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Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight

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Parry this, you foiling casual!

"Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't."

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 (e.g. lightsabers).

Elmer Keith is the trope namer... he was a gunwriter and Idaho cowpuncher, and the phrase is sometimes called "Keith's First Law".

Sub-Trope to Combat Pragmatist.

Inversions and subversions/aversions are different tropes: Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight and Never Bring a Knife to a Fist 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 II "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 & Manga 
  • 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.
    Nick: ... Uh, sorry for the confusion.
  • In Bayonetta: Bloody Fate the titular witch attempts to fight off her rival's, Jeanne's, fours guns on her hands and feet with her demonic katana, and gets her ass handed to her. It's not until Rodin shows up with her own freshly-repaired and upgraded set of four guns that Bayonetta is able to turn the tables.
  • In the The Big O episode "The Greatest Villain", Beck has built a Combining Mecha megadeus and challenges Roger Smith's Big O. He starts the fight by showing off some fancy maneuvers with a giant boomerang-like weapon. Roger has the Big O shoot him with its Arm Cannon, instantly winning the fight.
  • 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.
  • Big time in almost every fight in Gate. The invading Empire is based off of Roman and medieval warfare, who arrogantly thought they could overrun and conquer the new world, only to instigate a retaliation from the JSDF. Their swords and spears were simply no match against guns and explosives.
  • 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.
  • Happens several times in Noir:
    • First, the Belladonna Lily Woman is performing a "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop to take Mireille by surprise armed with a knife. She actually gets close enough to be almost within striking distance, but then a stray bit of light from a nearby gunfight reflects off the blade and alerts Mireille to her presence, giving her the chance to shoot the woman dead first.
    • During the final episode the showdown between Chloe and Mireille, with the former having the latter dead to rights, ends when Kirika shoots the knife away before it can make lethal contact. Bonus points for it being a much smaller knife than the first time she pulled this stunt in a previous episode.
  • In One Piece during the Skypiea arc, Zoro found himself fighting a Shandian warrior named Braham who specializes in using flash guns in battle. Zoro had a tough time fighting Braham due to the latter keeping his distance while Zoro was strictly a close-combat fighter due to being a swordsman. However, Zoro managed to use flying slashes for the first time allowing him to strike down Braham from a distance and defeat him.
  • During the "Fifth Moon" episode of the Trigun anime, Rai-Dei the Blade pits his mechanized katana against Vash the Stampede's guns. He is unable to land a solid blow on Vash, even with the hero actively holding himself back. He only 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.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • This is a theme repeated in a number of variations throughout the works of Eyrie Productions Unlimited.
    • It initially appears as "Overstreet's First Law of Tactics", from contributor Kris "Redneck" Overstreet's story The Quagmire Project:
      Take a stick to a fistfight.
      Take a knife to a stickfight.
      Take a gun to a knifefight.
      Stay out of a gunfight.
    • Again, in Symphony of the Sword:
      Percy "Techie" Mui: (to his son) To paraphrase Admiral Overstreet, bring a knife to a fistfight, a gun to a knife fight, grenades to a gunfight — oh, hell, if you know where it's going to be beforehand, mine the area. If all else fails, there's your friend, the air strike.
    • Then, "Gryphon's Expansion of Overstreet's Law of Tactics":
      Take a stick to a fistfight.
      Take a knife to a stickfight.
      Take a gun to a knifefight.
      Take a 'Mech to a gunfight.
      Bring a lance to a 'Mech fight.
      • Followed by "Matrix Dragon's Expansion of Gryphon's Expansion":
        If all else fails, bomb the planet.
      • And finally, "Julzz' Commentary":
        And if all else fails, bring your friendly neighbourhood God.
  • Forged in Fire has Brutus Bones say this exactly, after shooting a knife-wielding antagonist.
  • The Good Hunter: The ending of Chapter 20 features Cyril being challenged by a Knight Errant to a Duel to the Death. After spitting to the side, he simply draws his pistol and shoots him, in a way that pays homage to a certain famous scene in an Indiana Jones film.
  • Higher Learning: Invoked in the prologue to chapter 48:
    Lesson 48: [Bring a bat to a fist fight. Bring a knife to a bat fight. Bring a gun to a knife fight. Run the hell away from a gun fight.]
  • In Housemates, during Brother's Keeper, a guard tells this to Loki—right before being stabbed in the neck.
    Guard: You know what they say about bringing a knife to a gunfight—
    Loki: (Yanking the knife out of his neck No, I don't. You'll have to tell me sometime.
  • Inverted in the Mobile Suit Gundam Wing/Tenchi Muyo! crossover The Pirate's Soldier. Heero Yuy manages to disable Mihoshi's Galaxy Police battle armor using his combat knife, twice. Somewhat justified because, first, it's Mihoshi, and second, Heero later explains to Kiyone that the armor has a weak spot behind the neck, with exposed wiring that can easily be cut.
  • In The Prayer Warriors, Annabeth and her opponent in the coliseum fight with clubs until the opponent kills her with a knife. Suddenly, the main character's wife, Mary, shows up and shoots the opponent dead with a gun before proceeding to do the same with John Lennon.
  • In Project Delta when, during the battle for Mindoir, Jane encounters a foe with implants close to her level, she puts her sword away and blasts him into goo with her guns.
  • Occurs in The Shocker: Legit:
    I draw out my father's blue switchblade, and flick it open.
    She pulls out her katana.
    I feel a little stupid.
  • Inverted, yes inverted in White Devil of the Moon. Hayate's forte is leveling city districts. Not so handy in one-on-one in close quarters combat. That was why Beryl quickly subdued her and stole the Jewel Seeds to revive Metallia. When listing this trope on the fic's page, someone compared it to 'bringing a cannon to a knife fight'. This is actually canon, as Hayate points out that Caro, a C-rank mage who's the weakest of the forwards in close combat, could potentially defeat her in single combat.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Parodied in 30 Minutes or Less with "You just brought a gun to a bomb fight, officer!"
  • Happens in Barb Wire when a thug tries to attack Barb with a knife, but she shoots him with her pistol.
  • Best Seller. A hitman stabs a witness in the middle of the sweatshop gunfight, so he doesn't have his pistol in his hand (it's still tucked in his belt) when he runs into Cleve.
  • In Bodyguards and Assassins, the final assassin, a deadly Hero Killer martial artist, is killed by the Non-Action Guy with a pistol.
  • Averted for Black Comedy in Boss Level. Roy (armed with a pistol) reminds Guan Yin (armed with a sword) of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. She proceeds to kill him over two hundred times, even when Roy arms himself with Guns Akimbo Uzi submachine guns, until Roy takes sword lessons and works up the skill to beat her in a Sword Fight.
  • Near the end of Thai martial arts movie Chocolate, a group of high ranking thugs grab katanas and rush at the Yakuza father of the protagonist. He promptly shoots the first one down, though the rest close in and it turns into a sword fight.
  • In Confessions of a Psycho Cat, Virginia goads Rocco to come out of hiding and face her by insulting his manhood. He turns up at her penthouse planning to kill her with his bare hands, but is immediately outclassed when she attacks him with a sword.
  • D-Day has a Never Bring a Katana to a Grenade Launcher fight. One of the villains' Japanese henchman tries intimidating the hero Ivan who's armed with a grenade launcher. Ivan simply pulls the trigger and walks away.
  • Downplayed in Death Wish. On a couple of occasions Paul Kersey fatally surprises criminals armed with knives, but that doesn't stop him from getting injured himself, especially as his preferred tactic is acting as Schmuck Bait for a mugging, which means letting them get close and brandishing their weapons before firing.
  • El Dorado. A young James Caan plays a character named Mississippi who, in search of vengeance for his old mentor, has killed two men by throwing a knife before they can draw their guns and succeeds in killing the last man involved by doing the same before cutting out his heart. Of course John had to save his life an instant later when the trope is played straight as the friend of the murderer is now aware of the knife and preemptively draws his gun.
  • In Forced Vengeance one goon shows himself cleverer than most. He goes charging up making Kung-Foley sounds, only for Chuck Norris' character to produce a .45 from behind his cowboy hat — goon quietly slinks off. Others play the trope straight.
  • In The Gentlemen, Ray chases one of the kids on the estate, trying to get his phone. The kid runs to a gang to back him up, and which point Ray offers to buy the phone for a wad of cash. One of the gang pulls out a machete and says that they'll just take the cash and keep the phone. With a look of resignation, Ray pulls a sub machine-gun from under his coat and fires it in the air. The gang flees, while the kid throws Ray the phone and then bolts as well.
  • In Hoffa, Danny DeVito pulls out a knife he uses for defense. Hoffa's goons pull out guns. After he joins with Hoffa's crew, one of Hoffa's cronies tells him, "Give me the knife. You wanna go around, go like a white man. Get a gun."
  • Indiana Jones does this several times. For example...
    • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the famous scene where Indy shoots the swordsman. As the story goes, there was to be an extended sword fight, but Harrison Ford (playing Indy) was sick with dysentery, and suggested that he just shoot the swordsman. They decided to go with it.
    • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has a Call-Forward to the use of this trope in the first film in which Indy is confronted by two swordsmen. He reaches for his gun...only to find an empty holster, as he'd forgotten that his pistol was confiscated earlier in the movie.
    • In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy warns Mutt about the dangers of bringing a knife to a gunfight (as he takes out his knife, but the Russians have pistols).
      "Nice try, kid, but I think you just brought a knife... to a gunfight."
    • And again in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, when Indy brandishes his whip at the auctiongoers at Hotel L'Atlantique. Nearly everyone in the room immediately draws a gun on Indy, who has a brief Oh, Crap! reaction before diving for cover.
  • In The Island (1980), it is a case of "never bring your fists to a swordfight". A Badass Bystander on the schooner the pirates boards is a martial artist, and wipes the deck with several of the pirates, who have presumably never encountered this style of fighting before. The other pirates watch on in amusement at their shipmates' discomfort until one of them decides that this is wasting time, draws his cutlass, and promptly guts the unfortunate martial artist.
  • Used with realism in Jack Reacher. Before the final battle with the villains, Reacher calls for help from 'Gunny' Cash, the Cool Old Guy he met earlier who runs a gun range. Gunny turns up with a Sniper Rifle, only to hand Reacher a K-Bar knife, explaining that he's not going to entrust a rifle he owns to a stranger to help him kill a bunch of other strangers. As this means Reacher has to wait till the villains (one of whom is a master sniper) shoot at him first (to prove self defense), he's not happy. Then during the subsequent shootout, Reacher drops the knife and has to resort to using a rock against a man shooting at him with an assault rifle.
  • John Wick: Chapter 2. Subverted in a scene where Cassian tries to stab John Wick in a close struggle while Wick tries to shoot him with a pistol, but both Professional Killers are too skilled to allow their opponent to land a fatal blow. The fight ends when both crash through a window into a Truce Zone and have to stop fighting.
  • As much as it is a love letter to the katana, Kill Bill follows this rule. Nearly any time the Bride's Katana is pitted against a gun, the gun wins, such as when the Bride charges into Budd's trailer, he is able to subdue her with a shotgun. And when she invades Bill's home, she's got a pistol out as her primary weapon rather than the sword slung on her back.
  • In The Night of the Hunter, Powell spends most of the movie as an almost inhumanly menacing force, with the threat of the switchblade in his pocket always present. In the film's climax, though, he has to face an old lady who happens to own a shotgun, and is twice sent running.
  • Once Upon a Time in China has this with kung-fu and rifles. Master 'Iron Robe' Yim is gunned down by American troops during his pursue of Wong Fey Hung. His last words are to Wong, who rushes to his aid: "Kung fu cannot beat bullets."
  • The Punisher (2004). Frank Castle's car is rammed at a railway crossing by an assassin sent by the Mafia. Frank crawls out of it and brandishes a knife, only for the assassin to quote this trope and pull a gun. In a subversion, it turns out to be a ballistic knife, and the spring-launched blade hits the assassin in the throat.
  • The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film: Parodied in one of the Surreal Humor gags that make up this odd short film. Two men are facing off in a duel. One has a rifle, and the judge gives the other a knife. They march off, turn at the signal in dueling style, and fire—shooting the judge. And the second man's knife somehow goes off like a gun. He stares at his smoking knife in astonishment.
  • Seven (1979): Ed has a kung fu battle with Mr. Chen that ends with him killing Chen by throwing him through the penthouse window. He then unbars the door and confronts Chen's two bodyguards. The first one attacks him hand-to-hand and is quickly smacked down. The second one draws and sword and makes a series of flashy moves. Ed calmly draws a guns and shoots him. (While this scene is nearly identical to the more famous one in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it predates Raiders by at least 2 years.)
  • In Super, Rainn Wilson plays a rather deluded Non-Powered Costumed Hero whose weapon of choice is a wrench. At one point he sneaks into the Big Bad's compound, only to discover that the drug dealer's henchmen are all armed with handguns — and they recognize him immediately, mask or no mask.
  • In the Disney adaptation of The Three Musketeers (1993), the musketeers are charging a ship of sailors. When one of the sailors demonstrates his martial arts abilities to Oliver Platt, Platt mimics him briefly before simply shooting him in the chest.
  • In the The Three Musketeers (2011), D'Artagnan learns this early in the movie, courtesy of Rochefort. Although in this case, he brought a sword and lots of attitude to a gunfight.
  • In the BBC adaptation of The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (simply titled Tom Jones), when Lord Fellamar's attempted rape of Sophia is interrupted by her father, he turns his sword on the older man, assuring him that his class and education have well prepared him for anything the squire can dish out. Squire Western pulls out a pistol and promptly shoots out one of Fellamar's knees.
  • Tragedy Girls: During the final confrontation in the theatre, Lowell is advancing on Sadie with a machete when McKayla pulls a gun out of her purse. Lowell just looks confused (as he thinks McKayla is on his side) as she proceeds to shoot him several times.
  • Referenced in-universe in The Untouchables (1987), as noted in the page quote above. Also a likely reference to one of Malone's earlier comments to Ness in the film ("if he pulls a knife, you pull a gun") - and partly a subversion, since the man with the knife is actually there to lure the shotgun-carrying Malone out of his house and into Frank Nitti's fatal tommy-gun ambush.
  • Inverted in Utu. Te Wheke tosses the preacher a loaded gun, knowing full well that his victim would hesitate to use it. This gives Te Wheke enough time to decapitate the minister with an axe.
    "Would I give you a loaded gun? Of course I would!"
  • Vice (2015): The bar patron who attempts to rape Kelly after she escapes from the resort is confronted by the heavily armed sweeper team hunting for her. He attempts to attack them armed only with a knife and is immediately gunned down by the team's submachine guns. When Roy is examining the crime scene later he makes a comment about 'bringing a knife to a gunfight'.
  • War Horse has a scene in World War I where the British cavalry appears to have caught the German encampment flatfooted, only to find that the Germans were prepared with a hidden defensive line of machine guns to mow them down. As a German officer says afterward, "Did you think we'd have a camp on open ground without it being defended?"
  • Averted in the climax of The Warriors. Swan challenges Luthor to a duel, only for Luther to smugly draw the gun he used to kill Cyrus and announce that he's going to kill everyone. Luther shoots, but Swan jumps to the side while simultaneously throwing his switchblade into Luther's wrist, disarming him.
  • In The War Wagon, Wes is so enraged at being robbed by the Indians, he pulls a knife and tries to attack the Indian who is holding a rifle on him. He gets shot.
  • In We Were Soldiers a young North Vietnamese soldier charges from behind Colonel Hal Moore intending to kill him with a bayonet. At the last moment Moore turns around and shoots the North Vietnamese soldier with a pistol, who lands dead at his feet.
  • Subverted in the finale of Who's That Girl where the embezzling father of the protagonist's fiancée is actually able to disarm two cops using a fencing foil. (Yeah, it makes very little sense, but neither does most of the rest of the movie.)

  • In Germany, the topmost quote is told as punchline involving Turks and Russians, but of course, YMMV (your minority may vary).

  • In the second book of the White Trash Warlock series, an elven prince challenges an opponent who assumes it will be a swordfight. Then said prince pulls out a gun and shoots the guy twice in the heart and once between the eyes.
  • The Black Ice: Corvo the DEA guy tells Bosch a story in which Corvo was jumped by a Mexican Mook who slashed Corvo across the face with a knife before Corvo shot him to death. Bosch is not impressed.
    "Corvo had found a way to make killing a man who brought a knife to a gunfight sound heroic."
  • Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon: Some soldier interviews Bobby Shaftoe:
    Reagan: What advice do you have for any young Marines on their way to Guadalcanal?
    The memories are still as fresh as last night's eleventh nightmare: ten plucky Nips in suicide charge!
    Shaftoe: Just kill the one with the sword first.
    Reagan: Ahh. Smarrrt—you target them because they are the officers, right?
    Shaftoe: No, fuckhead! You kill 'em because they've got fucking swords! You ever had anyone running at you waving a fucking sword?
  • 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.
  • From The Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross we have, "Never bring a tazer to an artillery duel".
  • The Interdependency: John Scalzi brings us the following gem, after an assassin outassasins an assassin-wannabe: "Never bring a spoon to a toothbrush fight."
  • 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.
  • Johannes Cabal the Detective: Defied by an assassin who explains to her boss that she has a knife and open ground, while Cabal has a gun and cover, so there's no point in her trying to kill him.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • When terrorists with automatic weapons take Worldpark in Rainbow Six, a retired sergeant dressed as a Roman legionnaire attacks one of them with his spatha. He naturally loses the fight, but he does manage to close fast enough to wound his opponent. After Rainbow retakes the park, all of the troops shake the man's hand to honor his bravery.
  • A fantasy equivalent is a major plot point in the light novel series Reign of the Seven Spellblades. The students at a school for magic are all taught how to duel with their athames (long ritual knives) because wizards had learned the hard way that from a starting distance of sixteen feet or less, a man with a sword can plausibly kill a mage before he can get a spell off.
  • The Reynard Cycle: In this case, never bring massed cavalry to an artillery fight. (It happens twice in the series.)
  • 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.
    Big Bad: Only a heathen brings a gun to a sword fight.
    Skuldugger: Only a moron brings a sword to a gunfight.
  • 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."
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Master Swordsman Jaime Lannister holds a particular disdain for archers. Given that they can threaten him without contending at all with his lifetime of sword mastery, it's easy to see why. At one point, he's held at bay by a simple innkeeper with a crossbow.
    • The humble ballista, in the form of the scorpion, is one of the few known mundane dangers a dragon can face. A bolt to the eye or another vulnerable spot? Dragon problem solved. In short, never fly your dragon through a hail of bolts, eh, Queen Rhaenyra?
  • 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.
  • 'The Swordsmen of Varnis' by Clive Jackson is a one-page parody of the John Carter of Mars series. A Martian princess and warrior together use their sword fighting skills against the guards of a mystical temple, and are almost victorious until the last guard says, 'Aw, the Hell with it!' and draws a proton gun, vaporizing the pair.
  • In Teeth of the Tiger, it's mentioned that a man with a knife who is no more than ten feet away is a credible threat to a man with a gun. An FBI agent exploits this by tricking a child killer into drawing a knife so he can justifiably shoot him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrowverse
    • One episode of Arrow has the League of Assassins send a group to attack the Arrow, Canary, and Detective Quentin Lance. One of the assassins mocks Quentin for using a gun, calling them a coward's weapon, since the League uses more traditional weaponry like bladed weapons and bows. Little does he know that Quentin was packing a backup gun; he shoots the Assassin point blank just as he was about to get killed.
    • A flashback scene shows Oliver Queen's first vigilante efforts were less than impressive. He shoots at a crack dealer with an arrow and misses, then has to make an undignified scramble for cover as the dealer empties his pistol at him; fortunately he's just as bad a shot as Oliver is.
    • In the season 4 Flash-Arrow crossover, "Legends of Today", Oliver shoots an arrow on the ground, to which Damien Darkh mocks Team Arrow for bringing "arrows to a gun fight", only for Oliver to ask "what guns?". The Trick Arrow he shot then magnetically pulls all of the guns the mooks are holding, leaving them unarmed.
  • In a sketch on A Bit of Fry and Laurie, two men about to have a Duel to the Death are asked by a referee to choose their weapons: sword or pistol. Laurie's character selects the sword, which the referee hands him— then hands Fry's character the pistol. Laurie's character protests that this was not what he meant, and silliness ensues as they try to figure out a way to make the fight fair since those are the only weapons they have.
    "Well it's just that when you said sword or pistol, I sort of assumed that we would both have the same one, if you know what I mean..."
    • Sketch History has done a similar joke, but darker: The guy who picks a gun instantly shoots his opponent dead, and the referee commends him for his choice.
  • In an episode of Chuck, Chuck and Sarah are attacked by three henchmen. One of them pulls out a knife, but they are saved by Chuck's mom, who shoots them dead.
  • Criminal Minds: Inverted by John Blackwolf, an Apache police officer, who considers knives to be the more humane option. He insists that, within 21 feet, a man with a knife has an advantage (assuming the gunman has to unholster his weapon), and outside 21 feet, he has the option to flee.
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Subverted. Dirk hasn't heard the full version of the phrase "bring a knife to a gunfight," and thinks it means you're supposed to bring a knife to a gunfight. He has an Oh, Crap! moment when he realizes there isn't some secret way that he can use his knife to defeat a gunman.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Harren the Black (the founder of Harrenhal) should have known better than to spend decades building the world's largest castle when his neighbors had dragons. In his defense, the Valyrian Dragon Riders had showed absolutely no interest in his continent until around the time he finished it.
    • Pyat Pree thought he could keep Daenerys and her dragons chained up for eternity. Bad idea.
  • The Goodies. In "The Movies", the Goodies comes to blows over which movie they want to make. Graham (who wants to make The Western) is shown advancing with his gang of cowboys against Tim who's making a biblical epic and so only has Roman centurions with swords. Graham shoots, then Tim raises his sword and fires a shot from it as well.
  • Parodied in a sketch from In Living Color! where the street gang from the musical West Side Story runs into a modern urban street gang. The leader of the West Side Story gang pulls a switchblade, and the leader of the modern urban street gang responds by pulling a handgun and shooting a member of the West Side Story gang. Naturally, this causes the West Side Story gang to beat a hasty retreat.
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Gun Fever Too: Still Hot'', Mac tries to demonstrate how to kill a school shooter with a katana by awkwardly moving leaning sideways as he runs forward. Charlie proceeds to repeatedly demonstrate with an unloaded revolver that all the shooter has to do is to aim slightly to the side, citing Indiana Jones as an example.
  • In an episode of JAG an ambitious lieutenant sneaks aboard an enemy ship. His request for a firearm was denied, so he only has a pipe on hand. He meets Col. Mackenzie who asks him, "Who brings a pipe to a gunfight?"
    • In the pilot episode, the squadron commander uses the knife and gun as a metaphor for the weapons systems on his F-18 versus the one on the bad guy's plane; the bad guys using a knife (gun cannon) to his gun (sidewinder missile).
  • Discussed in Justified: One of the bad guys out to get Marshal Raylan Givens is a Young Gun obsessed with the "21-feet rule" (the combat theory that within 21 feet of each other, a person with a knife has a very good chance of getting close and killing someone with a gun before they can draw) and who does everything in his power to pick a fight with Givens and see if it's true, even ruining the reason he arrived to the county to begin with. The goon's partner, fed up with the kid's stupidity, blows him away.
  • In the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Burned," a man accused of setting his wife on fire pulls out a butcher knife during a standoff with several cops. When he starts to lunge toward them, Benson shoots him in the chest - using plastic bullets to bring him down without killing him.
  • Lucifer. The trope is lampshaded right before Maze uses her throwing knife to take out a hitwoman with a submachine gun while hiding behind a table.
  • In an adaptation of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart and set in the 1930s, Young Siward charges Macbeth with a knife, only for Macbeth to draw a pistol and shoot him.
  • Examined on MythBusters (Ep. 188, aired June 10 2012) in two ways, one with a guy throwing a knife, and one with a guy charging with the knife. They found that while a moderately-trained knife thrower could throw one before getting hit by the shooter, the shot is quicker and the shooter can dodge the knife; on the other hand, they found that charging from a distance of 16 feet, you could stab someone shooting at you without getting hit. Long story short: Busted. But just barely.
  • Person of Interest
    • In "Allegiance", Reese's opponent realizes that he can't beat him hand-to-hand, so he pulls out a knife. Reese promptly draws his gun and kneecaps him.
    • Lampshaded in "A More Perfect Union". Reese says they're going to have to start kicking serious ass whereupon Root (who's disguised as a caterer), produces a kitchen knife and says, "Silly me. I brought a knife to a gunfight." Being Root, it suffices.
  • Parodied on Psych where the "weapons" are just what the two men are holding before they start their Wimp Fight.
    Shawn:: That's your problem, Gus. You brought a funeral program to a knife fight.
  • In Red Dwarf Lister and a simulant go to "parley". The simulant pulls out a knife. Lister pulls out a pipe. The simulant pulls out a gun.
    Lister: I didn't think of that.
  • Colourfully invoked in Silicon Valley when Erlich tells a troublesome neighbourhood kid that he "just brought piss to a shit fight" before slapping him across the face.
  • McKay in Stargate Atlantis is cornered by the Genii into finding the location of all the pieces of a device to reveal a Zero-Point Module. Upon finding it on a wall-sized map, he asks for a knife, which the Genii are reluctant to give.
    McKay: You all have guns. Someone give me a knife.
  • Stargate SG-1 played this straight in an early episode where Carter gets roped into what she thinks is a ritualistic hand-to-hand fight, until her opponent pulls out a huge sword. She equips her combat knife and manages to kick the guy's butt anyway.
  • Supernatural.
    • Two skinwalkers are facing off in "All Dogs Go To Heaven". One shapeshifts into his canine form, but the other just draws a revolver with silver bullets and shoots him. "Did you think this was going to be a dog fight?"
    • In "Hunteri Heroici", the Villain of the Week has used a Reality Warper to create Toon Physics. When Dean tries to shoot the man, his .45 pistol turns into a "Bang!" Flag Gun. The villain then mocks him for "bringing a gun to a gag fight".
  • Stated on Teen Wolf by Chris Argent as "Never bring claws to a gunfight." The fight ends with Boyd getting shot.

  • Old Master Q have this joke coming up periodically:
    • One strip have Master Q challenging another guy to a fight. They both draw swords, Master Q starts running towards his opponent... and promptly backs off when his opponent draws a gun.
    • Another one inexplicably set in wuxia times have Master Q fighting an opponent and getting knocked to the floor... before Master Q randomly pulls a pistol from out of nowhere on the other guy. Part of the Anachronism Stew Rule of Funny the comic frequently uses.

  • It doesn't get much blunter than "Gunfight" by Sick Puppies:
    Don't bring a knife to a gunfight - you'll lose!
  • In the Russian song ''In the Cape Town Port", a bar brawl breaks between English and French sailors on shore leave. The French pull out their hangers, but turns out it's the Browning which decides the fight.

  • 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 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.

    Video Games 
  • The Adventures of Square has Knife jerks, and they are one of the weakest enemies. The protagonist even says this phrase when he killed them.
  • 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. Alternatively, if Brayko is present he'll casually murder Championchik offscreen.
  • Assassin's Creed series:
    • Assassin's Creed: 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.
    • Assassin's 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..."
  • In Enter the Gungeon's setting, melee weapons and the like are considered heretical. While nothing is stopping you from bringing a sword or baseball bat to a gunfight, it's enforced somewhat by many such weapons being cursed.
  • Fallout
    • Guns have much greater range than melee or fist weapons, and are often more damaging as well. In theory, this is balanced by guns having finite ammo. In practice, while you might run out for a particular gun, you almost always accumulate ammo faster than you spend it (often without even going to merchants). Often the player character can only manage with melee weapons because of very powerful armor and/or spamming Stimpaks making you practically invulnerable anyway. The Power Fist was actually added to the original Fallout late in development when playtesting showed completing the game with an Unarmed build was nearly impossible.
    • Fallout 4's Survival mode, enemies and the player alike are extremely frail, making the use of melee/unarmed weapon nigh-impossible in this mode without heavy use of stealth. Even animals, which are normally limited to melee combat, still discourage the player from fighting up-close and personal because their attacks transmit debilitating diseases.
  • 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 protagonist 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.
  • In Live A Live, if Masaru is not chosen as the protagonist of the Final Chapter then he'll only join the party after challenging them to a fight. If the chosen protagonist is The Sundown Kid however, Masaru will state that he'd rather not fight a guy with a gun and will offer to join up without a fight.
  • 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).
  • Mega Man 10 has Blade Man, whose fight zig-zags on this. Blade Man himself inverts the trope since contact damage with him or his Triple Blade deals higher damage than the Mega Buster. However, his weakness, the Commando Bomb, plays this trope straight again since it's a more advanced weapon than not only the Mega Buster, but Blade Man's Triple Blade, too.
  • Metal Shinobi Assassin is a Run-and-Gun game where you're a Cyber Ninja with firearms battling enemy soldiers armed with spears, katana and arrows. Against common mooks the battle is as one-sided as it sounds.
  • Referenced by Ash Williams in Poker Night 2:
    "Never bring a knife to a chainsaw fight, kids!"
  • Scarface: The World Is Yours: In the "Freedomtown Redux" mission, Tony ends up disarmed and having to flee from armed foes until you can finally find a lone machete-wielder and beat him down for his weapon, which then leads to more running from men with guns until you manage to locate a lone gunman to get a piece off. Only then does Tony stand a chance.
  • In the final battle of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the Final Boss brings out a good old-fashioned flintlock pistol... that shoots as fast and has as much capacity as a current-day Glock in the final phase of a boss fight primarily using swords.
  • 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.
  • Yakuza: While several instances of the reverse exist across the series, foes with guns are universally the biggest threat both in gameplay and story. In fact, you outright can't block guns or most weapons without the right equipment. Fortunately, Kiryu and the other player characters also benefit from this; a tough many-on-one battle can be made much easier by getting ahold of a weapon Improvised or deliberate, and a gun of your own can make short work of many bosses who would be a terror in melee.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Steam Prison, the heroine Cyrus comes from a society where guns are still all but unknown and swords are used by the police force she works for. She continues to use a sword when she takes a bodyguard job in the Depths, where firearms are widespread; on the occasions when she ends up fighting opponents with guns she's usually at a disadvantage thanks to their range and speed of use as compared to her sword. Guns aren't a guaranteed win, however - in the "My Queen" ending, the HOUNDS are able to suppress several groups of firearm-toting enemies thanks to being overall better-trained and organized, making use of the fact that they're fighting in an urban area to force their quarry into close quarters where they can't make effective use of their weapons' advantages.
  • 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.

    Web Animation 

  • Bug Martini plays with it here, bringing "stupid to a knife fight".
  • Girl Genius, here, with extra Steampunk goodness:
    Zola: "Bringing a knife to a gun fight doesn't seem very smart, now does it?""
    Agatha: "Well, I suppose it isn't that much worse than bringing a gun to a clank fight."
    • And again, a while later, Agatha's opponent chides her for bringing a wrench to a knife fight. "It's harder to break things with a knife."
  • Cyanide and Happiness have played with the trope a couple of times:
    • One strip has a man show up to what he thinks is a knife fight, only for his opponent to pull out a gun. His reaction is to pull out a bigger gun and turn the fight into a Lensman Arms Race.
      "I brought a leg to your arms race!" [cue karate kick]
    • Another strip plays with it in that the man with the knife isn't actually taking part in the gun fight. He's just there to cut the cake.
  • Schlock Mercenary had it given as a tip and once had a mobster who realized that he had brought a prybar to a gunfight.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In "Dangerous Days Ahead", Torg tries to justify his taking his Cool Sword (before he learnt to use it properly, mind you) to a gunfight by applying Obi-Wan Kenobi's comment about lightsabers being more elegant than firearms to swords. He shortly runs back out for a gun.
  • A mugger finds himself on the wrong end of this trope in this Wapsi Square strip.
  • Explored and expanded by xkcd in this comic.

    Web Original 
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • Played with a twist in Shock Troopers: never bring a knife to a defibrillator fight. At least two enemy soldiers attempt to take out the protagonists with knives, but neither succeed.
  • Played With in Takotsubo: The story of a superhero. In the prologue, Cord Cai and his fiance Roland Fujii are getting carjacked by Harry Lamont... but Cord and Roland are former gangsters. Roland laughs in Lamont's face, refuses to give up his car, and basically taunts Lamont into shooting. After he does get shot, he cuts Lamont and scares him into running away. Lamont might have killed Roland, but he was clearly outclassed and he failed his actual goal of taking their car. Later on, the devastated Cord tracks Lamont down and shoots him execution-style. As noted below, having a gun doesn't mean anything if you're not prepared to actually shoot someone.
  • Not Always Right has this aptly-titled story of a man who tried to stick up a sporting/hunting store with their own display knife, only to get a *Click* Hello from the clerk.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Parodied in "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story" when Moe arrives at the Mexican standoff over the gold.
    Moe: [emerges from the shadows carrying a baseball bat] You'll take the gold... and then you'll give it to me if you know what's good for ya!
    [Mr. Burns, Rich Texan, and Snake all turn and aim their guns at Moe]
    Moe: You guys have guns? Well, uhh... so do I! [retreats into the shadows and unconvincingly mimes pumping a shotgun] Eh? Eh?
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Temporal Edict", three Gelrakians have Ensign Brad Boimler at spearpoint, but he easily gets himself out of danger by stunning them with his phaser.
    Gelrakian: Don't move, human. We have you surrounded.
    Boimler: Yeah, but I have a phaser. (fires at his would-be captors) These guys are lightweights.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: While blasters are often worse than ineffective against force users with lightsabers, in "Lair of Grievous" Nahdar Vebb is killed when Grievous goes Combat Pragmatist and shoots him with a blaster after getting him into a blade-lock.

    Real Life 
  • Bruce Lee said this about martial arts against guns, but the idea is still the same.
  • The famous Tueller Drill is a drill that investigated the use of firearms against assailants armed with a hand-held weapon. It came to the conclusion that if a physically fit individual who is holding a hand weapon charges a reasonably well-trained shooter with a hip-holstered handgun across open ground, in the approximately 1.5 seconds it takes to draw and shoot, the charging individual covers approximately 21 feet. This establishes a 21-foot "danger zone." This is often erroneously thought of as the knife "winning" within 21 feet when the likely outcome is mutual wounding or a Mutual Kill.
  • The Battle of Cerignola, happened in 1503 during the Italian Wars, was probably the point in European warfare where the true power of the arquebus over any kind of ancient weapon was demonstrated. During its course, Spanish general Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba occupied Cerignola and, knowing the French army's fondness for old-fashioned heavy cavarly charges, built a defensive ditch filled with pikemen and arcabuceros before goading the French to attack it. The overconfident French accepted the challenge and assaulted the position, only to be met with fulminant gunfire every time until ultimately breaking down and routing, after which Córdoba ordered a salty and smashed the remnants of the French. The Spaniards reportedly fired over 4,000 shots during the battle, one of them killing the French general himself, Louis d'Armagnac.
  • During The American Revolution at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge, a Loyalist militia unit mostly composed of settlers recruited from the Scottish Highlands found themselves across a creek from a Patriot unit they had been chasing through the North Carolina swamps. Assuming their enemies were fleeing because of the abandoned camp they had found on the west bank of the creek, at daybreak a group of 500 Loyalists armed with broadswords and dirks attempted to storm the other side. They quickly found out that the only bridge had its planks removed and its railings greased, and the well-entrenched Patriot forces had targeted the east bank with muskets and two artillery pieces. As another Patriot commander said while explaining to a newspaper why his forces were late to the fight, "The battle lasted three minutes."
  • While WWI trench-fighting usually consisted of savage hand-to-hand combat with knives, axes, shovels, and other improvised hand weapons, the American Winchester M1897 shotgun, known as the "Trench Sweeper," proved to be the ultimate weapon. Featuring no trigger disconnect and 6 rounds, two shotgunners working in tandem could clear an entire trench in minutes when it would previously take hours. These weapons were actually so effective that the German government issued a diplomatic protest against their use, although nothing came of it. The aristocratic German officers saw shotguns as being only for hunting and threatened to kill anyone captured with shotguns or shells for treating them like animals. The Americans told them to get bent and that if they made good on the threat, every German prisoner would be immediately executed. The Germans quickly dropped the issue.
  • After speaking to several WWII vets, the phrase they were always terrified to hear was "fix bayonets"
  • During an infamous incident in 2007, outlaw country singer Billy Joe Shaver got into a fight with a man at a local dive bar. Taking it outside, the man brought out a knife. Billy Joe brought out his Derringer and popped him, as described by Shaver himself, "Right between the mother and the fucker". AKA, through the cheek. The man with the knife quickly gave up.


Video Example(s):


I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

Lemon and Tangerine count the bodies they brutally killed in their rescue of the Son, all while a jaunty song plays.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / KillTally

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