Could you really open a locked door by shooting the lock?

Standard in movies, I’ve often wondered if this would work. Besides the danger from a ricocheting bullet would the gunshot actually somehow unlock the door?

I’ve done it with a car trunk lock.

A friend found a car in the woods near his home. Seriously. I stopped for a visit, he grabbed some guns and suggested a hike. When we reached the car, we took turns shooting it. I scored a bullseye on the trunk lock and it popped open.

It does depend on the kind of lock. Tests have been done on some padlock types, which showed that some of them will remain locked until completely destroyed. A lock which consists of a very large bolt that spans the door and the frame wall wont fail from a single small arms shot, obviously.

If you just think about it a bit from a mechanical standpoint, you should be able to noodle through that some locks will fail and some wont.

For sure, it’s very rare that you would find any serious realism in films concerning locks.

Mythbusters tested it. There’s some cheap locks that you can blast with a gun (it’s not that you’re opening it per se, you’re just destroying the lock), but most require a rifle and it’s extremely dangerous because of the shrapnel.

Wait, what? So you just saw a random car parked somewhere and opened fire on it? What if it was still being used, or if there were people inside? Maybe the owner had just parked it their while he went out to grab a rabbit or look for his lost dog or something and had left his children inside to wait for what was hopefully some “good news”.

Who had owned the car? What was inside the car and what happened after, later on? Did the owner ever come back for his wrecked car? Where did this happen?

The car was deep in the woods on property adjacent to my friend’s land. He saw the car when he was walking in the woods on several occasions and thought it would be fun to shoot it up (it was). I’d guess that for some reason (it was stolen, maybe?) somebody drove it into the woods, then hiked back out.

It was kind of like shooting bottles at the dump, but on a far grander scale.:smiley:

This was covered on MythBusters. You’ll want a shotgun with a breaching round.

If it was stolen, then you could have reported it to the police, so that they could investigate it. I highly doubt someone would just leave a car lying around like that, so if there was a empty car sitting out in the middle of nowhere, I’d still report it to the authorities. What if it was a lost hiker that drove out to the forest, went for a stroll but got injured and couldn’t make it back to his car? Or what if a murder had taken place?

Even if none of that happened, you’re not supposed to just shoot and ransack at other people’s property just because no one had used it for ages. Maybe the owner had just gone long-term camping in the forest or something.

Best way to pop a cheap padlock is with a pair of appropriately-sized open-end wrenches.

I saw a Youtube video on it, Mythbusters-style, but with a gun fan. The pistol round damaged the lock, actually making it harder to open. The rifle round put a hole through the lock, but the lock wouldn’t open. The shotgun rendered the lock an “unlock” (as in it was definitely not holding the door closed anymore).

How about a gas operated cow stunner bolt gun?

Most normal doors can be opened pretty easily by a good flat-footed kick alongside the lock – that’s much easier than shooting them with a gun. Even taking a prybar & hammer to the frame would be less dangerous and more sure of success.

It doesn’t always work:

Speaking as a Certified Master Locksmith, it’s highly unlikely that a lock would pop open from being shot with a bullet. No doubt, it can happen, but the attempt would fail >99% of the time. And yes it depends greatly on the type of lock. If you hit the lock in just the right spot with a large enough caliber round, you can utterly destroy the lock and cause it to shatter.

Padlocks come in two varieties. Some use a spring-load latch to secure the shackle and others use ball bearings which are physically blocked by the actuator. In the former case, the bullet merely has to make the lock bounce in such a way that the shackle can pop free. With the latter, the bullet has to either 1) shatter the lock, or 2) destroy the actuator, or 3) destroy the key cylinder and then cause the actuator to turn. Option #1 is possible. Option #2 is really hard to do without also accomplishing #1. Option #3 is virtually impossible.

Deadbolt locks hold a door closed using a bolt which has a deadlocking feature. The bolt is retracted by rotating the tailpiece which is attached to the key cylinder. In this case, if the bullet is lucky enough to destroy the cylinder, that still won’t retract the bolt unless the tailpiece rotates. Even if the entire lock is shattered, that would still likely leave the bolt itself holding the door closed. The most plausible way to make the door pop open would be to use a bullet so powerful that it either destroys the bolt or takes a huge chunk out of the door itself. Anything less ranges from extremely unlikely to virtually impossible.

Knob locks and lever locks suffer the same problem. The door is held closed by a latch which has a deadlocking feature. The latch retracts when the tailpiece rotates. Even if the bullet destroys the cylinder, that still won’t make the tailpiece rotate.

Any handgun or ordinary rifle, from .22 up to .45, has almost zero chance of popping open an ordinary knob lock or deadbolt or a decent padlock. The only real chance is with a cheap padlock and even then the odds are against it. As for the car trunk lock mentioned in the anecdote above… I bet that ten people could fire twenty rounds each at ten cars and only one of them might pop open. Hence each bullet has a chance of success of maybe 1 in 200.

The only thing less believable than seeing a movie hero fire a handgun making the lock pop open is that insipid scene from Big Trouble in Little China where Jack fires several rounds on full auto and makes multiple locks pop open simultaneously. That’s beyond ridiculous, more like miraculous.

OTOH, most lock manufacturers use only a few thousand keys which they assign randomly. If you have a key in your pocket which is the right type for that lock, there’s maybe 1 chance in 3000 that you just happen to have the right key. Popping open a lock by shooting at it is less likely than that.

When I was growing up in New Hampshire we used to see abandoned cars in the woods now and again. Nobody was coming back for those cars. You could tell. Like it was up on cinder blocks. Nobody wanted to pay to haul the cars out of the woods either. If the windows weren’t all broken, kids might go there and fornicate.

I’m pretty sure there are far fewer cars dumped in the woods since the seventies. It’s much easier to trace cars back to their owners since then. There are also stricter environmental standards.

Uh, no, I think it’s ill-advised to take potshots at abandoned cars.

Dang, but that’s the Straight Dope answer in it’s purest form, i.e. from One Who Knows.


I guess we would call this part of a knobbed lock the latch … the part that holds the door closed when it’s inserted into the door frame … I’ve found these latches to be on the temperamental side and when they do break they almost always stay fully extended, thus keeping the door closed … it’s one thing to put a bullet through the knobs, but putting a bullet through this latch and that door ain’t never opening … not until we get the Saws-All out and cut the fool thing apart … the door, not the lock …

Residential wood-framed construction … I think a .38 would make toothpicks of the trimmer and that door would swing wide open, lock intact, it’s the wall that’s gone …

So true! Everyone should know that shooting a lock won’t work! The obvious solution is for our hero to borrow a bobby pin from a nearby female and pick the lock…

Thanks for the expert info, sbunny8.

When I was a new volunteer firefighter, I was being given an orientation to one of the trucks. The guy showing me around went to open a compartment, saying, “And here’s where we keep the master key for every house in St. Charles County.” It was, naturally, a sledge hammer.

To be fair, Big Trouble in Little China was a deliberate parody of 'Seventies chop-socky and 'Eighties action movie tropes, so things like shooting out multiple locks or catching and rethrowing a boot knife (“It’s all in the reflexes,”) are intentional absurdities, and the film, populated by Chinese wizards, wuxia warriors, and so forth are part of the satire and are not to be taken seriously.

I’m not a Certified Master Locksmith but I’ve popped a few locks open with various tools, and I agree that shooting a lock is unlikely to cause it to open except in the case that a spring mechanism is activated by the force. Most tumbler locks will jam up tight if the locking mechanism is deformed, requiring forcible extraction that will destroy the lock and possibly the housing/striker/door jamb depending on how it is mounted.