Defending Others Against Edged-Weapon Attacks

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Back in March, I discussed a news story from Maricopa County, Arizona, in “It’s Never a Bluff.” A crazed offender was stabbing his female companion to death inside of his car as he drove down the road. After the vehicle ran off the road, good Samaritans came to the aid of the occupants. One good Samaritan had a concealed carry permit and a handgun. But the permit holder merely fired warning shots to stop the attack. Since the stabber was not impressed and continued to attack, other unarmed men had to subdue him with their bare hands. The victim died.

Edged-Weapon Attacks Are No Joke

Ask most cops whether they would rather face a close-range assailant with an edged weapon or a close-range assailant with a handgun and they’ll tell you they fear the knife more. Those fears aren’t unfounded:

  1. While a handgun can be stripped from a potential assailant by a person with the right training under the right circumstances, the same can’t be said of an edged weapon. Unless you are incredibly skilled and lucky, you are going to get cut — maybe severely — when you try to strip an attacker of an edged weapon.
  2. A handgun can normally only be used to deliver deadly force in a linear fashion, pointed directly at you. An edged weapon attack can come from all directions: from the head down or the legs or groin up. It can come from the sides in an almost unlimited number of angles. And double the angles if an attacker uses a double-edged weapon. You don’t have to be stabbed directly in the heart to rapidly suffer a fatal collapse from blood loss. Death can easily come from slashing attacks.
  3. An edged weapon never runs out of ammo.

To put it clearly, a proximal edged-weapon assault is just as dangerous and potentially deadly as a proximal firearms assault. Today, edged weapons are often downplayed in terms of deadliness — unless the assailant is wielding an axe or a machete. Often, law enforcement is wrongly pressured to use Tasers rather than firearms to try to subdue people. A Taser is not equivalent to a knife and should only be deployed in the right circumstances (with other officers providing deadly force backup — a luxury that civilians don’t have). That leaves a handgun as your primary and most effective weapon with which to defend others, or yourself, against edged-weapon attacks.

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Intervening in an Attack

If you choose to intervene in (and succeed in stopping) a knife assault like the one in Maricopa County, keep a few things in mind:

  1. You will have very little time to save the life of the other person. A 1- to 2-inch arterial slice will quickly turn fatal. It doesn’t take a major edged weapon to do that. Do not waste time with verbal warnings or warning shots.
  2. You have to move in close to deliver accurate fire that will not endanger the person you are trying to save. To obtain that safe angle of fire, you will have to position quickly.
  3. Your necessary close proximity to the attack will put you in danger of being cut. Be aware of that potential and be ready to move, reposition and react. Don’t try to pull the attacker off the victim. That is a sure way of getting cut.
  4. The bullets you deliver may have no visible effect on the assailant. Plan to fire multiple shots. Headshots may be needed to end things immediately.

One of the all-time best law enforcement training films, Surviving Edged Weapons from Calibre Press, serves as a great example of what I’m talking about. Although this video was made in the late 1980s, it is timeless and contains gut-wrenching, firsthand accounts by officers who were attacked with edged weapons. Your defensive training should include how to prepare for attacks of this nature.

Want to watch real-life training scenarios of defending against a knife attack? Sign up for our Live Training Broadcast, Tuesday, July 16, at 7 p.m. Central!

About Scott W. Wagner

After working undercover in narcotics and liquor investigations, Scott W. Wagner settled down to be a criminal justice professor and police academy commander. He was also a SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader before his current position as a patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio, Police Department. Scott is a police firearms instructor certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.