Gun or knife? One is not necessarily better or worse than the other. (Shutterstock photo)
I love asking Benjamin Sobieck questions about weapons–he is an incredible resource for weapons as well as a great writer. As I begin outlining the next two Emily Stone Thrillers, I have some decisions to make as far as her “what if” scenarios. The above photo reminds me of what is inside Emily Stone’s goodie bag. Check out this awesome guest post from Sobieck and see what he has to say.
Emily Stone’s Weaponry: Knife or Gun?
Guest Post by Benjamin Sobieck
Jennifer Chase’s Emily Stone character often finds herself in tight spots while putting the hurt on the bad guys. Chase recently asked me to provide insight on one such scenario, and as always I was happy to oblige the request as I have before. I hope readers enjoy these “what if” scenarios as much as I do.
Here’s the setup, per Chase:
Stone is alone and cornered at a remote location (as usual), and she’s lost contact with her partner. Stone always has at least one gun and a knife as she tracks down the trail of a killer. She is also trained in defensive as well as offensive moves. The killer has a victim with him, but is also alone. Stone is low on ammo but not hurt. However, the killer is an ex-Marine. Can she save the victim and get out alive using the right weapons?
Knife or Gun: Which is Better in Close Quarters?
This is a hypothetical scenario (although it may wind up in a future Stone installment, wink wink) so I’ll make my own assumptions about what’s happening here.
- Stone is using some sort of semi-auto pistol and already has it drawn.
- Stone will come across the bad guy by surprise. She’ll turn a corner and find him.
- The bad guy will not leave the victim, suggesting to me the bad guy is also using a handgun of some sort.
- The distances between them are relatively short. I’m thinking 20 feet or so.
Given those factors, would Stone’s gun or knife be the better option?
Use the Gun
Stone should use the gun. Even at close distances, and despite the 21-foot rule about handguns’ effectiveness at that range during surprise attacks, Stone’s skill set should allow her to pop the bad guy between the eyes and/or dodge anything that comes her way. She’ll have to act rather than react, but that’s where the fun part of high stakes fiction comes into play.
It could be different, though, and that brings to mind a topic worth considering.
The Myth of the Hierarchy of Weapons
There’s an idea out there in fiction, as well as the real world, that weapons exist within a hierarchy. I’ll call this the Myth of the Hierarchy of Weapons. The “not so deadly” weapons are over here, the “mostly deadly” fall into this box and the “definitely deadly” sit at the top of both.
I imagine it looks something like this, arranged from most to least dangerous:
- Machine/submachine guns
- Knives and other edged instruments
- Melee weapons
- Household/mundane items
This kind of thinking supposes the world is like a role playing game, where certain weapons are assigned hit points and scored against the resistance of their targets.
But the real world isn’t a game. The hierarchy looks more like this:
- Explosives, machine/submachine guns, rifles, shotguns, handguns, knives and other edged instruments, melee weapons, household/mundane items, rocks, sticks
The hierarchy doesn’t exist. It’s a myth.
Weapons are at their root tools. Knives split one thing into two things. Firearms direct projectiles from point A to point B. Explosives rapidly deconstruct other objects. Like any other tool, weapons are designed to suit a particular purpose.
In the same way Confucius (supposedly) suggested using something other than a hatchet to remove a fly from your forehead, a handgun shouldn’t be graded on its ability to cut. The right tool for the job is better than any other tool. That doesn’t mean it’s also better than all tools for all jobs.
Here’s an example of what I mean from Massad Ayoob, who wrote about this concept for Gun Digest, where I work:
A knife never jams. A knife never runs out of ammunition; you rarely see a gunshot murder victim who has been shot more than a few times, but any homicide investigator can tell you how common it is for the victim of a knife murder to bear twenty, thirty, or more stab and/or slash wounds. A knife comes with a built-in silencer. Knives are cheap, and can be bought anywhere; there used to be a cutlery store at LaGuardia Airport, not far outside the security gates. There is no prohibition against a knife being sold to a convicted felon. Knives can be small and flat and amazingly easy to conceal.
Does that mean knives are more deadly than guns? It depends on the situation. I don’t spread jam on my toast with an ax, but I don’t slaughter zombies with a butter knife, either.
What this means for scenarios like Stone’s is that it isn’t a question of which weapon is better or more deadly. It’s a question of which one is better suited for the scenario.
For writers, that means thinking in reverse when assigning weapons to characters. Figure everything else out first, from the traits of the characters to the weather to geography, and then make the call on the weapon(s) involved should the choice be available to the story in the first place.
I think Stone’s pistol is the best bet, but that could change. A knife certainly has its advantages. A remote, secluded area could include other useful items, such as rocks or broken glass.
As a matter of fact, I deployed the ol’ speeding-rock-to-the-face trick in Chase Baker & the Vikings’ Secret when the titular character lost access to his .45. It doesn’t mean rocks are better than .45 caliber handguns, or vice versa, but it did get the job done.
And that, no matter the scenario, is what counts.
Benjamin Sobieck is the author of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books). He also blogs about weapons in fiction at CrimeFictionBook.com. His fictional work includes Chase Baker & the Humanzees from Hell, Chase Baker & the Vikings’ Secret, Chase Baker & the Apocalypse Bomb, Glass Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective, 8 Funny Detective Stories with Maynard Soloman, The Invisible Hand and many others. His website is CrimeFictionBook.com.
Sobieck will be presenting about weapons in fiction at the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference this August in New York City. See details about the conference here.