"...you'd be dead already."
Line uttered to "prove" temporary lack of hostile intentions. You can pretty much accept this line to be true whenever it is spoken; (almost) nobody ever bluffs a failed assassination attempt this way. Furthermore, heroes seems strangely effective in reassuring the heroes, who rarely show concern at learning that their lives are / have been permanently menaced by people they were antagonizing, and almost never take steps so that, if the villain starts actually wanting them dead, he'd have to make some sort of effort to achieve that.
It might come up when a villain who was secretly spying on the heroes or even hiding among their ranks suddenly offers them help, as they happened to have a common goal. A common inversion is to have the person being threatened calmly shake the threat off with the reasoning, "If you were really going to kill me you'd have done it by now."
Not to be confused with I Wished You Were Dead. Compare Break-In Threat.
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Anime and Manga
In Gunsmith Cats, Goldie has kidnapped Misty and is dragging her off someplace where she can brainwash her into a sex slave. Rally puts a bullet through the palm she's extending to yank Misty from the car from five hundred yards away. Goldie realizes that the only reason Rally did not put that round through the top of her spine is because she removed Rally's brainwashing - but if she tries to take Misty, the next one will. She leaves peacefully.
Madlax essentially said this in actions, not words, in episode 3. When the "scary chick" guard commander is attempting to zero in on her after she has killed her target ( who hired her to do it), twin shots are heard, and the commander's beret flies off, with a track cut through the top. Madlax had her dead to rights, and both of them knew it, yet she spared her.
The general theme of "I won...? Wait, that means you must have let me win!" is used continually throughout the series; this is at least the second time it's applied to a supposed life-or-death struggle.
There is a little variation of this in Naruto: After Sasuke's fight with his brother Itachi, Tobi reveals to him that Itachi never really planned on killing him. Sasuke, of course, doesn't believe it, to which Tobi replied: "But you're still alive! [...] If he really planned on killing you, you would've..."
In Parasyte Ch. 6, a parasyte reassures Shinji (who is naturally freaking out) that an invitation to meet for coffee is benign by citing this trope.
Zoro from One Piece does this to Monet during their fight, who knows Zoro can use Haki but chose not to when cutting her in half, only disabling her. This near-death experience made Monet so overwhelmed with fear that they weren't able to reform properly and made an easy target for Tashigi to finish her off.
The Kingpin to the Runaways: "If there was going to be violence at this table, it would be over and you would be dead."
Parodied at the tail end of the "Bwah-ha-ha!"-era Justice League International, with this exchange among reformed members of the former Injustice League, after an attempt to pay their respects to a comatose Maxwell Lord goes very badly wrong:
"This is ridiculous! If we'd wanted to kill Lord, he'd be dead by now!" "Judging by our track record, if we'd wanted to kill Lord we'd be dead by now." "True. But either way, they should know he's in no danger!"
Tanizaki Kazuo, the Big Bad of The Dark Lords Ascendant, claims that knew all about the Sailor Senshi since they first appeared in public, and was observing them in secret ever since. If he wanted to, he could have Usagi hit by a drunk driver on her way to school, or have Makoto die in her sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty furnace, or have Haruka's bike suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure during one of her races. Of course if he did stoop to that, Pharaoh 90 or Sailor Galaxia would've stomped on the world long ago, a fact that he is very much aware of.
Peace Forged in Fire: Velal uses this line when the traffic control guy at Khitomer decides to be an Obstructive Bureaucrat over Velal refusing to tell him what the Praetor of the Romulan Star Empire is doing in Klingon territory. (Morgan defuses the confrontation by threatening to get the Klingon High Council involved.)
Velal: If you wish, you may contact Governor Leskit’s office for the information for which you are cleared, but rest assured our mission here is peaceful. Khitomer Control: Why should we believe you? Velal: If our intent was otherwise, we would not be having this discussion and a third of this planet’s population would already be dead, Klivam.
Films — Live-Action
Variation in The Living Daylights. Bond has been sent to assassinate General Pushkin based on information given by Georgi Koskov and the latter's subsequent kidnapping. When Bond confronts Pushkin at gunpoint in his hotel room, Pushkin gives a different side of the story and tells Bond that it all comes down to who he trusts - Koskov, or him.
Bond: If I trusted Koskov, we wouldn't be talking.
The Godfather has Virgil Solozzo telling Tom to: "Come on get in the car. What are you worried about? If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead already."
Siegfried: How do I know you're not CONTROL? Maxwell Smart: If I were CONTROL, you'd already be dead. Siegfried: If you were CONTROL, you'd already be dead. Max: Well, neither of us is dead, so I'm obviously not from CONTROL. (beat) Shtarker: That actually makes sense.
Bonus points for also subverting the inversion.
Wanted: "If your name had come up, you'd already be dead."
Mr. Brooks: Don't worry. If I were here to kill you, you would already be dead.
The Jumanji film gives us, "Stop your cringing, woman; I could have shot you at any moment."
Used to a point on The Princess Bride, where Fezzik misses the Man in Black's head with his rock on purpose, so they can fight it out sportsman-like.
In the Russian film "D'Artagnan and three musketeers" the titular hero accuses Milady de Winter of shooting him when he was riding a horse. She responds with scorn, that "If I'd been shooting you, you'd have been dead. I was shooting your horse!"
Shiwan Khan: Kill you? *chuckles* If I wanted you dead, Ying Ko [referring to Lamont], I would have your liver on a pole right now.
A slight variant in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Barbossa assures Elizabeth that the food isn't poisoned. After all, he needs her blood or so he thinks to lift the curse, so there's no reason to kill her. Yet.
Marcus makes this point to try to convince John Connor that he isn't hostile in Terminator Salvation.
Not actually stated, but the spirit is certainly there in Predators. After the Russian has nearly mowed him down with his BFG, Royce flanks him, and puts his gun to the Russian's head.
Royce: Please stop doing that. We're not your enemy. Russian: How do I know that? Royce: Because otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation. Russian: (Accepts this and joins the party)
Let's not forget Baron (Vladimir) Harkonnen, in the goodDune movie/miniseries (meaning the Sci-Fi-channel one with Ian Mc Neice playing him):
Baron:(to Feyd) ...and don't get any ideas. my men have you in their sights even as we speak. (laughs) Oh,don't worry. If I'd wanted you dead you'd never have made it down the hall.''
In Silverado, Mal is shooting at Sheriff Langston and his men, covering the Jake and Emmitt's escape by shooting off Langston's hat. When the deputy mentions that he hasn't hit anything, Langston tells him, "You idiot, he's hit everything he's aimed at! ... Pick up my hat."
Beverly Hills Cop. Da Chief points out to Axel that his friend was killed by professionals "otherwise your brains would be splattered alongside his". Justified — both Axel and his friend were knocked out by the killers, who then put a single bullet in the head of Axel's friend. As Axel hadn't seen their faces (and they didn't know he was a policeman) they left him alone.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry and Hermione are at the graveyard in Godric's Hollow, they hear something rustling in the bushes, but after a moment of waiting and listening Harry points out that if it was a Death Eater they'd be dead by now (well, they would actually be unconscious since the Death Eaters were trying to capture him, but the point stands). For some reason, they decide that them not being dead means that the place is safe, and not, you know, that they should be more prudent.
Inverted by Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: "If you were going to kill me, you would have done it when you first Disarmed me, you would not have stopped for this pleasant chat about ways and means." (he accuses Malfoy of being half-hearted in his assassination attempts).
In Dan Abnett's Gaunts Ghosts novel His Last Command, when Gaunt takes Commissar Kanow hostage, he points out that he could have killed and didn't. (Kanow is unpersuadable. Gaunt has his men overpowered and gets Ludd, the junior commissar, to make the contacts he needs to prove his identity.)
Look, sergeant. I had the stone drop on you just then, and yet no one's dead so far. Is that the act of a heretic or a deserter?
Flood by Andrew Vachss. It's stated that martial arts Bad Ass Max the Silent is so notorious no-one even laughed when a judge told him he had the right to remain silent during an attempted murder trial. After all, everyone knew Max never attempted to murder someone.
Discussed in Another Life, where Burke tells a Saudi prince whose baby boy got kidnapped that if the kidnappers wanted to hurt the baby, they would have done it there and then. Later used when Burke confronts a street gang that tried to make trouble for Gateman. Burke tells them to line up and have their photos taken, reminding them that they would already be dead if Burke and co. wanted it so.
In the second Mistborn book, apparent Starscream Zane continually tries to kill his fatherStraff, but only because it's what Straff expects, as it's what he'd do if their positions were reversed. Zane never says the trope line out loud, but he does think it to himself during his POV sections.
Although Zane never actually did try to kill his father. The poisoning attempts were made by someone else, and Zane simply let his father think he was the one responsible.
Another example from Sanderson, this one heroic, In The Stormlight Archive, Dalinar says this to King Elhokar almost word-for-word after he finally gets fed up with Elhokar's paranoia. He more or less charges into the king's room, beats him up, explains to him that his guards are ultimately loyal to Dalinar himself rather then to him, and that he could kill Elhokar anytime he wanted, which makes Elhokar realize that Dalinar is loyal.
In Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow, Schofield (the target of a bounty hunt) is offered aid by a notorious bounty hunter.
"Captain, if I was going to kill you, you'd already have a bullet in your brain. ... The bounty on your head is $18.6 million dollars. Rest assured, I am being paid considerably more than that to make sure you don't get killed."
In the book version of The Hunt for Red October, the Soviet fleet goes on "blockade" duty off the U.S. Atlantic coast for the rogue missile sub, making the Americans distinctly nervous. Being the height of the Cold War, the U.S. decides to make a few demonstrations to the Sovs of what would happen if the Red Banner Fleet were ever to move aggressively. The most spectacular of them involved four A-10s racing under the radar horizon of the fleet and boxing the battlecruiser Kirov with flares. The exact message that the pilots wanted to send was, word for word, "If we had been serious, you'd be dead by now".
In The Bible, David twice gets close enough to Saul to kill him, but stays his hand, believing that he should not lay a hostile hand on "the Lord's anointed". The first time, he cuts off a part of Saul's robe, while the second time, he steals Saul's water jug and spear. The message, although not explicitly said, is clear. It's an old trope, ladies and gentlemen! And Saul doesn't get the message. Too Dumb to Live much?
A variant not involving death occurs in David Drake's Northworld trilogy. Main character Hansen comes to visit Gadgeteer Genius Ritter, who's working on a project for him. Ritter isn't getting very far on the project, and he snappishly says something about Hansen checking up on him. Hansen, who's been given godlike powers, thinks, If I wanted to check on you— and demonstrates that his powers would let him spy on Ritter completely undetected.
Another variant appears in Isaac Asimov's novelization of Fantastic Voyage. The mission experiences several misadventures, each of which could have been accident or sabotage. All but one of the specialists are eliminated as suspects because something went wrong in their respective areas of expertise that they could have sabotaged far more subtly and effectively.
Not death, quite, but Harry and Murphy are talking and it comes out that Harry witnessed a murder without telling the police.
Harry: This again. I remember how this goes. You slug me in the jaw and arrest me. Murphy: I damn well should. Harry: Hell's bells, Murph! Murphy: Relax. [sigh] If that was what I had in mind, you'd be in the car already.
Lasciel says this to Harry too, by pointing out that she could kill him whenever she wants by giving him hallucinations that would make him fall to his death.
Another variation in Changes, when Dresden meets with Marcone. Dresden makes a couple of pointed threats to Marcone, and Marcone just smiles and states that there are a great many beings ahead of him on the list, and they are all more dangerous than himself, and that if he wanted Dresden dead, all he has to do is sit around and wait.
Not exactly "dead," but there's an exchange in #10, right after Erek discovers Marco, unmorphed and fairly helpless, hidden in the grass in a field crawling with Controllers.
Erek: Stay here. I'm going to lead them away. Then come and meet me at this address. I want to talk to your leader. Marco: How do I know that this isn't a trap? Erek: Why would I do that? Marco: Maybe you want to catch all of us at once. Erek: Marco, you seem like a brave guy. But if I wanted to know who and where your friends were, I'd give you to Visser Three right now. You would talk.
The second-last book. Not only could Tom have fought them with his battle morph (jaguar), but he could've conceivably called in every Hork-Bajir-Controller on the planet and taken them down.
Rex Atwater: My point is that Western civilization is cutting its own throat. Our enemies hit us as hard as they can, but we're supposed to strike back in a limited, perfectly accurate, fair way... and always apologize. Do you remember during the invasion of Iraq, when all of the Arab press was crying out they're deliberately targeting civilians? And the White House responds with patient denials, instead of saying, Christ, if we were deliberately targeting civilians, do you think there'd be anybody left to bitch?
In one of the Posleen War novels, Cally O'Neal actually uses this as a legal defense in court. The man she shot claimed she tried to kill him. She claimed that he tried to rape her and she shot him in self-defense. She resolves the argument by taking the jury to a firing range and conclusively proving that if she could have easily killed the man at the range he was shot if she'd wanted to. The man is arrested for attempted rape and posters are put up around town with her picture and the message: WARNING! Jailbait. To be considered Armed and Dangerous.
"Commodore Ramirez, what possible motive could the Peeps have for 'luring' you out here and pretending to be Manticorans?" she demanded. "If they wanted you dead, all they'd have to do would be to stop delivering food to you! Or if they're too impatient for that, I'm sure a little napalm, or a few snowflake clusters—or an old-fashioned ground sweep by infantry, for goodness' sake—could deal with you!"
Done as a ship-to-ship threat occasionally, usually with the Manticorans firing a salvo of missiles, then detonating them just outside of lethal range to tell their enemies, "We can utterly destroy you whenever we feel like it. Surrender."
Another less provocative method is referred to as "Mapping their hull". In essence, it involves cranking your active radar sets up to maximum and blasting the other ship at a high enough intensity and short enough range to temporarily white out their sensor screens. Can be done either to warn another ship to stop crowding you, or to administer the space warfare equivalent of a Dope Slap to an inattentive ship that has let you get too close without response. Note: this is considered less provocative than launching a volley of nuclear missiles, which is not the same as saying it is not provocative. Almost every instance of this technique being used, sometimes in combination with Friend or Foe confusion, has lead to an intense firefight, and on one occasion came dangerously close to triggering an interstellar war.
In Stone of Tears, second book of the Sword of Truth series, Kahlan discovers that her Con Dar bloodrage from the previous book has left her with a Hand Cannon-esque magic attack that appears to blow through just about anything. Thinking this puts her on even ground with witchwoman Shota, she goes into her domain to have a chat, and boasts that with that power, she has nothing to fear from Shota's power. The witchwoman shrugs, and points out that, if Shota wanted her dead, the magic would've done absolutely nothing to stop her from poisoning the tea Kahlan had just drank, which quickly deflates Kahlan's notions of invincibility.
In the Robert Crais novel L.A. Requiem, Cole does a variation of this by saying it about Pike, not himself, when Pike is suspected of being responsible for the murder of a witness. A bit of an atypical variant, as the guy actually is dead and Cole is explaining why Pike didn't do it:
Cole: "If Pike were going to kill him, you'd never find the body. He'd dispose of Dirsch and leave you wondering what happened. Pike is the most dangerous man I know and I've known more than a few."
In the Roy Johansen novel Beyond Belief, Joe Bailey confronts murderer Stuart Dunning and accuses him of the murder of Robert Nelson, which he committed in a manner that made it appear telekinetic in nature. Dunning declares "If I had telekninetic powers, we wouldn't be having this conversation." Subverted in that he does indeed want to kill Bailey, but is using this to deny the original murder.
Used second-hand in The Truth. To make a long story short, an altercation ends up with Vetinari's assistant, Drumknot, receiving several knife wounds, which certain parties pin on Vetinari. William DeWorde smells a rat, not because he doesn't believe that Vetinari would stab someone, but because DeWorde doesn't believe that Vetinari would stab someone without killing them.
In the Dale Brown novel Shadows of Steel, a back channel special envoy between the Iranians and the US is told that the President is still in control of the situation, for if he wasn't, overt military action would have been taken already.
In The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, King Elokhar of Alethkar suspects that his uncle Dalinar is trying to kill him. For most of the book, Dalinar tries to quietly demonstrate his loyalty, but after Elokhar's attempts to investigate Dalinar backfire spectacularly and result in almost six thousand of Dalinar's soldiers getting massacred, Dalinar finally has had enough. He proceeds to break into Elokhar's quarters, utterly Curb Stomp Elokhar despite the fact that Elohkar has a Shardblade and Shardplate while Dalinar is unarmed, and finally ends up with Elokhar under him, utterly helpless.
Dalinar: I tried to give you loyalty...but if you act like a child, you'll get treated like one. Now you know that I don't want to kill you. Because if I did, I would just crush your chest and have done with it. Do you understand?
In Sojourn by R.A. Salvatore, in his early days on the surface Drizzt Do'Urden meets a peasant boy with a long knife who's naturally rather afraid of him. Having not learned Common yet, Drizzt snatches the knife and juggles it for a bit with his scimitars before handing it back handle-first. In his culture it's basically the gestural version of this trope. The peasant somewhat understandably freaks the hell out and runs away screaming about a "Drizzit".
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: When accused of ordering a hit on the now comatose man who was sleeping with his wife, the richest guy in the world not only tells Detectives Munch and Fin that he doesn't care, but, "If I wanted Victor Ko dead, he'd be in his grave by now."
Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Vengeance Factor", a much smaller and technologically inferior ship repeatedly and ineffectually attacks the Enterprise. Picard finally orders a limited attack to take down their shields and convince them to start talking. The other captain's first signal is an accusation that the Enterprise is there to destroy them; Picard makes the obvious rebuttal.
Similarly, in Deep Space Nine, Garak is told to be more serious when he lists Kira as a suspect in blowing up his shop.
Garak: I am serious; I don't think she likes me.
Odo: She doesn't, but if she wanted you dead, you would be.
In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Checkpoint", Glory goes to Buffy's house to demand she give her the Key. While Glory goes on, Buffy subtly takes a fireplace poker and prepares to attack Glory with it, only to have Glory take it from her before she can even swing.
Obligatory Angel example: In one episode, this is how Angel convinces Wesley that he's not Angelus. He does the same thing in "Power Play", causing fellow vampire Spike to retort, "One of us already is."
In "Underneath" Lindsey thinks Angel has turned up to kill him and says "Make it quick" Angel retorts, "If I was gonna kill you, it wouldn't be quick."
The first season of Andromeda features a variant: Hunt is trying to recruit a politician, and he's later found dead while locked in a room with Tyr—the weapon is found to be keyed to Tyr's DNA. He claims that he couldn't have killed the politician, because if he had, he knows enough ways to do it that no one would be able to tell.
He then goes on to mention that he has "...some experience" in this, and lists three or four untraceable methods of assassination before Dylan cuts him off.
In an episode of the 70's show Search, the leader of a criminal group replied to the suggestion that they'd committed (and botched) certain murders by having a guard place two or three pistol shots within a few centimeters of his leader's head. It demonstrated not only the skills of his men — they wouldn't have botched the killings — but his degree of trust in their loyalty. He didn't flinch at all as the shots were fired.
If I was going to try to kill you again, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
In The Mentalist episode "Redline", a very rich guy, when asked if he killed the victim of the week, makes the point that with his resources, if he'd been responsible for her death, they wouldn't have found the body; she'd have just disappeared.
In Babylon 5, the first appearance of G'Kar's aide Na'Toth features this, when he accuses her of being an assassin sent to kill him.
In Season 3, Neroon cites this trope as a reason he won't kill Marcus after sending him to the infirmary.
Jason Ironheart says this to Sinclair in "Mind War"; if he wanted to kill someone, he could completely disintegrate that person with just a thought. This is not hyperbole; later, he actually does do this to Kelsey.
In the season three finale of Burn Notice an FBI agent interrogates Michael's mother, claiming, "Your son shot at me. He tried to kill me!" to which Maddie disdainfully responds, "If Michael wanted to kill you, you'd be dead."
On an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, Granny has taken up a feud against the Drysdales. At one point she shoots Mr. Drysdale's hat off, leading to this exchange:
Mr. Drysdale: She shot at me! Jed: Naw, she shot at your hat. If Granny ever starts takin' aim at you, you'll be castin' a polka-dot shadow.
In the MacGyver episode "GX-1", Mac and Nikki are trying to reach and destroy a crashed experimental spy plane before the Soviets can get to it, said Soviets being backed by an elderly psychic. At one point while Mac and Nikki are planning their next move, the psychic shows up at their campsite. He states he wants to defect and assures them he means no harm by pointing out that if he did, he would have revealed their location to the Soviet troops.
Said almost word for word by Kurt in The River. Played with in that Kurt is not really a villain and even helps save Lincoln in the end.
Shan: Three times we tried to kill you and your companion, Mr. Holmes. What does it tell you when an assassin cannot shoot straight? It tells you that they're not really trying. If we wanted to kill you, Mr. Holmes, we would have done it by now.
A TV adaptation of Zorro featured an episode where a group of people planned to assassinate the corrupt Alcalde. When the Alcalde accuses Zorro of being in on the plot, Zorro gives the expected retort.
In Breaking Bad, after Walt kills a pair of drug dealers working for Gus, a meeting is arranged out in the desert to talk things out. After driving out, Walt asks the other party to promise he's not just going to kill him. "I promise, I can shoot you where you are."
In the Season 4 opener of The Unit, Jonas Blane uses this to convince the President-Elect of the United States that he's here to help.
On The Bold And The Beautiful, a private investigator is offering several scenarios as to who shot a hated character. One of the suspects scoffs when the attention is focused on him, stating that he's an excellent marksman and had he been the one to shoot the guy, he'd be dead, not just simply wounded.
Inverted on General Hospital, when one character threatens another. The latter refuses to be intimidated, correctly deducing that the woman wants something from her, stating that "if you wanted me dead, I wouldn't be here right now"
Also inverted on All My Children. Having been wrongly accused of murder, Janet Greene manages to get the victim's husband to admit that he doesn't believe that's she guilty: "We both know that if you really thought I had killed your wife, I wouldn't be standing here right now."
In the short-lived Australian cop show Skirts, the boyfriend of a female police officer is receiving death threats. Her superior says that if they meant to kill him, they wouldn't warn him first. But they do try to kill him anyway.
During an episode of Monday Night Raw, Zack Ryder suspected that the guest host had put a hit on him and paid one of the WWE superstars to attack Ryder. He eventually started questioning other wrestlers, and ran across Randy Orton. Orton told him, in an eerily calm manner, "Zack, if I wanted to take you out, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Done in spirit, minus the Stock Phrase, in the Forgotten Realms setting. Tempus, the baddest War God in the setting, could explicitly stomp his main rival Garagos flat if he wanted. He's not interested because that would entail absorbing Garagos' portfolio, savage bloodlust, into his own, and Tempus only finds war meaningful when there is peace to follow it.
In Dishonored, you have the option to do this when you go against Daud. You can simply steal his key without him ever knowing you were there. He seems to have a break down at realizing how close you were to kill him.
Humorous invocation in thisBackward Compatible webcomic, as two reviewers try for the same assignment.
A friendly-on-friendly version in Terrapage 92. Non-Action Guy Rick MacFarlane has Grey O'Shea at gunpoint. Grey, while trying to prove he's on Rick's side, infers that he's never actually had to point his gun at anyone before, then says a version of the phrase before relieving Rick of the weapon almost effortlessly. The next page he hands the gun back handle-first.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: Tails is kidnapped in one episode where Robotnik had nothing to do with it. Robotnik said that, if he had kidnapped Tails, he'd be torturing him.
Batman Beyond: An assassin assures Batman a stray shot to get his attention was just that, for this reason.
The animated series based on Disney's Hercules has Medusa delivering a variation of this line to Hercules.
Medusa: If I wanted you stone, you'd be stone, all right?
Teen Titans: After Bumblebee, at Brother Blood's orders, battles Cyborg, she tries to convince Cyborg she's The Mole: "If I was fighting for real, you'd be spare parts by now."
Charles Manson. "Believe me, if I started murdering people, there'd be none of you left."
Porter Rockwell, the Mormon gunfighter dubbed "the Prophet's bodyguard" was accused of shooting at Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri who issued the famous "Extermination Order". His response? "I never shot at anything in my life. I either shot it or I didn't shoot."
There was an Iraqi army officer who was interviewed after the 2003 invasion of Iraq who reported that when he was leading his men in the field, an American attack jet appeared and made a mock attack run at them, diving at them and then pulling up to fly in a wide lazy circle. The Iraqi officer decided that the American pilot was giving them their one chance to surrender unharmed, especially considering his experience from Desert Storm.
A famous Australian clip from 60 minutes had a reporter interviewing some freedom fighters in another country.
Reporter: How easy would it be to kill me? Man: Like this. *takes out a gun and puts it to his head and pulls the trigger*
The gun wasn't loaded, but it sent a clear message that they could have killed him at anytime and weren't hesitating to kill.
Several terrorist groups (such as the IRA and ETA) sent bomb warnings to the police: the buildings would be evacuated, the bomb (sometimes) dismantled, and nobody died. We could have killed today. Sometimes it didn't work.
Tito: If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send a very fast working one to Moscow and I certainly won't have to send another.
Opposing military aircraft use a variant during peacetime confrontations. One side attempts to obtain and hold radar lock on the other - whoever succeeds in holding lock "wins." (See the opening of Top Gun, the part where Maverick flips off the MiG pilot, for a fictional example.) Overly aggressive maneuvers of this type have resulted in mid-air collisions.
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Near the end of the first volume of Runaways, the team realise that one of them is a mole for the Pride but have no idea who. When Nico comes up, Alex points out that she's one of their most powerful members and could have hurt them ages ago if she wanted to.
Amanda Waller invokes this in Suicide Squad. After a Time Skip where the group has been disbanded for a year, Deadshot kicks down her door, gun in hand, announcing that he's been hired to kill her. Amanda calmly points out that if he wanted her dead he'd have shot her already, asks how much he's being paid, and offers to match it plus a dollar. Deadshot, who's always got on surprisingly well with Amanda, immediately accepts.
Films — Live-Action
Anthony Perkins uses this line of reasoning in The Black Hole. It actually holds true... for a while.
In Braveheart Stephen and William Wallace agree that if Robert The Bruce had wanted to kill Wallace "He'd have done it at Falkirk".
Said of the "Snake King" in Courageous. "If he wanted you dead, he'd have killed you by now."
In the film version of The Hunger Games, President Snow asks Seneca Crane how he could have given Katniss such a high score after Katniss shot an arrow at Seneca's head. Seneca responds that Katniss wasn't shooting at his head, she was shooting at an apple that happened to be near his head. While the stock phrase is never explicitly said, it's pretty clear Seneca realizes that if Katniss had been shooting at his head, she wouldn't have missed.
The Hunt for Red October - Sam Neill's first mate says this to one of the panicked crew after the sub narrowly avoids destruction by a torpedo launched by the Russian Navy. Subversion: The Navy really was trying to sink the submarine.
The inversion appeared in The Postman. The heroine grabs an unloaded rifle and points it at one of the enemy mooks, ordering him to put his hands up. The mook pauses and says, "No. If you had a bullet, you'd have shot me."
Captain Von Trapp says something similar to Rolfe in The Sound of Music when Rolfe threatens to shoot him, but in this case he's doing it to convince Rolfe that Rolfe doesn't have it in him to kill someone and should just hand over the gun. It works in as far as Rolfe doesn't shoot him, but it doesn't stop Rolfe from raising the alarm.
In Transformers, Sam deduces that Bumblebee "Doesn't wanna hurt us. He'd have done that already".
In the Swedish spy-novel "Coq Rouge" the hero proves that he isn't an assassin out to assassinate the Palestinian big-shot by disarming his body-guards, grabbing a machine-gun, pointing it at the big-shot... and turning over the weapon. Subverted when the big-shot then calmly points out that he knew this was going to happen and that the weapons weren't loaded.
In Animorphs, Marco is first to point out that he believes that Visser One isn't setting a trap because, if she wanted to capture him, it'd be far simpler to do so directly than setting a trap.
When the team investigates Yeerks tampering with food, one of them suggests that they want to poison people. Ax disagrees, since if the Yeerks wanted to kill a lot of humans, they would use Dracon beams to set the atmosphere on fire.
Marco: Well, that's comforting.
Rose in Slave Trade by Susan Wright: "I guess that means no one's awake or they would have killed us already."
In Yendi, after Vlad survives three assassination attempts from a rival Jhereg, he realizes that the only possible way this could have happened is if the guy wasn't seriously trying to kill him. The entire conflict turns out to be part of a complicated scheme that only tangentially involves Vlad.
Wesley: If you really believed that, you'd have killed us already.
In another episode, the title character proves that he haven't reverted to his Angelus self by... effortless disarming his friend, going for the jugular and not eating him.
In The Big Bang Theory, after Sheldon accuses Leonard of being a violent sociopath, he claims that he's not worried for his personal safety because "I imagine that if you were going to kill me, you would have done it years ago."
In the fourth season of Breaking Bad, Walt is grabbed, tied up, blindfolded, and driven out into the middle of the desert by Gus Fring, who warns him to stay away from the meth lab and from Jesse. Because Gus is only warning and threatening him, Walt correctly deduces that Gus can't kill him:
Stay away from Pinkman... or else you'll do... what? Kill me? If you could kill me, I'd already be dead. But you can't. You can't kill me because Jesse wouldn't cook for you if you did.
A variant on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: after Joyce's death Xander, obviously looking for someone to blame, suggests that Big BadGlory may have murdered her and only made it look like a random brain aneurysm. Willow then points out that Glory had basically pulled this trope as a threat before—if she had killed Joyce, she would want them to know that it was her.
In the Psych episode "Shawn Takes a Shot in the Dark," Shawn deduces that the person who shot and kidnapped him is an ex-military sniper capable of killing a man from multiple football fields away—and yet Shawn, who had been standing no more than three feet away from the guy, ended up with Just A Flesh Wound. Shawn realizes that this guy at least really doesn't want to have to kill him and is able to use that fact to play on his sympathies later.
In Smallville Lex Luthor's fiance tried to kill him by leaving him alone on a plane without a pilot. When Lex survives and confronts her, she tries to pin the murder attempt on his father Lionel. Lex tells her that "if my father wanted me dead, he wouldn't have failed."
Season four of Supernatural: Shortly after Dean is pulled out of Hell, a demon threatens to send him back. Dean coolly replies, "No, you won't. Because if you could, you'd have done it already."
Season one of The Wire: When Omar and Brandon are parleying with McNulty and Kima at the cemetery, Omar takes note of McNulty's service weapon as they approach and tells him, "If you was gonna use that, you'd have been done using it by now." McNulty, acknowledging the point (and noting that Omar and Brandon are both unarmed and their van is empty), holsters his gun.
In the prologue story to one edition of Mage: The Ascension, the mage Mercedes finds out that her lover Gericault is one of the Nephandi (an Eldritch Abomination worshiping cult of mages). Mercedes attacks him and knocks him to the ground, where they have the following exchange:
Gericault: Let me up.
Mercedes: I'm going to kill you.
Gericault: You are a practical woman, Mercy, and this is not a dime novel. If you were going to kill me, you would have done so five seconds ago. Let me up.
In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, there is an inversion in the second case. The only son of the Yakuza is accused of shooting a man in the head. His mother knows he is innocent (of this crime at least), because he couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn.
in Fallout 3, the Player can have a random encounter with "Mel", a highwayman who tries to stick you up with a sawed-off shotgun. The Intelligence-tied response basically calls him out on it, stating that a real raider would have just killed and looted.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: When Big Boss and Snake meet again during the ending, Snake quickly draws his gun at him and assumes that he's back to settle the score. After a few tense moments of holding one another at gunpoint, Big Boss drops his gun, easily overpowers Snake, and gives him a combination Cooldown Hug/Final First Hug, softly reassuring his last living son that he didn't come all this way to pick a fight.
This◊ advice for what to do when making first contact with aliens makes the point that, since there is almost no chance that two random species would just happen to be at similar levels of technology, and they are the ones with interstellar flight, if the alien hasn't killed you already it probably isn't hostile.
Superman, on the other hand, was tempted to attack Cadmus.
In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po is left for dead, until the Soothsayer rescues him, and nurses him back to health. When Po wakes up, she tried to get him to eat some soup. Po refuses, and the Soothsayer quickly utilizes The Paralyzer, tosses the soup down his gullet, undoes her nerve strike, and tells him that if she had wanted him dead, she would have left him in the river.