Knife Vs. Gun: Which One Wins?

When the average licensed firearms carrier is asked what they will do if attacked by a person with a knife, their answer is instant and very simple: “I’d just shoot him.” Fair enough. I’ll end the article here because there’s no sense in moving forward since the solution is at hand. Or is it?

Before the magic happens, there are factors that we have to examine. First, how close is the person who wishes to do us harm? “Doesn’t matter,” you say. “I’ve got my (insert favorite zombie-killing blaster here), they don’t stand a chance.”

That thought leads us into two topics:

  1. How quickly can the knife-wielding person cover the ground between the two of you?
  2. How quickly will your blaster stop him (or her)?

Tueller Drill

Many of you will be familiar with the Tueller Drill, invented by Lt. Dennis Tueller, a police trainer, around 1983. It was determined that the average speed an adult can cover a distance of 21 feet is approximately 1.5 seconds. Note, the words average and approximate are key. Some folks are faster, others are slower.

It was also determined that many police officers took approximately 1.5 seconds to draw, fire, and hit a target. As such, it was determined that a person 21 feet away, armed with a knife was a serious threat because he could reach our hypothetical police officer in about the time it took the officer to draw and fire a weapon.

However, let’s examine some other factors before we jump to that “simple” conclusion.

Tueller drill
21 feet might seem like a safe enough distance. But is it really? Insert a maniac with a knife who’s coming at you into the equation, and your perspective might shift. (Photo: Virtra)

Retention Holsters and Cover Garments

Officers typically draw from a Retention Holster. This type of holster is designed to make it more difficult for an assailant to snatch the officer’s weapon, which is a good thing. However, it also makes a fast draw much slower than a holster with no retention features, which is a factor to consider. Some officers are very skilled,  and drawing from such a holster takes just a hair over one second. For others, it can take over two seconds to draw. I observed this when I was in uniform and carried a handgun in a retention holster. Even those who are more skilled can run into issues because these holsters are designed to not let that weapon go, pure and simple.

Image of police officer from the rear, with all the gear he is wearing
Police retention holsters tend to not want to let go of the pistols that they carry. (Photo: DepositPhotos)

I see you in the back there, almost jumping out of your seat with your hand up. I know what you’re doing to say: “But MY holster doesn’t have retention features, it’s meant for a fast draw and I carry concealed!”

Fair enough, I’ll give you that one. You’re unencumbered by those yucky retention devices. But wait, you said you carry concealed, right? Which means you will have to sweep away at least one garment in order to perform your draw, right? What about in the wintertime, when you have a jacket or maybe even a winter parka over top of your blaster? I live in the Northeast and we sometimes have winters that rival the planet Hoth, with 50-mile-per-hour winds, temperatures in the single digits (or below), and lots of snow. During those times, it is Parka weather.

The bottom line is that we’re going to have to go through cover garments in order to access our handgun. How quickly that can happen is going to depend on what time of year it is. Gosh, this is getting complicated, isn’t it? Just wait, we’re not even warmed up yet!

The solution may not be an instant fix.

Let’s say you perform a draw with quickness and you’re slapping that trigger as the bad guy approaches. Good to go, right? Maybe. Are you going to hit him?  I mean, for sure?

Okay, how many times has someone tried to kill you in your life? Because if it’s never happened before, I guarantee that you will be in for an emotional roller coaster ride like you’ve never experienced. There is a good chance that you may pull rounds off the target. Be aware that soldiers and cops miss their targets too, and they may have trained more than you have.

But for the moment, let’s say that you don’t miss and that a few of your rounds find their mark before the bad guy reaches you. Are your problems over? Well, yes and no.

It might well be the solution, where the would-be murderer falls down and ceases to become a threat. Or, as I’ve seen mortally wounded people do, he might continue his attack, even though he is dead on his feet. See, the problem with mortally wounded “dead” people is that they don’t always realize that they’re dead. Even if you destroy someone’s heart, they still have enough oxygen left in their brain to continue functioning for a surprisingly long time, up to half a minute. If you’ve ever fought for your life for 30 seconds, I can tell you, that is a very long time!

I personally watched a man who was mortally stabbed and had his intestines hanging outside of his body with blood pouring out of over a dozen stab wounds continue to fight until his blood pressure dropped to zero. His rage continued to propel him far past the time when he medically should have been able to keep fighting. And this was not the only instance where I saw people do things they physically should not have been able to keep doing. It was one of the “benefits” of working in my state’s prison system – I had the occasion to meet some of the most interesting people on the face of the earth. I didn’t say they were pleasant, but they sure were interesting, and we got to spend hours and hours of time together.

Unfortunately, it is quite possible that your rounds will have little to no immediate effect on the thug. You may have to go hands-on if he presses his attack home. Do you practice your empty-hand skills?

This is complicated, but we’re not done yet. 

Will you see it coming?

I am aware of 3 instances when edged weapons were used against me, (in a moment, you’ll see why I said it that way). Each time, I did not see the knife until after the attack had commenced.

During the first attack, I first realized that a knife was involved when the man wielding the knife began pulling it out of the back of the inmate who was standing next to me. In the next attack, an inmate was armed with a razor knife. As we fought I thought he was just trying to punch me, but discovered that the knife was in his hand and he was trying to slash me with it. On yet another occasion, I dealt with an inmate who had a blade in his pocket, grasped in his hand. He did not take the weapon out to use on me, but I found out after the incident that he was, in fact, armed.

How many other times did I deal with armed inmates without realizing that I was a hair away from being slashed or stabbed? I have no idea, but given the number of confrontations and altercations I was involved in, I’ll say with confidence that it was likely dozens of times. I say that because I was involved in probably about a hundred altercations over the decades, maybe more.

The point is, I was in an environment where I expected to be dealing with armed attackers. I was trained for it, and there were times when they took me by surprise. With that said, there were dozens of times when I did see the weapons that were being used.

attacker with knife approaching victim from behind
The hero of our story is concentrating on opening a gate while the Arch Nemesis approaches from behind. How finely honed is your situational Awareness?

Keep Your Eyes Open

Let’s rewind a bit to a point that we skipped over at the very beginning of this article, but one that is THE most important, vital piece of the puzzle that you need to concentrate on. And that is Situational Awareness.

Consider that the bad person armed with the knife makes all the decisions. He knows whether or not he is going to attack. And THAT, my friends, is the key to the whole equation. If he has decided that today is the day we are about to stop living, we do not know that ahead of time!

Up until this time, you may have assumed that you know you are in a confrontation; maybe words were exchanged, or threats were levied. That, however, is an assumption. Maybe the guy just doesn’t like you, or he knows you from a past event and hates you. He could be mistaking you for another person he bears a grudge against. It could be that you’re in uniform and he simply hates authority and you are going to be the example that he sets. Maybe the voices in his mentally delusional head are telling him to end your life.

Whatever the reason, it does not matter. He has decided. And so he launches the attack. You, unfortunately, have not received the memo, and you’re not expecting the piercing session. What’s more, maybe your back is turned and you’re otherwise engaged in an activity. He’s coming at you, and you have no idea. If that’s the case, a large portion of that 1.5 seconds just got used up. 

attacker approaching from behind with knife in raised hand
This is a bad time to realize that someone wants to cancel your birth certificate. (Photo: SWAT Magazine)

You remember that Tueller Drill, where the attacker and victim both face each other, and both parties know there is going to be an attack, and there is a guy with a timer, and you’re all ready to pull off your quick draw? Yeah, that isn’t real life. Real Life is about to sneak up on you and kill you.

The Tueller Drill assumes you’re aware that someone is about to attack you, but most of the time, you are simply not aware. Now I’ll ask you, is that 21 feet still adequate for defending yourself against a knife? I’m betting not. You may need a lot more space. The question is, will you have it?

I’ll ask you another question: Do you still feel as confident with your handgun defending yourself against a knife-wielding attacker as you started out reading this article? Probably not. And if so, that is very good, because I want this article to give you a more realistic cognizance than before.

I was discussing this with a very close friend (We’ll call him Jake) who happens to be a law enforcement trainer at his large city department’s police academy. They’d asked him to give a segment about defending against edged weapons. Jake readily accepted, because his level of street experience is off the charts; he’s been a detective for many years, including undercover work, and he’s been there, done that, big time.

He spent considerable time showing the class of cadets how easy it is to conceal a knife and how he could surprise them and get the drop on them before they could access their weapons. The cadets were devastated! As a matter of fact, they were so devastated that the academy administration pulled Jake from being an instructor in that particular subject because they said the cadets were becoming “depressed and demoralized.” In short, they didn’t want these kids to know just how dangerous it really is on the streets when facing armed aggressors; they were more interested in having bright-eyed kids coming out of the academy who had stars in their eyes and who just knew they could “be anything they wanted.”

A large percentage of criminals are very skilled in how law enforcement operates, and they know how to get the drop on cops when using knives (and guns) to attack. Criminals sometimes practice their skills too. But I think the most important factor in successful attacks is that the criminal knows what he’s going to do before we do, which means we may spend the rest of our life playing “Catch Up.”

police car lights
Cops see the aftermath of all sorts of edged weapons attacks and sometimes experience them firsthand. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Tueller Drill is just a rough guideline to get us thinking about this scenario, it is not the end-all solution or final word on this subject. As I said, some people are slower or faster on either side, so don’t think that 1.5 seconds is cemented as the Ultimate Reality, because it is not.

What You Need To Do

Maintain Situational Awareness everywhere you go. Watch how people are acting. There is a reason why people do everything that they do! Watch their hands. Watch where they position themselves around you. Read their eyes because the eyes give away a person’s intentions many times. Don’t let people get behind you if you can help it. Naturally, we can’t always keep our “back-blast” area clear, but be cognizant of it. When people approach you, make sure you pay attention to their demeanor. To be aware is to stay alive.

In the future, don’t discount the guy with the knife and assume that merely having a gun will magically solve the problem. Weapons do not do the fighting; People do. It boils down to the people involved in the incident. Calmer heads usually prevail, and sheer determination is often the deciding factor.

Training can give you an edge (no pun intended) in conflict, so it’s a good idea to seek it out if you’re able to. Even having someone run at you from 21 feet away can give you a reference to see how relevant the distance is for the future. If you want to turn it up a notch, give the attacker a Sharpie marker and see if you can draw a training pistol before he reaches you from various distances. If you end up with permanent marker on your skin and clothing (and you will, trust me), you failed. Try it from various distances and in different scenarios. Make a game of trying to distract the defender to see if he can maintain his situational awareness. Is that a dirty trick? Why, certainly! However, it’s fair game! Anything that helps you stay alive is both fair game and encouraged.

Train hard and stay alert, because to be vigilant is to be alive!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2023 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap