I think Mythbusters did padlocks, but I don't know if they did the standard door lock test. We see it in movies and tv shows, but can a locked door be "unlocked" by shooting the lock with a handgun?

EDIT: Let's keep this movie related: 1 shot, direct hit (no miss).

  • 5
    How many times can I shoot the lock?
    – fred
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 15:09
  • 4
    How big the calibre? :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 15:10
  • 2
    In most movies it is one shot, sometimes 2, very dramatical effects need a whole magazine to be shot in the door. :) Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 20:07
  • 13
    @Robusto Chuck Norris just needs to raise an eyebrow at the lock, and it will open out of fear. Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 4:23
  • 1
    While outright -opening- of doors by shooting might be difficult, breaching the lock in a way that makes opening them trivial should be quite possible. Look up "lock snapping" - a shot at an angle should be well capable of doing the same thing as the specialized tool does (snapping the keyed cylinder in half) and then all that remains is removing the broken halves and turning the latch with a bent piece of wire.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 11:43

2 Answers 2


It is possible to breach a door using bullets, but a normal handgun is normally underpowered. Shotguns are suited for this task. The door isn't unlocked but partly broken so that it opens.


Ballistic breaching uses a projectile weapon to breach an opening. Weapons used can range from small arms to the 120mm cannon of a main battle tank with a HEAT round, which will breach most obstacles easily, though the force involved may violate the rules of engagement.[3] A less damaging ballistic breach needs to destroy either the latch and lock, or the hinges of the door, and the ideal choice for this is the shotgun. While in theory other firearms can be used, handguns are usually underpowered[4] and rifles are less effective than the shotgun and pose a far higher risk of ricochet and collateral injury.[3] Most shotgun ammunition can be used for breaching, though the risk of injury varies with type.

[1] FM 3-06-11. US Army. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/3-06-11/ch3.htm. Section 3-20, Breaching

[2] Don Munson. "Action Target’s Tactical Breach Door". Tactical Response Magazine. http://www.hendonpub.com/publications/tacticalresponse/forcedentry.aspx.

[3] US Army. FM 7-8 INFANTRY RIFLE PLATOON AND SQUAD. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/7-8/ch6.htm. Chapter 6, Urban Operations

[4] See Mythbusters Special 9

  • 19
    "the 120mm cannon of a main battle tank with a HEAT round, which will breach most obstacles easily" Would not have guessed.
    – Nick T
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 14:39
  • far higher risk of ricochet Its funny how nobody ever gets hurt like that in movies (unless its a plot move)
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 13:27
  • Reference 1 in your post has nothing to do with locks but shotguns vs "doorknobs" and "hinges." Reference 4, the Mythbusters episode, examined rifles and shotguns vs door locks, (padlocks were different episode than the reference). Your answer is all over and skirts the handgun specific question. "...normal handgun is normally underpowered..." is a terrible sentence that your references do not support, sorry. My answer is better suited to the OP.
    – geoO
    Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 13:17
  • 1
    @geoO: Well, I answer this question: Q: "can a locked door be "unlocked" by shooting the lock with a handgun?" A: handguns are too weak; door is never unlooked but broken. Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 9:20
  • 2
    @MartinScharrer depends on your definition of "unlocked". Removing the lock from the door through gratuitous application of force counts as unlocking in my book.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 13:50

The Box Of Truth blog examined the movie claim with padlocks, rather than door locks.

This is a good reference because he uses pistol, rifle and shotgun with varying loads.

I know this reference isn't about door locks, but the close up of the damage and clear explanation of the ammunition involved lends better understanding towards a conclusion with respect to door locks that are often just brass cylinders, not even laminated steel as with the padlocks.

  • 2
    I agree it is a good reference, but it isn't a relevant reference, as the OP explicitly said he wasn't interested in padlocks.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 0:42
  • But it does address handguns. We can extrapolate from the damage to padlocks to door locks, which are softer material (brass vs hardened steel.)
    – geoO
    Commented Dec 31, 2012 at 17:55
  • 1
    no you can't, and your assertion about materials is also wrong.
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 13:48

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