, much less in a life-or-death situation.
  • In Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Alan attempts to fling Pat's shotgun into the sea. It lands on the pier railing and goes off, shooting Pat.
  • Played with in the Marvel One-Shots short film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer. Agent Coulson, in a convenience store during a robbery, lets the crooks know that he has a gun. When they want him to toss it over, he remarks he'd rather not and risk it going off, so he asks if it would be okay to slide it to them. As the guys agree, he takes them out using a bag of flour. All this in the time it takes to fill-up his car at the pumps.
  • Played for laughs in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka: when Isaac Hayes slips on a dropped bullet after draping a ludicrous number of guns on his person, seemingly every single one of those guns discharges in one long, slow, agonizing sequence
  • This nearly caused an I Just Shot Marvin in the Face moment in Heartbreak Ridge. One member of The Squad claims that his M16 is jammed, and starts waving it around to demonstrate to his sergeant. The sergeant in question grabs the gun and frantically tries to move it so it's not pointed at anyone, and just as he does so the gun goes off, nearly hitting several people including the base's commanding officer.
  • The Return of the Pink Panther: Dreyfus not only repeatedly gets his pistol mixed up with a lighter that looks the same as his pistol, but his pistol also never fires when he wants it to and always fires when he doesn't.
  • Averted in Death Wish (2018) when Paul Kersey's Glock stovepipes during a one-on-one shootout. He attempts to clear the jam while being shot at and able to continue firing. It shows Kersey's limited experience with guns also given that he suffered from a "slide bite" injury on his thumb from an earlier shootout.
  • In The Asphalt Jungle, Eddie is shot when the watchman drops his gun after being slugged by Dix. The gun hits the floor and discharges; shooting Eddie in the stomach.
  • ABCs of Death 2:
    • In "A is for Amateur", the assassin manages to complete his assignment when his corpse falls out of the air duct, and his gun goes off when it hits the floor; shooting the coke dealer in the forehead.
    • In "F is for Falling", the Arab teen is killed when he drops his rifle from the tree and goes off, shooting him.
  • A non-gun example. In Midway (2019), the US sailors don't have a good opinion of their torpedoes, and indeed the sole American torpedo to actually hit a Japanese ship breaks apart on impact without detonating. This is Truth in Television: Depression-era budget cuts meant the torpedoes weren't tested nearly as thoroughly as they should have been, and so the ones available in the early war were simply awful, prone to running too deep, circular runs, and detonator failures. In contrast, the Japanese Type 93 "Long Lance" is regarded as the finest torpedo in the world at the time.
  • Quicksand: While fleeing from the cops at the pier, Dan drops the gun he took off Mackey. the gun fires when it hits the ground,causing the cops to think he is shooting at them.
  • Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins: The plot of the film is driven by a corrupt defense contractor trying to knowingly fob off substandard rifles on the US Army. A soldier is badly wounded firing one on the range early on.

  • A Biggles book had a pirate (naturally set a few centuries before Biggles' time) lean a pistol against a candle while sitting down at a table, and when a vibration shook the table, the pistol slipped off the candle, hit the table, and discharged a ball right into the pirate, killing him. Even modern replicas of flintlock weapons are quite prone to accidental discharge when dropped. Assuming that the gun falls with lock up, then even when powder pours out of the priming pan it can be still ignited by the sparks.
  • This is a major plot point in Valentin Pikul's novel The Riches (Богатство). A misfiring rifle kills Ispolatov's love interest.
  • While most guns work just fine in The Dark Tower, fully automatic firearms are guaranteed to jam. This is justifiable in that everyone who uses them is either A) using a scavenged, poorly maintained weapon he is unfamiliar with, B) Axe-Crazy, or C) Too Dumb to Live. Well, except for the time Alain Johns makes use of one in Wizard and Glass.
  • This is why Harry Dresden only uses older weapons like revolvers: his magical aura interferes with any kind of technology, and the better the tech, the faster he breaks it. Revolvers are functionally simplistic, and can't jam. Notably, he doesn't use his magical hex on handguns, likely because a handgun failing doesn't mean it won't shoot.
    • In the first book, this applies during the final confrontation. Harry disrupts the villainous warlock's huge spell, sending an overload of magical energy all over the place. The warlock's accomplices open fire with an Uzi that quickly jams, and Harry notes they're probably lucky it didn't explode. When they resume fire, it's with a revolver.
    • Incidentally, the fact that he gets better results from a revolver than a modern Glock might be evidence that Harry's Walking Techbane tendencies are at least partly psychosomatic; revolvers are less vulnerable to common jam conditions and largely undiscriminating about the quality of the ammunition, but in terms of mechanical complexity and the total number of moving parts they're about even with a semi-automatic. And yet we never hear about Harry having to take any of the three revolver models he's owned over the years to a gunsmith for a warranty replacement of the mainspring or something.
  • The second half of The Emperor's Finest is basically a game of Space Hulk, right down to the well-known Terminator's weapon jamming and being slaughtered by genestealers as he tries to fix it. The Genestealers deliberately sacrifice a massive wave to force it to overheat.
  • This is central to the plot of the short novella The Rifle, about a civil war era rifle being passed from owner to owner for over a century, with nobody even thinking to check if the rifle was loaded. It was, and this is discovered when the rifle is knocked from its wall mounting at the book's end, causing it to discharge and kill a young neighbor.
  • In The Great Balloon Race, the Greek rebel leader on Cyprus drops his shotgun when his bicycle crashes, and the gun goes off, shooting the Soaring Sylvia.
  • In Harry Turtledove's post-apocalyptic novel The Valley-Westside War, guns from The Beforetimes still exist, but most people use bows or muskets, since nobody knows whether a century-old gun will blow up in your face when you try to use it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A common gag in Slapstick comedy and Sitcoms: "Don't worry, it isn't loaded. [Bang! Bang!]" Seen in As Time Goes By, "Avoiding The Country Set".
  • Averted in Bravo Two Zero — Dinger's GPMG jams, and he just ejects the round and carries on (this being Dinger, he also shouts "BASTARD!").
  • Subverted in the series finale of Ugly Betty — Wilhelmina is accidentally shot by an alcohol-fueled Tyler. As a final favor to Claire, Wilhelmina lies to the press and tells them she was shot when she dropped her gun while cleaning it. The reception is dubious but her lie still works.
  • Mentioned in an episode of Father Ted where John shows Ted that he has bought a shotgun to protect his shop and has it cocked and ready. Ted asks if that's not somewhat dangerous, to which John says that it would only be if you dropped it or something. He then slams the gun down on the table, causing Ted to jump and John to just laugh. The gun is confirmed to be loaded, as we hear it go off offscreen after Ted leaves the shop when Mary attempts to wrestle it from John's grasp.
  • Subverted in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles When John is at a military school, his classmate's rifle has a stovepipe jam, and John, having been raised Crazy-Prepared by his mom, clears the jam in about ten seconds, all while teaching his fellow student the drill to do so.
  • In one episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.., our hero is struggling with an assailant while his lady friend prepares to hit said bad guy with a nearby pistol. Brisco tells her to stop, beats the bad guy, then demonstrates that the impact would've caused the flintlock to go off. Into her.
  • Same network, different decade and genre: An episode of Back To You opens with a news report featuring a gunshot going off during a hostage crisis. It transpires that this is the result of Chuck Darling fumbling the hostage taker's gun after he's taken it from him.
  • War of the Worlds (1988). Actor Richard Chaves (playing Lt. Col. Paul Ironhorse) had his assault rifle jam during an action scene. Being a Vietnam veteran, Chaves just cleared the jammed blank as he would a real round and kept firing.
  • CSI: NY:
    • Played straight in one episode where a sawn-off shotgun is thrown out of a window by the villains and bump-fires into a passerby, killing her and leading the protagonists to the original crime committed with the weapon.
    • Averted in a later episode, where Mac Taylor and his gun fall at least 30 feet onto a metal grate — the gun bounces, but doesn't go off.
    • Played straight again in season 9's "Command+P" where a 3-D printed gun needs to be heated (something like in a kiln) in order to work properly, but the prototype is stolen before that happens. The second time it's used, it explodes in the perp's hand. When another from the printer is tested in the lab under the same conditions, it explodes, too.
  • Averted in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica when Adama demands Starbuck's sidearm, chambers a round, presumably flicks off the safety and tosses the weapon on the table, where it bounces quite a bit but does not go off.
  • Jams happen periodically in Band of Brothers. The characters usually get to work clearing them, sometimes having trouble with it and sometimes not. All the actors were trained in WW2 weapons handling (as their characters would have been) so, as in real life, the ability to sort out a jam would depend on the actor's own weapon skill. Not to mention their concentration. Many of the times that jams weren't quickly handled occurred under fire, when both actor and character would find it hard to focus.
  • In one episode of NCIS, a perp drops his recently fired gun while surrendering. Tony proceeds to flip out on the guy. Still averted, as the gun didn't fire. And also averts Artistic License – Gun Safety, as roughly handling a loaded weapon with a round in the chamber is still a stupid thing to do.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Flooded" Buffy reprimands a security officer for using a gun on a demon, tosses it aside and winces at the subsequent discharge sound.
  • In one episode of Frasier, Martin's gun from his police days (not seen in the episode, but identified as an M1911 in She's the Boss) is brought out from its storage "under the bed" still in a shoebox. The shoebox is knocked off a table and, naturally, the gun goes off, shooting up at an improbable angle to damage the apartment decor.
  • In an episode of the Lovejoy TV series ("The Axe-Man Cometh") an antique flintlock which had been used solely as a display item for decades was apparently loaded, since when it was grabbed and used to try and bluff the eponymous axe-man it actually went off leaving him with an Ash Face.
  • Many cases of this trope have been tested — and busted — by the MythBusters. One notable exception involves an urban legend where an explosion in a room caused some Russian SKS riflesnote  therein to go off — the MythBusters were able to get one of the four to go off. Earlier, they had failed to set off any SKS rifles with a boom-car stereo at full volume.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Highlanders" the companion Ben casually throws away a pistol when asked to get rid of it. The weapon discharges, alerting British redcoats to the location where the Doctor, his companions, and some Scottish rebels are.
    • Taken to absurd lengths in "A Town Called Mercy", when Amy has multiple accidental discharges with a single-action revolver, which should require the hammer to be manually drawn back before each shot.
  • In Love/Hate, guns have an alarming tendency to jam at inopportune moments. Most characters seem to have no knowledge of basic firearm maintenance. One character tries to shoot Darren only for his pistol to jam. Darren disarms him and keeps the weapon for himself, making use of it later. Nidge loses his Glock at one point, causing the magazine release to be hit and the chambered round misfires. Rather than abandoning the weapon, Nidge clears the jam, reloads and fires again. Then again, Nidge is the one character who is shown onscreen learning how to field strip a weapon.
  • Daredevil: "Rabbit in a Snowstorm" opens with John Healy, a hitman working for Wilson Fisk, about to shoot a gang boss in a bowling alley. Just as he pulls the trigger, we flash back to 36 hours earlier, when he's buying the gun from Turk Barrett. Turk guarantees that the gun will not jam. We then return to the present and sure enough the gun jams, and Healy is forced to beat his target to death. A previous episode established that the gun was part of a larger batch of illegal guns Turk is smuggling into the city. It's worth noting that Turk removed it directly from the storage crate. It's implied the gun was probably some low quality knock-off that was not stored and maintained properly after it left the factory, so Healy only had himself to blame for not personally test firing it before the hit. Season two establishes that Turk specializes in selling extremely cheap and unreliable guns that are at their deadliest when used to bludgeon someone to death.
  • CSI: Cyber: The first Victim of the Week in "Ghost in the Machine" is killed when he is startled into dropping a customised .22 concealed inside a drill case. The gun goes off when it hits the ground, discharging and killing him.
  • Fortitude: After Yuri has tricked Eric into dropping his gun in the season 1 finale, his gun misfires, allowing Eric to attack him hand-to-hand.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries had Miss Fisher and Dot staying in a country hotel. Dot is unpacking, and wonders what to do with Phryne's gold-plated revolver. She picks the top drawer of the nightstand. Some prankster has concealed a live snake in there, causing Dot to scream and drop the revolver. It fires on impact, tearing a chunk out of the skirting board and causing Dot to scream again.
  • This is played with on Stan Lee's Lucky Man. Harry is supernaturally lucky due to an ancient bracelet he is wearing. One of Golding's mooks tries to shoot Harry but the first two shots miss. On the third shot the mook's gun comes apart in her hand and the slide flies backwards and knocks her unconscious. It has been established that Golding likes to hire former special forces soldiers who use modern weapons and would know how to maintain them properly. The odds of the gun failing that spectacularly are enormous and it shows how powerful the bracelet really is.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Down Among the Dead Men", two suspects are arguing over a shotgun when they slam it down on the floor and it goes off, blowing a hole in the ceiling. Particularly egregious as the gun in question is a Purdey, generally regarded as the finest shotguns ever made.
  • The FBI: In "The Impudents", the Victim of the Week appears to have been murdered: shot from the opposite side of his cabin. However, Jim eventually discovers that the victim had been planning murder himself, but changed his mind and threw the gun across the room. The gun went off when it hit the vent and shot him through the heart.
  • Star Trek: Picard: Romulan handguns seem to be of pretty low quality. When Narissa goes Guns Akimbo on the Artifact's xBs in "Broken Pieces", one of her disruptor pistols fires about a dozen shots before it malfunctions, spitting sparks and smoke. Since it wasn't her own, she returns it to the Romulan guard she borrowed it from and sardonically tells him that he'll need a new gun.

  • One verse of Rilo Kiley's "Accidntel Deth" (sic: Indietronica artist Dntel produced the song) includes at least one instance where the accidental death was of a deer the narrator's father (who probably isn't Jenny Lewis) had killed when his shotgun went off without him meaning it to (probably because he hit it too hard or something) while hunting with his dad when he was eight. The dad swears off guns after that.
  • The filk "Space Hero" by Anne Prather & Julia Ecklar sings about some the wonderful craftsmanship of a space ace's weaponry: "With the stocks made by Mattel...Well, on every other pass, one'll get you in the ass!"
  • The entire music video for Korn's "Freak on a Leash" begins with this trope. The video starts off with a bunch of animated children sneaking out at night so they can play on private property. A security guard pursues, trips and his gun falls, landing on its magazine, which causes it to fire. The remainder of the video is the camera following the bullet around until it returns to the animated scene.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech's ultra-series autocannons are considered a version of this by some players due to their chance of randomly breaking down and becoming dead weight for the rest of the game when using their optional double rate of fire (their main defining feature). Background-wise, the fact that even the Clans, who unlike the nations of the Inner Sphere never lost the technology and have been using UACs for over two hundred years, somehow never managed to eliminate this problem definitely plays the trope dead straight.
    • Then there's the Rotary Autocannons; More Dakka at it's finest, pretty much. And unlike UltraACs, they have systems built-in to clear jams during the battle, without the pilot having to get out of his cockpit to mess around with it. Too bad they have fairly limited ammo reserves, and they only come in the lower autocannon calibers.
      • Fluff-wise, the difference is that a rotary autocannon is a multi-barrel arrangement with a presumably complex feed mechanism that "only" jams every so often while ultra autocannons use Explosive Overclocking to achieve their maximum rate of fire, resulting in actual mechanical breakdowns once in a while. In game terms, the latter can actually end up looking more reliable since while one bad roll can make them sit out the rest of the fight with no chance of recovery, the former tend to jam more often and clearing each jam comes with its own opportunity cost (in the form of at least one turn not doing much else) and doesn't guarantee the weapon won't promptly jam again right away next turn.
    • Even beyond that, in the game's fluff, there is the Quikscell company, maker of cheap weapons, ammo, and tanks, all traditionally considered the least reliable in the universe. (The rules don't actually reflect that by default, though.)
  • In Paranoia, standard-issue weapons certainly don't malfunction 5% of the time. Maybe they were sabotaged by Commie mutant traitors. You aren't a Commie mutant traitor, are you?
    • Generally, the more destructive the weapon is when it works, the more destructive it is when it doesn't. And the harder it is to fix. (Or just prevent it from blowing up. Or just unstrap yourself from it and outrun the blast radius.) And if it was only assigned to you for the duration of the mission, then the more expensive the fine for allowing valuable mission equipment to be damaged.
    • As for those experimental weapons that the Troubleshooters were field-testing for Research and Design... Well, perhaps the Troubleshooters didn't maintain them properly. What's that, you say? The maintenance instructions aren't available at their security clearance? Huh, go figure.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition allowed the arquebus, a primitive rifle, but gave it a chance of backfiring and damaging the user if a 1 or 2 was rolled. Partly as a measure of Fantasy Gun Control, but also Truth in Television. Also necessary for play balance. The arquebus did 1d10 damage... unless you rolled a 10, in which case you got another 1d10 damage. With no upper limit. It was entirely within the rules (not very likely, but within the rules) for a 1st level character to one-shot a maximum age Red Dragon with one of these things.
    • This is a major aspect of the 5th edition Raygun Gothic setting of Dr. Grordbort's Scientific Adventure Violence. Rayguns are outright compared to early flintflocks and blunderbusses, with a small chance of malfunctioning that increases as upgrades are made to them. In fact, just about every piece of modern technology has chance of malfunctioning in a sometimes spectacular way.
  • Akin to the D&D example, firearms in Pathfinder (which are fairly reliable for a fantasy setting) will damage themselves in some way on a critical failure, giving them the "broken" condition. It's still usable though, albeit slightly less effective and more dangerous to the one holding it — a second critical failure renders it useless and injures the gunman.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Cannons have a chance to misfire when attacking, reflecting in the somewhat haphazard forging on 16th century cannon (this rule is universal, meaning that The Perfectionist Dwarfs' cannons break down equally as often as human ones). Jams (or dud powder charge in this case) is the least destructive outcome, as the crew simply need to spend a round replacing the charge and projectile; in the worst cases the cannon explodes, killing the crew. Multi-barrel weapons like the Empire's Hellblaster Volley Gun and the Dwarfen Organ Gun, meanwhile, simply fail to fire some of their barrels and become more inaccurate or reduce their number of shots unless multiple misfires are rolled at a time... At which point they break down just like a cannon would.
    • Handguns, being matchlock arquebuses, do not misfire under any circumstances in the wargame. Skaven Warplock Jezzails and Ratling Guns, meanwhile, are built to Skaven engineering standards and can misfire, usually killing the wielder.
    • In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, however, firearms have misfire rules in every edition: In 1st editions misfires were a 50/50 chance of the gunpowder either needing to be re-ignited or re-filled (the former wasting a turn and the latter requiring a re-load) but no jamming, 2nd edition firearms straight-up jammed 5% of the time and needed a gunsmith to clean them up, 3rd edition guns exploded when misfiring, harming their user and breaking down until repaired, and in 4th edition firearms' chance of a Fumble is greatly increased.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Some weapons have the "Gets Hot" rule. This means that the weapon may break, usually with lethal results, if a one is rolled. Justified in that the technology is poorly understood and that most factions have reserves. Although the archetypical Gets Hot, the plasma gun, isn't actually breaking. It's building up too much heat from being repeatedly fired and venting the super-heated gas to keep the gun from exploding. If you're a Space Marine, whose armor is deliberately made especially heat-resistant, you have a good chance to survive; not so much if you're a Guardsman.
    • The Ork Psycho-Dakka-Blasta will break when fired. This happens when the player rolls a certain number (basically, you roll a series of dice. The number of shots fired is equal to the total of dice. Rolling a 1 or 2 jams the weapon for the rest of the game). Again, justified, as the Orks are essentially firing a jury-rigged minigun which probably shouldn't even work at all on full auto.
    • Somehow, presumably for the sake of convenience, most Ork guns on the tabletop don't exhibit this trope, which is almost miraculous when you consider that the average Ork gun is made from scrap metal, held together with baling twine, was built by someone a halfway sensible engineering school would definitely reject and more likely than not secretly bury in the woods at night, and may well have been loaded by pouring bullets into a magazine out of a bucket.
    • On tabletop, overheating has a 1/6 chance and is resolved as an automatic wound that can be avoided by armor/invulnerable save, regardless of the weapon's specifics. In the RPG games, it's a 1/10 chance resolved as being shot in the arm with the gun, so it follows the gun's characteristics exactly. And any "best quality" version of a gun is immune to overheating.
    • A common fate in Space Hulk is for a Terminator's weapon to jam/overheat/explode, usually when surrounded by the swarm of enemies that required it to shoot full-auto in the first place.
  • GURPS has rules for malfunctions, with an attack roll that lands on or above a specific number indicating that the weapon malfunctioned (with unreliable guns having a lower target number and highly reliable guns having such a high one that only a critical failure will cause them to jam). The High-Tech sourcebook, having a thick Gun Porn section, also includes information on certain guns having a reputation for firing when dropped and mentions the dangers of old single-action revolvers as detailed in the Real Life section. Damage to the gun (deliberate or otherwise) can also have a variety of effects, from lowering the malfunction number (i.e. making it more likely to jam when fired) to decreasing the accuracy or damaging the weapon's frame or stock itself.
  • Hero System's optional rules for weapon malfunctions avert "Jammed = Broken". The worst case scenario, a character with no Weaponsmith skill and a misfire, only calls for two phases to clear the weapon with no chance of the round going off while being cleared.
  • Roll a 100 in Call of Cthulhu, and your gun explodes in your hands. Not only does it get destroyed, it also hurts the wielder.
    • Depending on the Keeper, this can also occur with heavy artillery, car/plane engines, spells, and high explosives. All guns and many other non-melee weapons have a Malfunction Number, usually around a 96 to 100. Generally, if you critically fail - anything above the gun's malfunction number - the gun will just jam and need to be repaired for a few rounds. But again, it does depend on the Keeper...
  • The Gun Dragon series in Yu-Gi-Oh! are based on guns and pretty much universally have gamble-related effects, some of which have only a one-in-four chance of going off. Their first and most infamous member, Barrel Dragon, was based on a revolver, making the gambling a Russian Roulette reference, but most of the others are based on different guns (semi-auto pistol, gatling gun, derringer), which invokes this trope.
  • In Planet Mercenary, weapons with Failure Prone will explode if triples are rolled. This includes rolling all 6s, which also may guarantee double damage. Certain Mayhem cards may result in weapons running out of ammunition (or getting stuck in targets for weapons such as knives) or being damaged enough to require repair out of combat to unjam them.

  • In the opening scene of Giuseppe Verdi's opera La forza del destino, the hero and heroine are confronted by her father while trying to elope. The hero surrenders by letting his pistol fall to the floor, and it accidentally goes off and kills the old man.

  • NERF:
    • NERF blasters are mostly quite reliable, although the occasional blaster makes it through Quality Control with crippling defects. The Maverick has developed a reputation for having the most problematic samples due to the strict tolerances required for a reliable cylinder-advancing mechanism.
    • Another gun with a revolver cylinder, the Barricade, resembles a Warhammer 40K bolter more than a traditional revolver, but it also has a tendency to misfeed darts at the first (and worst) opportunity. Part of this is due to its firing mechanism, a flywheel-based friction launcher, sometimes not actually having the power to pull the dart out all the way before the cylinder advances with the next trigger pull.
    • While otherwise reliable in terms of actually firing darts a good distance, the Longshot rifle has a higher-than-average tendency to chew up darts from its magazine at the wrong time and foul them in its receiver, compared to something like a Recon. It's one of the prices to pay for a fairly powerful dart launching system.
    • The Centurion's complicated sliding bolt feed can sometimes end up trapping MEGA darts between exposed parts of the inside assembly, which will definitely render the dart unuseable through getting bent, folded, and mutilated.
    • The Vulcan is a battery-powered, belt-fed behemoth of a machine gun; however, if it fails to fire the dart all the way out of its belt before advancing to the next, it's stuck there and there's no way to remove it short of yanking the belt as hard as possible and shredding the dart. This type of misfire is either caused by old, worn-out darts failing to achieve a proper gas seal in the 'chamber', or by improper loading of the darts that leaves them not properly seated in the 'chambers' on the belt.
  • Other non-Nerf blasters, especially cheap, brandless generics, are also prone to such reliability flaws that renders them useless to non-modders. Some brands even use rope as part of their cocking and launching mechanism. These, naturally, fray quickly with use and are often on the difficult side of replacement. Cock one of these guns too hard and the rope for the mechanism can overstretch or snap, rendering it useless. Shur-Fine Guns indeed.

    Video Games 
  • Arcanum: As the game takes place at the beginning of its Industrial Revolution, flintlock pistols are a common sight, while revolvers are less common. The worst examples of both types are often found in trash cans or carried by criminals, and have a negative attack modifier, along with a chance of shooting a friend/you in combat.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, guns occasionally discharge if they are dropped for any reason. Occasionally, they may even discharge when their wielders fling it around after being hit themselves. Sure, he could also be pulling the trigger in reflex, but even semi-automatic weapons discharge multiple times (and it is impossible that a reflex would enable the shooter to pull the trigger several times in a row).
    • A scripted example happens when chasing down Playboy X. Having been firing clumsily over his shoulder, his pistol jams when he's cornered, and he throws it away to beg for his life. Since the normal rules take over at that point, it's possible for the discarded gun to discharge on hitting the ground.
  • In Gears of War, your gun can jam if you reload incorrectly. The consequence is that you have to take a moment to clear the jam before you can resume firing.
    • It should be noted that this is only if you, the player, press the reload button while reloading at an incorrect time, and so, if someone never attempts the 'active reload' minigame to reload their gun, it will NEVER jam (active reloading is specifically mentioned as skipping the proper reloading method to load the gun faster, but chancing a misfeed). It's done to reload the gun faster (a life saver in mutliplayer) and get a damage boost.
  • America's Army. Yep, in the official computer game your weapons can jam. Tap a key to clear the jam, with a tap to the bottom of the magazine followed by the forward assist.
  • Similarly, in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., damaged guns can jam... but can be cleared by reloading. Keep using them, though, and eventually they won't be able to go through a full magazine without a jam, to the point where they'll probably end up getting you killed more often than they kill what they're pointed at. Eventually they'll just break completely. In the two later games, or in the first with the proper Game Mods, you can have guns repaired for a cost, or find the extremely rare repair kits with, again, the right mods. Justified in that weapon cleaning and maintenance kits are something that regular stalkers aren't skilled enough to use and as such most don't carry them, but gunsmiths, mechanics and technicians obviously do as part of their trade.
    • Special mention goes to the IL 86, or what is known in the real world as the L85A1 rifle, which is a hilariously unreliable piece of shit that starts to have problems after only a few magazines. There's really nothing like trying to clear a jam out of your shoddy British rifle while you are being chased down a tunnel by a pack of terrifying, blood-sucking mutant predators.
  • In System Shock 2, your guns are not only likely to jam at the drop of a pin; repairing a jam is an extremely complicated technical operation involving detailed cybernetically-enhanced skills, a consumable nanotech-based resource, and a small minigame. Then again, given that laser rifles can somehow jam in this game...
    • Enemy weapons aren't immune either, no matter how quickly you kill the shotgun-armed mutants that come after you, you'll always find the gun they had on them had conveniently jammed by the time you were ready to loot their corpse.
    • Word of God is that there was supposed to be an in-game explanation for this: basically The Many had released a corrosive gas that only affected mechanisms into the environment. Unfortunately, the audio log explaining this was left out of the finished game. On the other hand, given that not only would the spaceship's life support but also the Many's own cyborgs be just as affected by that gas, it's probably for the best that it was left out.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Ocelot stovepipes his own semiautomatic pistol when he tries a fancy move he'd heard of for the first timenote . Ocelot then attempts to pistol whip Naked Snake with his gun instead of clearing it, despite the fact that Snake has just taken down half a dozen of his men with little more than his bare hands. Clearly it was his turn to hold the Idiot Ball. Snake easily counters, and when Ocelot drops his gun the cartridge pops out, clearing the jam. Snake then explains this to Ocelot (and the audience), attributing it to the latter's faults and inexperience. Since the game is a prequel it establishes why he's Revolver Ocelot in the present/near-future storyline.
    • In the introduction cutscene of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake tries to fire an AK-102, but it jams after two shots. He does try to cycle the action manually and clear it, but it won't budge, and he ends up tossing it to the ground; a Codec call to Otacon reveals that the ammo in that magazine was of poor quality. He lampshades the lack of jams in actual gameplay by noting how rare that specific type of jam isnote .
      • This is also invoked as a gameplay mechanic in most of the games. All firearms used in combat in most of the games have identification locks built in, hence why the player can't just break the neck of the first guard they find and use his assault rifle for the whole game. MGS4 in particular shows that the older varieties of locks from the original Metal Gear Solid (and presumably MGS2) simply stopped the user from being able to make the trigger-pulling motion with their finger, while more modern locks instead make the gun itself act like the epitome of this trope, failing to fire on pulling the trigger even with a full magazine loaded and a round in the chamber (ironically, this is the game that introduced a character who can launder ID-locked guns for you to use). MGS3 is set in 1964, long before ID-locks and nanomachines, so the explanation there is that Naked Snake would prefer to take a fresh, never-fired weapon from an armory that is guaranteed to work how it should, rather than steal one from an enemy in the field and risk getting a poorly-maintained one that could jam when he needs it and get him killed.
  • Similarly, this trope is used to justify Unusable Enemy Equipment in Halo: Combat Evolved with both the Fuel Rod Gun and even the Energy Sword exploding shortly after being dropped. It is however subverted in the Expanded Universe, which claims this is an intentional anti-theft device used by the Covenant rather than the weapons being ridiculously fragile, so the ability to use them in later games is either a weird recursive example or it was not a widely-used feature.
    • The expanded universe also claims this trope to be the reason that the Assault Rifle's magazine capacity was lowered in Halo 3. Allegedly, the MA5B version from the first game was very prone to spring failure when fully loaded (a problem which can and has been very much Truth in Television for some real guns), and so they lowered the capacity down for subsequent iterations such as Halo 3's MA5C.
    • Halo: Reach also gives Grunts an Idle Animation where they appear to be clearing a jam on whatever weapon they are currently using.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops has a moment in the mission SOG where Woods sneaks up on an NVA soldier during the defense of Khe Sanh only for his M16 to jam on him. To give him some credit, he does try to clear the jam (by hitting the gun repeatedly) but it leads to the soldier noticing and he is only saved by Mason.
    • In multiplayer, both the M14 and FAL will jam if fired too quickly, not out of any sort of reputation for doing so in reality (only FALs used by the Israelis were ever known to jam particularly often) but as a balancing measure to curb people using modded controllers turning the rifles into Game-Breakers.
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops II has a possible case in the first level, where Jonas Savimbi is handed a Hawk MM1 grenade launcher near the start, but players who pay close attention to him during the opening firefight will notice he can't get the thing to work (or someone forgot to load it) and he eventually gives up and starts using an FAL like the rest of his troops.
    • While not in gameplay, Flavor Text in the Data Vault from Call of Duty: Black Ops III mentions that the 48 Dredge, an LMG that fires in 6 round bursts, has a tendency to jam when fitted with aftermarket trigger groups that allow fully-automatic fire (as some nations are said to do), and that the weapon itself is also limited to six-round bursts because the seventh bullet on would almost invariably go wildly off-target. This trope also appears with the "Mass Weapon Lockout" Cyber Ability, which effectively automatically jams up to 4 (when fully upgraded) enemy weapons. However the enemies will try to and can unlock their guns, with Warlords doing so in seconds.
  • In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, guns with a poor condition (which is fixed by breaking apart a matching gun for parts to repair your gunnote ) can jam when loading. This includes the first round of a bolt-action rifle failing to load, the magazine of a submachine gun needing a good whack on the bottom, or the door to a laser pistol's pop-out battery not closing. Considering this is supposed to be two-hundred years After the End, which was probably when the gun and cleaning supplies for it were made, this is a Justified Trope. It's also defied in that when that gun does jam, your character simply works the action again until it does load. Dropping a gun won't discharge it either. Tired of that poor-condition 10mm pistol now that you have an M1 Garand-alike, and don't want to lug it around? Drop it on the ground, and it... lands.
    • One point in 3 touches in this trope in a possible lampshade. You can rescue an initiate in the Brotherhood of Steel who is in hiding and complaining that his gun is jammed, claiming it is useless. If your character has decent Small Guns, you can help him fix the jam by simply pulling back the charging handle, and he will be armed again.
    • Fallout 3 has other examples of this trope outside of gameplay. A recurring terminal entry often found in the Enclave camps that appear after they seize Project Purity has a soldier report on a Feral Ghoul just staring at him while he was in the middle of clearing a jam. Another terminal in the Citadel mentions that the predecessor to the in-game Laser Pistol was prone to overheating and the in-game Laser Rifle is not the most advanced model available, but is more common because the titanium crystal housing it had was more likely to remain intact after 200 years of no maintenance than the gold alloy crystal housing of the later models. Finally, the Miss Launcher (a missile launcher that fires in an arc like a grenade launcher) is said to be a failed attempt by the Brotherhood Outcasts to increase the range; and it was the third attempt to do so, with the prior versions not working at all.
    • Earlier games in the series just had the gun have a chance to lose all the ammo in its current magazine on a critical miss, though energy weapons supposedly explode on a really bad roll on the critical miss table.
    • A few Game Mods for 3 and New Vegas add a slight chance for a jam on any use of a firearm, modified by its current condition.
    • Fallout Tactics includes the Chauchat (mentioned in the Real Life subpage) as a Joke Weapon, which cannot actually be used and serves no purpose whatsoever.
  • Far Cry 2 allows for weapons' condition to decrease, causing the gun to jam while firing. This involves the player character struggling with his weapon and examining it until you hit the reload key, which fixes the problem. Every weapon can jam except the IEDs and flare gun; from simple misfeeds to a flamethrower springing a gas leak or an RPG failing to ignite and spinning on the ground directly in front of you before exploding. If the gun's condition reaches zero, it violently breaks into pieces, with the entire front receiver of a rifle or trigger of an RPG breaking off.
    • Notable is how the AK-47's notorious reliability is acknowledged in-game and is less likely to jam on you, if ever. The AK runs through about a thousand rounds before getting into poor enough condition to start jamming, and it takes about two hundred more before blowing up. The golden AKs last even longer. The only gun in the game that doesn't jam or misfire is the flare gun, and even that still blows up eventually.
    • Particularly notable in Far Cry 2 is how little time a gun actually lasts; it can go from a shining, brand-new weapon to a stained, corroded wreck within hours at best, with some weapons like the USAS-12 visibly corroding with every shot and the Dart Rifle taking, at best with the reliability upgrade, thirty shots to blow up. The vast majority of guns in this game must be held together with nothing more than chewing gum and reassuring platitudes; that or the FC2 universe is afflicted by turbo-rust. Another extremely silly aspect of this mechanic is that jams always happen before a gun fires while failures always happen afterwards, meaning the player character will operate the pump of a shotgun before shooting solely to catch a shell in the ejection port even though they already did so after the last shot, or a weapon will successfully fire, cycle, and then explode. And despite supposedly being a highly-trained mercenary, the player character has no idea how to maintain their weaponry, and must settle for grabbing new weapons off enemies or from their stash at the arms dealer's place.
    • There's also the weapons' physics-defying proclivity to fling parts of themselves toward the player's face when they fail.
  • All guns in Jagged Alliance and its sequels have a percentage condition rating and a rating of reliability for both the gun and the ammo. The more reliable guns work better at low condition than other guns and wear slower. Guns in good condition are impossible to jam, while guns with 50% or less condition will jam every other shot. Guns below 10% or so are useless hunks of metal.
    • Jagged Alliance 2 adjusts things slightly. A gun always has a chance to fire, no matter how degraded it is, but if it gets to 0%, it will never work again, regardless of repair. The lower the condition of the gun, the more likely that it will jam, and the chance to clear the jam by refiring the gun drops significantly.
    • Also, when a jam does occur, there's only about a 50/50 chance you'll be able to clear it and re-fire the gun before you run out of time units. Presumably simple malfunctions that can be cleared with a tap and a forward assist are abstracted for simplicity's sake.
  • While all guns operate perfectly in normal conditions in Eternal Darkness, one of the insanity effects makes one character drop a flintlock pistol to the ground while reloading his other one, causing it to discharge and kill him. He doesn't actually die though.
  • The late-90s Alien vs. Predator PC game featured occasional and very subtle jamming of the Marine's pulse rifle. This was essentially just the same dry-fire sound as a magazine running dry; the weapon would resume working after the trigger was released. Only really a problem when firing on full auto... and if you were past the point of "short controlled bursts" you were probably doomed anyway.
  • In the mission "Reuniting the Families" in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Ryder hands your character an ancient, POS AK-47 that jams to the point of uselessness right when you need it.
  • During the Idle Animation in Metro 2033, the player character will toy with the gun. Depending on which gun, he will occasionally break off a piece by accident, pause in confusion, and then stick it back on. However, considering that half the weapons are cobbled together from several other guns and industrial tools, it's a bit more forgivable.
    • The guns themselves will never jam, but several of them are hand-made from pieces of scrap, like the Bastard Gun (which is little more than a piece of metal with a firing pin and a barrel). In addition, you have two choices for ammunition: "dirty" ammo, which is plentiful but not very powerful due to inferior gunpowder, and military-grade ammunition, which is significantly more powerful but also used as money.
  • In Saints Row 2, you interrupt the trial of your partner Johnny Gat and hold up a bailiff. At your command, the bailiff drops his gun, which goes off, prompting everyone (except for Gat) to duck for cover, with Gat's lawyer popping back up for a moment to ask if anyone got hit and needs his expertise.
  • Terrorpods extends a variant to missiles. Some of the documentation implies that you may miss and hit a friendly installation. In the actual game, your missile has a manual guidance system where you need to keep the drift indicators within the shown reticule. If it drifts outside the reticule even by one pixel, the missile won't detonate. Given that the target is usually larger than the reticule, the usual result is that missiles that hit won't cause damage (which is much more punishing if your computer is too fast).
  • While the blaster rifles used by sand people in an early level of Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy will sound off as though they are being fired multiple times when you're in range of an enemy using one, they will only actually launch a bolt maybe one in seven times. Justified in the old Expanded Universe, as the Sand People are rather primitive, tending to steal their rifles from settlers and having no concept on how to use a ranged weapon beyond "point in general direction of bad guy and pull trigger", which doesn't lend itself to good maintenance practices.
  • A hunter in one of the Hunter: The Reckoning video games is shown to suffer a stovepipe jam in his handgun when fighting, and mentions having to use his knife instead. It takes far less time to rack the slide of a pistol than to switch to a knife.
  • In Isle of the Dead, the rifle will explode in your face and kill you as soon as you fire it unless you oil it first. There's no sign that anything's wrong with it in the first place, until you pull the trigger.
  • In The Oregon Trail II, when hunting, there is a random chance that you will accidentally shoot yourself, possibly resulting in instant death.
  • Borderlands 2:
    • None of the guns jam, but this trope is played with by two of the gun manufacturers. Bandit guns are made from scrap, covered with spikes and stupid-but-cool paintjobs, and have misspelled and grammatically incorrect names. They have huge mag sizes and decent power, but low accuracy and the slowest reloads. Tediore guns are inexpensive, plastic and boxy with drab or cheesy colour schemes and names that sound like bargain-bin-product adverts. They're below average on almost all stats, but they're dirt cheap and have a unique trait - instead of reloading, the guns are thrown away and explode like a grenade before reappearing in the owner's hand, giving them the fastest reloads (though with the added loss of you losing all the ammo that was left in them, since that's what powers the explosion - tossing a gun with a nearly full mag will do much more damage than one with an empty mag). The explosion is actually a flaw of the digistruction procedure that remakes them, but they advertise it as a perk.
    • Played for Laughs with two guns in the series: "Miss Moxxi's Crit" in the Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep DLC falls out of your hands one reload in every ten and has to be recovered, and the Tediore "Boxxy Gunn" in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! is prone to exploding in your hands if reloaded prematurely.
  • Borderlands 3 replaces Bandits with the "Children of the Vault", who as a gun manufacturer aside from maintaining most of the aesthetics replaces the Bandit guns' signature high magazines with an Overheating mechanic: Their guns technically have Bottomless Magazines, but if fired for too long you'll have to go through a lengthy animation of replacing a broken gun part or even literally cooling off the gun with a water pistol.
  • The humorous Doom Game Mod "Extreme Weapon Pack" turns some weapons into these. The shotgun fails to fire literally 95% of the time, and once it does fire it takes several seconds of trying to work the rusted action to actually chamber the next shell. The super shotgun has one of its barrels broken off, and the remaining barrel has so much recoil that it spins you around every time when fired. The chaingun takes forever to spin up, pushes you backward at great speed, and is very inaccurate once it begins shooting. The BFG takes about a minute to charge up each time you try to fire. The exception is the pistol, and that's because the player character, apparently very wary of this problem, takes great pains to clean it after every single bullet.
  • Star-Lord's third special attack in Marvel: Contest of Champions has this Played for Laughs when he kicks back his opponent then levels his gun at them, only for it to fizzle and spark when he pulls the trigger. He frantically starts hitting it and finally manages to get a shot off just as the opponent rushes at him again.
  • In the first Crash Bandicoot game, this trope comes into play during the boss fight with Pinstripe Potooro. Pinstripe’s method of attack is to shoot at Crash with a tommy gun. However, at points the gun will jam or he will have to reload, allowing Crash to hit him.
  • The Outer Worlds: Spacer's Choice makes Reliably Unreliable Everything, not just guns. Their whole business strategy is to cut as many corners and make everything as cheaply as possible. After all, it's not the best choice, it's Spacer's Choice! The very first NPC you meet in the game (aside from the guy who launched your escape pod... and the guy said escape pod landed on) is a guard who has been incapacitated because his shoddy Spacer's Choice pistol randomly misfired into his side. Thankfully, their guns never misfire on you, however they do degrade and break much faster than guns made by any other company. On the plus side, being made out of dirt cheap materials also means they're dirt cheap to repair.
  • In Half-Life: Alyx, Russel tosses a gun he claims is unloaded to you, only for it to go off when it lands on a car's hood. Without missing a beat, he notes that it's definitely unloaded now.
  • In Red Dead Redemption II, guns deteriorate over time, affecting their performance. You have to head to a gunsmith or clean it yourself with gun oil to restore your gun's stats. Any gun you pick up from an enemy will be labeled as "worn" and come with reduced stats.
  • Every non-revolver gun in Receiver 2 is prone to issues. Guns have a fairly high chance to stovepipe, double-feed, fail to feed and have out-of-battery malfunctions. Furthermore, if you don't carefully holster/unholster your gun or don't have it in a safe state when doing a quick holster/unholster, you will shoot yourself in the leg. The Colt SAA is especially bad because if the hammer is resting on a live round and you take a fall, the round is all but guaranteed to fire. Justified in-universe, as you're operating in the "post-mindkill environment" and the Threat is actively interfering with probability to make everything harder for you.
  • Into the Radius requires players to keep their guns and magazines well maintained. Poorly maintained magazines won't be able to hold the max amount of cartridges, while a poorly maintained gun is likely to give false positives or jam while firing, requiring manual operation of the slide.

    Web Animation 
  • Etra chan saw it!: While shooting at a shooting range in Guam, Hiiragi arrogantly boasts about his knowledge in firearms that he grabs a gun that was accidently loaded with too much gunpowder. When he pulls the trigger, the gun explodes, and he has to be sent to a hospital. At first, everyone thought that he lost an arm since he was screaming in pain, but his arm turned out intact and the accident frightened and humiliated him.

    Web Videos 
  • Percy in Critical Role uses a homebrewed D&D 5th edition Gunslinger Fighter archetype (since he and the rest of Vox Machina were ported over from Pathfinder, which had an official Gunslinger class). All his guns have a misfire value, and rolling equal to or less than it causes the gun to jam, requiring an action and successful tinkering check to fix. Fail that and the gun is broken until it can be repaired out of combat. This is justified for several reasons. First, it prevents firearms from being a Game-Breaker in an otherwise medieval fantasy setting. Secondly, in this setting, Percy invented guns and the only ones that exist are his prototypes or made by a Loony Fan who stole his designs, so they're terribly designed by modern firearm standards. Animus, the revolver he took from the aforementioned loony fan Anna Ripley is even worse, dealing psychic damage to the user on a misfire.
  • Iraqveteran8888 once tried to make a video showing them shooting a Calico SMG with its unique helical magazine. What actually was posted was them showing you the fragments after the thing blew, and injuries to Barry's hand.
  • This happening is the crux of Studio C's "Zorro's Misfire", where a discarded gun just keeps firing every few seconds, each time invariably hitting Zorro.
  • Possibly the worst incident of this trope ever recorded on YouTube has to be the incident involving Kentucky Ballistics, originally recorded on April 9th, 2021. When Scott was testing the durability of a fire hydrant from multiple .50 BMG rounds (fired out of a Serbu Firearms RN-50 breech-loading single-shot rifle), the firearm could not handle the continuously-building pressure of an unstable and unusually-hot SLAP roundnote  to the point where it literally exploded in front of his face and body. As a result, not only did he get a broken arm and nose, but the shrapnel from the gun lacerated his jugular vein to the point he almost died from blood loss. Thankfully, his dad, who was recording the video, was able to take him to the hospital. The picture of him bloodied and hospitalized was not exactly pleasant to say the least.
    • This is more of a case of "Reliably Unreliable Ammunition", as the firearm itself was up to regulations and built to withstand high pressures to chamber the powerful .50 BMG round and its variants (Serbu Firearms are no strangers to said round, as the RN-50 is the third .50 BMG-capable rifle in their stable). Some analysts have pointed to the particular SLAP round Scott used as the culprit, somehow producing more than twice the pressure of what the factory proof-loaded .50 BMG rounds can provide, due to poor aging or being tinkered with at some point. On top of that, there's no outward indication to use for gauging how safe it is to use one, so the best approach to prevent an accident like this is to check a round's history and simply never take, keep, and use ammo from old armories.
      • He subsequently went back and fired the rest of the rounds from that batch, and most of them were bad, often requiring mechanical aid to unscrew the barrel cap and withdraw the bullet due to overcharging the bullets. However, the gun didn't outright fail until he loaded a deliberately measured overcharged bullet to, as Mythbusters would put it, duplicate the result. And, damage-wise, the recreation was almost a carbon copy of the accident.
    • Scott's use of a thumb to stem the bleeding became a minor meme, and he soon came out with "Just Put A Thumb In it" t-shirts to capitalize on the meme.
  • YouTube channel In-Range TV has a series on investigating how much getting your guns dirty really impacts their performance. This includes their infamous mud test where they shovel gobs of soupy mud onto the receiver of a gun and test to see if it can fire reliably afterwards. What they've found most of the time is that two things make a gun less reliable in adverse conditions: the more exposed holes the gun has in its receiver, and the speed of its mechanism.
    • The AK, for instance, is famous for being reliable in the sense that it's not sensitive to an average conscript not taking care of his rifle, but the moment you throw something more substantial than dirt or sand into the receiver - which is easy to do because of the loose tolerances and the large opening for the bolt's charging handle to move - it stops being reliable, as the parts easily get gunked up and unable to move with all the mud. The AR-15 family of rifles, in contrast, are practically sealed from the elements, including a dust cover to keep anything from touching the bolt, and because the gas escapes from the side of the bolt out the ejection port, the rifle does "self-clean" that portion should there be mud there.
    • Short-stroke gas pistons are all the rage for their combination of reliable performance in normal conditions and low recoil, but they're generally incredibly sensitive to mud contamination. A test on the FAL, with its large ejection port and sand cuts in the bolt carrier to give loose debris like sand a place to be pushed out of the way, turned out to invite mud in where it can interfere with the weapon's operation: the rifle jammed after two shots, with the bolt refusing to go into battery with a live round in the chamber, and after the mud had time to dry it completely locked up. Two separate tests of the AUG saw it fail similarly, the first time jamming after a few shots and the second, where they set its gas system to the "adverse" setting by Steyr USA's behest, failing to extract on the first round, before the charging handle locked up completely both times. And while the VHS-2 performed admirably, getting through most of a magazine before it started failing, the open channel for its charging handle just above the trigger group resulted in those failures quickly and suddenly progressing from the gun ejecting properly but not picking up a new round without Karl manually cycling it again, to the trigger going dead and the safety lever locking up completely. Roller-delayed blowback, conversely, is one of the most violently fast cycling actions ever devised, having almost no way for gas to escape until it's pushed the bolt back and paired with a suitably strong recoil spring at the back, meaning that unless the bolt is completely immobilized or the hammer's movement is interfered with, it is basically guaranteed that it will fire and cycle properly. A test on the G3 saw it failing to eject after every shot, requiring the stock to be smashed against the ground while pushing down on the charging handle from above, but the bolt still consistently went into battery when it was manually operated in this fashion, and after giving the mud time to dry the gun went back to working properly, with only the mag release giving them trouble. A test of the CETME Model L performed even better, only even starting to give them minor problems once they dumped mud into the charging handle's travel path and then manually cycled it, which came out to a single time where the bolt failed to go into battery before another yank of the handle got it working again.
    • Handguns generally perform the same, seeing better results with enclosed systems that either move fast enough to overcome any contamination or have simpler designs giving them fewer internal areas for mud to get in and interfere with the operation. The Luger P08 performed flawlessly, due to its sealed toggle-lock action and that it outright requires high-pressure ammo to reliably function, while the M1911 with its external hammer jammed after a few shots, though eventually got back to mostly-working order after brute-forcing the slide open again, and the FK BRNO failed to fire even one round because of mud blocking the hammer from either dropping with enough speed to fire or pulling back far enough to re-engage the sear. Both the Glock 19 and Hi-Point C9 jammed early despite their more closed-in mechanisms, but the straight-blowback Hi-Point got off more shots and was brought back to life by a quick rinse of water, while the short-recoil Glock only got off one shot before jamming to the point where even dousing it with water couldn't get it working again, which Karl assumes was because of mud getting into the locking lugs on the barrel - locking lugs which the Hi-Point doesn't have - and preventing it from fully seating into battery.
  • Downplayed in Larry Vickers' video on an Iranian G3, which functions perfectly fine in semi-auto but consistently fails to fire more than one bullet in full-auto. Slow-motion shots confirm that the bolt bounced just slightly after every cycle, enough to only lightly strike the primer of the second shot every time they tried to fire full-auto, which Larry concludes was most likely the result of the gun being stored in a warehouse with the bolt locked open for years, loosening some tension on the recoil spring.

    Western Animation 
  • The first episode of Beast Wars had Cheetor's gun jam. Subverted in that Cheetor cleared the jam, and made a sneak attack by shooting Megatron in his beast mode face.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied. To ease Marge's worries about his new gun, Homer turns on the safety, causing it to discharge into a photo of Marge. Then he notices that he actually turned the safety off, turns it on, and causes another misfire. After a stunned second, he decides to gently set the gun on the table...and a couple of seconds later it goes off anyhow, ricocheting off several surfaces before striking a nearby knife which embeds itself in the picture, right between Marge's eyes. As Lisa says, "No offense Mom, but that was pretty cool." Note that Homer's gun was a revolver, which require long trigger pulls to fire and (without aftermarket modifications) don't even HAVE safeties.
    • And then there's this scene from "The PTA Disbands!": Springfield Elementary goes on a field trip to a Civil War fort in a bus so dilapidated that braking it involves having the students hold their coats out the windows as parachutes:
      Tour Guide: This Civil War cannon has been fully restored and is in ready-to-fire condition. But it's a good thing we're NOT firing it because it happens to be aimed at the main support leg of that lookout tower. [man in tower waves]
      [the school bus appears in the background swerving towards the cannon]
      Tour Guide: People don't realize that these cannons are very sensitive, and the slightest jolt could set them off!
      [the bus hits the cannon... and knocks one of its wheels off]
      Tour Guide: Of course, for safety reasons, we don't keep the cannon loaded. It's just common sense.
  • In the early "Kenny gets killed in every episode" era of South Park, Kenny is once killed by a discharge from a guy who is quitting hunting and drops his gun. Which happened to have run out of ammo not thirty seconds earlier, at that.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars has this trope up on occasion.
    • In the Season 3 episode "Clone Cadets", one clone trooper can be briefly be seen trying to clear a jam before being gunned down.
    • Season 5 has a lightsaber-based example in "A Test Of Strength", where Pietro assembled his lightsaber with the emitter array backwards, and is scolded by Huang who points out that when activated the lightsaber would literally blow up in his face. This becomes a Chekhov's Gun later when Pietro goads a Space Pirate to activate it. Somehow, the explosion does not kill anyone or even particularly damage the lightsaber's crystal.
  • Archer:
    • Despite the page quote, this is oddly averted, despite the character's twin habits of carelessness with his tools and causing embarrassing and accidental injuries to his coworkers. Indeed, later in the scene quoted, after a call girl has been struck with a poison dart fired from a pen, Archer tells Cyril that the belief that if something would happen, it would come from the .25 Chekhov Pistol is an incredibly facile argument.
    • One incident does occur in "Sea Tunt: Part II". Archer smuggles a pistol onto the underwater platform inside a camera. He claims that the safety is on, but notes that Krieger tends to make some strange modifications to ISIS issue weaponry. Sure enough, Archer's pistol goes off, causing the place to flood.
    • Another example happens during "White Nights", when Archer's stolen pistol fails to fire at a very bad time. Strangely, the pistol in question is the normally ultra-reliable Tokarev TT-33.
      Archer: Piece of-! How are you a superpower?!
  • In the 1953 Looney Tunes short "Bully for Bugs", the bull Bugs is fighting at one point ends up swallowing a rifle Bugs was planning to shoot him with. He very quickly discovers he can fire bullets from his horns by smacking the end of his now-rifle-shaped tail against the ground — but then after he runs out of bullets, he attempts to reload by swallowing a box of high-powered rounds, with disastrous results.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Shur Fine Guns


Danny's Shotgun

Danny exploits this when held at gunpoint and told to drop his weapon. He lobs his own shotgun in such a way that it lands at his aggressor's foot and discharges straight into it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ReliablyUnreliableGuns

Media sources: