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.
Anime and Manga
- 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 laser, 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?"
- In Black Lagoon, Hansel comes after Balalaika in a wide-open plaza, armed only with a pair of axes. Balalaika is likely carrying a concealed pistol. She also has a sniper team 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.
- 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.
- Bruce Lee said this about martial arts against guns, but the idea is still the same.
- 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. The distance issue is more about not getting stabbed at all; the actual chance of the assailant both executing a stab and not taking severe return fire afterwards - and the human body is all but guaranteed to retain motor functions to complete draw-and-shoot even after a hit - 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.
- After speaking to several WWII vets, the phrase they were always terrified to hear was "fix bayonets"
- 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.
- 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."
- 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).
- 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.
- 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..."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.