There is an often-repeated adage that one ought to never “bring a knife to a gunfight.” A parallel and more amusing adage warns us that “He who lives by the sword gets shot by those who don’t.” But are these words true? I, for one, do not believe these are true statements, or at least not absolutely true. In fact, I believe that the wiser and more prudent person will always bring a knife to a gunfight— or more precisely, a gun and a knife.
We know that common sense tells us that a knife is ineffective against a gun from a distance. But consider the fact that most criminal assaults occur at very close distances. Most robberies and muggings occur with only the distance of a step or two between the attacker and victim, if not within actual contact. Nobody is sexually assaulted from 20 feet away. Real world experience tells us that violent crimes usually occur very suddenly and at a very close distance. In both theory and in practice there are difficulties with trying to defensively draw and shoot a gun while being physically attacked at close range. The risk of losing the gun during a struggle is significant. If your firearm ends up in the hands of the attacker your situation goes from very bad to the worst possible. Always maintain exclusive control over your firearm. If the gun is concealed it may be better to leave it so and not draw until you are able to gain enough distance from your attacker to make for an unimpeded draw. If the attacker knows you are armed and is trying to get at your gun, it is more effective to protect your gun from a grab while it is holstered than it is while in your hand during a struggle. If you do happen to draw your gun while engaged contact combat with your attacker, the risk of accidently shooting yourself goes up. Also remember that a bullet can cause damage in a straight line, and if you are unable to align the muzzle with your attacker, your bullets will not be effective. These facts call for another solution. This is where a knife comes into play.
Now if you are reasonably skilled in unarmed martial arts, you may be able to defend yourself effectively without the use of a knife or other contact-distance weapon. Most people are not reasonably skilled in martial arts. If your attacker is armed, as they are likely to be, there is a significant risk of injury or death to even a reasonably skilled martial artist. As I see it, the most significant advantage to the unarmed martial artist is that he or she does not have a weapon that can potentially be taken away and used against them by an attacker. I do not view this as a huge advantage for a majority of people. It is true than any weapon— gun, knife, club or electric weapon can be lost or taken away during a struggle. But the very purpose of carrying a weapon is that it multiplies the amount of force one can use. That’s why a smaller or weaker person who is armed can match or outmatch a larger and stronger opponent. For that reason the risk of having a weapon taken away generally is outweighed by the overall advantage of having a weapon in the first place.
Wisconsin’s concealed weapons law is just that: a law that permits a person to carry certain weapons concealed. While most people readily think of the handgun as the weapon most people will conceal, remember that the law specifically applies to knives, clubs and electric weapons as well as handguns. Each of these types of weapons comes with a list of inherent advantages and disadvantages. There is no perfect weapon to fit every situation or every person. But in general one normally puts the handgun at the top of the list of the four types of weapons allowed under this law. The handgun is a powerful weapon in the hands of a weak or small person or in the hands of a person with minimal experience with the weapon. The other weapons will also multiply the amount of violent force a person is able to summon in self-defense, but generally knives, clubs and electric weapons are more limited in their effectiveness due to limited range compared to a handgun, or due to the amount of strength or speed or skill needed to use them effectively. Obviously, regardless of weapon, a person who is trained and skilled or experienced with the use of a particular weapon will enjoy advantages over a person with the same weapon and lesser skills. (There is of course, always an element of luck, good or bad, which can make the outcome less certain.)
The one major area where the gap between the power of a handgun and the power of other weapons is most easily closed is when one is fighting up close. In such a situation a knife is the equal, if not superior to a handgun. Knives bring a number of noteworthy advantages. They are usually smaller and lighter than a handgun and can be easily carried in more places on one’s person. Most concealed carry practitioners will not carry more than one handgun. Carrying even two or three small knives concealed in various locations however is not particularly difficult or burdensome. Knives are reliable. They do not break easily; they do not run out of ammunition, they rarely malfunction. Knives are sometimes allowed in places that specifically ban firearms only. Knives come in a wide variety of styles and sizes making for many more possible modes of carry and with a greater variety of clothing. Unlike a bullet traveling in a straight line, a knife can strike out in any direction with devastating effect. Compared to bullets, there are a greater number of effective targets on the human body for a knife to attack. With proper placement and a little practice, a knife can be brought into use against an attacker in a stealthier manner. It has become cliché to say that the first indication your opponent should have that you are armed with a knife is when they feel it slicing or stabbing into their body. Like TV gunfights, real world knife fighting is very different than what is seen on the small and large screen.
In conclusion, again I recommend both a gun AND a knife under most circumstances for most concealed carry practitioners. And, as always, have a plan. If you carry a knife, do the mental preparation. Rehearse various scenarios in training, or at least in your mind, so that in an actual situation you bring the proper weapon into action at the proper time. Accept that there may be circumstances that call for deployment of a knife before the handgun. Make your response to a threat flexible and your options many. One warning before I end. Remember that Wisconsin’s concealed carry law does allow for carrying knives, clubs and electric weapons. However, if you travel to other states, be very certain to become familiar with the laws of that state. Some states allow only a firearm to be concealed. Do not assume that because you can legally conceal a knife or other weapon in Wisconsin that you can do so in other states as well.
In the next blog I will discuss my thoughts regarding some particular knives and styles of knives and how I incorporate them into my approach to concealed carry.