Knives, Guns, and Stupidity

We wrote earlier today about a Hutchinson, Kansas police officer who was forced to shoot a man with a knife in self defense at close range.

No sooner than we posted that article we stumbled across stories from Jacksonville, Alabama where an armed man advancing on officers with a knife was shot and killed, under similar circumstances, and a story from Ann Arbor Michigan, where a woman with a history of mental illness was shot and killed when she confronted officers in the hallway of a home and refused to drop a filet knife.


If you read the comments of the article, people with little to no knowledge of armed self-defense kept making similar absurd comments, suggesting that there are some urban legends regarding the use of deadly force in the presence of knife that need to be addressed.

“He only had a knife.”

People who are under the impression that knives aren’t incredibly dangerous and lethal simply know nothing about them. Unlike a firearm, a knife requires no training, no reloading, no complicated manual of arms, and can be used again and again and again without jamming or ever running out of ammunition.  There are many military and law enforcement professionals—and I daresay a consensus view—that at contact distances, a knife is more of a threat than a firearm. Having watched a lot of film of actual knife attacks, simulated attacked between trainers/instructors, and perhaps most instructive, simulated attacks between knife-armed “regular joes” and serious students of self-defense armed with (airsoft) handguns, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m more worried about an attacker with a knife than an attacker with a firearm.

I’m sure there are plenty of skeptics out there, thinking, “yeah, right.” But real-life application is definitive over hypothetical theory.

Here’s a horrific real-life example of a group of five police officers armed with a mix of handguns and an AKM who confront a man armed “only” with a knife.


I’ll warn you in advance that this video is not safe for work, that at least one of the officers died, and others were seriously injured once the man with the knife decided that he wanted to attack. Watch the entire video encounter to get a feel for how quickly a peaceful situation that should have resulted in a “simple” disarming of a lone suspect can turn into utter bedlam. If you lack the time to watch the entire video, fast forward to about 4:30, where officers begin trying to reason with the man they want to detain.

You’ll note that once the man with the knife committed to the attack, he closed the distance to the nearest officer and delivered a fatal blow in a split second. Once he commits to attacking other others, he closes distances of 10 yards or more in seconds, and begins stabbing them viciously, at which point their training goes out the window in abject primal terror.

Here’s a much more sterile, clinical look at how a real knife attack takes place in a training environment. You’ll note that it mirrors the attack you just watched, but without real blood.

It becomes clear that the only way to expect to stop someone with a knife without opening yourself up to a potentially fatal strike is to do so at a distance.

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“Why not use tasers?”

When they came on the market, tasers were marketed as a “do everything” solution, filling a gap between firearms and the blunt force weapons (nightsticks and batons) in an officer’s kit. Reality soon began to destroy the myth of the tasers effectiveness.


For the stand-off version of a stun gun system to work, both barbs must be fired, both barbs must penetrate, both wires must remain connected to the barbs, the shock must be delivered through the wires through the barbs into the suspect, and the suspect must react in the way the taser designer intended.

In the real world, we’ve seen numerous failures of tasers to fire at all when called upon, leaving the officer with his gun-hand out, clutching a steaming pile of failure. We’ve seen barbs that miss the target. We see barbs that hit the target, but become entangled in fabric, especially in the oversized and quilted or “poofy” clothes favored in certain cultures. We’ve seen the charge failed to be delivered, and we’ve seen it time and again where someone under the influence of drugs, alcohol, mental illness, or simply mental toughness refuse to go down or even significantly be slowed by even an accurate taser strike.


See this utterly average-looking middle-aged guy in the striped shirt? He powers through not one, but two different taser strikes (one of them a failure to adequately penetrate, the other a near perfect strike) and successfully attacks the firer with the bat in his hand in the following video.

As a result of a long history of documented failures in both simulations and in the real-world, most (if not all) law enforcement agencies in the United States train their officers to use a use of force continuum equal to or higher than that of person they are attempting to make comply with their commands.


FLETC, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, provides the following use -of-force model.


The basic rule of thumb for officers is that they may use their firearms when “a suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”

It should be abundantly clear to everyone at this point that knives and similar edged weapons are exceedingly dangerous lethal weapons, requiring lethal force response.  It is generally accepted (though not an ironclad rule, because the number of variables in individual incidents) that knives are to be considered a lethal force threat inside 21 feet (seven yards) as described by fellow Gunsite graduate (and instructor) Dennis Tueller in How Close Is Too Close?

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“Why not aim for the knife hand, shoulder, foot, etc?”

In August, I spent a week at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, taking the famed 250 Pistol course that is perhaps the single most influential pistol training course in firearms history. The Modern Technique of The Pistol taught in 250 Pistol has been taught at Gunsite since 1976, and has been validated by regular citizens, law enforcement officers and organizations, and members of U.S. and allied militaries that have been trained using these techniques.

One thing that you learn is that when you face a lethal force threat, you aim at the center of mass and you shoot until the threat ceases to be a threat.


The emphasis on center mass is because the extremities—hands, arms shoulders, heads, legs, feet—of a threat is typically in motion in a lethal force encounter. By the time you aim at an extremity, decide to shoot, take the physical actions to shoot, and the gun reacts to your commands, the body part you are hoping to hit is possibly  already out of the line of fire before the bullet even leaves the barrel.

This results in a missed shot, which is a threat to everyone downrange and which will often result in the shooter having to fire again.

Put bluntly, shooting at the center of the mass (typically the torso, as long as it isn’t hidden behind cover) is both the best way to stop the threat, and to minimize the number of shots fired to cause the threat to stop being a threat.

Shooting center of mass is not “shooting to kill.” It is shooting to “stop the threat.”

The reality of the matter is that the vast majority of those shot with handguns—even in the torso—survive their encounters.

At the end of the day, the officers involved in these situations where suspects are armed with knives are faced with a simple problem.

“Can I convince the suspect to drop the knife and cease being a lethal threat, or must I use deadly force to stop the person from being s serious threat to me or others?”

In all three of these instances, it appears that the officers complied with policies designed for the best possible outcome for both the officers and the public at large.


It is unfortunate that these suspects refused to comply with officers, and that they were shot as a result.


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