Five Reasons to Bring A Knife to A Gunfight

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You know, I never understood the expression, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”

Why not?

When taken at face value, it doesn’t make much sense.  Why wouldn’t one bring a knife AND a gun to a gunfight?  Why not bring both, right?  Why limit yourself to just one self-defense tool?

Shouldn’t the expression be clearer?  Like, “Don’t JUST bring a knife to a gunfight”?

Okay, I know I’m splitting hairs here as it’s really just an idiomatic way of saying make sure that you’re adequately ready for the task at hand so that you never find yourself outgunned (pun intended).  In a nutshell, be prepared.

But, to circle back to the original premise, suppose you had to challenge the notion of “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”  Could you come up with five reasons to bring a knife along with your gun to a gunfight?

Well, I did.  Here they are:

1. Knives Are Deadly Weapons, Too

To state the obvious, just like guns, knives are deadly weapons.  When used as defensive tools, they can kill people!  You can argue that they’re not as efficient nor as effective as a loaded, functioning firearm, but they can get the job done.

To give you an idea, one report I read suggested that knives or “other cutting instruments” were used in about 12 percent of documented justifiable homicides from 2008-2012, coming in a distant second to firearms which averaged approximately 83 percent over that span.

It’s always good to have a contingency plan.  Remember, one is none and two is one.

2. Knives Don’t Run Out of Ammo

A nice fixed blade to go along with my revolver.  

A gun is only as good as the number of rounds you have.  Once you run outta ammo, you’re outta luck.

Well, that’s not entirely true because you can use your firearm as a blunt instrument.  However, that’s not going to be as effective as an edged weapon — which brings up another point, that is, there is a reason why battle rifles typically come with bayonet mounts.

That reason?  Because when it comes to the precarious conditions of battle having a gun is great and having a knife is good but having both is ideal.  This way, you have all your bases covered, from trench warfare to CQB to (depending on the gun) long distance sniping.

Also, for those of you who say that knives go dull to counter the point about guns running out of ammo; well, yeah, they do.  But you can sharpen a knife on almost anything in your immediate area, from the leather belt on your waist to a piece of sandpaper to a random stone on the ground. Plus, who carries a dull knife?  Not to mention the fact that it takes awhile for a knife to dull.  Unless you’re killing hundreds of zombies at a time, the knife should stay perfectly sharp through a single confrontation.

3. Gun-Free Zones

Quite honestly, I see a lot more gun-free zones than I see weapons-free zones or knife-free zones.  So, assuming that you always follow the letter of the law and never carry your gun into one of those murder magnets (Larry Pratt’s nickname for gun-free zones), then it might just be the case that the only weapon you have on you is a knife — not a gun.

If SHTF in a gun-free zone and all you have is a knife, well, you’re still pretty screwed unless you can find an exit in a hurry.  If not, having a weapon is better than having no weapon at all.  When the spree killer goes to reload, you may have to pounce and try to take him out with your blade.

On the whole, though, one can argue that knives are more portable because they are generally more accepted by the non-gun owning public and the anti-gun crowd.

4. Threat Proximity

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You should always be mindful of how close are you to a potential threat.  It’s a question that you need to assess pretty quickly.  Why?  Because things can go south extremely fast.

Along these lines, the one thing that often gets mentioned is the 21-foot rule.  Are you familiar with this?  If not, it’s pretty straightforward.  A knife-wielding attacker can close a gap of 21 feet in under a few seconds (check out these Youtube videos).  That’s fast — a lot faster than one might think.

Many times, the good guy with the gun cannot draw, sight the moving target and pull the trigger in time to stop the knife-wielding attacker.  This becomes especially true if the gun owner is carrying his gun off body (in a bag or purse) or around the ankle.  

Given this reality, one can argue that it would be wise to carry an edged weapon — preferably a small fixed blade (some call this a “get-off-me knife”) around the neck or waist — that can be grabbed and deployed in a flash.

Also remember that sometimes you don’t realize you’re in a fight until it’s already gotten physical, e.g. you get jumped from behind.  It might be more difficult in that situation to get to the gun on your hip and ankle than the knife around your neck.  Or, perhaps, while you’re both struggling to get to your gun, you can deploy the knife and use it to win the battle for the gun.

5. Element of Surprise

Here’s an underrated truth about knives versus guns.  When you draw a gun, it’s rather obvious.  Even single-stack 9mm pistols or J-frame revolvers are detectable from a distance.  So, once you draw your gun and point it, the gig is up.  The element of surprise is over.  You have now escalated the situation (I guess derringers would be the exception to the rule).

Yet, with a small knife, there are ways to draw it and conceal it within one’s hand so that no one knows that you’re armed with a deadly weapon.  If you need to go on offense in a flash, a highly concealable knife allows you to suddenly use deadly force without alarming those in the surrounding area or tipping off the target.

As I’ve heard Funker Tactical’s Doug Marcaida say, knives are meant to be felt, not seen.


Quite obviously, the goal is never to get into a gunfight.  Like the Karate teachers of old used to say, “We learn to fight, so we don’t have to fight” (I’m paraphrasing).  You carry a gun and a knife and you train with a gun and a knife because it increases your odds of survival if SHTF, but even more so, by learning how to use them you become more vigilant and aware of your surroundings; and, consequently, more discerning on ways to avoid situations where the stuff may hit the fan.  As your competency with weapons increases, so too does your situational awareness.   

In the end, my advice is, carry both.  And the next time someone tells you, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight,” just smile and say, “Why not bring both?”

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Robert bogacz January 21, 2017, 9:36 pm

    Very good article-note a small fixed blade is best

  • Damon January 21, 2017, 11:53 am

    Doug Marcaida speaks about “defanging the snake” using a knife. Weapon retention all depends on the hands. The hands are controlled by nerves and tendons in the forearms. A presented weapon is usually at the end of an extended, and thus vulnerable, arm. Marcaida’s contention is that if you can remove your opponent’s ability to hold his weapon (or even make a fist), you’ve won the fight. Keep your edge sharp, gentlemen.

  • Mark N. January 20, 2017, 9:48 pm

    With the caveat that I always have a small sharp Kershaw in my pocket, a knife should be one of the last weapons used for self-defense except as a tool of dissuasion. A pocket knife has virtually no ability to defend against blows, unlike the swords of old, which means that if your opponent has a knife, you will be fending off his attacks with your arms and hands. As the old saying goes, anyone who gets in a knife fight is bound to be cut. Be forewarned.
    Moreover, few people have any actual training on how to use a knife in a fight, except veterans, and again as the old saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Thus, when faced with a knife, create as much distance between you and the assailant as possible, and preferably put some object–table, chair, whatever, between you and him. A knie is deadliest in a grapple, where it is virtually impossible to defend, only attack. As the poster says, learn a bit about anatomy, and specifically the location of organs and major arteries in the arms and neck. There are others, e.g., behind the knee and the femoral on the inside of the thigh or in the groin. Unless your attacker bleeds, or there is an intervention, nothing but blood loss will stop it. Attack the face, eyes and ears. Not only are cuts painful, most attackers will try to defend against them, resulting in the loss of the attacker’s advantage. Slash or stab any body part that gets near you–wrists and arms are the easiest, and a stab wound to the quadriceps can be disabling. And if you can, run far enough to deploy your firearm or to avoid further attack.

  • Tom Horn January 20, 2017, 6:27 pm

    I know this is GunsAmerica, not, KnivesAmerica, but I have enjoyed your knife reviews in the past. Any knife news/reviews from Shot Show? I image it’s a case of, so much to do, and so little time, with 14 miles of aisles.

  • Tom Horn January 20, 2017, 5:56 pm

    Most of us go to the range regularly, but how many of us train with bladed weapons? Well worth it to get some training.

    Know the knife laws where you are going, and have a knife to match the situation (Chicago/Cali Knife, etc.).
    Tac flashlight is always good to have on hand, too.

  • Jim January 20, 2017, 4:33 pm

    An unarmed combat instructor once told our group: If faced with a handgun, engage. If faced with a knife run.

  • Mblack January 20, 2017, 3:43 pm

    I recommend watching Doug Marcaida on the u tubes to get an Idea what the author is referring to. It will reset your perspective on knife fighting.

  • Mike Watkins January 20, 2017, 1:46 pm

    Very perceptive article, and I agree with other commenters about the usefulness and just plain common sense of carrying a knife.

    Only place I can think of where I am clothed and do NOT have a knife on me is getting on a plane.

    Often it’s just a simple 3-blade stockman, which is about as innocuous as anything you could possibly find in a country boy’s pocket. (I live in Arkansas, your area may be quite different) It’s a TOOL not a weapon, right? And no matter how I might be using it (as a tool), one blade remains unused razor sharp “just in case.”

    At times, there will be a larger lock-blade folder on a clip on a jeans pocket, occasionally there’s a fixed blade somewhere. Depends on the circumstances.

    It’s not “bringing a knife to a gunfight,” it’s adding an option for when things have gone way farther south than you ever imagined.

  • Lee January 20, 2017, 10:32 am

    Great article and solid points…. Honestly, there isn’t much that scares me more than a bad guy with a knife. That guy over there spraying round after round with his evil x900 30 round assault clips per seconds doesn’t scare me nearly as much as the guy 3 feet away with the knife.

    • Lloyd January 21, 2017, 6:22 am

      I totally agree with you, I have been in a situation where a sharp blade was at my jugular with a firm arm holding me around my chest. What saved me was a friend with a trump card, a 1911 thumb cocked pressing in the bad guys ear. That situation taught me much and to this day I fear the bad guy with a knife. Now I would not leave my 1911 at home and take my blade but I will take both with knife being last defense.

  • WDM January 20, 2017, 10:28 am

    I have seen an Akido instructor in central Florida who also gave classes to the local Sheriff’s Dept and other law officers give a demonstration on knife fighting.
    Prior to seeing his demonstrations, with a number of men, large and small strong and not so, I always thought ” yeah, I could take a sacrificial cut and take an opponent down.” I was shocked and totally wrong! In a matter of seconds any one of these guys would have been dead before they hit the ground or very shortly thereafter, even with a Paramedic team standing by.
    Now this was a close in simulation so of course you can and should imagine different scenarios. What I hope to impart is -keep your mind open, as the Author suggests.
    Peace Preferably

    • Joe McHugh January 20, 2017, 8:24 pm

      WDM, you and the author are absolutely right. The police are taught to never let a knife wielder within the 21 foot distance of your body. Any closer and the advantage shifts toward the guy with the knife.

      If you ever view the results of a knife attack on a victim’s body, even photo images, you will understand what utter devastation a sharp knife can inflict. If you have a gun, and the bad guy is advancing, DO NOT HESITATE TO SHOOT!
      And no matter what the “experts” advise, shoot for the center mass of the bad guy. Trying to hit the knife arm is just plain stupid. In a life or death confrontation, you want to be the last guy standing.

      Ironically, a well trained police officer with a baton, can overcome a miscreant with a knife. It’s all about reach. If one has a baseball bat, he can pretty much dominate a guy with a knife. Again, it’s about reach. A knife isn’t much good if your wrists are broken. A knife, like a handgun can be a life saving tool. Even a French Chef’s knife is a formidable weapon against the home invader that gets too close to YOU!

  • Steve January 20, 2017, 10:24 am

    A knife can be carried almost anywhere. And, like stated above, can be quicker to deploy. One point regarding being quick on target. Practice without using your sites at the range. You might certainly find them useless anywhere but there. Most shooting battles are at very close range. And, the dark makes most sites unusable. Learn how to sharpen your knife properly, the point included.

    • Irondoor January 22, 2017, 7:06 pm

      “Sights”. Sites are like “websites”. Sites are a place. Sights are on top of your firearm and assist you in “sighting” your target. It is unbelievable the number of gun site commentators who don’t know which word to use.

      • Mike H. October 26, 2017, 8:57 pm

        Give him a break! Did You ever think that He might have just spelled Wrong? Everyone’s not a genius like You evidently THINK You are!

  • david hamilton January 20, 2017, 3:09 am

    Under the right circumstances, a knife can be the preferred tool for the job. Close proximity will most often favor k if or empty hand tactics. As stated, best to have both knife and gun as a solid 2 prong defensive plan.

  • Will Drider January 20, 2017, 12:16 am

    Just a few points to add?
    Don’t use a knife as a show of force, your opponent may have a trump card. If its visible you best be justified and apply it with haste: repeatedly. Just as you wouldn’t fire one shot and wait for results. Apply it as many times as possible while in contact and the threat still exists. Self study human anatomy. Size of your tool matters as does your opponents clothing and fat layer. A good handle/grips will help prevent sliding your hand down the blade when you hit obstructions.

    A knife also allows a less then lethal response to aggressive dogs. You can thumb the blade and control penetration while sending a painful message. Attacking dogs get what they get.

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