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Hollywood Cliche: Opening Locked Doors with Gunfire

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  • Hollywood Cliche: Opening Locked Doors with Gunfire

    Hollywood would have you believe that, when confronted with a locked door, two or three rounds fired into the cylinder acts as a universal key. With 20+ years of facility maintenance experience behind me I would tend to think that such would be more likely to jam the lock and render it inoperable, save with dynamite. But before I write it up that way, I thought I would ask those with training and experience in the field: Am I right, or is Hollywood right?

  • #2
    Script writers always choose dramatic effect over reality. You are correct; impact by handgun bullets is far more likely to jam a lock than to open it.

    About 30 years ago Master padlocks used a television commercial demonstrating their padlocks subjected to fire from a Smith & Wesson .44 magnum revolver. According to Master their locks remained secure even when fully penetrated by those shots.

    The US military has made use of "breaching guns" in recent years. Basically a short-barreled 12-ga. shotgun firing specialized ammunition with a hardened slug intended to break locks, hinges, and/or attachments to door frames. I doubt we will see such implements used in law enforcement due to the dangers of wounding effects beyond the door to be breached (something that is less of a concern in military counter-insurgency warfare than in urban law enforcement).
    Last edited by retired1995; 07-20-2019, 12:50 AM.

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    • #3
      Thanks for the reply. Okay, with that clear, what might SWAT officers in a major department plausibly carry which could open a commercial-grade door quickly when responding to a scene, not a hostage situation, where felons are known to be hiding between locked doors? The breaching gun you mention, or something else?

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      • #4
        SWAT teams vary in breaching capability. Techniques may include mechanical, thermal, ballistic, and explosive. Mechanical is the most common technique. You can find examples of basic mechanical tools on the 5.11 Tactical website, although there are other tools available.

        As 1995 mentions, shotguns can be used for breaching. Ideally, these are specialized weapons (pistol grip only with a ridged attachment to stabilize the barrel against the door. Specialized breaching rounds are used to destroy the lock, but reduce risk to both officers and anyone on the other side of the door. The breaching shotgun is typically carried in a sheath or on a sling in addition to the officer's primary long gun.

        A standard shotgun with buckshot could be used as an in extremis breaching weapon, but this obviously poses greater risks to all involved.
        John from Maryland

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        • #5
          I'm wrapping this scene up and I don't think I'll spend much more time on it. It at least sounds plausible to me that a major city SWAT team responding to a barricade situation might have an officer or two with one of those breaching guns retired1995 mentions. Bad guys hiding in locker room with work clothes and fake IDs, hoping to mix in with the legitimate workers and escape in the aftermath >> breaching gun >> apprehension and move on to the next chapter. Thanks all.

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          • #6
            Just have your hero whip out his Tek 9, holding it sideways for more accuracy and faster bullets, and shoot out the lock. Works every time.
            Now go home and get your shine box!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by John from Maryland View Post
              SWAT teams vary in breaching capability. Techniques may include mechanical, thermal, ballistic, and explosive. Mechanical is the most common technique. You can find examples of basic mechanical tools on the 5.11 Tactical website, although there are other tools available.

              As 1995 mentions, shotguns can be used for breaching. Ideally, these are specialized weapons (pistol grip only with a ridged attachment to stabilize the barrel against the door. Specialized breaching rounds are used to destroy the lock, but reduce risk to both officers and anyone on the other side of the door. The breaching shotgun is typically carried in a sheath or on a sling in addition to the officer's primary long gun.

              A standard shotgun with buckshot could be used as an in extremis breaching weapon, but this obviously poses greater risks to all involved.
              My agency sent me to an active shooter class put on by GTI. They taught some rather aggressive techniques to regular patrol officers, to include ballistic breaching with issued buckshot. Even if we already had an AR-type long gun, they encouraged us to carry an additional shotgun or mechanical breaching tools. The pistol-gripped 12-gauge in a scabbard on the back of our plate carriers was mentioned.

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              • #8
                This.^^^^^^^^^^^^
                Now go home and get your shine box!

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by ehbowen View Post
                  Thanks for the reply. Okay, with that clear, what might SWAT officers in a major department plausibly carry which could open a commercial-grade door quickly when responding to a scene, not a hostage situation, where felons are known to be hiding between locked doors? The breaching gun you mention, or something else?
                  Back in the 1970's and 1980's the basic tools we used were:

                  1. Sledge hammer Most residential doors won't stand up to more than a couple of hits.
                  2. The "Key", a 3-foot section of telephone pole with steel plates on the ends and rope handles allowing two officers to batter the door out of the door frame. Commercially made models are available in all-steel construction. We made up our own with scavenged materials. Most residential doors pop open on the first hit.
                  3. A heavy-duty automobile jack. Placed across the middle of the door opening, then jacked until the door frame spread far enough to clear the door frame. Useful on commercial grade doors with steel frames.

                  None of these is silent or fast to use, and all cause significant and permanent damage to doors, locks, and frames. The officers applying the entry force need to have full protective gear and back-up providing cover.

                  I have heard of a variation on the auto jack. A pneumatic cylinder capable of applying a ton or more of force to spread open a door frame quickly, and it can be operated from several feet away from the door which provides improved officer safety. Probably requires a large-capacity compressor, which can be set up a considerable distance away and connected with air hoses.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by retired1995 View Post

                    Back in the 1970's and 1980's the basic tools we used were:

                    1. Sledge hammer Most residential doors won't stand up to more than a couple of hits.
                    2. The "Key", a 3-foot section of telephone pole with steel plates on the ends and rope handles allowing two officers to batter the door out of the door frame. Commercially made models are available in all-steel construction. We made up our own with scavenged materials. Most residential doors pop open on the first hit.
                    3. A heavy-duty automobile jack. Placed across the middle of the door opening, then jacked until the door frame spread far enough to clear the door frame. Useful on commercial grade doors with steel frames.

                    None of these is silent or fast to use, and all cause significant and permanent damage to doors, locks, and frames. The officers applying the entry force need to have full protective gear and back-up providing cover.

                    I have heard of a variation on the auto jack. A pneumatic cylinder capable of applying a ton or more of force to spread open a door frame quickly, and it can be operated from several feet away from the door which provides improved officer safety. Probably requires a large-capacity compressor, which can be set up a considerable distance away and connected with air hoses.
                    Please note that none of these tools are carried in every patrol car, and relatively few officers are trained in the use of these tools. When a situation develops that requires this level of intervention that situation may require hours of containment prior to the arrival of trained officers and equipment. This is especially true in outlying areas, relying upon mutual aid agreements with other agencies for situations rising above the "normal" level. Containment and management of serious incidents may require tools, equipment, and personnel far beyond what is routinely available.

                    Those who expect a TV show response (i.e: everything done in under an hour, minus commercial interruptions) may be disappointed.

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                    • #11
                      Late to the party per usual, but OP - in addition to what the others posted, I was seriously shocked to find that breaching rounds are commercially available. Check it out:

                      https://www.midwayusa.com/product/1019391860


                      QUOTE=CCCSD;n6804707]Just have your hero whip out his Tek 9, holding it sideways for more accuracy and faster bullets, and shoot out the lock. Works every time.[/QUOTE]

                      3C always good for a laugh or three!

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                      • #12
                        Lock picks are easier to use and a lot more practical than using a firearm to breach a locked door.
                        Getting shot hurts! Don't under estimate the power of live ammo. A .22LR can kill you! I personally feel that it's best to avoid being shot by any caliber. Your vest may stop the bullet, but you'll still get a nice bruise or other injury to remember the experience.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by HI629 View Post
                          Lock picks are easier to use and a lot more practical than using a firearm to breach a locked door.
                          Agree 110%, Locks picks worked for me with less paperwork and / or collateral damage.

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                          • #14
                            I wouldn't have the first clue on how to pick a lock, but I can operate bolt-cutters, a battering ram, a sledge hammer, a Halligan tool, or just plain kick a door in if needed...

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Aidokea View Post
                              I wouldn't have the first clue on how to pick a lock, but I can operate bolt-cutters, a battering ram, a sledge hammer, a Halligan tool, or just plain kick a door in if needed...
                              Back in my days we called it "john wayne-ing a door". Lots of residential and apartment doors can be quickly and easily opened by the forceful application of the sole and heel of your shoe near the lock mechanism. Usually drives the lock bolt against the striker plate, breaking the door jamb. Most door jambs are 1" nominal dimension soft wood (actually about 5/8 to 3/4" thickness) which is very weak at the point that the lock bolt (or deadbolt) is set into the jamb.

                              I've seen hundreds of homes equipped with high-dollar dead-bolt locks installed with striker plates secured by 3/4" screws into a soft-wood door jamb, and the homeowners just couldn't understand how a 12-year old burglar kicked their door open with his Nike sneakers in one or two attempts.

                              Moral of this story? 1" solid steel dead-bolts with striker plates set into the door jamb using 3" steel screws capable of penetrating at least one full stud in the door framing. This adds about 5 minutes to the lock installation and costs an additional 10 cents in materials.

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