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Myths about Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

A firearm is the great equalizer when it comes to personal protection. If a student asks what weapon they should carry for self-defense, I’ll almost always say, “Buy a gun that’s right for you, then train like hell with it.” 

But a concealed-carry pistol isn’t a magic wand.

It won’t turn a violent psycho into a pile of ash like a vampire hit with sunlight. And it certainly doesn’t transform its user into a three-gun champion with mad Jiu-Jitsu skills and a badass pit bull.

In fact, complacently assuming a handgun will do all the work could get you in serious trouble — especially against a determined knife-wielding wacko. 

Why? Because while Sean Connery’s line about bringing “a knife to a gun fight” in The Untouchables seems obvious, it doesn’t always reflect the realities of knife attacks.

Let’s take a deep dive into why the gun community’s preconceived notions could set you up for failure and what you can do to sharpen your survival skills against an edged-
weapon assault. 

Myth #1: Distance Is Your Friend

Most gun owners say, “I’ll just shoot him,” because they assume that a bad guy with a blade will be far enough away that they can safely draw their firearm and shoot. But unless you’re facing a mass stabbing incident (which is about as unlikely as a mass shooting) or you’re law enforcement responding to a report of a knifing, a thug with a blade won’t attack you until he’s in bad breath distance. 

Having reviewed countless real-life stabbings since people started uploading surveillance footage (and now smartphone videos) to YouTube and LiveLeak in the mid 2000s, the vast majority of knifings happened within 6 feet or less.

So, why then do most people think the opposite is true? This myth is perpetuated by a few factors, first of which is Hollywood.

With the exception of Michael Mann (think 1995’s Heat) and a handful of other directors, filmmakers couldn’t care less about portraying firearms accurately. For a century, our action heroes — from John Wayne to Dwayne Johnson — have been spraying and praying their way to cinematic victory against foes standing near or far. 

And these same filmmakers have depicted knife fights in much the same way — with complete ignorance. It has left society with a false sense of security when it comes to fighting an edged weapon with a firearm.

The Reality: Most knife attacks happen in extremely close quarters.

Myth #2: Time Is Your Friend

Another knife-versus-gun fallacy is believing you’ll draw your pistol in time. Again, mainstream society has been duped by Hollywood action movies.

The truth is getting shanked can happen in nanoseconds. 

This concept can be explained with the Tueller Drill. In the early 1980s, Sergeant Dennis Tueller of the Salt Lake City Police Department conducted tests to see if an attacker with a knife could cover 7 yards (21 feet) before a defender could draw and shoot him. His tests determined it could be done in 1.5 seconds. 

The problem is that this drill is almost irrelevant to the average concealed-carry holder. 

Why? In the vast majority of surveillance videos of knifings involving civilians, the attacker didn’t launch the first stab until he or she was well within 6 feet, much less 21 feet.

When it comes to combat, time and distance are intertwined. The closer your knife-wielding opponent is, the less time you have to perceive the threat, draw your pistol, aim, and fire. It’s just basic physics.

So, if a determined attacker can cover 21 feet in 1.5 seconds, how long does it take if he starts at 6 feet? How about 3 feet, which is just an arm’s length away? 

In a review of 25 recent knife stabbing videos, in almost every instance, the victims were stabbed anywhere between two to 10 times in as little as 2 seconds.

Even if you possessed Jerry Miculek-like shooting abilities and could tie his record of shooting eight rounds from a revolver on a single target in 1 second, you would still be trading that for a potentially fatal stab wound or two. 

Suddenly, the good old “I’ll just shoot him” strategy doesn’t seem so simple anymore, does it?

The Reality: A fatal knife attack can happen in a couple of seconds … or less.

Myth #3: You’ll See the Knife Coming

Many shooters love that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones is confronted by a bad guy twirling a sword, so the good doctor pulls out his wheelgun and ends the fight with one shot.

Like the Connery scene in The Untouchables, this scene perpetuates a fallacy that many still believe: that a knife-versus-gun fight will be a duel. 

Knife attacks aren’t actually attacks — they’re ambushes. 

Most criminals and homicidal maniacs aren’t highly skilled martial artists. They aren’t elite SOF operators. They’re untrained and extremely violent. So, to inflict the highest amount of damage quickly, they’ll get as close as they can — usually within 6 feet or less — and keep the blade completely concealed until the very last moment. 

Knife to a Gunfight
This is what’s far more likely to happen on the street: A thug will get within arm’s length before grabbing you with his support-side hand while thrusting with his hidden knife. Even if you’re carrying a concealed pistol, your first priority must be dealing with the incoming attack.

It makes total sense when you analyze things from a macro perspective; humans are part of the animal kingdom. In the animal kingdom, apex predators don’t attack fearsome creatures on high alert. They silently stalk the most unaware prey before using speed and surprise to launch their ambush.

The Reality: Start thinking like a predator so you can prevent becoming the prey, because knife attacks are actually knife ambushes.

Myth #4: You Need Just One Shot

Another falsehood that Raiders of the Lost Ark and other movies perpetuate is the notion that one round is all it takes to stop a bad guy with an edged weapon. Well, it doesn’t matter if he’s holding a blade or a bazooka, you can’t assume that a single round will end the threat.

Case in point: On September 5, 2020, Chicago police officers responded to a call of a knife-related incident, only to be confronted with a man holding a large kitchen knife. Despite getting hit with a Taser, the attacker was able to stab one of the cops in the torso several times. Two other officers opened fire and hit the assailant multiple times, discharging a total of 21 rounds, according to the officers’ reports released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Knife to a Gunfight
Life isn’t like the movies. Assuming a single round will stop a knife threat could spell serious trouble. Any legit CCW instructor will teach you how to fire controlled groupings, to move and shoot, and to use other combat-effective concepts to stop an edged-weapon attacker.

Body cam footage of the incident showed that, even though he was hit many times, the attacker still managed to maintain his grip on the first officer he stabbed!

The assailant died at the scene, but it’s video proof that even if someone is struck with fatal shots, they can still be lethal for a time afterward. 

Cases like these are why any good firearms instructor will teach you concepts beyond hitting a stationary paper target while standing still on a flat range. 

The Reality: A single shot (or even several shots) won’t necessarily stop a knife attack.

Myth #5: You Don’t Need Combatives Training

The over-reliance on the firearm, the lack of pressure testing training concepts, and the fallacies perpetuated by Hollywood have resulted in complacency amongst a large chunk of the gun-owning population. 

There’s a misconception that all you need to do is own a firearm and you’ll be safe against an edged weapon.

Well, the four previous myths discussed prove that’s not true.

Let’s just assume you’re a true badass. You know how to gauge distance, you can draw your pistol with lightning speed, your head is always on a swivel, and you can make headshots like a T-800.

That’s fantastic. But what happens if you’re in a crowded elevator and the person next to you suddenly goes on a murderous stabbing rampage? Or you’re at a courthouse or vacationing in another country?

In non-permissive environments, you might not have access to your pistol. What then?

If you take your personal protection seriously, you’ll need to be as well-rounded a warrior as you can be. That means firearms training … along with learning how to use blades, impact weapons, and — yes — even your bare hands. 

In many knife attacks, if the victim had empty-hand combatives skills, tragedy could’ve been averted.

Myth-Busting Solutions

So, what can a prepared individual with a concealed-carry firearm do? Practice several things, actually.

Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Situational awareness — not your gun — is your number-one weapon against a knifing. If you have to resort to physical techniques to defend against an edged weapon, you messed up somewhere much earlier.

Time (and Distance) Management: In an age where social distancing has become the norm, we should all be adept at understanding the difference between 6 feet and 21 feet. The more distance you have from a bad guy, the more time you give yourself to flee or fight back.

If that means running, do it! Think about moving to a better position (like around a barricade) rather than backing up in a straight line. This will allow you to not only create space but to also gain enough time to safely draw your firearm. But whatever you do, don’t stay still! As I teach in my combatives classes, mobility is life. 

Avoidance: Any good CCW instructor will tell you that you’ll survive 100 percent of the fights you’re not involved in. Evasion and de-escalation should be your next weapon after situational awareness. Do everything in your power to avoid a potential fight, because you never know if someone is carrying a knife. You don’t know if he has friends. And you certainly don’t know if his friends have knives. 

Effective Empty-Hands: A gun is just a tool. You’re the weapon. So, if you haven’t already, start upgrading your software (your skillsets) by learning how to use your hardware (your body) to stop an edged-weapon attack, because video after video has shown that knife attacks are actually knife ambushes. You won’t necessarily have the time or space to earn your draw and fire back.

Learn a practical fighting system that shows you how to first protect yourself against a stabbing then how to reposition yourself to a safer spot so that you can launch your own counterattack — first with your arms and legs and then, after you’ve created an opening to draw, with your firearm.

Because, chances are that your Glock isn’t a magic wand and you’re not John Wick. 


About the Author

Patrick Vuong is the former senior editor of CONCEALMENT and the co-founder of Tiga Tactics (a combatives training company). As a self-defense teacher since 1999, he uses his diverse knowledge of fighting methods to close the wide gap between two traditionally separate warriors: martial artists and firearms enthusiasts. He’s an instructor in several systems, including the Filipino bladed art of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. For more information, go to tigatactics.com.


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One response to “Myths about Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight”

  1. John Cote MSSI says:

    Excellent Article!!!!
    True knife fighters don’t display their weapons prior to attack.

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