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On a rainy night, fourteen-year-old Bart Tare smashes the window of a hardware store and steals a gun, but is soon caught by Sheriff Boston. At Bart's hearing, his older sister Ruby, who reared the boy by herself, assures Judge Willoughby that despite Bart's strange obsession with guns, he would never kill anything. To prove her point, she describes the trauma he experienced when he shot a chick with a BB gun as a small boy. Bart's friends, Dave Allister and Clyde Boston, the sheriff's son, then recall how Bart refused to kill a mountain lion for the bounty, despite being an expert shot. Ruby, who is about to marry, asks that Bart be allowed to live with her, but the judge sends Bart away to reform school.
Years later, Bart returns to town and calls on Dave, who has become a newspaper reporter, and Clyde, who is now the sheriff. He tells them that he joined the Army after reform school and has returned to settle down. That evening, the three friends go to the carnival, where they attend a demonstration by beautiful sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr. The carnival owner, Packett, challenges the audience members to a shooting match with Laurie, and when Bart wins, Packett gives him a job. Bart and Laurie's mutual attraction angers Packett, and he tries to intimidate Laurie by reminding her about the man she killed in St. Louis. Bart comes in during the ensuing struggle and fires a warning shot, and when Packett fires them both, Bart and Laurie run away together.
At Bart's insistence they get married and enjoy an idyllic honeymoon until they run out of money. Bart wants to sell his guns and take a job, but Laurie desires the fast life and lots of money. After she persuades Bart to take up armed robbery, they embark on a daring crime spree, although they never actually shoot anybody. Bart grows increasingly unhappy with their life of crime, but Laurie insists on one last heist at the Armour Meat Company. They take jobs with the firm and carefully plan to rob the payroll office. Everything goes smoothly until Laurie's supervisor, Miss Sifert, pulls the burglar alarm, and Laurie shoots her, along with a security guard. Bart and Laurie narrowly escape and manage to flee to Southern California. Bart is horrified when he reads in the paper about the death of Miss Sifert and the guard at the plant, and Laurie confesses that she killed a man in St. Louis while committing a robbery with Packett.
When the FBI catches up with them by tracing money from the robbery, Bart and Laurie hop a freight train and take refuge in Ruby's house, which is near the tracks. Responding to worried calls from Ruby's neighbors, Clyde and Dave go to her house, where Bart greets his old friends at gunpoint. They urge Bart to give himself up, but Bart and Laurie take Ruby's car and drive into Madera National Park. When the car breaks down, they run into the woods, finally stopping by a swamp for the night. The next morning, through the heavy fog, they hear Clyde and Dave calling out to Bart. Laurie prepares to shoot them as they approach, but Bart shoots her and is then cut down by a hail of gunfire. Clyde and Dave look down at the bodies and slowly walk away.