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Mack Bolan: "Make no mistake, all of you. You shoot one cop, or one innocent bystander, and the public stops cheering and the cops stop looking the other way and all of a sudden you're just another dirtbag on the street."
The Executioner #2: Death Squad

All about the complex, soldiers are hunting for our hero, with orders to shoot to kill. They know he's dangerous. They've taken shots at him. He may even be wounded.

But.... his gun is still in its holster. Why isn't he fighting back? Why is he just defensively dodging?

Because they ought to be on his side. They're good guys, and he knows it.

The Rival, believing his own Malicious Slander, sent them after him, or The Mole is deliberately trying to disable him — but at any rate, these Mooks ought to be on The Hero's side, so he can't shoot them, no matter how deluded they are about who's the good guy. A Sub-Trope of Never Hurt an Innocent and Friend or Foe.

Policemen often fall under this if The Hero is accused of a crime, especially with the better sort of Vigilante Man. (Wrongful Accusation Insurance not withstanding — and it does make Clear My Name much easier if he doesn't do this.) Sometimes overlaps with Arrested for Heroism.

It also may plant seeds of doubt when the character doesn't attack as violently as expected. Especially when The Hero refuses to Get It Over With.

More common on the idealistic side of Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, though not quite as high as Thou Shalt Not Kill.

On high stakes missions, a character may have to kill such men to keep his mission going. This trope comes into play if it results in Dirty Business, no matter how high the stakes. (Such as, all the guards will die if he doesn't defuse the bomb, and so he has to get past them.) This tends to push things toward cynicism.

Examples of Would Not Shoot a Good Guy include:

Anime and Manga

  • A variant in Fullmetal Alchemist. Roy Mustang and his men are willing to return fire when fighting the military but specifically avoid shooting to kill. Any other enemy would have been burned to death instantly. The army interprets this as Mustang trying to mess with their heads and tries harder. On the other hand, the Briggs forces (including Falman, formerly of Mustang's group) really have no choice but to kill Central forces, who are shown as equally brave against the odds as the heroes.
  • In Busou Renkin, this is why Kazuki refused to kill the Alchemist Warriors sent after him when he is about to go Victor.
  • Totally and completely averted in the first season of Ghost in the Shell. After the whole of Section 9 is falsely accused of a crime, you would need an accountant to keep track of the dead among the black-ops military team sent to arrest them.
  • Transformers Cybertron: When Starscream's army is spread out searching and the Autobots are working to try and beat them back, the US Military launches several remote-control drone jets to attack. They are unaware of the different factions at this time, and shoot at Autobot and Decepticon alike. But in spite of taking fire from two directions the Autobots only fire on the Decepticons. Col. Franklin observes this and points it out to Secret Keeper Lucy Suzuki, assuaging her brief worry that the Autobots had been deceiving her. The episode comes off as something of a Take That to how Autobot-Human military relationships tend to go in the Transformers comics.

Comic Books

  • In a Marvel What If?, Captain America refused to lay aside the name (instead of the arc when he was just The Captain). Soldiers come after him, having been told he's an imposter; one actually thinks it's hard to believe that it's not Captain America, but jumps into the fray. Captain America doesn't want to hurt them.
  • In an issue of Superman where he goes to Earth Prime, which is basically our world with all its mundanities, an army commander orders his men to shoot on Superman. They do so, thinking he's some sort of impostor or crazy person, but when the smoke clears and he's just fine, the men turn on their commander.
    • They turn on their commander for ordering them to mildly inconvenience Superman?
  • The final run of Garth Ennis' take on The Punisher involved Frank being in the sights of a cabal of Corrupt US Army Generals...who use their connections to send a group of special operations soldiers after him. Frank doesn't kill them, but that doesn't mean he doesn't fight them...
    • It helps that (although Castle himself didn't know it) the soldiers' commander wanted to bring Castle in alive — both out of his belief that Castle deserved trial and not summary execution, and because Castle himself had saved his life in Vietnam and was his inspiration to go into special operations — so he had the soldiers using less-lethal weapons.
    • Note that this doesn't stop him shooting up Russian soldiers in a nuclear missile base.
      • That one gave him the excuse of working for the government, rather than killing to further his own goals.
    • Also, Frank usually takes it easy on superheroes who get between him and his targets. Of course, "taking it easy" for Frank Castle still usually involves fisticuffs, non-lethal shootings, stabbings, and on one occasion, a steamroller. In that particular story, he was fighting Wolverine and was allowed to go all out since Wolverine can always get better.
      • Many writers got around this by having Punisher believe the heroes were imposters or had commited a crime, allowing him to pose more of a threat. Of course, since he's usually shooting at Daredevil or Spider-Man, he mostly misses either way.


  • In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, John Connor forbids the Terminator from killing the SWAT officers who are swarming the building. The Terminator follows orders, strictly speaking, but stops the cops anyway by shooting them in their legs.
  • The heroes in the film version of RED go out of their way not to kill any of the police, feds or secret service agents trying to catch them, instead pinning them down with suppression fire and running away. The only people they ever do kill are the mercenaries and CIA spooks actively trying to kill them.
  • In The Dark Knight, Batman is forced to non-lethally disable a SWAT team that has mistaken the hostages for armed hostage-takers. Granted, Batman never intentionally kills people, but he's noticeably more careful in that scene.
  • In Salt, the titular protagonist tries her very best not to fatally injure any of her "good guy" pursuers. Sure, she causes them a lot of pain and broken bones, but nobody dies, especially not the Russian President, who is merely knocked out with spider venom.
  • In Minority Report, Anderton must first dispatch a group of his own pre-crime teammates, and then with a number of FBI agents. Though law enforcement is already mostly geared toward non-lethal weapons in this universe, Anderton takes more care to make sure none of his comrades are hurt too extensively.
  • In Rush Hour, Lee is without his credentials and finds himself at gunpoint when he mentions the ambassador's daughter to some FBI agents. He disarms both (in trademark "Jackie Chan" style) and dismantles the guns.


  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 Eisenhorn novels, Eisenhorn has to kill several fellow Inquisitors, because they were set on his trail by a rogue Inquisitor and if he dies, no one will stop the rogue. He feels it very hard.
  • The Executioner novel series. Mack Bolan decided early on that he would not fire on police officers, even though being arrested would end his war against the Mafia (and result in his death once the Mafia got to him in prison).That may, however, have been pragmatism as much as anything. Bolan was savvy to the fact that as long as only bad guys died, the law would feel inclined to look the other way. As soon as innocents or cops start dying, the boys in blue will tear heaven and earth apart to find you.
  • The Spider didn't kill cops for much the same reason--even crooked cops. (He had no compunction about beating the snot out of them, though; the Spider wasn't stupid.)
  • There's an odd example in Solo Command. Lara Notsil gets discovered to be the woman who caused the deaths of Talon Squadron, and she's well aware that the fact that she became the mask and went through a Heel Face Turn doesn't change her history. Despite being shot at by her love interest, the only surviving member of Talon Squadron, all she does is flee. She goes to the enemy, Warlord Zsinj, as a Fake Defector, and when she actually has to face the squadron she powers down her lasers. Suspecting the situation, Wedge Antilles orders that she isn't to be fired on.
  • Disturbingly averted in the Death Merchant novel, "The Soul Search Project" where the protaognist and his team kill dozens of NYPD officers during a chase without blinking an eye and justify it by saying: "you have to break a few eggs to get an omelet". Of course the titular Death Merchant is a Heroic Sociopath who won't think twice about averting Never Hurt an Innocent if it's the quickest way to accomplish a mission.
    • The same author also wrote a series of books called C.O.B.R.A. in which this trope is inverted regularly as the protagonist, Jon Skul, frequently kills police and innocent bystanders in order to complete his missions, with zero remorse shown.
  • The Modesty Blaise short story "I Had a Date with Lady Janet" (published in the collection Pieces of Modesty) describes a situation dating back to when Modesty was the leader of a criminal gang in which a lucrative robbery job was cancelled due to Modesty being unable to work out a plan that didn't involve police officers being hurt.

Live Action Television

  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Messages from Earth", the White Star enters the Solar System illegally to destroy a Shadow warship that the Earth Government are trying to reactivate. Having done so, they are then pursued by Sheridan's old ship, the Agamemnon. Naturally, Sheridan refuses to fire on it.
  • Dexter wasn't willing to kill Doakes, instead keeping him held hostage for a couple episodes after the latter discovered that he was the Bay Harbor Butcher. Luckily (or Unluckilly), though, Lila came along... Though Dexter wasn't exactly grateful.
  • Leverage features this in the episode The Lost Heir Job after Parker is framed for shooting a police officer. Eliot claims that he isn't going to hit the cops that are following them. Fortunately, Parker is more willing to use Stun Guns on them.

Video Games

  • Shirou has this attitude during the Grail War, which causes every single one of his allies to facepalm or threaten him with death. Seriously, only going after bad guys in a There Can Be Only One fight to the death?
  • In the original Splinter Cell, killing CIA security forces while trying to break into CIA Headquarters resulted in an instant mission failure. In Chaos Theory you could kill U.S. National Guard forces while sneaking around New York, but it'd automatically drop your mission score to 0%, and in the final mission killing Japanese soldiers while breaking into a Japanese base results in an instant mission failure (although it's more due to political consequences rather than moral considerations). Completely thrown out the window in Double Agent, where you're undercover as a member of a domestic terrorist group, and can kill prison guards and security guards at your leisure (although doing so drops your NSA trust meter, which can lead to a game over if you overdo it).
  • This is one gameplay option in Shadow the Hedgehog and Shadow's canon modus operandi from now on. He'll still fight Sonic, but they're each other's Worthy Opponents and Sonic appreciates the excitement, plus it's technically sparring. Sonic himself wouldn't attack a good guy outside of sparring either. Or when fighting for his life against a misguided Silver.
  • In Alpha Protocol, Mike has one or two opportunities to shoot at police and other aggressors that are "just doing their jobs", mainly in Taiwan. Doing so will often score him negative points with his handler. Mina's opinion of you will drop by 1 point per kill, making it possible to go from "best buds" to "worst enemies" faster than you can say "but I didn't have any tranquilizer darts!". Fortunately, both these sedative darts and non-lethal melee takedowns let you Take a Third Option, albeit often painfully hospitalizing the target in the latter case. Additionally, characters may remark on your lethality (or lack thereof) and appreciate that in later meetings, especially Albatross in regards to infiltrating one of the G-22 facilities and engaging a number of soldiers there. The same goes for U.S. Marines. On the other hand, killing police, CIA agents, and Marines will also help prove to Leland that you're a worthy asset, who is willing to get things done, and helps unlock the endings where either Mike goes to work for Halbech, or betrays Leland and proceeds to Take Over the World.
  • Discussed in Battlefield 3, as a GRU Spetsnaz team attempts to stop a terrorist plot to nuke Paris. The team leader points out that there will be no time to establish their credentials with French police, who won't see the difference between them and the terrorists, and that in the grand scheme of things, sacrificing a number of French cops to prevent a war in which millions of Russians die is no contest. He's clearly unhappy about doing this, however, but feels it has to be done.