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The victim manages to get hold of his opponent's (usually the villain's) weapon, points it in his face but the villain 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 the 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 Did Not Do the Research that takes advantage of the audience's inability to conceive of what's not visible on screen, as most handguns without loaded bullets 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 bullet into the chamber before firing, so removing the magazine still leaves one live round in the chamber[1].

To be entirely honest, the chambered bullet 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 Did Not Do the Research 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-bullets problem is that a character will reveal that they've removed the firing pin from the weapon.

Compare Not with the Safety On, You Won't.

Examples of It Works Better with Bullets include:


Anime and Manga

  • Black Lagoon has Revy and Dutch doing this with one of Revy's guns at the end of the Nazi arc to the Nazis' Wide-Eyed Idealist leader, who has just found out about the ruthlessly pragmatic Evil Plan pulled off by the buyer of the painting they stole. When the leader points the weapon at Dutch instead of following Dutch's advice to kill himself, the gun turns out to be unloaded, and Revy and Dutch proceed to blow him away.
  • Gunslinger Girl has Henrietta doing this with one of the handlers' guns in order to reenact Elsa's tragic murder/suicide scene, aiming the gun at her eye as Elsa had done before pulling the trigger. This serves to scare the living hell out of her own handler, Giuseppe (and the audience, as the way the scene is intercut leads us to believe that she's trying to kill herself for real), until she opens her eyes and shows him the bullets, revealing that she had unloaded the weapon before pulling this stunt.
  • Subverted in the anime of Gunsmith Cats, when Rally was given a gun to prove her loyalty. Since she was a firearms expert, she could tell the gun was unloaded...and played as if she was going to shoot the cop anyway.
  • In the Western Shojo manga Miriam, protagonist Douglas is menaced by an enemy who stole his gun. The villain, who isn't particularly familiar with firearms, lets out an Evil Laugh and starts speechifying, before pulling the trigger several times to find an empty gun. When Douglas picks up the other guy's gun and turns the tables on him, he weakly insists that that gun, too, is empty, and Douglas knows he's bluffing because he can feel the difference.
  • Subverted in Eat Man, when a bad guy gives Bolt a gun belonging to another character. When Bolt pulls it out on him later, he brags about having removed all the bullets first. Bolt shoots him with another bullet he caught in his teeth earlier.
  • Happens in the very first scene of The Daughter of Twenty Faces. Chiko herself manages to pull it off by the end of the second episode.
  • During a scene in the second season of Gundam Seed, Flay (left in Rau's office after he rescues her from being killed in the Alaska fiasco on a whim) gets a gun out of his desk and tries to attack him when he comes back in. Rau's response is to lecture her that attacking the one person with any interest in keeping her safe is ridiculous, especially when the gun's not even loaded in the first place.
  • Black Cat: Train Heartnet pulls a version on himself - in order to test Sven's resolve, he hands Sven his gun, which has one bullet in it, in a random slot. He puts his hand on the table and tells Sven to shoot it. Sven, figuring that it's not loaded, shoots without hesitation. Turns out it is loaded...with a fake, harmless bullet.
  • Happens in Break Blade, in an unusually realistic case. The gun-pointer was a) a mech pilot, the wrong type of soldier entirely; b) using an unfamiliar model (and it probably helped that it was a quartz-firing gun, not a lead-firing one); and c) twelve years old. Her hostage (the queen, natch) played along, just to see how far she was willing to go (which happened to be all the way to pulling the trigger at an enemy she recognized).
  • Zero no Tsukaima: Fouquet steals the "Staff of Destruction", a legendary artifact, from the Wizarding School. But she can't figure out how it works. So she arranges for it to be recovered by the main characters and attacks them with a golem. It goes according to her plan: Saito uses it against the golem, then Fouqet takes it from Saito and points it at him. He's not especially worried, since the staff of destruction is really just a rocket launcher and he has just fired it at the golem.
  • Played with in Laputa: In the depths of the flying city the young hero Pazu is facing down the villain Muska (one of the slimiest villains in film, right up there with Mother Iselin). Pazu has his big grenade launcher, had been given two shells, which we know he has already used. So Pazu's bluffing. Muska has his handgun leveled at Pazu, however, he lowers it, apparently falling for the bluff. But why? A real close look will show Miyazaki's attention to the details. The shot is looking over Muska's shoulder and we see his handgun with the hammer pulled down ... and it's obvious there's NO bullets in the chamber - having run out of bullets too!


Comic Book

  • There's a Daredevil story where Bullseye, who can kill you with anything, is hired to kill someone and decides to take no chances whatsoever by using a gun. After he's fired it (and killed his target), Daredevil is so pissed that he gets the gun and turns it on his foe. The problem? Bullseye, whose name does not refer to a piece of a male cow's anatomy, you idiot, only needed one bullet. And only brought one bullet.
    • Happened again with Bullseye, where Karen Page picks up a revolver he had tossed aside and tries to shoot him in the head. "First rule of 'cleaning': Never discard a loaded piece."
  • In an early G.I. Joe comic, expert mercenary Kwinn disarms all of the Joes with his Improbable Aiming Skills except for Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes tries to bluff him, but Kwinn reveals that he was just playing around; He could tell from the way the bolt on Snake Eyes' Uzi was locked back that he didn't have any ammo left.
    • A bit of a case of Did Not Do the Research, since the Uzi fires from an open bolt. In other words, the bolt is locked back when it's ready to fire.
    • In an issue of G.I. Joe Special Missions, Roadblock finds the guns that the terrorists have smuggled aboard a plane in order to hijack it. He disassembles the guns, removes the firing pins and reassembles them. When the terroists attempt the hijack, they discover they have non-functioning guns.
  • In the "Palomar" series within Love and Rockets (the Duck Feet collection, by Gilbert), the trope is doubled: Chelo, the town sheriff, gives Tonantzín a pistol so she can sheriff while Chelo is sick. Tonantzín realizes Chelo wouldn't trust her with a loaded gun, and takes the town's other pistol from Chelo's desk instead. In a later standoff, Chelo reveals she knew this would happen, and had left the pistol in her desk unloaded too.
  • In the X Wing Series comics, this happens twice in one arc. Here, the Sullustan pilot tells the student that it's no use threatening anyone with an empty blaster - see the diode flashing? Here, the Sullustan pilot and the students are on the same side and pull the trick on someone else. Perfectly legitimate in the first case, not so much in the second. Gade may not have been a soldier or anything, but he was a bit more familiar with weapons. But hey, Rule of Funny.
  • Whiteout. The British spy taunts a killer using a Human Shield into pulling the trigger because she knows the extreme cold will prevent the pistol from firing. At least, she hopes it will.
  • Derek Almond gets caught with a bullet-less revolver against the title character in V for Vendetta. Whether V knew it was loaded or not is debatable.

 Almond: "Because you're standing over there with your bloody fancy knives and your bloody fancy karate gimmicks...and I've got a gun." *click*

  • In the Tintin book The Blue Lotus, drug baron Mitsuhirato tries to shoot Tintin with an unloaded gun, and then stab him with a tinfoil knife. Before that, he tried to poison him, only the poison had been switched out too.
    • In The Black Island, two goons only remember that the gun that Tintin has turned on them isn't loaded after he ties them up. They start calling for help, thinking that he can no longer threaten them with an empty gun. He simply clubs them silent with the butt.
  • Happens to The Punisher while attempting to infiltrate a drug cartel. The boss hands him a rifle and orders him to execute a captured DEA agent. The Punisher turns the gun on the boss only to discover that the gun is unloaded. It was a test of Frank's loyalty.
  • The Sin City story, Hell And Back shows the main character sneaking into the house of a corrupt cop. When he reveals himself to the cop, the guy grabs the gun under his chair and squeezes the trigger. The main character then shows him the handful of bullets he had previously removed.
  • Expecting a double cross, Robidoux does this to Sasha in Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars. It ends badly for her.
  • The Flash does a variation in a Batman Adventures comic book which opens with a mugger demanding money from his victim and she asks "Weren't you holding a gun just a second ago?" while looking at his empty hand positioned as if he had a gun in his hand.


Film

  • 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?

  • In Casino Royale, a bad guy draws a pistol out of his desk drawer. James 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.
  • 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 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 barrel was empty. The sheriff got him for attempted murder.
  • In Die Hard, John McClane loans a gun to the Big Bad Hans Gruber, who is masquerading as an escaped hostage. When Gruber tries to shoot McClane with the gun and finds it empty, McClane waves the magazine at Gruber and mocks him.
    • In Die Hard with a Vengeance, John gives his gun to Zeus Carver aboard Simon Gruber's boat. When Zeus encounters Simon, he attempts to shoot, but it's not working. So Simon takes the gun from Zeus and shoots him with it instead.
  • Another instance of 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 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 the Big Bad 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.
  • 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 the movie 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 FX, 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 the film Taken, Liam Neeson's character 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 the movie 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."
  • Tremors. The Not So Crazy Survivalist refuses to give a gun to Jerkass 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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 the movie 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.

  • SWAT- When the hero and the big bad are fighting over a gun, the magazine falls out. The hero gets control and aims it at the villain, who taunts him holding the magazine, and the hero remarks "one in the chamber". 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.
  • 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 clip) until he tries to shoot it, again, begging the question of why he didn't notice the weight difference.
  • Deja 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 ok. 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, 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.


Literature

  • In Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons, an assassin arrives at a king's house, while he's being taunted, the king pulls a gun and tries to fire. The assassin off handedly shows him the bullets and says "It works better with these."

    Bank's plays with this in Against a Dark Background. The villain steals Sharrows gun and spare ammo, removes the magazine and gives it back. Sharrow realizes that gun has been unloaded, however she doesn't know if he remembered to check the chamber until she tries to fire he didn't.
  • Tom Clancy's Executive Orders subverts this: The Secret Service agents guarding the President want a sleeper agent to try and kill him, but don't replace the bullets with blanks, as he'd notice. They simply tap out the gunpowder. They explain it, and even mock him by pointing out the cute little noise the primer makes.
  • In John Scalzi's ~Old Man's War~ series, the standard weapon of the Colonial Defence Forces - the MP35 - will only fire if held by the soldier it's been programmed to be used by as discovered by an unfortunate recruit and an even more unfortunate Rraey.
  • Artemis Fowl: In the third book, when Loafers McGuire has Artemis at gunpoint, Juliet disarms him by removing the slide from his pistol.
  • The BattleTech novel Dark Destiny features an example at the end of Phelan's last Bloodname duel. Having shot his archrival out of his 'Mech, he dismounts himself to settle things mano a mano and even drops his gun...which Vlad goes for at the first opportunity, of course. Too bad that earlier supply problems had made Phelan decide that he, as primarily a 'Mechjock, needed the bullets less than one of his friends in the infantry...
  • Happens in Simon R. Green's Nightside a lot. The main character, John Taylor has a gift that enables him to find anything: an often neat trick is to find the bullets of a loaded gun in his hand. Whilst the mook is pointing said gun at him. When confronted by multiple mooks carrying assault rifles, his hands literally pour bullets. On occasion, he has threatened to do the same trick; but with their internal organs.
    • He does this with a couple of guys' filling and bridgework while investigating the loss of the Hawkwind.
  • In Mickey Spillane's The Twisted Thing a murderer pulls this trick on Mike Hammer, no less, by slipping out the magazine of his Colt .45 when giving him a "welcome back" hug. Mike didn't have the chamber loaded for safety reasons.
  • Many Star Trek novels have used a depleted phaser for the same effect. For example in the Double Helix novel featuring Picard and Calhoun, Picard steals' the Big Bad's energy weapon and points it at him; the Big Bad goads him to shoot...and the blaster has no power. Cue jailing sequence.
    • Often, phasers or disruptors can be deactivated by remote, as a security precaution in case the wrong person ends up with them.
  • In Allegiance, four Hand of Judgment stormtroopers have been told that Governor Choard is guilty of high treason, and have been authorized to kill him. Choard happens to be the uncle of one of them, and none of the others have any desire to kill in cold blood, so they try to arrest him. Then Choard's nephew threatens the other three troopers with his E-11, reveals who he is, and forces them to put their blasters down before handing his to Choard. Choard then incriminates himself, and when his nephew protests threatens to shoot him, the trooper says, "No, uncle. Because you made one final mistake. You think that blaster is loaded." He'd taken out the power pack, and while it turned out there was one shot left, it didn't do him any good.
    • Happens twice in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. Han Solo sort of rescued a band of armed guerrillas he doesn't know or trust, and told them to stow their weapons in a compartment before he came to talk to him. When he did, he found that their leader was very impressed with him, wanted to see his blaster, and showed him hers. Then she decided to trade. Moments later, Han found out about their plan to kill him and take his ship, and when he aimed at the leader he found that she'd removed the power pack. However, as she found a page or two later, he had also removed his. Unfortunately for Han, her friends had hold-out blasters.
  • A variation happens in Area 7. The resident Dumb Muscle ambushed Book and Juliette; but he stopped for a one liner, which gave Book enough time to eject the magazine. He still didn't notice.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Wes Maggs, under the influence of Blood Magic, first tries to shoot "the old dam"; when he turns his gun on the prisoner, he tries to fire it, but he had spent all his ammunition. When the witch realizes it, she has him go for strangulation instead.
  • Suverted (?) in the Man-Kzin wars novel Cathouse, by Dean Ing (a collection of earlier MKW short stories). The human protagonist has acquired a Kzinti rifle, and had been using it enough for the "insufficient charge" indicator to light up. A while after covering the light with some blood to make it look unlit, he confronts the Big Bad, pointing out specifically the indicator is off. Later, after the Big Bad has surrendered, Rocklear points out that he had just covered the light up, and goes to fire what he thinks is an empty weapon at the ceiling of the hut they were in to demonstrate. As the Kzinti commander points out, after the characters present get out of the hut set on fire by a partially charged shot, "insufficient charge" isn't the same thing as "no charge".
  • At the climax of Desmond Bagley's thriller The Vivero Letter, the hero faces a mob boss armed with a revolver at close range, and notices there are no bullets in the chambers on either side of the barrel. Though not experienced with firearms, he thinks that the cylinder turns when the trigger is pulled, and bets his life on there not being a variety of revolver in which this doesn't happen. He ignores the mobster's gun, and attacks him with a machete, leading to a hand-to-hand duel in which his training in sabre fencing gives him the edge.
  • Played with in The Truth. After successfully threatening Smug Snake Ronnie Carney with a springgonne (a crossbow reduced to a powerful spring in a gun-shaped body), Sacharissa fires straight at him. She knows it's unloaded, but he doesn't.

 "I must have forgotten to put the pointy arrow bit in" she said as Carney fainted dead away. "What a silly girl I am."

    • In Snuff, Vimes gives the river rat Brassbound a crossbow, after assuring all others present that "I know a killer when I see one." He was right, since "Brassbound" is really Stratford, and the crossbow Vimes gave him doesn't have a working trigger.
  • 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.
  • Played with in one of the SERRAted Edge novels by Mercedes Lackey. During the final fight scene, an evil elf casts a spell on one of the heroes that deactivates the ammo in his gun. She then ignores that hero, because his only weapon is the gun, and, well, see the trope name. Too bad she'd never learned about speedloaders.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time, Walker breaks into the town arsenal and steals all the firearms when he makes his run for Europe. But when he gets out to sea, he finds out that Alston had removed all the firing pins and stored them separately.


Live Action TV

  • 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 has escaped. So, John sets up an ambush 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.
  • Cool Old Guy Sam Axe on Burn Notice does this to an enemy with his own gun, working under the (correct) assumption that the enemy would steal his gun and turn it on him. This is also why Sam brought two guns.
  • 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 clip 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 gun at them and orders them to give him the bullets. Fearing getting shot, they give him the bullets.
  • On Law and 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 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!
  • In The Mentalist 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.
    • Also brilliantly 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.
  • 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 clip before sleeping 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.
  • Burn Notice did the tampered-firing-pin version when Michael handed a gun to a mark to convince the mark to kill the hitman he'd hired to kill Michael's client-of-the-week. The gun fails to fire, prompting the two to turn on each-other.
  • 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.
  • Harpers 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.


Radio

  • 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.


Theatre

  • 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 surrepetitiously 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!"


Video Games

  • Metal Gear Solid 3. Ocelot fires multiple times into the air to catch Snake's attention, then points the gun at him. Snake, "You don't have what it takes to shoot 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 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, they include an out-take reel where Snake says the same thing in one scene. Turns out, yes, yes he did have what it takes.
    • There's also a scene where The Boss grabs Snake's gun and dismantles it in about two seconds. When Snake retrieves the pieces, he finds out that The Boss stole the barrel.
  • 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 actually a reference to The Road Warrior when Mel Gibson's character, Max, threatens someone with an unloaded sawed-off shotgun.


Web Comics

  • 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.


Western Animation

  • 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. 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 (sometimes it's a boxing glove), and then calmly shoot a mook for jack shit reason with a real one. Sometimes even he gets confused.
  • 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.


Truth in Television

  • It is standard operating procedure during prisoner transfers for the officers to leave their guns unloaded for this very reason.
    • Not at the prison or jail here. The prisoners all get manacled and the manacles and handcuffs are all chained together so they sort of shuffle around everywhere. The guards all carry loaded firearms and any prisoners being taken out of a secure area are escorted by multiple guards.
  • 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.
    • Still in testing stages, unfortunately. At the moment it sometimes doesn't work even for the intended user.
      • Biometrics aren't there yet, but 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.
    • 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.

Notes

  1. Some handguns (like the FN 5-7) have a feature that prevents the gun from firing without a magazine, even if a round is still in the chamber.
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