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When infamous hired gunman John Gant arrives in a Southwestern town, the locals are shocked at his youthfulness and terrified by his reputation. Although Sheriff Buck Hastings would like to arrest Gant, he points out to the townsmen that Gant always coerces his rivals to draw their gun first, allowing him to kill them legally in "self-defense." While the men in the saloon speculate anxiously about whom Gant might be tailing, Luke Canfield, the town blacksmith and doctor, greets Gant, unaware that he is a hired gunman, and demonstrates his perfect aim with an awl. Luke proudly takes Gant on a tour through town and agrees to join him later for a chess game. At home, Luke's fiancée, Anne Benson, tends to her father, Judge Benson, who suffers from consumption. Luke's father Asa joins them for dinner, during which Buck arrives to warn Luke to stay away from Gant. Asa cautions Buck not to condemn Gant prematurely, but Buck is reluctant to accept his advice and reveals that he feels he will be powerless against Gant's sharp shooting. Later, mine owners Earl Stricker and Thad Pierce assume that their partner, Ben Chaffee, has hired Gant to kill them in order to take sole ownership of the mine. When they find Gant in the saloon and propose a counter-offer, however, Gant observes that no innocent man would be afraid, and turns them away. Upon hearing that Stricker and Pierce were seen talking with Gant, Chaffee assumes that they want to kill him. He questions Luke about Gant, and after Luke fails to calm him, the physician walks through town, noting that the townsmen are all hiding behind guns and locked doors. While clerk Lou Fraden and his wife Roseanne discuss their certainty that her ex-husband has sent Gant to kill them, Luke confronts Gant, asking him why he has come. Impressed with Luke's bravery and integrity, Gant explains that he believes that Luke, who saves the lives of men "who deserve to die," is less ethical than he. While they talk, a panicked Pierce shoots himself to death in his office, after which Luke accuses Gant of murder. When Buck tries to throw Gant out of town, however, the outlaw shoots the sheriff's hand, rendering him useless with a gun. Later, Judge Benson advocates using vigilante law to throw out Gant, but after Luke protests, suggests sacrificing the one man Gant is after in order to save the rest of the town. Meanwhile, Fraden, emboldened by alcohol, confronts Gant, who calmly encourages him to draw his gun. At Luke's urging, Fraden flees, leaving Luke to demand fruitlessly that Gant leave town. Next, Stricker gathers the townsmen to challenge Gant, and although Luke disapproves, he agrees to lead them, hoping to minimize the possible violence. Gant, angered to see Luke backed by a mob, warns the men that if they shoot him he will stay alive long enough to kill Luke, Asa, Stricker and several other town leaders. The men disband silently. Later, Luke confesses to Judge Benson that he likes Gant, and the judge warns him that Gant's viciousness is a progressive disease that he cannot escape. In the store the next day, Gant approaches Anne and questions her about her home life, but will not reveal whom he is hunting. At the same time, the judge speculates to Luke that if the hunted man refused to defend himself, Gant could be legally arrested for murder, but Luke declares that no man could die without fighting. Soon after, Chafee begins a shootout with Stricker, which results in the death of many men and Buck's resignation. Anne, who has grown suspicious about the judge, reads a letter locked in his drawer that reveals a past crime. Realizing that Gant has been hired to kill her father, she goes to Gant's room with a gun, but the outlaw easily knocks it out of her hand. Anne declares that the judge will not defend himself, prompting Gant to rip off a piece of her bodice. He brings it to the judge's home, where the old man admits his guilt but refuses to fight. Gant then shows him the piece of Anne's dress and implies that he has raped her, stirring the judge to grab his rifle. Gant walks outside, and although the judge follows him, the older man dies before any shots are fired. Luke arrives and, seeing Gant with his gun drawn, throws a hammer at his hand, breaking it so that Gant can no longer shoot. As Gant laboriously mounts his horse, Luke offers to tend to his hand, but Gant replies that everything, including his own life, must come to an end, and rides off.