Follow TV Tropes


Shoot Him! He Has a... Wallet!

Go To

"I shot a kid. He was 13 years old. It was dark. I couldn't see him. He had a ray gun, looked real enough. You know, when you're a rookie, they can teach you everything about being a cop, except how to live with a mistake."
Sgt. Al Powell, Die Hard

Whenever a character is shot down because his attackers thought they had a weapon or was making a hostile movement. Most of the time, the victim is held up at gunpoint and decides it's a good idea to reach for something.


Carrying a Weapon for Intimidation is just asking for it.

Sometimes the Idiot Ball is held by the victim, sometimes by the attackers. See also Suicide by Cop, in which a Death Seeker might invoke this. Sometimes involves He's Got a Weapon! and Poor Communication Kills.

Tragically, it is Truth in Television. In heavily-armed societies like the USA, areas of civil unrest, and in warzones, many people have been shot because police or soldiers thought they might be about to pull out a weapon and shoot them... even though many were only trying to quickly produce identification documents. Some have attempted to prevent this by announcing what they're going to do slowly, loudly, and clearly, asking if they understood, and doing it slowly to prove they are not a threat... although even this has failed. Better training and screening for police officers and soldiers (such as weeding out any potentially-dangerous Noble Bigot with a Badge types), have also been suggested as long-term solutions that avoid piling all responsibility on the victims.


Compare/contrast with Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence and Mistaken for Undead (which is another situation in which an innocent person could end up shot). Not related to Screw the Rules, I Have Money!.

This is a Death Trope, so all spoilers will be untagged.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Section 9 escorts a convoy with plutonium out of the ruins of Tokyo when a gang of refugees blocks the street. Clearing the streets turns into a firefight when a soldier mistakes a wrench in a man's hand for a gun (thanks to a bit of a prod from Gouda). But as the entire convoy was just a decoy, the entire thing was probably set up by Gouda with exactly such an outcome in mind.
  • Happens literally in Angel Densetsu, with one of the policeman thinking that the wallet must be a hidden weapon, whereas Kitano was just trying to give a lost wallet to the police. It's Played for Laughs.
  • Golgo 13 has threatened to do this many times. Reach for something — anything — in your coat pocket and he will have his gun aimed at you before you can blink. So make sure you pull the object out slowly so that he can see that it isn't a weapon.
  • A character in Monster becomes paranoid that his bodyguard is going to kill him and shoots him when the guard reaches in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes. The other bodyguards come for revenge.
  • In Arakawa Under the Bridge, there's a scene in which Sister (an incredibly tall and well-built mercenary dressed in a nun's habit) attacks a man who reaches inside their jacket for a business card.
  • In Tekkonkinkreet, during the early confrontation between the yakuza and the Apaches, Kimura reaches into his inside pocket and ... the Apaches are getting nervous ... produces a cigarette.

  • Richard Pryor discusses this trope at length in several of his stand-up performances.
    Richard Pryor: See, white folks get a ticket, they pull over, "Hey, Officer, yes, glad to be of help, cheerio!" A nigger got to be talking about, "I AM REACHING INTO MY POCKET FOR MY LICENSE! Because I don't wanna be no motherfucking accident!"

    Comic Books 
  • The "War Games" arc of the Batman comic continuity started when, at a meeting between Gotham mob bosses, one reached inside his jacket for a lighter.
  • Invoked in Batman: Year One, where Detective Flass, in one of his many Kick the Dog moments, beats up a Black youth who was minding his own business. When questioned by Jim Gordon, Flass pulls out the youth's comb and claims he mistook it for a switchblade.
  • The last issue of Transmetropolitan has the National Guard attempting to lock down one of The City's universities; the unarmed students rush the troops, slapping smiley-face stickers on their uniforms in protest. One of the guardsmen, seeing a demonstrator reaching into his jacket (to print more stickers on a portable maker, by the way), opens fire. The whole thing quickly turns into a bloodbath massacre as all the guardsmen follow suit, making for a very obvious Shout-Out to the Kent State shooting in Real Life.
  • In Cloak & Dagger, Cloak's backstory tells how his friend was shot by the police when they thought he was participating in a robbery and refused to listen to them shouting for him to freeze. Cloak, because of his stutter, couldn't stop them before they fired, and the guilt from this incident prompted him to run away from home.

  • Played for laughs in Almost Heroes. "Hold your fire! It's only a ''squirrel!" "Oh." *Beat* "He's got something in his hand! Ah!" *shooting ensues*
  • A non-fatal variant in The Departed when, during a shakedown, Costigan pistol-whips a bookie and knocks a couple of his teeth out. "I was goin' for my fuckin' cigarettes!"
  • In An Innocent Man, this sparks the events of the plot when two police officers shoot a man, mistaking his hair dryer for a weapon. He lives, and fights for his innocence after being framed by said police officers.
  • In Casino, Bernie Blue is shot by a cop who thought his foil-wrapped sandwich was a gun.
  • Cop Land opens with a police shooting of a pair of black teenagers on the road, whose shooter thought they popped one of his tires with a gun. In fact, the "gunman" was taunting him with a steering wheel lock, and the tire popped because of a leftover shard of glass from a beer bottle he crushed driving out of a parking lot earlier that night. In an early sign that Dirty Cops are involved, one of his colleagues tries to plant evidence of a firearm to exonerate him.
  • In Crash, Hansen, while off duty, shoots Peter when he reaches for his statuette.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) starts off with Klaatu pulling out a strange device, his gift to the president, and getting shot by military personnel.
  • Die Hard: Al Powell shot a kid who brandished a toy gun, which Powell mistook for a real one. The guilt from this incident led him to be unable to draw his gun on anyone else, so he was relegated to desk work. Near the end, when The Dragon Karl makes a last stand, Al is ultimately the one to shoot him down so he could save John's life.
  • Falling Down has a classic example, where D-Fens pulls a water gun on Martin Prendergast, intentionally getting himself killed.
  • In Gran Torino, Walt pulls out a lighter acting as if it were a gun, intentionally scaring the gang to shoot him dead so that he can get them arrested for murder in revenge for what they did to his friend Sue.
  • In Bean, Mr. Bean sees some security guards at the airport, and thinks their guns are so cool he reaches into his jacket and pretends to have one himself. The guards see him and think he's actually got a gun. Hilarity ensues.
  • In the Tim Allen/Kirstie Alley comedy For Richer or Poorer, Allen's character pulls out a phone when he steps out of a car to be met by cops. One cop shoots the phone, believing it to be a gun.
  • Another example of an Eastwood film. A Perfect World ends with Butch being shot by a sniper when he was reaching in his pocket to give Phillip something. Eastwood's character punches him out for making the mistake, even though other characters point out that anyone could have made the mistake (it was mostly out of frustration).
  • Spoofed in the Matthew Perry/Liz Hurley film, Serving Sara. Perry's character reaches into his coat to grab an envelope, and everyone in the place has a gun on him. He pulls out the envelope with that look on his face that clearly says "You're all idiots."
  • In the Jet Li film The Bodyguard From Beijing (Known as The Defender in the US and UK), a cop gets into trouble when his sidearm is swapped with a lookalike water pistol by a mischievous kid shortly before a fight breaks out (the kid tries to return the gun when the shooting starts, but the cop didn't know that the gun in his hand was fake and thought it was another joke).
  • And speaking of Clint Eastwood, there's another example in the film Unforgiven. W.W. Beauchamp, a Penny Dreadful writer, is detained along with the gunfighter he's shadowing by the Big Bad's Mooks. When asked to provide credentials, Beauchamp reaches into his bag to produce a sample of his writing... and immediately realizes that every gun in sight is now cocked and pointed at him. He promptly wets himself.
  • In one of the endings of Tsotsi, after handing back the child and placing his hands behind his head while covered by a lone young cop, he remembers he has the child's bottle in his back pocket. He whips it out — and the cop screams "Weapon!" and blows him away.
  • In Hook, Captain Hook challenges an older Peter with "Draw your weapon, Peter". As Peter's a lawyer (long story), he draws... his checkbook (surprise), and asks "How much do you want?". Hook shoots the checkbook (and kills one of his pirate mooks. Like he cares).
  • Almost happens in the cop's story in Reservoir Dogs. The cop pulled someone over and trained a gun on him when he started reaching for the glove box. What was he reaching for? License and registration.
  • In National Security, Hank (white) and Earl (black) are security guards (who hate each other), chasing after a van of burglars who have broken into a warehouse. They are stopped by armed cops who demand they get out of the car, Hank comes up and starts waving for the cops to go after the van. The cop yells at him to put down the gun he's still holding. Hank does so. Earl is pissed off, claiming that had he pulled out his wallet, they'd have shot him. On the other hand, Hank is an ex-cop, so it's possible the arresting officers recognized him.
  • Averted by Schultz in Django Unchained, who is always careful to inform the opposite (and very agitated) party before pulling any non-gun object out of his pocket.
  • Nick Nolte averts this in 48 Hrs. when he and a woman have each other at gunpoint (she does not initially know that he is a cop, and then wants proof), announcing in a clear voice that he is going to bring his badge out of his jacket pocket, and then does so slowly and carefully.
  • In Braveheart, when one of the Irish men that William and his troop meet in the forest reaches into his coat, he is being stopped by Hamish, but it turns out the man only wanted to pull out a present for William.
  • Parodied in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, with the black man in the jail cell with Harold (arrested because a black man did something on the other side of the city). Kumar has started to unlock the jail cell and been distracted when the cops walk in...
    Cop: The black guy's trying to escape! [the cops all rush the cell] Careful! He has a gun!
    Black guy: It's not a gun, it's a book!
    Cop: Careful! He has a book!
    Other cop: Book is secured!
  • Predator 2: Subverted. Rather than immediately open fire when it sees a child holding a gun, the Predator takes a moment to scan both boy and weapon, determines the gun is a fake (a plastic toy) and leaves the child alone.
  • 13 Sins: Professor Solomon, having just hacked a woman's finger off, is shot by a security guard when he reaches into his jacket for his phone.
  • At the end of A Score to Settle, Frankie staggers out of the church and finds the police waiting and pointing guns of him. They call on him to surrender but he instead reaches into his pocket. Thinking he is going for a gun, the police open fire. As he falls, it is revealed he was actually reaching for the Tragic Keepsake of Joey's baseball card. Might also count as Suicide by Cop.
  • Invoked at the climax of Seven Psychopaths. Hans deliberately pulls out his wallet in a way that looks like he's going for a gun to scare the Big Bad's henchmen into reflexively shooting him... right in front of the squad of police officers standing nearby, pretty much ensuring the bad guys will either get killed themselves in a shootout or arrested for murder.

  • Ragtime: Sarah dies by running up to a vice-presidential candidate with a furtively concealed baby.
  • Among P.J. O'Rourke's advice for travelling in the third world, he recommended wearing a shirt with a chest pocket when driving and keeping your passport there. Anyone who can assemble a roadblock will demand to see it and may get the wrong idea if you keep it in your jacket.
  • In the Burn Notice novel "The Fix," one of the extortionists tells Westen that he is pulling out his wallet since Westen has already shot 1 man in the leg.
  • In the New Jedi Order series of Star Wars Legends, the paranoid Nom Anor nearly kills a supplicant who tries to present him with a gift because he thinks she might be drawing a weapon.
  • The Dresden Files
    • Averted when Dresden feels an envelope poking into his side, and he reaches to adjust it while in the middle of a conversation with Gentleman Johnny Marcone. Marcone's goons react predictably, and Marcone stops them about half a second short of pumping Dresden full of lead. Marcone can draw and use a weapon faster than his bodyguards (and just about every other human, come to that). He just knew Harry could paste him without so much as twitching, and moreover, that Harry probably wouldn't do so.
    • Not a shooting, but in Summer Knight, Harry is attacked by a group of paranoid changelings who think he's out to get them. After they first hit him on the head he is disoriented and unable to speak properly, and his unintelligible mutterings are interpreted as trying to cast a spell so they keep hitting him.
    • Invoked by Molly Carpenter to kill a Fomor servitor and a corrupt cop while the former is bribing the latter to look the other way while he kidnaps a child. One quick illusion spell to make the payment look like a pistol and both of them are dead.
  • Invoked by Nadia Stafford in her backstory in Exit Strategy: when she was a cop, a rapist was about to walk free. She patiently waited until he reached into his jacket, then shot him between the eyes. She knew he wasn't going for a weapon, but it gave her plausible deniability.
  • This nearly happens in A Song of Ice and Fire in a parley between Renly and Stannis Baratheon. Renly reaches into his cloak, which nearly causes Stannis to bare steel before he sees that Renly is drawing out a peach. Renly later causes him to draw steel anyway by insulting his wife.
  • Happens in the Expanded Universe novels for BattleTech. In Measure of a Hero, the outspoken sister of protagonist Archer Christifori is critical of the ruling princess. She is taken in for an interview, but the puffed-up Glory Hound lieutenant assigned to escort her watches her pick up notes and inadvertently pick up a letter opener at the same time. He shoots first and asks questions later. This, along with the lieutenant becoming a Karma Houdini under orders from the same princess that Christifori's sister was riling against, causes Christifori to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. This eventually results in Christifori supporting a growing pan-galactic rebellion against said princess and conquering two entire planets by the end of the book.
  • Narrowly averted in A Grand Tour, one of the Honor Harrington short stories, when the hastily-assembled civilian crew of an obsolete destroyer, having chased down and defeated a pirate ship, nearly mistake escape pods for missiles.
  • In Stanisław Lem's short novel The Futurological Congress narrator Ijon Tichy is standing next to "the dark-skinned delegate from India" when the latter gets the sniffles and reaches for a handkerchief in his back pocket. This results in the delegate being shot and killed by the American ambassador's trigger happy security detail.
  • The Hate U Give: Khalil is shot for picking up a hairbrush from inside of his car. However, it's made clear he almost certainly wouldn't have been shot if he wasn't also black or young.
  • In The Ballad of Black Tom, Howard goes into the Tester apartment and sees Otis holding a guitar. He empties his entire revolver into him, then reloads and shoots again. He swears he thought the guitar was a gun.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Flashpoint, somebody is shot that way, and the father tries to take revenge on the cop. All sides are portrayed sympathetically.
  • The Batwoman (2019) episode "And Justice For All" heavily features Police Brutality, ending with Luke getting shot by a Crows Security officer. He'd just been accused of attempting to steal a car (by the actual car thief), and was pulling out his phone to show the officer photographic evidence of his innocence. To make it worse, the officer's body cam footage is edited to show him with a gun in his hand, specifically a gun that is tied to another crime so that the officer can be credited as a hero for shooting a dangerous criminal.
  • Both subverted and played straight in The Commish. Commissioner Scali and his Chief of Detectives Paulie Pentangeli are going undercover to gather evidence against a pornographer. At one point when the pornographer reaches under his coat, Paulie draws his gun shouting "Don't move!" only for it to be a cigar case. At the end of the episode, they've no evidence against the pornographer, even though he indirectly caused the death of their friend's daughter. The pornographer is smirking at this, and reaches for a cigar to celebrate whereupon Paulie shouts "Don't move!" then immediately shoots him. Although the only other witness (a police officer who entered the room at that moment) backs up his statement that the criminal appeared to be reaching for a gun, Scali knows the truth and insists that Paulie leave his department.
  • Subverted in Criminal Minds, where the killer reaches for his pocket, which turns out to contain only his phone. However, it's pretty clear that this was an intentional Suicide by Cop.
  • Lie to Me: In the episode "Undercover", Lightman is called in to determine whether a black teenager shot by cops actually was armed or whether it was a case of this.
  • Done in an early episode of The Shield: The Strike Team raids a gangbanger's house, and the banger in question flees out the back door. When the detectives pursue him, he turns around and points what looks like a gun in their direction, prompting Lem to shoot him (he survives). On closer examination, they see he wasn't carrying a gun, but a carton of untaxed cigarettes. Not wanting to face another Internal Affairs investigation, Vic plants a gun in the guy's hand. This is not the last screwup from which they scramble to recover in this episode.
  • The X-Files had a Master of Illusion that committed Suicide by Cop by making Krychek think the guy had a gun. It turned out that he was actually holding a Bible.
  • Played for laughs in Frasier, where Martin Crane goes to the bank to try to return extra money he was given by mistake and ends up spooking the teller and security guard due to having his hand in his pocket and saying things a bank robber normally would. A bit of an Idiot Ball, as Martin is a retired cop, and should know better.
    • Another episode had Bulldog accidentally foil a robbery this way. He was trying to hide from a guy pulling out his wallet by using Roz as a human shield, and by complete coincidence disarmed the real criminal by spilling hot coffee onto him (and incidentally looking to everyone but Frasier like he was pulling Roz to safety).
  • In Heroes Volume 5, Matt and Sylar end up Sharing a Body as a result of the Volume 4 finale. Sylar takes control and sets off on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against everyone involved. Matt manages to derail this by scribbling a death threat on a diner napkin while Sylar's not paying attention, and then when the cops show up he uses his psychic powers to make them think he/Sylar is pulling a gun.
  • In Between the Lines, a power drill is mistaken for a gun. It turns out the man with the drill was up to no good after all.
  • Michael Moore mocks this trope in one episode of The Awful Truth, where he does an "African-American Wallet Exchange." He offers African Americans a free Day-Glo orange wallet in exchange for their old one, so the police don't mistake the wallet for a gun.
  • Lost features an inversion in Ana-Lucia's backstory. She was called to a house and ran into some guy. He told her he was a student and asked her to let him pull out his ID — just as recommended in the trope description. When she did, he instead pulled out a gun. Although Ana-Lucia survived, she ended up miscarrying her unborn child. The guy later turned himself in, but she claimed it wasn't him. Once he was out of custody, she followed him until he was alone, then shot him six times.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Banks note a strange man wandering suspiciously around their house. Will decides to spook him away...
    Will: [threateningly] Hey man, what you want?
    Man: [reaches in his pocket]
    Will: [running away, screaming like a little girl] Ohmygod! UNCLE PHIL, LOOK OUT! HE'S GOT A...BUSINESS CARD!
    • In another instance, Will and Carlton are mugged at an ATM. After handing over their cash, Carlton tells the mugger he has more in his wallet and reaches into his coat. The mugger panics, and shoots at Carlton, hitting Will.
  • Happens several times on Blue Heelers. One where a friend of Nick's had set up a paintball course and he shoots the police with one, causing Adam to nearly return fire. Another is when Dash and Adam are questioning the Darcys and they make it look like they have a gun, threatening the officers with what turns out to be a vacuum hose (making it out to be a gun). Later, stories are shared, including PJ thinking a glint off a watch was a gun and Tom in Vietnam where he slaughtered a pig when he thought there was Vietcong hiding in the bushes. Another episode has Jack pull over a driver and is threatened with a gun. Jack shoots him in self-defense.
  • Nearly happens in the Castle episode "Sucker Punch." Luckily, Ryan and Esposito subdue the man going for his cell phone by means other than gunfire.
  • One episode of Law & Order, Lennie Briscoe and Ed Green were searching a house when the suspect came back home. As Lennie was calling for backup, the suspect reached into his pocket before Ed Green tackled him. Turns out the guy was only reaching for his cell phone, making it extremely fortunate that Green only tackled him.
    • Another episode had this invoked by the criminal, as he threw down an object onto the ground. It took a second for the police chasing him to notice it was NOT an explosive, but just a lighter. However, that second was all the guy needed to reach the Russian Embassy.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent has detective Mike Logan shoot a man who turns out to be an off-duty cop (he was dazed, having just been beaten up, and pointed his gun at Logan). Logan is distraught at his mistake, and though he is cleared of wrongdoing, he seeks counseling to deal with his guilt.
    • In another episode, police responding to an apparent hostage situation shoot a man who turns out to have been holding a toy. It's discovered that the alleged hostage intentionally engineered the situation to get the man killed.
    • In a bit of a reversal, one episode reveals that this is how Eames' husband, an undercover detective, was killed. After making a drug buy, he reached for his badge to tell the dealers they'd been busted, but one of them, a trigger-happy teenager, mistook his action as reaching for a gun and shot him. He was horrified by his actions and became a doctor in hopes of somehow making up for what he'd done.
  • In Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Amaro shoots and seriously injures a teenager who had apparently just fired shots at another cop. The investigation reveals that the officer in question fired recklessly and was hit by her own ricochet. Amaro is still cleared because it's ruled that it was reasonable for him to think there was a threat, even though he turned out to be wrong.
  • NYPD Blue:
    • Andy Sipowicz relates a story to his son, Andy Jr., when the former is trying to teach the latter lessons on how to become a good cop. Andy Sr. was pounding a beat at midnight, when he saw two well-dressed guys in an alley standing next to a Cadillac; one of them had what looked like a real machine gun in his hands. He came very close to shooting them both, believing them to be wiseguys. He later learned that the building they were standing next to was a toy factory which made toy machine-guns; one of the well-dressed guys was an executive of the company who was taking one of the toys home for his kid at the end of his work shift. Andy Sr. tells Andy Jr. this story to drive home the point that to be a good cop, you should know the people and places on your beat, the things they do, and the times they do them.
    • In another episode, while Martinez & Medavoy are in their car, Martinez shoots a man in a car next to them who was pulling out a gun. However, in the ensuing commotion, the gun disappears and Martinez is suspected of doing this. By the end of the episode, the gun is found, clearing Martinez of any wrongdoing.
    • Another episode has the detectives dealing with the fallout from the Amadou Diallo case (see below). They're frustrated by the fact that that incident tainted the entire department, and they get blamed for it when they had nothing to do with it.
  • An especially heartbreaking example occurs in season 4 of Hill Street Blues when an officer responding to a prowler call enters a seemingly empty apartment and sees a gun being pointed at him. It's a toy belonging to a nine-year-old kid who'd been left at home while his mother went to a job interview. Chief Daniels, with his usual human kindness and sensitivity, insists on bringing charges of child endangerment in a desperate attempt to draw fire from the police department.
  • Played for laughs in Russian police dramedy Uboynaya Sila (literally "killing power", but an intentional pun on Homicide department). A suspect complains that every time police stop him to check his ID, they beat him for no reason. Then he reaches for his passport so abruptly, the heroes grab their guns. Then they explain why he shouldn't do that.
  • In one episode of Adam-12, Reed has a bum at gunpoint. The bum almost drops his wine bottle and lunges to save it. Reed thought he was going for a gun and nearly shot him before Malloy (who was at a different angle and could see the bottle) intervened. Malloy proceeds to tell Reed that "anybody could have made that mistake", and chewed the bum out for his stupidity. Made worse because, in that episode, Reed was extremely jumpy because somebody was trying to kill him.
  • On Boardwalk Empire, a nervous Roy Phillips shoots a business rival dead in a dark car park when he reaches into his jacket pocket. We don't see what he was reaching for, as Gillian persuades him to get in the car and drive away. However, it's all been staged to make Gillian think Roy is a murderer who she can confess her own crimes to.
  • One episode of NCIS: Los Angeles starts off with Deeks shooting a guy that it turns out was reaching for a cell phone. Granted, it turns out the guy was an Asshole Victim anyway. Not only was he a Neo-Nazi, but he was also assaulting a black woman, screamed "You wanna die, hero?!" as Deeks and Blye were running towards him shouting "LAPD!", and was, according to Blye, a multiple murderer wanted by the FBI.
    • And then subverted and played: a) the guy was an undercover cop and not actually a Neo-Nazi, b) Deeks was shooting blanks and therefore he's not dead and c) Deeks was in on the whole plan. Kensi was the one who needed to believe in it.
  • On Person of Interest, Detective Carter was forced to kill a man who pulled a gun on her, but when investigators checked the body, there was no gun present because a group of corrupt cops that wanted to force her to stop investigating them had removed the gun to make it look like this trope.
  • In Orphan Black, one of the factors which probably led to Beth Childs's suicide was the fact that she killed an innocent civilian, thinking the lady's phone was a gun. Subverted. We learn later that the "victim" was actually part of an extremist religious group determined to kill Childs and the other clones, and Beth killed her on purpose. Due to not knowing how deep the conspiracy went, and wanting to maintain a facade of ignorance, she and her partner planted the mobile phone to make the shooting look like an accident.
  • In Smallville:
    • In "Exile," Clark Kent, infected with red kryptonite, robs a bank. When confronted by the cops, he reaches into his pocket to goad them into shooting him, amused that their bullets can't hurt him.
    • In "Noir", Jimmy Olsen dreams he is in a Noir, where he is a detective and his friends and peers are classic noir archetypes. While talking to Lex Luthor's counterpart, Lex reaches into his jacket. Jimmy instantly shoots him, only to find he was just reaching for a files folder.
  • Averted in Jekyll. When Dr. Jackman is being threatened by a teenage punk with a knife, he calmly declares that he's not pulling a weapon from his jacket. It is, in fact, a digital voice recorder.
  • In the final episode of CSI: NY, a cop was pursuing a guy who robbed a jewelry store after the latter took a few potshots at him. The perp turned a corner and ran past another guy who happened to be wearing the exact same clothes. The other guy reached into his jacket to assure that the engagement ring he just bought was safe and turned around. The cop then turned the corner, mistook the innocent guy for the perp (he didn't get a good look at the perp prior to this), saw him reaching into his jacket, and shot him. Complicating things further, both the perp and the bystander were black while the cop was white, leading to a riot. The cop is crushed when he learns the whole truth, and tells Mac he wishes he could go back in time and take the bullet instead.
    • An earlier episode features a group of people who are playing an "assassin" game with water guns and water balloons. Before the police learn about the game, they are looking for one of the players, and when she sees Flack double-checking her photo, she assumes he's another player and runs before reaching for her water pistol. A nearby cop shoots her when he sees her going for it, and Flack is not happy when he finds out it's just a water gun. Luckily, the woman is only shot in the arm and lives.
  • In the Danish crime series, The Eagle, a CIA agent convinces one of the detectives that a Muslim man with a mobile phone is about to activate a remote-controlled bomb. After he's shot it turns out he was just making a phone call, and the CIA guy is a Rogue Agent who set up the situation deliberately.
  • Blue Bloods:
    • In a season 2 episode, Danny shoots a suspect with a gun in his hand. Then his other hand reveals his shield.
    • In a season 6 episode, a police officer named Thomas Scully is up for promotion to Sergeant. However, Frank knows this could pose trouble, because 14 years earlier, Scully and three other cops were responsible for shooting an unarmed Muslim teenager 61 times in a dark apartment. All four officers were acquitted of all charges, but three of the four (Scully being the exception) resigned in disgrace after the trial. Later in the episode, it's mentioned by Jamie that Scully did a course on the shooting in question, explaining that their precinct had been on edge due it being after 9/11 and shortly after a cop had been shot in a housing project. The victim had been reaching for his wallet when they shot him.
    • Another episode has a (white) uniformed cop shoot a black teenager in a predominantly black neighborhood. The cop claims the kid had a gun, except all the witnesses deny this, and no gun is found. It's not until the end that Frank personally visits the owner of the shop right next to the shooting site and suggests that she hand over the gun that she pocketed in the confusion with no repercussions to her. He even chooses his words to make it seem as if she only took the gun to keep any kid from grabbing it to make her more likely to hand it over.
  • Chuck: In a flashback, it is revealed that Sarah shot a mark (who is later revealed to Shaw's wife) when she saw the woman reaching into her purse for what Sarah thought was a gun.
  • Played with in Luke Cage (2016) when Diamondback introduces himself to Shades' guys. He seemingly pulls his right hand out of his pocket, waves it around like a gun, then "fires" a real round into one of their shoulders. They missed the real gun he had in his other hand, which he proceeds to use for kicks.
  • CSI: At the end of "The Fallen," a surrendering hostage-taker is shot by the SWAT team when he reaches inside his jacket for his St. Christopher medallion.
  • In NCIS, McGee shoots a fleeing suspect, who seems to be aiming a gun at him. Except, no one can find the gun later, and an internal investigation is opened. The gun is later found to have been taken by someone else to make McGee look bad.
  • The Key & Peele sketch "He's Got a Gun" uses this trope as a satirical look at Police Brutality towards black people. A police officer (played by Keagan) whips out his gun and repeatedly shoots at nearly every black person that he sees under the delusion that they have a gun, including a black man with a popsicle, a black man with his white friend eating bananas ("Watch out! That black guys got a gun and he's gonna steal your banana!"), a black man carrying a massive stuffed giraffe ("Big fuzzy gun!") and the chief of police with a cup of coffee. At the same time, he hilariously overlooks a white guy carrying multiple assault rifles and a gun belt.
  • Referenced in an early episode of the first season of Black Lightning, when concerned black father Jefferson Pierce berates his activist daughter for graffitiing a statue using a super-soaker loaded with paint because it only takes one racist cop, one trigger-happy security guard...


  • In some versions of Arthurian legend, most notably Le Morte D Arthur, this is how the final battle happens. Arthur asks to parley with Mordred, and just as things are on the point of being sorted out, one of Mordred's (or possibly Arthur's) retainers is attacked by a snake. He draws his sword to kill it, the opposing knights see a drawn sword, and...

    Video Games 
  • In Alpha Protocol, an ice cream shop owner reaches for something in an intense situation, where the player has the option to shoot him. He pulls out an amazing looking three-scoop ice cream cone for free.
    • Alternately, if you screw up the conversation, he instead draws an assault rifle from behind the counter and you have to kill him.
  • Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood: In the final scene, William gets in between Ray and Thomas during their fight. William pretends to pull a gun, intentionally getting shot and killed by Ray. William actually pulled the Bible.
  • Twice in Heavy Rain:
    • When Norman Jayden has the choice to shoot Nathaniel. Nathaniel reaches around like he's about to stab Carter, but reveals a crucifix instead.
    • In one ending, Ethan is held up by the police. He simply turns around while holding his arm, and they shoot him... about 10 times. You figured after the first, they would've noticed he didn't have a weapon...
  • Subverted in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, when Nate reaches for something while being held up, the muggers point their guns at him. He just pulls out a container and shakes it at them.
  • Averted or played straight, depending on your actions, in Police Quest 3. One guy you pull over reaches for something in his pocket and approaches you. He's actually an undercover agent pulling out his ID badge, and really should know better. You get a game over for shooting him.
  • Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth: While there were no guns, Edgeworth does get accused of murder for holding a wallet.
    • Later, which is actually earlier since it's a flashback, he sees Hardboiled Detective Badd get upset and reach into his coat. He gets scared and thinks Badd is going for his gun when he's really pulling out a mirror. It's a slight Brick Joke, since, at the end of the game, he really does pull out a gun.
  • Poker Night at the Inventory: If Tycho drops out first, he starts pulling something out of his pocket. The other three characters aim their weapons at him, only for Tycho to exclaim that it's just a granola bar. Heavy and Max put their weapons away, but Strong Bad demands the granola bar.
  • In Back to the Future: The Game, "Kid" Tannen asks for a light and Marty pulls out a lighter... which just so happens to be shaped like a gun, making Tannen's mooks' reaction more understandable. Marty quickly explains, and even shows the lighter to Tannen, which helps him out in other waysnote .
  • In World of Warcraft, defied for Alliance players going to meet Vol'jin during Escalation, Zen'tabra tells you to keep your hands where they can see them; an Alliance soldier in Durotar is suspicious enough, but everyone is really jumpy with the Horde civil war and Vol'jin was almost assassinated, so any odd move could be misinterpreted as hostile. This comes after some Darkspear guards trap you when you get too close and Zen'tabra has to tell them to back down.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, one sidequest reveals that this was ultimately the cause of the tragedy of Red Crossing, the incident that triggered the Exalted March against the Dales. One of the Emerald Knights was seen in the company of a Chantry sister from Red Crossing. His sister, a fellow Emerald Knight, feared that he was being tricked into defecting and followed him in secret. When she saw the Chantry sister running towards her while holding something, she immediately fired an arrow. The Chantry sister was holding a letter explaining that the Chantry sister and the Emerald Knight had fallen in love and were going to be married. While the relations between elves and humans in the Dales were already poor, this was the catalyst that led to the attack on Red Crossing and the Exalted March that drove the elves out of the Dales.
  • In Wasteland, an early quest in the town of Highpool has you put down a rabid dog that got loose. Once you've done the deed, its 12-year-old owner, Bobby, flies into a rage and charges you with a rifle. The game places you into combat and it's only after you've resolved the situation (usually by shooting him dead) that it tells you it was a BB Gun.
  • In Yakuza 3, Daigo Dojima comes across two men, one of which looks exactly like the deceased Shintaro Kazama. Zigzagged in that its the one making the assumption/judgment call that gets shot, as when the Kazama lookalike reaches into his coat pocket, Daigo assumes he's going for a gun and draws his, only to get outdrawn and gunned down by the other man.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: Averted in Diamonds Are a Vamp's Best Friend (Part 2), where the police were about to shoot Bova when she was holding a hair-dryer.
  • In RWBY Chibi, Sun and Neptune tackle Jaune when he's trying to show off his library card when they decide to frame him for littering. Originally, though, Sun was supposed to shout "HE'S REACHING!", but a few bad incidents involving cops made them change the line.
  • The first-ever gag of ASDF Movie is a someone playing the "got your nose" trick. The cops immediately kick the door down, scream "Look out, he's got a nose!" and fire on him.
  • One of the entries in Fifteen Elvish ways to die. Synralon only wanted to cast a buffing spell on the police to help them catch the perp they were chasing...

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, former Well-Intentioned Extremist Jet approaches the gang and offers his help. Katara doesn't trust him, and when he reaches for something in his vest, she pins him against a wall with ice. What he was grabbing was a poster for the gang's missing sky bison, Appa, which he wants to help find.
  • Played for laughs in The Boondocks, when Uncle Ruckus is shot repeatedly and beaten by police for holding an orange safety-wallet. At the time they were confusingly demanding that he both keep his hands up and show some ID, so he slowly and clearly announced, "I am slowly reaching into my pants for my wallet", but they shot anyway. The city offers him 14 million dollars in compensation, but he refuses to accept it, and instead accepts full blame, simply demanding to be hired as a police officer so that he can do the same thing to other black men.
    • Later, they do it to him again, despite the fact that he is a police officer in full uniform.
  • Futurama does this as well:
    "He's reaching for something! Get 'im!"
    "I'm just picking my nose..."
    "He's picking his nose! Get 'im!"
  • An attempted invocation occurs during the Hercules: The Animated Series episode featuring Medusa, here a sweet girl with a nasty ability who just wants a chance at love. Hercules approaches Medusa in the dark with something in hand after finding out she's a Gorgon. Hades then lights up the area with fire, causing Medusa to accidentally turn Hercules to stone. Hades argues he was probably holding a sword and came to kill her. Hercules actually came to apologize and the object in his hand was a bouquet. Aphrodite decides that's enough to rule Hades' actions inappropriate interference and restores Hercules.
  • A non-shooting example in The Powerpuff Girls episode "Schoolhouse Rocked": When Lil' Arturo of the Gangrene Gang takes the spot for show-and-tell, he introduces to the class his most prized item, Maria Conchita-Theresa Rosalita (AKA Maria). The three girls, thinking he's carrying a knife, attempt to seize him despite Ms. Keane stressing that fighting is not allowed in the classroom, but it turns out Maria is just a styling comb — albeit one that folds out, with a handle that looks like a switchblade.
    Blossom:: But Ms. Keane! Arturo's holding a deadly...comb!
  • In the Robot Chicken episode where the Mario Brothers wind up in Vice City (though it looks more like Liberty City, but still), when the police has them cornered, Luigi surrenders with a wrench in his hand, prompting the cops to shoot him dead and leading Mario on a short-lived Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    Cop: He's got a wrench! Take him down!
  • Family Guy has the episode "A Shot In the Dark" where Peter forms a neighborhood watch after his couch is "stolen" (due to him leaving it on the curb to use as an outdoor drinking couch). One night, he sees someone trying to break into Cleveland's house, and when the figure reaches inside his pocket, Peter shoots him, only to discover that it was Cleveland Jr, who hadn't heard Peter ask him to step away from the window due to having his iPod on, which was what he was reaching for. The entire affair turns into a hate crime debate (in reality, Peter could only see a dark shape and had no idea who it was, much less his skin color). Peter avoids jail only by a lawyer hired by Carter Pewterschmidt instead painting Cleveland as a dangerous thug, which Peter immediately regrets and admits to shooting Cleveland Jr because he was scared, not out of racism, accepting jail time. Cleveland, realizing Peter really didn't do it out of racism, confesses to the shooting, making it a black-on-black crime, which makes the media instantly lose interest and leave.
  • Season 2 of South Park has the episode "Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson", where the Nebraska police are laying siege to the house belonging to Cartman's grandmother due to an escaped Charles Manson having holed up there. When Manson decides to turn himself in, he sends Kenny out with a white flag...
    Police: LOOK OUT, HE'S GOT A WHITE FLAG!!! (the police shoot Kenny full of holes)
  • In the Netflix series of Carmen Sandiego Carmen's father, Dexter Wolfe, was an internationally wanted thief. Law enforcement agents (led by the woman who would later become chief of A.C.M.E.) stormed his house, and the future Chief cornered him after he led them away from baby Carmen. When Dexter started to pull something out of his pocket, Chief shot him dead, only to find that he was holding car keys instead of a weapon.

    Real Life 
  • The Trope name is based on the Amadou Diallo shooting, in which four New York City police officers fired a total of 41 rounds at a pedestrian whom they thought was pulling out a gun that turned out to be his wallet on February 4th, 1999. It was for a time the poster-child incident of the ongoing debate over police conduct and brutality in the United States. Also, considering that the victim was a Guinean (read: black) immigrant, there was also suspicion of racism.
    • Worth noting that the 41 rounds was harped on in the media as proof of excess, when it's actually police procedure to fire at a target until it goes down, however many shots it takes, and according to reports, Diallo had his back to a wall, meaning he stayed standing longer than he otherwise would have; the guilty officers interpreted this as him wearing a bulletproof vest. It also didn't help that one of the officers tripped on the curb a second or two after they opened fire, leading the rest of the officers to believe he'd been shot by Diallo, whose hands hadn't even moved since.
    • Panicked, repetitive motion is common in combat situations where a terrified combatant has not been properly trained; this is another factor in why some shooters empty a mag without meaning to. It's the same instinct that makes some people flail wildly at the spot where a bug crawled on their body even after the first stroke knocked it away or killed it.
  • Truth in Television: Police or military forces under high alert, usually because of a heightened threat of terrorism, may be instructed to fire upon any suspicious or sudden movement by a person they're suspecting of carrying explosives. Because these explosives might be hidden, usually under the suspect's jacket, the police will aim for the head, both to avoid hitting the explosives and to ensure that the victim is incapacitated before reaching the detonating device. This is why you should always tell the cops what you're doing and move slowly if you're held up.
    • Sometimes this can be attributed to bad training. If you train an officer in a simulator to always fire at someone making a drawing motion (since it's always a gun in the simulation), then they will "sink to the level of their training" when someone pulls an object on them and conditioned combat reflexes kick in. Some modern simulators now include subjects that draw non-gun objects to train officers to quickly differentiate on the fly to avoid this sort of problematic conditioned response.
  • At least two police dash-cam recordings have aired on TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents of drivers being pulled over and pointing cell phones at police officers in a menacing fashion. Fortunately for the drivers in question, police held fire while identifying the object being pointed at them. Needless to say, Do Not Try This at Home. As commenter Ron Kuby put it in one such instance, "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that will get you dead." Sadly, half the time, they're attempting Suicide by Cop.
  • On a television documentary about the Secret Service, one agent who had been on Reagan's detail related the story about how a kid in a small town, on a dare, had pointed a toy gun at the motorcade and had therefore been within heartbeats of being perforated by numerous weapons, only stopped because the agent had identified the gun as a toy just before he would have drawn his weapon.
  • The main reason why toy firearms are always brightly colored or have a bright orange cap on the barrel is specifically to differentiate them from actual weapons. This is the same reason why Megatron is usually a tank nowadays (one of his original forms was a Walther P38 pistol). Of course, this won't protect you if you try something really dumb: Military and police personnel realize it takes no effort to paint a real gun's muzzle orange, and they're not big fans of practical jokes in general.
    • One notable example of this that has received much media attention was the 2014 death of Tamir Rice, who was shot dead by police in a park in Cleveland, Ohio, while playing with what was later found to be an air gun that had been specifically altered to look like a real gun. Though according to the released footage, the toy was tucked into Rice's waistband meaning the tip wasn't visible. However the gun wasn't drawn, let alone pointed at the officers, and the footage shows that officers didn't even exit their vehicle but just shot him on the spot. Compounding this was the fact that Tamir was 12 years old, that Ohio is an open carry statenote , that a dispatcher failed to relay critical information from the 911 call (that the gun might be a toy and that the individual in question was thought to be a "juvenile"), and that the Officer who shot him had previously been fired from another police department for emotional instability.
    • Several months before the Rice shooting, another Ohio police officer shot John Crawford III because the latter was holding a BB gun which he picked up off the shelf of the store where the incident took place. Really putting an edge on it, around the same time, some stores in Ohio were the site of "open carry" protests, where people would enter the store visibly carrying guns just to make a point; none of those people were ever stopped by police. The contrast was not ignored.
    • In The '80s, the Entertech line of toy water guns eventually fell from grace because of this. They were specifically designed to resemble real guns and could fire water more powerfully than their competitors, but multiple highly publicized reports of children being shot and killed by police officers who mistook them for actual weapons, as well as reports of them being used in bank robberies, led to their demise. In 1990, the brand was sold off by Acclaim, and today are remembered only for the controversies that came with them, as well as for being directly responsible for laws being passed that mandate toy guns to be colour-coded in the first place.
  • WikiLeaks claimed this happened with the Apache airstrike in Baghdad in 2007 in an incident that killed two reporters. Averted in reality; the reporters were embedded with a group of armed insurgents during a pitched battle in the city, and one of them appeared to be acting as a spotter for the insurgents.
  • A British police officer in Lancashire responding to a report of a man carrying a "samurai sword" ended up Tasering a blind man carrying a white stick. Must have seen too much Zatoichi.
  • In a rather astounding example of incompetence, the LAPD in early 2013 was in the middle of a manhunt for Serial Killer Christopher Dorner when they stopped a blue Toyota truck and, suspecting it to be Dorner, immediately opened fire, injuring the driver, 47-year-old Margie Costanza, and critically wounding her 71-year-old mother, who was in the passenger seat. To compound on this mistake, less than an hour later, another police cruiser which was heading towards the shooting spotted a black Honda truck and proceeded to ram and open fire on the driver. None of the officers were charged with any crime.
  • In 2014, a police officer shot a 17-year-old boy in the chest immediately after he answered the door. She claims he had pointed a handgun at her, but eyewitness accounts state that it was a Wii Remote.
  • An unfortunate rash of incidents involving cops and dogs have happened around the United States over the years. Numerous police have been shooting family dogs and trying to give the justification that they either felt threatened or that the dog was running at them. Whether or not the dog actually was doesn't seem to matter to the police themselves, as many officers are simply let off the hook with only around a month's suspension without pay at the worst instead of losing their badge entirely, something that many people get up in arms about.
    • In general, there may be a reason for the officers to make such statements: they may not know the dog, so when the dog runs up to them, it can be difficult to determine if the dog is coming up to say hello or has been set loose by the owner to attack the officers. This has been especially so with pit bulls, a breed many assume is being used as an attack dog. Though it also happens regularly even to tiny dogs like chihuahuas and pugs (which would clearly be harmless to an adult human).
  • Controversy still persists over the shooting deaths of three IRA members in Gibraltar by British special forces. The official justification is that it was feared one or all had access to bomb detonator controls which were small enough to be carried in a pocket or otherwise hand-held, and that they hadn't indicated surrender or displayed empty hands to the SAS team seeking to detain them. Informed opinion is that this was a demonstration of an intent not to Irish terrorists, but to a Spanish government that was making sabre-rattling noises over Gib's sovereignty. Not long after the Falklands War, this was a coded way of telling the Spanish that any military incursion would be met with resolution - taking three terrorists out of circulation was secondary.
  • On June 8th, 2011, Ernest Duenez, Jr. was shot to death in Manteca, California by police officers who were told Duenez had a knife. The police dashcam video shows the officers approaching him with guns drawn as he exited his truck, threatening to open fire if he moved. He was then seen reaching into the truck, and he was immediately shot by the police; he died of his injuries shortly afterward. Duenez actually did have a knife on him, however it was found in the bed of his truck - and therefore, away from anywhere Duenez could access it in a timely manner if he'd wanted to cause the officers harm, and the reason why he reached into the truck in the first place was to free his foot which had gotten trapped in the seatbelt when he attempted to exit the truck.
  • In September, 2017, a deaf man was shot to death by police; the officers failed to hear the man's neighbours shouting that he couldn't hear them, and the victim, of course, couldn't hear the officer's commands to drop what he was holding (a metal pipe, rather than a gun). This case highlights the fact that traditional means of avoiding this sort of fate aren't accessible by everyone, especially as a shocking 25% of people shot by American police are disabled or mentally ill.
  • The (thankfully non-fatal) 2016 shooting of Charles Kinsey, a Florida social worker, happened because of this. Police were initially called because a 23-year-old autistic man was wandering the neighborhood carrying a toy truck, which people mistook for a gun. Kinsey, who'd been in the process of getting the man back to the group home, laid down on his back with his arms raised and talking to officers as the patient sat nearby. Kinsey was shot by SWAT officer Jonathan Aledda, who later claimed that he was aiming at the patient because he thought he saw him make an aggressive movement towards Kinsey. Aledda was charged with attempted manslaughter and criminal negligence on April 12, 2017.
  • In his nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (which became the basis for the early seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street), David Simon describes the 1980 case of a Baltimore police officer who believed that a couple of teens were about to rob a sandwich shop. When one of them pulled something silver from his pocket, the cop shot him three times in the back without warning, leaving him paralyzed. The item turned out to be a cigarette lighter. No criminal charges were filed against the cop, but the department fired him even though he claimed he had feared for the safety of himself and others.
  • In the infamous deadly Toronto van ram attack, Constable Ken Lam managed to corner the criminal and he repeatedly tried to lure the cop into shooting him. Constable Lam didn't fall for it and arrested him cleanly. Later, Lam shrugged off the praise for his restraint as just doing his duty.
  • When halting a vehicle, Canadian and US soldiers have a series of increasingly awkward instructions designed to prevent this, such as keeping your hands crossed on the steering wheel, turning off the engine with your left hand, opening the car door with your right hand, etc. The idea is that you are consistently in such an awkward position that you'd never be able to pull anything out in time to be a threat, and if you refuse to follow these instructions or do something they don't tell you to do they now have a valid reason to suspect you as being hostile and have ample time to judge the situation.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: