When Your Gun Can’t Beat a Knife

By Steve Tarani
Posted in #Skills
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When Your Gun Can’t Beat a Knife

November 18th, 2020

5 minute read

What tactical advantage might a knife fighter have at extreme close quarters over you armed with your pistol? How can you turn the tables when fighting for your life against a skilled knife-wielding assailant with your EDC handgun?

A firearm can be the best defensive tool available. But will you have time to use it?

Most of us scoff at the classical movie scene where the bad guy pulls out a knife in a fight and gets shot because obviously, he should not have brought a knife to a gunfight! We also need to keep in mind that it is the movies.

In the real world, there are quite a few dedicated martial arts masters and very highly skilled practitioners who are edged weapons experts. Having studied the bladed arts in places like the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and here in the United States (Los Angeles and Stockton, CA), it opened my eyes to the unparalleled capability of close quarters combat (CQB) edged weapons deployment at the upper skill levels.

Extensive study in the Filipino Martial Arts over the years caused my deep appreciation for the vicious effectiveness of an edged weapon. As a government-trained defensive shooter with a professional protection background and having carried a gun for work, I enjoy a unique familiarity with both sides of the knife/gun combat equation.

A highly skilled knife fighter can close the reactionary gap in fractions of a second.

First off, put the idea that one weapon is better than another out of your thoughts, because it’s pure fallacy. When people ask, “What’s the best gun out there; a shotgun, sub-gun, rifle, pistol?” The appropriate answer should be “For what?” If it’s for a 1,000-yard shot, odds would be against you on using a pistol. Conversely, a precision rifle might be too cumbersome for use in every-day concealed carry.

Ballistic Weapons

Because it launches a high-velocity projectile, a firearm is considered a ballistic weapon. The combat effective range of a ballistic weapon is determined by the design of the weapon and the skill of the user. It can be applied anywhere from bad breath range out to give or take two miles, based on terminal ballistics, the functionality of the weapon system itself, and the skill of the user.

Rapid firearm deployment is critical as time is never on your side in a knife fight.

Contact Weapons

Unlike a firearm and because it may have a sharp point and/or edge, a knife is considered a contact weapon. The combat effective range of a contact weapon may be determined by the length and design of the weapon, plus the skill of the user. To be combat effective, the edge and/or tip of the blade must make positive physical contact with the human body.

You are probably thinking, “what about a throwing knife?” You see that all the time in the movies, right? Yes, there are some skilled knife throwers out there. If you were standing perfectly still and gave them a sufficient amount of time to deploy their throwing knife, then it is possible that you might be hit. However, in any real-world violent physical altercation, combatants are in perpetual motion.

If they consider a knife throw, the situation would need to be to their advantage. If they are moving, you are moving, and they know they have the potential of being shot. Especially at distance, they also know that if they miss, the price tag for failure is extremely high. In this scenario, they might reconsider throwing away their knife. It’s possible they may have more than one knife, but how many rounds are seated in your EDC magazine?

Notwithstanding the unlikely event of a knife throw, you are left with only two combat ranges: contact range (knife) and ballistic range (gun). The combat effectiveness of each weapon deployed at their respective ranges is based on user performance under duress.

An unexpected and brutal knife attack can be deadly at extreme close quarters.

Under Duress

A most common thought process is: “If he’s got a knife then I’ll just shoot him.” However, there are contributing factors that impact your performance under duress.

You then need to decide, “Hey, is that guy with the knife moving straight toward me?” which costs you another half second.

Your next consideration is, “What’s my best course of action? Do I exit the area or is this a shooting solution?” a decision which costs you yet another half second.

You’ve made your decision. You believe stopping the threat with your concealed handgun would be the absolute best response option. You must then address the usual “sending rounds downrange” considerations: Can you make the shot? Do you have an acceptable backstop? How fast is he moving? What is the target size? What is the penalty for missing? Answers to these questions may take at least a second (probably more).

Realistic Numbers

Before even defeating your cover garment in deployment, you have already burned up at least 2.5 seconds, which places you behind the action/reaction power curve.

Another critical factor impacting your shooting performance under duress is distance. Because the average military-age male (between 18 and 32 years of age) can close the distance of ten yards (30 feet) in less than two seconds, this is a significant factor. Based on your 2.5 second reaction time deficit, you may already be out of time and space and need to buy yourself more of each by moving. However, the earlier you can detect and determine a threat, more time and greater distance permit you to take advantage of ballistic range.

First and foremost is awareness of your surroundings. If your face is buried in your smartphone, then you’re not going to see anything in the first place. Even if you do notice, because you might be applying your situational awareness, it takes time to identify, “Hey, is that really a guy with a knife in his hand?” which costs you time: about a half a second.

Employing a high-quality pistol like the Springfield Armory XD quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

The tactical advantage of a knife fighter is to start the fight at contact range. His objective is to negate your ballistic advantage.

You can turn the tables in your favor in an edged weapon altercation with rapid threat detection and distance control — the earlier you can identify and address a threat, the greater your tactical advantage using a ballistic weapon. A firearm is an exceptional life-saving tool to have in a knife fight — when you have the time and space to use it.

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Steve Tarani

Steve Tarani

Steve is a former CIA protective services subject matter expert who served on Donald Trump’s pre-election protection detail. He is also the lead instructor for the NRA’s new Non-ballistic Weapons Training program offered nationally to 2.3 million members. Tarani, an active protective agent, is a Central Intelligence Agency and FLETC-certified federal firearms instructor who also provides services for the US Naval Special Operations Command, FBI National Citizens Academy Alumni Association, National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and others.

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