Is It Possible to Shoot Out a Lock with a Gun?

movie trope locks guns doors shoot out myth

This is good time to remind you to not try anything at home. Leave the risk to professionals who are duly compensated for their poor choices. (Image by Paige Foster via sxc.hu)

TLDR: It’s possible, but it doesn’t work the way you think. 

Do me a favor. The next time you get the itch to write in a scene where the character “shoots out a lock,” go grab the firearm you keep in a hidden safe in the wall and a big, fat rock. Stand as close as you can to the rock, then aim at it and pull the trigger. (Or don’t. Please don’t.)

Does this sound like a good idea to you? Does the risk of catching a mouthful of shrapnel or a ricocheted bullet for no good reason sound appealing? Congratulations. You have excellent health insurance.

The rest of us plebs would probably pass, but that’s exactly what you’re putting your characters through when you use the “shooting out the locks” trope. Your characters may be fictional, but they deserve better.

Why “Shooting the Lock Out” is a Bad Idea

book busted myths shooting out lock

Hope you have your tetanus shot. (Image by Cerys Robinson via sxc.hu)

“Shooting out the lock” is one of the most common tropes in movies and books. I doubt it originated from anyone familiar with what happens when a metal projectile traveling hundreds or thousands of feet per second collides with a solid piece of metal like a lock. Firearms and ammunition are not magical. They don’t double as lock picks or keys. They are bound by the same laws of physics that govern everything from your toaster to the moon.

That means “shooting out the lock” will likely result in the following:

  • High-speed shrapnel.
  • A ricocheting bullet.
  • A mangled lock even more unworkable than before.
  • Damage to other characters or objects on the other side of the door.
  • An injured character wondering why its creator (you) didn’t pick up a copy of my book, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons.

And that’s just with padlocks. The bulleted list goes double if the lock is inside the door itself, which is a lot more common to run into than a rusty padlock. Let’s not forget digital locks, either.

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MacGyver could do it. (Image by melodi2 via sxc.hu)

When “Shooting Out the Lock” Might Actually Work

That doesn’t mean a character is completely out of luck. Shotguns and large caliber rifles could do the trick, especially if the character takes a few steps back. Handguns, though, are out. The oomph of a .44 magnum or .50 caliber pistol might get it done, but I would still avoid it.

This video is worth watching all the way through. The shooter (not me) experiments with a variety of firearms. Only a couple prove successful.

Now that you know what not to do, here are some alternatives.

Alternative: Shoot Around the Lock

Rather than unloading on one of the most solid parts of the door, why not go for a softer target? The character could shoot around the lock, go for the hinges, blow through glass in or near the door, or blast the door itself to start a hole.

Alternative: Beat the Lock into Submission

The character could strike that old, rusty padlock with a firearm until it breaks. The stock of a shotgun or rifle is ideal.

Alternative: Tap Your Character’s Inner MacGyver

If the character isn’t in a hurry, picking a padlock isn’t all that difficult. Here’s an example of someone popping a padlock with a soda can.

Wrenches work, too, on smaller padlocks.

Those electronic locks can be overcome with a credit card (with the caveat that the housing moves as the handle is jiggled). 

A butter knife or other flexible piece of metal works in a similar way. The character can use the knife like a shim to “pop” the lock.

And, of course, there’s the banana trick.

Alternative: Breaching Ammunition

There exists shotgun ammunition designed specifically for taking out door locks and hinges called “breaching shotshells.” These fire a cup of metal powder that breaks apart upon impact to reduce shrapnel and the chance for ricochet. (In gun talk, this means the projectile is “frangible.”)

Alternative: Get Creative Instead of Relying on a Trope

Don’t look at me. You’re the writer here.


Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

7 thoughts on “Is It Possible to Shoot Out a Lock with a Gun?

  1. A good quality screwdriver, some leverage, and a practiced hand can open any cheap to medium quality lock. Fun fact, after opening the lock with the lever method, you can lock it again and in many cases, it will continue working with the key.

    Of course, really good quality locks don’t fall so easily, but few people buy them.

    I have never tried this in RL but if I had to shoot a lock with a gun, I’d position it so I shoot it on top of it, meaning that I’d see the chrome ring through the sights, then angle a bit so the bullet impacts the brass body at the top. That should open it with any larger caliber as long as (once again) you have good leverage in the form of an anchor point.

    Your average lock is really not very good. Personally, I prefer the round ones. Much harder to open and have no way to apply leverage to break the notch that keeps it in place.

    Like

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