Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight
Isn't that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gun fight.
Both a Stock Phrase
and a staple of the action genre
. A character comes into the scene armed with what he thinks is sufficient, only to find out he is severely outclassed weapon-wise, because he brought the entirely wrong type
of weapon (usually the superior weapon is revealed after the first person has committed to a fight). Could lead to a Curb-Stomp Battle
(which would make it a Pre-Mortem One-Liner
, or maybe a Bond One-Liner
if uttered after), or the character running for his life.
Literally taken, this phrase is also a popular way to point out that in the Future where ranged weapons are ubiquitous, people still prefer to do old-fashioned Sword Fights
Elmer Keith is the Trope Namer
... he was a gunwriter and Idaho cowpuncher, and the phrase is sometimes called "Keith's First Law".
Subtrope to Combat Pragmatist
Subversions and aversions are a different trope: Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight, Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight.
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- Parodied in a Geico ad series which compares switching to Geico to various stock phrases asked as rhetorical questions. In this particular sketch, "Is the pen mightier than the sword?", a ninja brandishes his sword. The camera changes to a guy signing for a package with a pen. He opens the package and removes a taser, which takes the ninja out instantly.
- One character in the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 "Surprise!" ad fires off some missiles from his fighter plane, then quips: "Guess who brought a jet to a gunfight?" Bonus points: that's Robert Downey, Jr..
Anime and Manga
- In Black Lagoon, Hansel comes after Balalaika alone in a wide-open plaza, armed only with a pair of axes. Balalaika is likely carrying a concealed pistol, but deals with the crazy kid to lethal effect by means of the sniper team she's set up some distance away.
- During the "Fifth Moon" episode of the Trigun anime, Rai-Dei the Blade pits his katana against Vash the Stampede's guns. He turns the tables by first launching the blade off its hilt, then by fitting the hilt back onto the empty scabbard and using the whole thing as a rifle.
- In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Gentle Chapman, the pilot of the John Bull Gundam, ended up winning three Gundam Fights with his British Gundam, because he ended up shooting Gundams in the head, putting them out of the Gundam Fight. If it wasn't for Master Asia kicking his ass in the 12th Gundam Fight, things would have turned nasty.
- Occurs in Baccano! when, through sheer coincidence, several men in black, a guy in a white tuxedo, and Nick all try to hold up the same train car at the exact same time. The men in black have machine guns. The guy wearing white is Dual Wielding pistols. Nick has a knife.
- Blackhawk does this in a tub, in homage to the Untouchables line.
- Averted in every Sin City story featuring Miho, who brings a katana to a gun fight quite often.
- Marv also took out a SWAT team that were armed with automatic rifles while all he had was a hatchet.
- Averted with all the ninjas that show up in G.I. Joe. Snake Eyes is notable for dual-wielding an Uzi sub-machine gun and a katana so as to cover close and long range.
- Almost a running gag in "Marvel What-The...", when they pair Wolverine (his claws should count equal to a knife) and Punisher for a fight again.
- In the second round, The Pulverizer has only a knife too...BLOOEY BLOOEY BLOOEY!
- In the end of Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World #1, Lady Shiva is facing off against the Blackhawk Squadron, with them having pistols, and her having a Sinister Scimitar. They shoot her dead in a hail of gunfire while she is gloating about how she is going to kill them all.
- In Germany, the topmost quote is told (of course only by people who love racist jokes) as punchline involving Turks and Russians, but of course, YMMV (your minority may vary).
- The Starship Troopers example above was also in the book... albeit very different. In boot camp, a raw recruit is complaining about learning how to use knives when the Mobile Infantry have awesome weapons and the Navy has nuclear weapons. The sergeant then... carefully and thoroughly explains the purpose. The Navy is a hammer, the MI are a scalpel, intended to be walking death with anything and everything, but very, very precise.
- From The Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross we have, "Never bring a tazer to an artillery duel"
- Played straight several times over the course of The Dresden Files, mostly by supernatural forces. Most non-humans, and even some magical humans, eschew guns in favor of claws, swords, or other melee weaponry, or specifically think to counter someone's magic ability when they do consider long-range combat, neglecting to consider firearms. At least one very powerful practitioner thought she had Harry dead to rights after disarming him of his staff and blasting rod, only to learn a little too late that they should have taken his gun too.
- Also, Kincaid remarked to Harry that, if he wanted to kill Harry, he would use a high powered sniper rifle from a long distance away, neatly avoiding any Death Curse.
- In David Weber's Out of the Dark, the Shongairi come off as Insufficiently Advanced Aliens because their entire war doctrine revolves around conquering pre-industrial races. Guess what happens when troops trained and equipped to curb-stomp natives with pointy sticks comes up against modern military hardware?
- Hiro Protagonist's weapon-of-choice in Snow Crash is a katana. At one point, Hiro's use of the katana actually leads to a standoff when he's able to find cover that the gun-wielding mooks he's fighting with can't shoot through, but they're all too far away for him to attack. He actually taunts his adversaries that they can take as long as they like because "Katanas don't run out of bullets."
- In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the owners of the ammunition factory try to avert this by burning it down and then parting for opposite sides of the civil war. This means that when an outside force intervenes, bringing a gun to the knife fight, she tramples all resistance.
- Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon: Some soldier interviews Bobby Shaftoe:
Reagan: What advice do you have for any young Marines on their way to Guadalcanal?
Shaftoe: Just kill the one with the sword first.
Reagan: Ahh. Smarrrt—you target them because they are the officers, right?
: No, fuckhead
! You kill ’em because they’ve got fucking
swords! You ever had anyone running at you waving a fucking
- The Reynard Cycle: In this case, never bring massed cavalry to an artillery fight. (It happens twice in the series.)
- A Song of Ice and Fire kindly reminds you not to bring an army (or three) to a dragon-fight. Or, build the continent's most impressive, land-assault-proof castle and hole up in it when facing flame-throwing, aerial attacks. Conversely, don't bring a dragon to the environmental dream of guerilla warriors everywhere consisting of expansive deserts and mountains. Also: don't expect a normal fight when facing armies of the self-recruiting undead. You are also further advised to keep General Winter in mind when holding a war in The North and pack decent cloaks, coats, snowshoes and/or a trusty mule-train able to use and/or carry them all, rather than warhorses that can't do either. That is all.
- Skulduggery Pleasant features a hefty Lampshade Hanging in the second book, in which the Big Bad thinks he's about to sword fight the titular skeleton, only for Skulduggery to pull out a gun.
: Only a heathen brings a gun to a sword fight.
Skuldugger: Only a moron brings a sword to a gun fight.
- In The Prince of Thorns Jorg challenges someone to a duel, runs away, snatches a guard's crossbow, and shoots him with it.
- In King of Thorns he spends every day for years practicing his swordplay, because he intends to challenge a renowned swordsman to a duel, and given his reputation he needs the guy to think he means it or he'd never accept the challenge. Then he invokes I Am Not Left-Handed and switches his sword to the other hand, which is another misdirect; he needs his right hand for the scavenged gun.
- In Act III of Tchaikovsky's 1884 opera, Mazeppa (or Mazepa), a very dark opera, anti-hero Mazeppa has managed to accidentally destroy everything Andrei cares about, including driving the woman he loves to insanity, killing her father, and destroying the thriving manor house we saw in Act I. Andrei challenges Mazeppa to a duel, and, when he tries to refuse, runs at him with a sabre. Mazeppa shoots him. That makes this one Older Than Radio.
- In one production of Don Giovanni, at the end of the first act Don Giovanni, confronted by his pursuers, draws his sword — only to find that Don Ottavio brought a pistol. Giovanni decides it's a good time to be elsewhere.
- In Alpha Protocol, one of the possible bosses is "Championchik", a Dumb Muscle Olympic boxing champion turned bratva who only uses his fists. Gunning him down is the easy way to win, and Mike will say a variation of the line if you go this route.
- Assassin's Creed series:
- In the first game, you're likely to get your arse kicked trying to punch out armed enemies unless it's one-on-one as Altair can't disarm them.
- Ezio's hidden gun lets him shoot up melee-armed mooks with ease.
- Assassins Creed III: The sword-wielding Officers and Jagers will cut Connor up if he tries to punch them while they're still armed. It's an automatic counter too. Fortunately, it works to your benefit too; Jagers and Grenadiers/Highlanders that would easily counter Connor to death if going weapon-to-weapon are much easier targets once Connor's the only one with a weapon.
- During Cross's final confrontation with Desmond, despite just going through dozens of Abstergo Mooks armed with batons and guns with nothing but hidden blades (although Desmond can pick up guns and use them), the cutscene has Desmond dive for cover as soon as Cross shows up and starts firing his gun. Cross then walks slowly to Desmond's cover while mocking the Assassins' tendency to stick to their traditional weapons instead of "upgrading". In fact, Desmond would most likely be dead had Cross not suddenly had a bad case of the "bleeding effect" and started spouting in Russian of his long-dead ancestor.
- In the TurboGraphix-16 game Bloody Wolf, there's a sub-boss on the fifth level who uses a knife, who you have to fight with your own knife despite carrying a machine gun. You encounter him again in level eight, when you can simply shoot him, causing him to go down in one hit.
- In Civilization, civs with military technology an entire era behind yours will sometimes declare war on you and be easily destroyed. Of course, there are also aversions where Spearman Beats Tank.
- In Destroy All Humans!, a cop will randomly say, in thought, "What would Eliot Ness do? Never carry a knife to a gunfight? No, that's not it..."
- Gilgamesh plays with this in Final Fantasy XIII-2. He enters the fight with an arsenal of rocket launchers and handguns to fight the main heroes, who use a sword and a bow-sword. However, as a Spirited Competitor he finds that using the guns isn't giving him a satisfying battle, so he tosses them away during the fight and grabs an arsenal of various swords instead.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. No matter how many guns the player has when invading Madd Dogg's mansion for the first time, he ends up with just a knife. The player is not even allowed to pick up dropped weapons until half way through. A much later mission ends with a helicopter crash leaving the water-treading protaganist outside of the ship he has to infiltrate. All his weapons (sob) are at the bottom of the drink except his knife. However, here, a quick swim to shore and knowledge of respawning weapon locations makes the ship much easier to overcome.
- Mass Effect 3: Garrus mentions this trope by name when fighting Cerberus Phantoms, finding the whole concept silly. As Garrus is a sniper, the amusement is justifiable. But God help you if they get into melee range...(then DLC gave us sword-wielding characters to use in multiplayer).
- Portrayed rather realistically in Spec Ops: The Line with the bayonet specialists. The player can gun them down easily enough (although they're fast and move/roll around erratically), but if they do manage to get within arm's reach, they'll probably win, particularly on higher difficulties.
- In Team Fortress 2, you get an achievement for the Spy by fatally knifing another Spy who has his gun out.
- The Scout plays this straight with his domination line "Don't bring a wrench to a gun fight."
- Everywhere in Time Commando. Any weapon, even a dinky dagger, is almost always preferable to unarmed combat. Certainly, your enemies will not hold back.
- In one possible ending of Yo-Jin-Bo, the main characters — who are mostly samurai and armed with swords — are attacked by ninja with guns. The heroes die very quickly.
- Marble Hornets. In Entry #50, we see that Jay starts to carry a pocket-knife with him whenever he goes somewhere with Alex in case he tries to pull anything. In Entry #52, we discover that it doesn't actually help as Alex had a gun the whole time and attempted to kill Jay with it.
- Discussed by Movie Bob with regards to the Old Boy remake. A criminal gang in South Korea should carry assorted improvised hand weapons. Guns are hard to get for street criminals there. Anyone trying to take on an American gang with a hammer should have run into this trope headlong, especially in the Southern USA, where guns are plentiful, legal, and cheap. The fact that Spike Jonze decided to just recreate the hammer scene and thus ruin suspension of disbelief showed Jonze was failing to make the material his own rather and was instead just making a beat-for-beat dull remake. Averting this trope meant the movie was being lazy.
- Crossover Battles. "That's what happens when you bring a sword, sais, nunchucks, and a big stick to a gun fight!" You can already guess who got stomped by Rocket Raccoon...
- Bruce Lee said this about martial arts against guns, but the idea is still the same.
- Averted by Jack Churchill , who wielded a claymore into combat... in WWII.
- This may be inverted in Real Life if the knife-user is skilled and/or the gun-user isn't. Opinions differ on the details, but at very close ranges the one with the knife has a lot of advantages, which is compounded by the fact that outside of the police/military, people often massively overestimate their own ability to use a gun effectively.
- All things being equal, guns are better at distance of 10 m or more. At 3 m or less, the knifeman really may win. Between 3 and 10 m, everything depends on the gunman's skills (or rather lack of them). Most people are able to shoot only one shot at the time a running man can cover that distance, and if it misses, the knifeman has the edge. People not trained on handguns are likely to miss against a moving target, even at short distances. This is consistent with the results of the MythBusters experiment above, where a gun-wielding Adam Savage had the advantage over a knife-wielding Jamie Hyneman at 20 feet (~6 meters), but not at 16 feet (~5 meters).
- One of many reasons the bayonet was invented. Shoot if he's far, stab if he's near.
- What many people, including above, miss about the Tueller Drill is that 21 feet, or whatever, is the distance at which a person with a melee weapon becomes a threat to a gunman. Somewhat later on, people added the notion of the knife "winning" from some distance below that, which is very far from reality: someone with a gun is a lethal threat from maximum effective range down to 0.0m. Essentially, the gunman can shoot an assailant at any range, including point-blank, with closer shots being more debilitating due to the greater bullet penetration. The distance measurements are more about disabling the assailant without getting stabbed at all, and the actual chance of the assailant both executing a stab and not taking severe return fire afterwards. The human body is all but guaranteed to retain motor functions to complete draw-and-shoot even after a hit, but they are never ones you'd want to bet on. In other words, there are techniques to defend against a knife-wielding runner-in, but no sane martial training suggests knife-wielding running-in as a viable method of countering a firearm. More than once in one's life, anyways.
- One has somewhat better odds with slightly larger melee weapons; being hacked with a sword or axe or smashed with a club does tend to interfere with return fire, though certainly not enough to make it a sure thing or even a particularly good idea.
- Hence why US soldiers are trained to use their rifles as total weapons, in case someone comes at them with an axe, sword, club, etc.
- Also, close combat weapons could actually be superior to guns in certain environments, such as close quarter battles inside buildings. There's a reason why soldiers involved in urban combat like to bring weapons like knives and hatchets.
- It can also depend on the firearm. Urban combat specialists use extremely short barreled weapons for this reason. Trying to maneuver around with a full-size rifle inside of a building full of obstacles can be very difficult.
- Similarly, more primitive firearms (of the kind that existed a few hundred years ago) tended to be very inaccurate and took a long time to reload, making them much less effective in close quarters than modern firearms; if your first shot missed, you probably wouldn't be able to get a second one.
- Also, not counting pro-gun places like USA getting a gun is difficult and expensive (including the constant need of bullets) . On the other hand, a knife can legally be bought without any kind of monitoring. Thus making a knife a more reliable weapon and justifying the invention of waraxes as the farmers already had those.
- Most places but a limit to the blade length of a legal knife (8-10cm) you can have. Exception is made to hunters and kitchen workers (chefs and cooks) but only if on job location, coming to job location or going home.
- After speaking to several WWII vets, the phrase they were always terrified to hear was "fix bayonets"
- Incredibly subverted in the Battle of Isbuscenskij, a minor skirmish during World War II: an Italian cavalry regiment with a small artillery support (about 700 men, including officers) found itself surrounded by 2,500 Russians with dozens of machine guns and mortars, charged, and routed the surprised enemy, killing 150, wounding 300 and capturing 600 of them.