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Steve Hansen: Shooting down some myths about guns vs. knives

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Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 12:21 am

Most of us have heard the old adage of, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.”

At first, it might seem logical. Most would assume that a gun is a superior weapon to a knife — but is it? A recent controversial local police action, as well as last week’s tragedy in Murrysville, Pa., may suggest otherwise.

In 2012, the TV show “Mythbusters” decided to test the veracity of the aforementioned belief. What they found even surprised them. At a distance of more than 18 feet, the pistol holder may have the advantage. But at a distance of less than 18 feet, the upper hand goes to the person with the knife.

This can be especially true if the knife fighter is “high” on methamphetamine, cocaine, hallucinogens or perhaps suffering from a specific mental illness such as untreated or exacerbated mania.

But a TV show is hardly the last place to confirm or dispel a common belief. I had to bear witness to a demonstration myself.

The opportunity came during a session with the Weapons Training School in Tuolumne County. The school is run by John Popke, an expert in various types of weaponry. He has not only been in law enforcement for well over 20 years, but has also instructed various departments and individuals in a variety of weaponry and tactics.

Popke is about the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, but to challenge him in a life-threatening situation would not be a wise or prudent move on anyone’s part.

Popke’s demonstration on this particular day showed clearly that one does not want to be the guy holding a semiautomatic pistol while going up against someone who has only minimal skills with a blade. Popke’s rule is not 18, but a minimum of 20 feet. Beyond that is when the combat advantage switches to the holder of the handgun.

Another myth about weaponry is that one should shoot to wound and not to kill. This may work in movie westerns, but in the real world, it’s not plausible.

Based on the California Penal Code, police officers, for example, may shoot when they believe their lives or the lives of others are in imminent danger. Lethal force may also be used to prevent great bodily injury.

The only practical option in these situations is not to play Hollywood, but instead use whatever force is necessary to stop a threat. Often, an aggressor can remain lethally active despite suffering several wounds that eventually prove to be fatal.

Other myths about weapons have actually become law in some places. Take San Francisco’s ban on “expanding” or “hollow point” ammunition. While this may seem logical because this type of ammo can do more damage to the human body, it’s rather foolish to create such a restriction where people live within close quarters.

Hollow points tend to “mushroom” on impact, but full metal jacket rounds or “round point” bullets — which are still legal in San Francisco — usually have more penetration power. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have an ordinance like this where dwellings are in close proximity.

Even a story in the New York Times pointed out that the majority of police departments use hollow points, as arguably more lives are saved through their use vs. round point ammo.

These examples of common myths and misconceptions are used to make a point. It is to note that various collective assumptions or fears about the use of weapons require the informed individual to take second look.

Whether they are the actions of a disturbed individual or a police activity involving lethal force, it makes more sense to reserve judgment until all the facts and all sides of an issue are available for review. Anything before that is incomplete and subject to emotional bias and speculation.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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