There is an old joke about someone being dumb enough to bring a knife to a gunfight. If you have never heard the joke in action, just watch Sean Connery in the movie The Untouchables. On the surface, it would seem that a person bringing a knife to a gunfight would always be the loser in such a contest, and in fact that individual normally is. But, just like in The Untouchables, a real world outcome in favor of the person with the gun is not always guaranteed.

What brought all this to mind was yesterday’s (September 17, 2016) attack on eight innocent shoppers by a knife-wielding attacker at the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Fortunately, he was shot dead by an off-duty police officer, who happened to be shopping in the mall, before anyone had their lives stolen from them.

Which brings me to my main point: In order to successfully kill or wound with a knife, an attacker must close the distance to his potential victim. In order for a potential victim to avoid becoming an actual victim, he or she must maintain distance and use it to his or her advantage.

Before I continue, I recommend that you either purchase or watch on YouTube the law enforcement training classic, Surviving Edged Weapons. Although this film was made in the late 1990s, it is still the defining classic in understanding what it takes to win a knifefight with a gun. This brings me to an important foundational component of the video: the “21-Foot Rule.”

The 21-Foot Rule came about after much experimentation by law enforcement officers. They set out to determine the minimum distance a uniformed police officer with a holstered sidearm had to be from an attacker wielding an edged weapon to safely defend him or herself. Should the attacker suddenly charge the officer, this meant that the officer had to sidestep and draw and fire at least two rounds into the attacker without getting cut. The results showed that the minimum distance to accomplish this defense is 21 feet. The experiment assumes that the officer hits the offender as he or she is charging and that the bullets affect the attacker. It also assumes that the officer doesn’t slip, fall, or freeze up in the face of the attack.

21 feet is a VERY minimum distance when it comes to the average CCW permit holder. Remember the officers in the tests were all in uniform—with a sidearm on a gunbelt positioned in the holster for an optimal draw. The officers in the test had all practiced drawing their sidearms from their rigs many times before the tests, even during situations as routine as removing their sidearm before entering a jail or restricted facility. It is unlikely that the average CCW holder will have drawn their weapons the same amount of times as the officers in the tests.

Also affecting the reactionary distance is the location a CCW holder will have his or her gun when an attack starts. Had the tests been conducted with detectives wearing their guns in shoulder holsters, or even in belt holsters underneath sport jackets, the minimum distance would have been greater (because gun access would have been slower). Add in a lack of attention to the situation (remember that the officers involved in the experiments knew what to expect) and the reactionary distance increases even further. So rather than looking at a minimum reactionary distance of 21 feet, under real life concealed carry conditions, you could be looking at 75 feet or more. Oh, and that doesn’t count the part about hitting your target AND having your bullets actually affect the target. So how can you cut that reactionary gap in a knife attack to closer to 21 feet? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Watch Surviving Edged Weapons.
  2. Increase your awareness level if possible in areas where large members of the public gather. And now it has been proven that you can’t always trust someone in a security uniform to be what they are purporting to be. The same thing goes for someone dressed as a law enforcement officer.
  3. Carry your concealed firearm in the most easily accessed area possible, but don’t carry it exposed. This makes you the first target. If your “spider sense” begins tingling as a questionable type begins to approach you, begin accessing your gun for a draw, and move to cover or an intervening barrier if you can.
  4. Practice one-handed shooting. Your strong hand may be disabled by a knife slash, or your weak hand may be defending against slashes as you attempt to create distance and draw. Don’t waste time going to two hands if the threat is on top of you. If you can, practice shooting from grounded positions.
  5. Practice drawing an unloaded gun from its carry position regularly.
  6. Consider equipping your handgun with Crimson Trace Laser Sights. That red or green laser dot projected on the threat allows you to focus on it as you place your shots and accurately assess the situation. A CTC laser will assist you in hitting your target in a grounded position or firing with one hand.

In addition, make sure family and friends know to get away while you hold the line for them against the attack. Be prepared to quickly identify yourself in the aftermath. Chaos will reign. Expect to be handcuffed at least temporarily by responding police. If you are a USCCA member, contact USCCA for assistance.

A proper response to a knife threat requires preparation, especially when someone is trying to cut as many people as possible. If you can prepare, then “bringing a knife to a gunfight” will be as foolish a thing to do as it was in the old joke. And remember, there may not be an off-duty officer present to take the necessary action—it may be up to you!