It Works Better with Bullets
The victim manages to get hold of his opponent's weapon and points it in his face, but the opponent isn't afraid - he might even egg the victim on
. The victim pulls the trigger and... nothing. The opponent has disarmed the weapon while nobody was looking.
Sometimes used as part of a Secret Test of Character
for a villain to test how evil the undercover hero really is
without risking the possibly-undercover hero simply turning the gun on the villain.
Depending on how this is used, it can be a case of research failure that takes advantage of the audience's inability to conceive of what's not visible on screen
, as most handguns without loaded cartridges will have a noticeable imbalance and difference in weight when compared with a fully loaded weapon. (This is lampshaded
quite often in most modern-day usages of the trope - a professional who is familiar with the weapon being used can immediately notice the difference.) In addition, the lack of a magazine in a pistol or of rounds in revolver chambers is clearly visible. Most automatics have the slide lock back on an empty magazine as well. Additionally, many automatic and semi-automatic weapons pre-load one cartridge into the chamber before firing, so removing the magazine still leaves one live round in the chamber. A few handguns are designed so that removing the magazine disables the trigger, however, most notably the FN Five-SeveN and most versions of the Browning Hi-Power.
To be entirely honest, the chambered cartridge may be manually extracted and slide lock disengaged with but a thumb. More accurate works will actually display that. Ironically, the supposedly wacky comedy The Big Lebowski
has it right in the single only-10-seconds-long gun scene of the movie, while many action flicks are epitome of research failure here despite having at least one firearm present in each and every frame. Generally, the empty magazine is what activates the slide-lock feature. When the last round is fired from the magazine, the slide will automatically lock back.
A modern variant that avoids the obviously-lacking-ammunition problem is that a character will reveal that they've removed the firing pin from the weapon. This is, of course, a more time-consuming procedure that requires disassembly of the gun. Stories set in the near future might also have guns that lock out anyone except the designated user(s) from firing them
; such "smart gun" technology actually exists in real life (sort
of), but is not yet commercially available (and may never be that viable of a technology, as it has a number of downsides that all boil down to "one more thing to go wrong").
Compare Not with the Safety on, You Won't
. Also see Counting Bullets
where people, er, count the bullets fired
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Anime and Manga
- Harry's infamous line from Dirty Harry uses this to intimidate his opponent:
Harry Callahan: I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?
- The Abyss. The medic reveals he removed Coffey's ammo clip when Coffey is about to shoot Brigman. Justified because Coffey was suffering from a severe case of High Pressure Nervous Syndrome and most likely would not have noticed.
- Battlefield Earth. The humans raided Chief of Security Terl's weapons room. When he shows up, they pull out Terl's guns and start making demands. He laughs at them, lets them fire, then reminds them that he NEVER stores loaded weapons before overpowering them.
- In the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo, after the villain accidentally confessing to murder, the policeman loads him into the wagon with a single shot pistol as "a courtesy for a gentleman". The disgraced villain, facing a lifetime of slow torment in prison, puts it in his mouth and... click. Cue the protagonist's final taunt:
Dantes: You didn't think I'd make it that easy, did you?
- James Bond:
- In Casino Royale, a bad guy draws a pistol out of his desk drawer. Bond shows him the magazine before terminating him.
- Reversed in Die Another Day, when Bond pulls out his gun, and Miranda comes in, only to reveal she has been working with Graves all along, after guaranteeing that she would win the Olympic fencing event, and she had damaged the firing pin of Bond's gun after she slept with him. Otherwise, we would have James Bond not realizing that his gun was empty.
- In Dr. No, Bond knocks Professor Dent's pistol out of his hand and holds him at gunpoint. As Bond looks away, Dent gets his pistol back and tries to fire, only for it to be empty, leading Bond to remark "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six.", and shoots him.
- In Licence to Kill, Q issues Bond with a signature gun that will only fire when it verifies Bond's palm print on the stock. This saves Bond's life when a ninja snatches it off him and tries to fire it.
- In Skyfall Q issues a weapon similar to the one from Licence to Kill. During the fight with Silva's thugs in the Macau casino one of them gets the gun away from him and levels it at him. Bond goes, "Good luck with that," and climbs out of the komodo dragon pit as one of them chomps the thug from behind.
- Smith (Richard Burton) confronts The Mole at the end of Where Eagles Dare, but The Mole has a gun pointed at him. No problem: it was arranged he would have that gun, and the firing pin has been removed.
- In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) remake, the (evil) sheriff gave his gun to one of the good guys in order to demonstrate the suicide they saw in the beginning of the movie. When he stuck the gun in his mouth as a demonstration, the sheriff told him to pull the trigger. The victim instead, not wanting to commit suicide, pointed the gun at the sheriff and pulled the trigger. The gun was unloaded. The sheriff got him for attempted murder.
- Die Hard:
- First film: John McClane loans a gun to an escaped hostage who is really the Big Bad Hans Gruber masquerading with an American accent. When Gruber tries to shoot McClane with the gun and finds it empty, McClane waves the magazine at Gruber and mocks him.
John: Aw, no bullets? What, you think I'm fucking stupid, Hans?
*elevator shows up with Hans' subordinates, all armed*
Hans: You were saying?
- Another instance with Bruce Willis is in The Fifth Element, where he convinces an incredibly jumpy mugger that he first has to press the glowing yellow button on the side of his weapon (otherwise very flashy, including being double-magazined, spike-encrusted, and endowed with an extra wide Muzzle of Doom) to load it. After the mugger does so (which actually disables the mugger's weapon), Korben Dallas draws his own pistol and takes the mugger's weapon away to add it to his collection.
- John Woo's The Killer has the title character doing this to his handler Sidney Fung in an awesome scene in which he demands the money he was promised in order to have Jenny's eyes fixed and the name of the guy who had him ambushed at the beach following the job he did to raise that money. Sidney has been persuaded by Johnny Weng to kill him rather than give him the money, and the briefcase that was supposed to hold the money has nothing but worthless paper inside. When he puts his weapon down to open it, Sidney grabs the gun and points it at him, at which point the Killer starts laughing. Sidney pulls the trigger, only to have it click on an empty chamber, and the Killer reveals that he unloaded it when he shows Sidney the bullets, just before pulling his other gun on him.
- Zig-Zagging Trope in Broken Arrow, another John Woo movie. After being forcibly ejected from his plane, Captain Riley Hale finds himself in a standoff with Park Ranger Terri Carmichael, during which he gets ahold of her gun—except she says she doesn't keep it loaded. A minute later, when she reclaims the gun and points it at him, he reminds her that it's not loaded—until she fires a shot in the air and says, "I Lied."
- Tommy Lee Jones does it in U.S. Marshals: he checks his villainous partner's gun and gives it back to him. When he comes to use it on him, there's no bullets. Since it wasn't his normal gun, this also addresses the "different weight" issue.
- In the three way final showdown of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Blondie empties Tuco's gun beforehand, so he can shoot Angel Eyes without Tuco interfering.
- In Shooter, Bob Lee Swagger demonstrates that his rifle (planted by the bad guys, and seized by the FBI) could not have been the one used in the assassination because, before he left his home, he replaced the firing pin with one that didn't work as a security precaution.
- In F/X: Murder By Illusion, the Big Bad takes the hero Rollie's SMG, only to discover that Rollie had emptied the gun and applied superglue to the handles. Rollie throws the villain out the door to face a squad of cops, who order him to drop the gun or they'll fire. It doesn't end well.
- The Crimson Rivers : Max Kerkerian, cop, dramatically puts down his gun and badge to goad an aggressive skinhead into a fistfight. "There, no more cop." As the fight starts going badly for him, the skinhead tries to threaten Max with his own gun, only to get his face thoroughly broken. Max then shows him the magazine, which was in his pocket the whole time.
- In the film In the Line of Fire Clint Eastwood's character while working undercover is told to shoot his partner who's been identified as a Secret Service agent. He does so, knowing from the pistol's weight that the gun is empty. Afterwards his partner asks: "What if there'd been a bullet in the chamber?" Clint has no answer to this.
- In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior the gyro captain is held at shotgun-point for a considerable part of the movie, only to find to his disgust that Max's shotgun was empty all the time. In a further irony, the shotgun cartridge which Max eventually finds turns out to be a dud.
- Jason Bourne pulls this on a fellow assassin in The Bourne Supremacy. The victim even mentions that the weapon "felt a little light."
- In Taken, Liam Neeson's character Bryan points out to a Face Heel Turner that he's been out of the field too long, since he should have been able to tell the difference in weight between a loaded and an unloaded pistol.
- Used in reverse as part of a suicide pact no less in Murder by Numbers. Richie's gun doesn't have any bullets— but Justin's does. He realises the betrayal and... is not happy.
- Reversed, and combined with You Have Failed Me, in Push. The Big Bad makes one of his minions shoot himself in the soft palate by telepathically convincing him the gun is empty.
- In the old Humphrey Bogart movie We're No Angels, three convicts (the main characters, long story) are being threatened by the villain who tries to pull a gun on them - but one of the convicts (a thief and safecracker) hands him the gun, saying "Here, I cleaned it for you." The villain snatches away the gun and crows with victory. The same convict then says "Oh, I'm sorry...I also cleaned the bullets," revealing a handful of same.
- In The Thin Man Goes Home, the doctor who murdered two people whips out the Japanese rifle that was displayed prominently on the table, pointing it at Nick. Oops, "I forgot to tell you, they removed the firing pin from that gun."
- In Shadow of the Thin Man, after the climactic 'whodunnit' reveal, the Big Bad grabs the gun from Nick's waist holster and threatens to shoot him. Nora jumps on him to keep him from being able to pull the trigger, but when the Lieutenant picks it up he says 'Nick, this gun isn't loaded!' Turns out, Nick had kept it unloaded for the sake of his son to prevent any accidents.
- Tremors. The Not So Crazy Survivalist refuses to give a gun to Jerk Ass kid Melvin Plug ("I wouldn't give you a gun if it was World War Three!"). Minutes later when Melvin balks at making a run for safety, he apparently relents and hands the kid a revolver, much to his delight. Melvin is less overjoyed when he pulls the trigger and finds out it's empty. Bonus points — after taking said gun back, he checks it again to make sure it is still unloaded, averting Artistic License - Gun Safety as hard as possible.
- Muppets from Space. Bobo the Bear reveals he removed the ammo from Ed's BFG.
- Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues: Professor Lockhart reveals he removed the ammo from Crenshaw's shotgun.
- Mitchell. Subverted, in that baddie Walter Deaney claims he randomly keeps guns loaded in the gun locker, trying to disguise the fact none of them were loaded.note
- Fugitive Alien. The Captain never keeps bullets in his gun, which makes it easy for him to overcome Ken when he grabs it out of his holster.
- Double subverted in the second Smokey and the Bandit film. Justice tries to stop the Bandit from leaving a shipping yard and the Bandit tricks him into using up all of his bullets. Anticipating this, Justice asks Junior for his gun. However, Junior's gun is also empty. His excuse: "When I put bullets in it, daddy, it gets too heavy."
- In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Chekov is captured by 1980-s US naval officers (who think he is a spy because of his accent), and while they are trying to get him to 'tell the truth' he grabs his phaser, points it at one, and threatens to stun them if they don't let him go. Of course, the phaser doesn't work, and he is forced to use the simple expedient of throwing the phaser at the guy and running.
- In The Wolfman (2010), Laurence sneaks back into his home and borrows the Loyal Servant's cache of silver shotgun bullets. He finally confronts his father and pulls the trigger... only to have his father smile and say "I removed the powder from those cartridges years ago."
- Early in Point of No Return, the still rebellious reluctant hero (Bridget Fonda) attacks her handler (Gabriel Byrne) and disarms him. She points the automatic at her unflinching handler, who merely looks at her calmly, and pulls the trigger. After the pointless click, he takes the gun away from the stunned hero, and punches her, causing her to fall down. He then says something like "Lesson one: Never chamber the first round," and shoots her in the leg. Much the same thing happens in Nikita, the movie that Point of No Return is a remake of.
- Played with in the film Big Trouble. The bad guys have Tim Allen's son and others held hostage in the living room, and Tim sees a watergun in the sink. He removes the water cartridge, leaving it looking surprisingly realistic, and walks out of the kitchen, pointing it at the second mook's head. He almost has them convinced, too, until the first mook (slightly smarter than his partner, which isn't saying much) sees water dripping from the muzzle of the 'gun'. He then grabs the gun from Tim's hands and squirts the remaining water from it.
- Invoked by V in V for Vendetta.
Creedy: 'We've swept this whole place. You've got nothing. Nothing but your bloody knives and your fancy karate gimmicks. We have guns.
V: No. What you have are bullets and the hope that when your guns are empty I am no longer standing, because if I am, you'll all be dead before you've reloaded.
- Something like this happens in Ninja Cheerleaders, where it's noted that the crossbow Kinji holds has a single bolt...which is promptly used on Det. Harris. It's unexplained how the titular cheerleaders got past Kinji, given their sudden drop in skill later on.
- During the long cat-and-mouse battle that makes up much of Cracker Jack, the hero's gun is wrestled from him by one of the bad guys, who predictably taunts him with "Any last words?" The hero's response: "Only eight bullets per clip, son." Click.
- Played with beautifully in Support Your Local Sheriff. In the jail, the baddie has recovered his revolver, and points it at James Garner's sheriff character. Garner points out that he's long since removed the bullets from the gun. The baddie slumps and hands over the pistol, whereupon Garner opens the cylinder and removes the bullets. Seems he'd neglected to actually do that before trying this stunt.
- Subverted in In Bruges. Ray disarms the man trying to rob him and he finds out it's only loaded with blanks. He still manages to blind him by firing a blank into his eye, though.
- The Matrix, during the final fight of the original movie between Neo and Agent Smith.
Agent Smith: You're empty.
Neo: So are you.
- S.W.A.T.: When the hero, Street and the big bad Gamble are fighting over a gun, the magazine falls out. Street gets control and aims it at the villain, who taunts him holding the magazine, and Street remarks "one in the chamber" before racking it to get rid of the bullet and throws it away so he and the Big Bad can continue beating the crap out of each other. While it might count as a subversion for the viewer because the audience would be expecting more typical Hollywood gun rules, its pretty doubtful that the villain would think the gun is empty given that the pair are both former Special Forces and SWAT. It is likely that the villain was trying to throw off his opponent by convincing him it was empty.
- Employed in Bloodfist VI when the hero hands his gun to The Mole and then turns his back to her.
- In The Net, after Jack takes his gun from Angela, yet doesn't realize that it's empty (she removed the magazine) until he tries to shoot it, again, begging the question of why he didn't notice the weight difference.
- Déjŕ Vu: played with at the climax: agent Carlin takes the magazine out of his gun and when it slide-locks, he sticks a single bullet into the chamber, making his gun look empty to the terrorist and allowing him to get close enough for a single Boom, Headshot.
- Twisted gloriously in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, After Gant's kid is stolen by Sever, the agent who was watching over him was handed a gun and told to blow his brains out. He decides it'd be better used to shoot Gant. It doesn't work because the gun's been modified to shoot backwards, so if he'd actually tried to suicide he would have been okay. Instead he got shot in the face. One of the (very) few good moments in the movie.
- Used by guile type III antihero Carlito Brigante in Carlitos Way. His former attorney Davey has murdered a mafia boss and tried selling Carlito out to the district attorney, with Carlito also implicated in the crime. Davey is stabbed by a mafia hitman and hospitalized. Carlito visits Davey in the hospital, where Davey clumsily pulls a revolver from under his pillow, fully expecting that the mafia intends to finish the job. He lowers the weapon when he sees it's Carlito. Carlito delivers a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and briefly takes the weapon away, then tells Davey the weapon should be on his tray, not under his pillow. Carlito leaves. Shortly afterwards, the mafia bosses' son enters to shoot Davey dead. Davey lifts his revolver, pulls the trigger first, then with an expression of horror realizes that Carlito removed all the bullets. Carlito knew Davey was an academic with no street sense, and the mafia would send someone to finish the job.
- The Beach. The Thai marijuana farmers pull this trick on Sal — they hand her a gun which they say has a bullet in the chamber and tell her to execute Richard; if she does her community will be allowed to stay. She pulls the trigger and nothing happens, causing her Villainous Breakdown and the instant disintegration of the community, which is what the farmers wanted in the first place.
- Morgan does this to a bounty hunter who is after her at the start of Cutthroat Island. After bedding him, she steals the balls from his pistols.
- Played for laughs in the third Police Academy film. One exercise for the recruits is to kick open a door and shoot the target behind it. Tackleberry's brother-in-law shoots out the doorknob, kicks open the door, and tries to shoot the target. Click.
- Blackwood. Eduardo has Blackwood at gunpoint until Blackwood holds up a handful of bullets. Subverted later when it's revealed that those were Blackwood's bullets and Eduardo's gun was loaded the whole time.
- Billy the Kid does this to a bounty hunter in the first Young Guns movie. Pretending to be awestruck by the bounty hunter's boasts, he asks if he can touch the gun with which the hunter plans to kill Billy the Kid. The bounty hunter hands it to him, and Billy secretly unloads it before handing it back. Billy then reveals his true identity. The bounty hunter tries firing several times with the empty gun before Billy shoots him down.
- In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Nick shows his displeasure with hunting by pulling the bullets from Roland's elephant rifle ammo while he's not around. When Roland attempts to kill the T-Rex that attacks the camp, he finds that his rifle is useless and the dinosaur proceeds to kill a number of men.
- A subversion of this ends badly for a cop in Incident At Raven's Gate when a mysterious Government agent pulls a gun on him.
Cop: You dumb fuck! I unloaded the gun!
Agent: *shoots him* I guess I must have reloaded it.
- Subverted in Last Action Hero when the Big Bad Benedict tries to shoot Jack Slater (Ahnuld), only to hear the familiar *click*. Slater and the Big Bad have had trouble adjusting to the real world; Slater thinks he's forgotten that guns don't have unlimited ammo here, and calls him out on it. Benedict tells him that he simply left one chamber empty and shoots him.
- In Weekend at Bernie's the trope is technically played straight and the protagonists avoid death at the hands of a mook because his gun is empty. However, the mook points out immediately afterwards that although his gun is empty, he has dozens more rounds in his jacket, and chases the protagonists as he reloads.
- At the beginning of The A-Team, a Mexican drug cartel has captured Hannibal Smith. They go to shoot him with his own gun. Click. Click. Hannibal had removed the firing pin. He uses it to pick his handcuffs, then puts the pin back in place in enough time to shoot his way out.
- Happens offscreen in North by Northwest; the villain's housekeeper holds the hero at bay with a gun she's picked up. Unfortunately for her, it's the same gun the heroine used to fake shooting him earlier; it's only loaded with blanks, and he knows it.
- Occurs in the Jackie Chan film Who am I? when Jackie's character hands his gun over to the treacherous Big Bad. Upon having it turned on him he says "I may have amnesia, but I'm not stupid!" and knocks his ass to the floor.
- Law Abiding Citizen. The gun is not only unloaded, but pulling the trigger releases needles in the grip injecting the firer with a paralysing neurotoxin.
- In Parker, Parker breaks into Melander's hideout and bends the firing pins on all of the gang's hidden guns he can find. This proves a vital precaution during his final confrontation with the gang.
- Clue: In the first ending, after Miss Scarlet is exposed as the killer, they threaten to shoot Wadsworth with The Revolver. Wadsworth, however, claims that the gun is now empty, leading to a somewhat brief debate over how many times the gun's been fired in the movie. Scarlet was right about there being one more bullet.
- In Terminator Salvation, Williams leaves her gun unattended while resting at an abandoned building. A bunch of thugs steal it and threaten her with it. She then tells them it would help if it was loaded, before attacking the guy holding it.
- Subverted in the following well-known classic: A man wants to join the CIA. The recruiter: "You fulfill the physical demands, but we have to do a character test too. Here is a loaded gun. Go into room 23B and shoot the person inside, and ask no questions." The man goes into 23B...just to find his wife gagged and bound to a chair. beat After ten minutes he comes out again, bangs the gun angrily on the recruiters desk and shouts: "It was loaded with blanks, you idiot! I had to break off a leg of the chair and club her to death!"
Live Action TV
- In the Smallville episode "Roulette", Roulette, or rather, Chloe Sullivan, tries to get Oliver to shoot her, only to reveal that it is Lois dressed up as her and Chloe reassures Oliver that the gun is not loaded.
- The Andy Griffith Show. Barney Fife never keeps bullets in his gun. Because Andy won't let him.
- Lois and Clark episode "Stop The Presses" - bad guy Ethan has kidnapped his brother Eric to make him help kill Superman. At one point Eric fights back and grabs the weapon they stole from the Pentagon and points it in Ethan's face. Ethan keeps telling Eric he's not man enough to do it. Eric pulls the trigger and, as in the description, nothing happens. Ethan gloats, "I disarmed it" and shows Eric the part he removed.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Let's Kill Hitler", Melody attempts to shoot the Doctor several times, only to find he took the trouble to disarm all the guns in the room. Or swap them with a banana. Not that she needs a gun to kill him, though...
- Happened at least once in Farscape, on an asteroid with a bone-eating girl and a mushroom-covered biologist. Also on the episode where John returns to Moya to find pirates have taken over and Scorpius is the only one who can help him save the day. So, John sets up an ambush on one of the pirates with Scorpius and gives him a huge rifle to do so. Not surprisingly, Scorpius discovers the rifle isn't loaded. His reaction is priceless: "Thank you, John."
- LOST has done this a couple of times: once, Sayid stole Rousseau's gun, unaware she'd removed the firing pin. Another time, Jack took a gun from Locke and attempted to shoot him, to which Locke replied, "It's not loaded."
- Subverted in another episode. A lackey encourages Michael to go through with committing suicide by gun. It doesn't work, multiple times; the lackey claims because the island wants Michael alive.
- On Angel, Faith took this trope to the next level. She tricked Angel into shooting her with a revolver, but the gun was loaded with a blank. Then she took the gun back and shot Angel, gloating that the bullets weren't all blanks.
- Burn Notice:
- In Dollhouse's 13th episode, "Epitaph One", Iris has an unknown other person inside her head - she sees the machine as the way to get out into Mag's body, and pulls the gun that she was given earlier by Zone, trying to kill him. Turns out the gun was empty, and since she's in the body of an 11- or 12-year-old, Zone and Mag have a pretty easy time restraining her and wiping her.
- Subverted in White Collar. Neal tries this by pickpocketing the magazine from the suspect's gun, but she points out that there's still one bullet already in the chamber.
- Babylon 5: during some heated negotiations with the Transport Association a heckler challenges Sheridan, calling him a coward for hiding behind his security. Sheridan takes a PPG from one of his security men and shoves it in the heckler's pocket, telling him to go ahead and shoot. The heckler doesn't reach for the gun and backs down. He retrieved the gun and returns to the table. His second, Ivanova, calls him nuts for doing this. He smirks and toys with the power cap he'd palmed.
- Near the end of Season 5 of 24, Jack gives Christopher Henderson an unloaded gun when they work together to take down Vladimir Bierko because he knows Henderson will betray him once Bierko's dead. Sure enough, this ends up saving Jack's life when Henderson does turn on him.
- Something similar happens at the end of Season 8, when Jack gets Cole Ortiz to defect and assist him in saving The Mole. After agreeing, Cole demands a weapon, which Jack provides him. Then, upon preparing to Storm The Warehouse, Cole goes to chamber a round, and... Jack does actually give him bullets though.
- In Season 4, Dina Araz agrees to work with CTU to bring down ImhoTerrorist Habib Marwan by pretending to hold Jack Bauer prisoner so that Marwan will bring her (and Jack) to him. Marwan gives Dina Araz a gun to shoot Jack Bauer with. Dina turns the gun on Marwan and—click, click. One of Marwan's men shoots her offscreen.
- Season 3: The Salazars order Jack to kill his partner, Chase (who has no idea what's going on). Jack pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty. Jack never reveals if he could tell the gun was empty or not.
- One episode of Monk has Monk, Stottlemeyer, and Stottlemeyer's fiancee held at gunpoint by a suspect. Stottlemeyer tricks her into firing a shot into the air, then reveals he took the bullet magazine. The shot she fired was the one in the chamber.
- In one episode when Monk was working at a wal-mart like store, Monk needs to get a gun to stop the bad guy from leaving. The two idiots working the gun section give him a gun, but not the bullets. Monk then points the (unloaded!) gun at them and orders them to give him the bullets. Fearing getting shot (again, what idiots!), they give him the bullets.
- On Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the normally-infallible Detective Goren informed a the murderer that her gun was empty. She responded by firing a shot into the air. Unfortunately for her that one in the chamber was the only one left.
- In the first season finale of True Blood, the killer does this with Sookie's shotgun. Sookie manages to get some use out of the gun, hitting him in the head with it.
- In the pilot film for Due South, Constable Fraser mentions early on that due to legal complications (Canadian law enforcement officer working in Chicago, with no authority or jurisdiction in the city outside of the Canadian Consulate), he carries a sidearm, but no bullets. During a fight with a hitman later on, the bad guy grabs Fraser's gun and immediately tries to shoot him with it, only for the hammer to click down on an empty cylinder.
- In an episode of MacGyver Murdoc removes the shells from a shotgun and takes the person who later tries to use it on him hostage.
- In a tv comedy sketch called 'Ashes to Midsomer Murders', Gene Hunt pulls a gun on the suspect and fires. The gun does not go off because, as the suspect says. 'I've taken the trouble to fill your gun with cake.' But that's okay. Gene filled his cake with bullets!
- The Mentalist:
- Subverted in the first episode. Jane has confronted the killer, outlined how he's proved his guilt, and the killer pulls a gun. Jane just smiles and says "Oh, please, did you really think I'd set up such a brilliant trap only to leave you a loaded gun?" Then he pats his pocket, and you can hear the bullets clicking. The killer goes to check the mag...and Jane throws something at him and runs away, since he did not manage to empty the gun before the killer got to it.
- In another episode Jane has given the killer a weapon, the killer turns the weapon on Jane and... click. No bullets. The killer smiles and pulls out a knife instead. Thankfully the rest of the team burst in an arrest him.
- In one incident Jane provokes a man he suspects is going to go on a rampage into starting early. And he'd had the team replace all the guy's ammunition with blanks.
- On Human Target, Chance and a Russian spy are holding each-other at gunpoint. Previously, they both bumped into each-other before Chance revealed he knew she was a spy.
The Spy: "—why don't you just go ahead and shoot me?"
Chance: "Because I don't like to shoot unarmed women. Company policy. Feeling a little light there by the way?"
The Spy: (checks her gun) "Took my clip but put my gun back. Impressive. Didn't even notice. Did you?"
Chance: "(checks his gun) Nicely done."
- In the Community episode "Modern Warfare" Jeff removes his magazine before having sex with Britta, predicting her betrayal.
- Done on at least one episode of Murder, She Wrote, when loveable conman Dennis Stanton tricks a murderer into revealing himself as being able to commit the murder despite totally burned hands by using this trope.
- Shows up in an episode of Cheers when an upset Frasier Crane confronts Sam in his office with a revolver. Sam is quick to point out that "...there are no bullets in those little holes there." after Frasier tries to prove his resolve.
- Conrad does it to Mad Dog Morgan in an episode of Wild Boys. Morgan has another pistol, but it does buy Conrad enough time to make a bolt for it.
- In Person of Interest:
- After they have outlived their usefulness, the leader of a group of robbers sabotages the firing pins on a set of guns so he can pick off his men in the street.
- Super-hacker Root pulls off a Batman Gambit against a lawyer while she's tied him up and interrogating him about the machine. The lawyer talks Harold into helping him free himself, gets the drop on Root, reveals what he knows to Harold and tries to shoot Harold with Root's gun. After the customary 'click, click', Root hits him with a taser.
- Harper's Island: Henry removes the bullets from Sully's shotgun before revealing that he's the killer, then taunts him to get him to pull the trigger. He then stabs Sully to death. It's a very cruel moment.
- Subverted in CSI: NY. A serial rapist has captured Jo, unloading her gun and tossing it to her. She then says, "They always forget the one in the chamber," and shoots him. He gets back up, and she picks a second bullet up off the floor, chambers it, and puts him down for good.
- Used when Mac catches up to the gangsters who kidnapped Christine. He kills onenote and plays a game of Russian roulette to get the other to talk. We find out at the end that the gun was empty and that he'd used sleight of hand to make the gangster, and us, think he was loading it.
- Inverted in Firefly when River doesn't know she's pointing a gun at the crew, and after Mal disarms her he notes that it's fully loaded and the safety is off.
- In Wallander, the eponymous character pulls this on himself: after the trauma of shooting a dangerous suspect dead, Wallander removes the bullets from his magazine. Then a psycho suspect takes his daughter Linda hostage at gunpoint.
- Rizzoli & Isles: In "What Doesn't Kill You", a Dirty Cop attempts to shoot Jane with a pistol that had been taken from evidence storage. It doesn't work because, knowing that someone was taking guns from the evidence, Jane had removed the firing pins from all the guns.
- On Leverage Parker does this fairly often by taking out the magazines, which given her extremely proficient skills as a pickpocket makes sense, though it generally ignores the problem of the bullet in the chamber or the weight issue.
- A Castle episode plays the Secret Test of Character version pretty straight: mob boss tells Ryan to shoot his ex-girlfriend, hands him a gun. Ryan says he can't shoot her, but has no problem shooting him instead. Gun was jiggered so it wouldn't fire.
- In the Leonardo episode "Dogs of War", Piero aims the cannon of Leo's tank at Leo, Mac and Rocco, presses the trigger, and nothing happens. At which point Tom casually wanders up carrying the flint (the Renaissance equivalent of removing the firing pin).
- In the first episode of By Any Means, the villain the team are trying to put away levels a shotgun at two of them and pulls the trigger. The gun clicks empty and the undercover man they had placed in the gang holds up the shells he had removed from the gun.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: In "Forget Me Not", Ronald Basderic attempts to shoot Sara only to find that Detective Crawford had swapped the clip from his gun for one loaded with blanks when he searched him earlier.
- UFO episode "Survival". While on the surface of the Moon, Paul Foster is captured by an alien. He manages to grab his gun back from the alien, only for the alien to open his hand to display the weapon's ammo clip.
- In the Tales from the Crypt episode "What's Cookin'," Gaston tries to eliminate Fred and Erma with the gun he filched from Erma's purse, only to find out Erma doesn't keep it loaded because Fred won't let her.
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a Brainwashed and Crazy Ward tries to shoot May in the head, only to discover that she removed the magazine during their hand-to-hand fight. This one is ridiculous in retrospect given that Ward is a combat specialist, and has been specifically established as the kind of person who would notice the missing weight (such as telling Fitz "You removed the ounce!" when he tried the new version of the tranquilizer pistols)
- In an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, the villain of the week gives Sam Hanna a gun and tells him to shoot a captured Saudi prince to prove his loyalty to the villain's cause. Sam handles the gun briefly before handing it back, telling the villain that a loaded gun would work better.
- Andromeda: At the end of the pilot episode, Big Bad shoots Captain Hero and... click. Turns out that Plucky Young Engineer had nicked the power cell from Big Bad's blaster during an earlier encounter. Captain Hero commences to knock Big Bad into the middle of next week with his Combat Staff.
- Comedy pair Hudson And Landry had a skit with a pair of old prospectors. One assumes he caught his partner cheating him and draws his revolver. The partner is unimpressed as they ran out of bullets decades ago.
- In William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes play, after Billy takes Moriarty's concealed revolver and places it on the table, Moriarty watches the boy leave, and Holmes takes advantage of Moriarty's distraction to surreptitiously remove the cartridges from his revolver. This prepares Holmes for the moment where Moriarty suddenly grabs the revolver and quickly fires it at Holmes's head. Holmes is unperturbed for a moment, then takes the cartridges out of his pocket.
- Subverted at the end of The Bat. The Bat, with Handy Cuffs on, grabs a revolver from another character and tells everyone to put their hands up. Cornelia refuses to do so, and says that she took the bullets out of it. The Bat throws the revolver down, and is quickly covered with a different revolver while Cornelia picks it up, breaks it and lets the loaded shells fall on the floor. "The first lie of an otherwise stainless life!"
- Ira Levin's Deathtrap. One of the two protagonists has announced his intention to kill his co-conspirator, pulls the trigger and gets a loud BANG! Turns out the other guy had already anticipated his betrayal and loaded the gun with blanks. The movie adaptation leaves out the blank and has Michael Caine's character clicking the revolver's trigger with a dumbfounded expression on his face.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Ocelot fires multiple times into the air to catch Snake's attention, then points the gun at him. Snake tells him "You don't have what it takes to kill me." Ocelot pulls the trigger, but finds that his gun was already empty; he had switched to a six-shot revolver, when he had been used to his eight-shot service pistol.
- In Subsistence, they included an out-take reel where Snake says the same thing in one scene. Turns out, yes, he did have what it takes.
- There's also a scene where The Boss and Snake quickly begin CQC fighting each other, and just as quickly The Boss knocks Snake down. When Snake sits back up and aims his pistol at her, he finds out The Boss stole the entire upper half of it.
- In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and every game in the series since, you can point your gun at a guard to shake them down for items. It works just as well whether you're fully loaded or out of ammo for the gun, but if you try to pull the trigger in the latter case, shit quickly hits the fan.
- In Fallout, a character with high enough pickpocket skills can literally steal the ammunition right out of an opponent's gun. Inverted in Fallout 3. Mel, a randomly encountered, and rather pathetic, highwayman, will try to rob the player with a sawed-off shotgun. With a high enough Perception stat, you can point out that his gun "doesn't look loaded." This is a reference to Mad Max 2, where Mel Gibson's character, Max, threatens a would-be thief with his unloaded shotgun.
- Variation in one Paragon version of Conrad Verner's appearance in Mass Effect 3. An assassin turns up and tries to kill Shepard, only to have Conrad dive in front of the bullet. Then it turns out a quick-thinking bystander you helped in Mass Effect 1 sabotaged the assassin's heat sink with her omni-tool, and the "gunshot" was really the sink bursting.
- In one scene of MegaTokyo, Miho repeatedly disarms Dom first by stealing his gun from his hand, then by stealing the bullets. From the gun in his hand.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Gordito's father is believed to have died during a shooting performance because his guns were unloaded. Gordito feels responsible for this, thinking he should have checked to see if they were loaded. In a subversion at the end of the plot arc, Dark Smoke Puncher reveals the actual cause of his death was jammed guns (intentionally so by PETA), and notes that an experienced gunslinger would be able to tell the difference between a loaded and unloaded gun.
- In Homestuck, Andrew Hussie remembers far too late that Doc Scratch only ever loaded one bullet in his deudly gun. Unfortunately for Hussie, Lord English's super-deudly machine gun has plenty of bullets.
- In Rhapsodies Fedya gives a boarder guard pointing an AK 47 at him some friendly advice.
- In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series the Joker goads Harley Quinn into attempting to shoot him, but it turns out the gun is of the stick-with-a-'bang'-flag variety. The Joker is still impressed that she pulled the trigger. (It should be noted though that the Joker didn't know the gun was a fake, either.)
- Similarly done in the Batman Beyond movie: Return of the Joker, when Joker pulls the trigger on a scared mook and a bang flag pops out of the gun. Joker says he was only kidding and the mook relaxes. Then he pulls the trigger again, which shoots the bang flag into the mooks chest. "Oops, no I wasn't."
- Given that this is a relatively routine Joker "joke" you'd think new lackeys would catch on, when the gun pops out that flag, run and zig zag.
- Trouble is, sometimes it's not. The Joker will revel in seeing a victim practically piss themselves as he shoots a play gun at them (sometimes it's a boxing glove), and then calmly shoot another mook for hardly a reason with a real one. Sometimes even he gets confused as to what will happen if he pulls the trigger.
- In one episode, Harley accidentally hands him a "bang" gun when he wanted a real one, the incident ticks him off enough to temporarily kick her out of the gang.
- In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is holding Snake at gunpoint. He looks away to apologize to Marge for not getting rid of the gun, at which point Snake snags it out of Homer's hand and takes aim. Homer then holds up a box of bullets and taunts Snake with the knowledge of the gun being unloaded. Snake then aims again and demands that Homer hand over the bullets. Homer promptly forgets his taunt and surrenders the ammo…. also saying "Okay! Don't shoot!"
- A variant of this trope happens in Justice League when the Flash uses his Super Speed to take the power supply off the Ultra-Humanite's Death Ray while he wasn't looking. Since The Flash enjoys being a dick to villains, he'll find a way to use this when there's no actual ammo. In an early episode, he super-speed pats on Gorilla Grodd's mind control helmet, then goads Grodd into using it. Fortunately for Flash, and unfortunately for Grodd, he reversed the polarity while he was tapping on it. A predictable fate ensues for Grodd. A similar thing happens in Justice League: The New Frontier with Captain Cold. Flash had rewired Captain Cold's ice gun whilst falling into a fountain after Flash snatched him out of a helicopter.
- One of the villains in Big Top Scooby-Doo! attempts to shoot Scooby with a tranquiliser gun, only to discover that Shaggy has taken the darts out of the gun.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Daffy Duck Hunting", Daffy Duck empties the buckshot out of Porky Pig's shotgun shells, then allows Porky to blast away at him to no effect.
- Young Justice: In "Drop Zone", Bane attempts to set of a series of explosives planted around the team, only to find that Kid Flash is now holding the detonator that had been in his hand a second earlier.
Truth In Television
- It is standard operating procedure when dropping prisoners at a jail for patrol officers to leave their guns unloaded for this very reason(for the reason that they are generally alone). Corrections officers that are involved in transport however have numbers and shotguns on their side, as well as the fact that the prisoners are better secured than with standard handcuffs.
- There's a kind of gun with a grip that senses how you hold it and can recognize its owner. If anyone else pulls the trigger, it won't fire. Biometric-based safeties are a long way from being practical yet, but a there are pistols made by Armatix that will only fire if the pistol is being held by someone wearing a wristwatch that is paired to the firearm. They have partnered with Anschutz to release a line of target rifles that use this technology as well.
- Heckler & Koch used to market a variant of their P7 pistol that had a manual safety catch operated by a small key, but it wasn't a great success.
- There's also a ring that disengages a magnetic safety on a revolver. Without the ring the revolver won't fire.
- The Life Embellished book My Family and Other Animals; Gerry's oldest brother Larry, a bossy writer, insists to the next-oldest brother Leslie, a keen hunter, that Larry can hunt just as well as Leslie can. They go hunting together, and when the birds appear, Larry enthusiastically pulls the triggers, proving that he forgot to load the gun.
- Display guns at stores generally don't have firing pins in them, so they can't be used against the owners even when fully loaded.
- Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme learned this the hard way during her assassination attempt on Gerald Ford. She attempted to kill the president with a Colt M1911, but she did not know that she needed to rack the slide to chamber a round after loading the magazine.
- The whole reason for the "Israeli Draw" technique was that a soldier might be using an unfamiliar firearm, so when drawing their own or picking up another's sidearm to cock the weapon immediately. Then again, if there's only One Bullet Left, this will unload the gun entirely.