When They Bring A Knife

I was reading a news story about a man in Kansas armed with a knife who was shot at very close range by police. As soon as I finished reading that story I found  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.

Reading those stories people, with little knowledge of armed self-defense, will usually decry, “But he only had a knife!” Which leads me to believe there are way too many misconceptions about the use of deadly force when your attacker has a knife.

“He only had a knife!”

People, in general, are under the impression that knives aren’t incredibly dangerous and lethal simply because they know nothing about them. Unlike a firearm, a knife requires no training, no reloading, and can be used again and again and again without jamming until the person simply wants to stop stabbing you.

There are many military professionals that at contact distances, their knife is more of a threat than a firearm. I have watched a lot of video of actual knife attacks, simulated attacked between trainers/instructors, and I’ve come to one conclusion that I need to be more worried about an attacker with a knife than an attacker with a firearm.

I am sure more than one of you is saying, “But Tom, you have a gun and he has a knife. Are you THAT stupid?!” All I can say is “Real Life Application” is far better than any theory. The video below is VERY GRAPHIC! You have been warned! But it is an excellent example of what I mean when I say, “I am more concerned with some ass clown with a knife at contact range than I am about a guy with a gun.”

The officers in the video are armed with a mix of handguns and at least one AKM and they are confronting a man armed “only with a knife.”

You should watch the entire video to get a feel for how things rolled out from the beginning of the encounter until the end of it. If you don’t want to do that and just want to get to the meat of the matter fast forward to the 4:30 mark of the video and watch from there. That is the point at which the officers try to reason with the man. If you just want to see the “good bits” fast forward to the 7:00 mark and watch from there.

Again, I will warn you that this video IS VERY GRAPHIC! and for sure is NOT SAFE FOR WORK! I will warn you further that the video is not in English (but you’ll get the idea pretty quick what they are saying), one officer is killed (on tape) and multiple others are seriously injured. Now that you have been warned, please enjoy the show.

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 the other officers he closes distances of 10 yards or more in seconds, and begins stabbing them viciously, once the first officer is stabbed and he goes after a second officer all their training goes out the window in sheer terror.

For a look at how a knife attack takes place in a training environment check out the video below. You’ll notice it rolls out in much the same way as the video of the actual attack but without all the bleeding and dying.

It is pretty damn clear that the only way to realistically stop an attacker with a knife is to do so while they are still too far away to actually stab your ass.

“Why not use something like a Taser?”

When they first came out the Tasers were the “be all, end all”, filling that gap between beating a suspect with a baton or night stick or putting extra holes in them with a firearm. Unfortunately they AREN’T the “be all, end all”.

For the Taser system to work, both barbs must be fired (sometimes they aren’t), both barbs must penetrate the attackers skin (sometimes they don’t), both wires must stay connected to the barbs (sometimes the attacker breaks them off), the shock must be delivered through the wires through the barbs into the attacker (sometimes the attacker pulls them out almost immediately), and the attacker must react in the way the taser designer intended (attackers on drugs or those that are drunk don’t always react as you want when using a Taser).

Watch the middle-aged guy in the striped shirt.

He powered through not one, but two different taser strikes and successfully attacks the firer with the bat in his hand. One Taser strike was a failure to adequately penetrate the other was as close to perfect placement as you could hope for.

With a long, and documented, history of failures in both simulations and in real-world encounters of the Taser (and weapons like it), most law enforcement agencies in the United States train their officers to use force equal to or higher than that of person they are attempting to make comply with their commands.

The basic rule of thumb that officers (and you) should use their firearm is when “a suspect (or attacker) poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer (you) or others.” The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, FLETC, provides the following use -of-force model as illustrated in the picture below:

FLETC Use of Force Model

FLETC Use of Force Model

At this point it should be pretty clear that knives and other edged weapons ARE LETHAL THREATS that require a lethal response! But that begs the question, at what distance is an attacker with a knife or other edged weapon a lethal threat?

Generally, though not an ironclad rule, that knives are to be considered a lethal threat inside 21 feet (seven yards) as described by Dennis Tueller in How Close Is Too Close?

“Why not just shoot them in the arm?”

One thing you learn in training (or you should be learning) is to shoot for center mass (the chest area) and that you keep shooting until the threat is no longer a threat, period. The emphasis on center mass is because the extremities (hands, arms shoulders, heads, legs, feet)of a threat is typically in motion (the legs are running, the arms are swinging, etc). By the time you aim at an extremity, decide to shoot, take the physical actions to shoot, and the gun reacts, 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 behind your intended target and which will often result in you having to fire again.

Put bluntly, shooting at the center of the mass 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. Make no mistake, shooting center of mass is not “shooting to kill.” It is shooting to “stop the threat.”

The reality of the matter is that the majority of those shot with handguns, even in the torso, survive their wounds simply because pistol calibers are weak in the grand scheme of things.


At the end of the day, the people involved in situations where attackers are armed with knives, or other edged weapons, are faced with a simple problem. “Can I convince the attacker to drop the knife (ax, machete, etc) and cease being a threat, or  do I have to use deadly force to stop the person from being s serious threat to me or others?” 

If you find yourself in an encounter where your attacker has a knife or edged weapon remember these things:

  • Distance is your friend! If they are within 21 feet (7 yards) of you or less THEY ARE A LETHAL THREAT!
  • If you must use your firearm you will have a much better chance of stopping the threat if you aim center mass.
  • A knife IS a deadly weapon and don’t ever forget that!

Other Sources

Use of Force Continuum

Thanks for reading! I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!




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  1. The damn truth.

    I was on patrol one night when several officers I worked with were engaged in a standoff with a drunken suspect. After the failure of a taser not once, but twice, they finally managed to subdue him with a taser shot, multiple pepperball rounds, and beanbag rounds. He had a knife. If it were not for the training of these officers (superior to their, what are they, Peruvian?) counterparts, they could have suffered a similar fate.

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