Sog MXV72 Mini X-Ray VisionYou, your spouse, and your young child are walking on an empty street at night.

You turn a corner.

A man stops you and points a gun at your spouse’s head.

His finger is squeezing the trigger.

You have this folding knife in your pocket.

The blade is less than three inches long; with one quick movement you have practiced before, you can pull the knife from your jacket pocket and flick the blade into performance with your thumb and embed it in his throat faster than he can finish pulling the trigger.

If you decide to pull the knife, the only option is to kill the man.

Threats and wounding will only result in the death of your spouse and child.

Do you pull the knife or not?

If yes, why? If not, why not?

Where do you cut the line on killing?

Does it begin and end with a life in the balance?

What if the same person with the gun had instead completely soaked your house in gasoline and was in the process of striking a match to engulf your home in flames?

Is that enough of a threat to health and home to claw the threat into red with that knife in your pocket?

If yes, why? If not, why not?


  1. Yes I would pull the knife.
    Yes I would use it (why else carry it?)
    Where do I cut the line? Between his neck and my hand if necessary 🙂
    It should have life in the balance but that assumes the same values and the same perception of life, fairness, the current situation in the grand plan of life.
    My house? If mine were in there I would do what was needed. If death resulted, so be it.
    The argument following such actions is one of “reasonable force”. As someone who has had to use force rapidly in what I believed to be best interests the notion itself is a luxury. You do what you can at that point. Act then think.

  2. Fabulous answer, Mark!
    What are the concealed weapons laws in the UK? Can you carry a gun under any circumstance?
    I the USA you can get a concealed gun permit and you may carry — though not on an airplane — a concealed non-switchblade knife with a blade of less than three inches without repercussion.
    It’s interesting in your answer that a gun and setting a fire carry the same resonance and consequence!

  3. Gun? No. Not at all.
    Knife? No. Anything which an officer thinks you might be wanting to harm another with? (Like a screwdriver maybe) No.
    A gun. Could be drawn and used as rapidly as anger could rise. A gun shoots you.
    Using accelerants on a property takes time. takes a level of care. A fire just kills. Is not sudden anger/fear – it more cold-blooded. Maybe that’s why arson is such a heavily penalised crime…..

  4. Dave —
    Would you feel any remorse after your knife kill? Or would you feel you served your duty?
    If the gun later turned out to be a water pistol — would that change your feeling of remorse?
    Assuming the house is empty is fine. Does one value property over a life at any cost?

  5. mark —

    Anything which an officer thinks you might be wanting to harm another with? (Like a screwdriver maybe) No.

    Now that’s a difficult interpretation of the law! Can’t a rock kill the same way a screwdriver might?
    What about body art or jewelry? Let’s say you have a leather wristband with sharp metal spikes that you could slide down over your hand and present it against someone’s face as improvised brass knuckles? Would you get in trouble for that or not?
    Does “Reasonable Force” only come into play when one feels a life is in danger? Is the idea transferable? Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a guy with a gun holding up an old woman and you leap into the fray to protect her and in that process of you fearing for her life you shoot the guy with his own gun. Would the UK court system see you as liable for the death or would you be considered heroic and right for stepping in to save the old woman?
    Are hands considered weapons or not?
    It interesting how in many places arson against property is punished just as severely as murder against a person.

  6. Dave!
    I tend to agree with you: If you use toy gun as a real gun in a real circumstance, you’re going to get a real life response from me.
    It gets harder when kids buy water pistols that have bright orange plugs in the barrels to indicate to law enforcement the guns are not real and they color over the orange with black magic marker to make their guns look “realer.”
    I’m waiting for the day with a bad guy with a real gun puts some kind of orange plastic at the end of the barrel to make cops hesitate for just one second wondering if the gun is real or not so he can fire at them first in that moment of hesitation.

  7. I agree, Dave. It’s difficult, though, when someone like Amadou Diallo is gunned down by the police while just reaching for his wallet to show proper ID.
    There was even a case where a guy was shot by police when he only had a “3 Musketeers” bar in his hand. The wrapper at that time for the candy bar was a shiny foil and, in the sun — the police argued — it looked like the barrel of a gun.

    Like most blacks, I’ve long suspected that white cops, especially, don’t shoot black suspects by the rules. Before injuring or killing suspects, some allegedly have been overheard shouting racist commands such as, “Freeze, nigger! You’re dead!” or “Nigger, don’t make me have to shoot you!”
    I also began to reconstruct possible scenarios that might have led to the shooting of Amadou Diallo and other victims we’ve lost to “split decisions.” They died because cops allegedly mistook an object (a steering-wheel lock, a Three Musketeers bar, keys, a beeper, a cell phone) for a gun or some other deadly weapon.,noel,7292,1.html

  8. Hi David,
    I wonder if police have trained for the “orange barrel” situation. I’d assume that any action that is threatening could result in a police shooting. There was a case in Chicago a couple of years back where someone was shot when a cell phone was mistaken for a gun.
    Here’s a question.
    If you had taken martial arts classes and had the ability to disarm the assailant using your skills, would that make a difference in your calculations?
    Would you use the knife first, or use your hands (and feet) if you had the skills and had the practice using those skills, i.e. had obtained a black belt and had successfully used skills in competition to the extent that you were comfortable and competent in using them?

  9. Chris —
    The police have a hard job and if I were them — anything at all that was aimed at me would warrant me aiming back with my gun using live bullets.
    It’s interesting in NYC that the latest police shooting of the guy who rammed the cops with his car is complicated by NYPD department policy that a car is not considered a deadly weapon and, therefore, a cop cannot use deadly force in return “fire” after getting rammed or run over. I have a feeling that department policy will be changing soon.
    I don’t think martial arts training is enough. If I had the ability to kill with my hands, that would be different. Any good martial arts teacher requires an advanced student to register hands as deadly weapons with law enforcement before the training can continue.
    There’s a particular deadly sort of martial arts training called “Iron Fist” that focuses on making the hand, fist and fingers all able to kill. The skin becomes so rough and leathery the hands are only good for use as a weapon because they are no longer flexible or sensitive to do intricate tasks of the day.
    If I were registered as my own deadly weapon, I’d certainly use that training before a knife.
    And you?
    Do you pull your knife?
    Do you thwart the burning of your house?

  10. Can’t a rock kill the same way a screwdriver might?

    It can, but it’s harder to conceal a rock about one’s person.

    What about body art or jewelry?

    I’d say it influences others more than is considered a threat but the bodyart can itself be taken as a threat.

    Does “Reasonable Force” only come into play when one feels a life is in danger?

    For me it was ‘significant harm’ and I was in a position to stop it. Use force or be negligent.

    Would the UK court system see you as liable for the death

    It would go to trial. From there depends on how bad the guy was, how nice I look, what the newspapers say.

    Are hands considered weapons or not?

    Yes – if you have been trained to use them as such.

  11. Dave —
    It’s hard when you’re policing the ghetto because as a uniformed officer you aren’t going to get much done because you’re either noticed or targeted. So you have to go undercover.
    If you’re dealing with a poor, immigrant, neighborhood where English is not the first language of preference, but the cops only speak English — horrible accidents of misunderstanding are certain to end in terribly permanent ways. Cultural conditioning is a must in all police training, but it rarely happens.
    That’s the biggest task facing modern policing in urban areas: What language should be used and how do you know if someone understands you or not in order to comply with your orders?
    Do you shoot them to get you to comply when you’re only supposed to shoot when lives are threatened?
    The Deaf have a difficult problem with the police. Many of them aren’t expert lip readers so they cannot follow a direct instruction from near or far away. They cannot hear or understand the direct instruction so they get slammed and gang tackled for not responding to a direct order.
    Other times the Deaf try to communicate with their hands that they are not able to understand and that can have deadly results as well because the police are uncertain why the hands are moving in such wild ways.
    Handcuffing a Deaf person is also a difficult situation because the only means of communication the Deaf person are locked behind their backs.

  12. mark!
    Thanks for the fantastic detail. I do like the UK ideal that there’s no good reason for an individual to possess a gun. Either give them to everyone or ban them everywhere. Banning is best.
    Are neighborhood cops in the UK allowed to have guns or are they limited to batons?
    I’ve seen an image of something you have embedded beneath the skin on the back of your right hand. It looks like a circle or a “C” to my eye. It is made of Teflon or metal? If it is hard, could that be considered a concealed weapon in the UK?

  13. It’s steel. It’s a ball closure ring without the ball and would need surgery to remove. It’s also on a non-contact part of my hand so no weapon status.
    And cops here? In the county there will be an Armed Response Vehicle somewhere. Everyone else has batons or sprays. And a radio.
    Around airports, major cities there will be higher concentration of armed police as you would expect.
    Farmers and some others will have shotguns (Farmers have a high suicide rate, apparently caused by the easy access to a gun).
    Getting back to your original point though – when faced with that it’s going to be the ‘fight or flight’, it’ll be fear motivating, adrenalin coursing though the veins. I’m not (as) used to that so my reactions will be out of the norm, unpredictable, extreme for me. A police officer should be a little more prepared, more detached, more controlled. Not all the time maybe but in a culture which has the gun you would expect it.
    What governs most people’s actions though is consequences – and if the consequence of a shooting is more favourable because you have the badge then you are way more likely to shoot first.

  14. mark!
    Thanks for the detail. I love the UK! I like the policing methods. I like the graduated show of force. I really also like all your cameras in public keeping a watching, if not Panopticonic, eye on behavior on the streets. It all makes sense from a community policing need that we are sorely lacking here in the USA.
    Your body mod is keen. I guess you aren’t familiar with the “Back of the Hand Bitch Slap” that can be so popular here. You “show the back of your hand” to someone else’s cheek… and with your steel mod — that might just be a lethal knockout punch!
    Your point about fighting and fleeing is right on point. We have to make an untrained and uninformed decision while the police — most would reason — would never aim a gun without the proper intent of protecting the community welfare.

  15. Hi David,
    I use the knife to save my wife. Since his finger was squeezing the trigger, there’d be no hesitation.
    If I had been thinking ahead, I would have had a “Michigan roll” as my friend calls it — $10 worth of singles wrapped around a $20 in a money clip. I’d show it to the guy and say it was his, then throw it in the direction opposite of where I planned to run if I thought he could be “bought off” like that.
    The house question would depend on if I was inside the house or not. If I had escaped from the guy and he was setting the house on fire in order to kill me, I’d be justified in protecting myself. If I could escape, I might try to escape, then use the “maximum” minimum force possible — maybe spray the guy with some “bear” pepper spray that can drop a crazed grizzly bear from 20-feet away.

  16. Hi Chris!
    I think it’s a good thing you pull the knife. As awful as it seems, I can’t think of a better choice without changing the given scenario. To save a life, you have to risk death.
    I like your Michigan Roll — but wouldn’t you want to wrap the $20 around the ten singles?
    Burning the house requires one to consider what is valuable in the house. If everything burned — records, memories, and mementos and perhaps bearer bonds and other unrecoverable jewels — I know there are some who would not hesitate to kill the guy and worry about a jury trial later.
    I like the bear pepper spray! Wow! I wonder if that’s what Dog The Bounty Hunter uses to capture the bad guys?

  17. Dave —
    You can also buy the book online from and avoid the crowds! The book is under $10.
    Yes, if a single cop made the approach it would have been a different story. The cops thought he was a notorious bad guy, though; so from the start their intent was to use the gang method of take down.

  18. Hi David,
    I probably mis-described the “Michigan roll.” Yep, the $20, or if you really want to impress, the C-note, needs to go on top so you can flash it at women and would-be robbers. 🙂
    I was wondering the same thing about Dog’s pepper spray weaponry. He does have the larger sized can with the bear spray type holster that is required for easy access when a bear is charging at 35 MPH.
    Here’s a nifty pepper spray device: The PepperBall gun.

    The TAC-700 launcher allows officers to quickly launch rounds and create substantial pepper clouds to gain compliance … non-lethal use of force situations. … Averages 700 rounds per minute in full automatic. Up to 60 ft. target accuracy, 200 ft. for pepper saturation. Tactical and compact.

  19. Chris!
    Yeah, the Dog’s stuff also sometimes foams, I think. I love it when they get in their car and someone trips the trigger on their Pepper canister and none of them can see or breathe for awhile.
    Your link is fun — the Anti-Freeze pellet is especially amusing. Keep it away from dogs and cats, though!

  20. Chris!
    Yeah, the Dog’s stuff also sometimes foams, I think. I love it when they get in their car and someone trips the trigger on their Pepper canister and none of them can see or breathe for awhile.
    Your link is fun — the Anti-Freeze pellet is especially amusing. Keep it away from dogs and cats, though!

  21. Hi David,
    I like the “marking” balls. Officers can “mark” people in the crowd for later “round-up.”

  22. I don’t carry a weapon – I can’t answer the hypothetical – I guess my instinct would be to put myself between the attacker and my children. I do however carry a handbag, that has chain handles and weighs a fair amount – and I have a very good aim with that – and my boots.
    I also avoid walking on the streets at night.
    We are not allowed to carry guns in the UK , there are also restrictions on knives.
    Last weekend we had a visitor who is connected with the Home Office ( the body that sets the criminal law) and we were discussing the realities of what you are and are not allowed to do if you feel your life is at risk when your house is burgled.
    You are allowed to use reasonable force if you believe your life is threatened. You must aim your weapon at their front ( is you must not shoot them in the back as they retreat).
    You can kick them down the stairs – or knock them with a baseball bat -so long as you are face to face and plead self defence.
    You cannot come at them from behind, or throw or shoot them from behind and plead self defence – in these circumstances you will be prosecuted for assault, ABH, GBH, attempted murder or murder – dependent on the result of your attack.

  23. So Nicola, if you had the knife you would choose not to use it and you would use your heavy purse instead, is that right?
    Thanks for sharing the lessons from the Home Office! It seems the best training a burglar could have is to learn the art of walking backwards! Then you could never be touched!

  24. Sharp knife is my old fellow: my drawing pencils needs the sharpener and I am always ready to picture the story of sun meeting the moon.
    If I meet a gun?… The dawn will always break through the darkness in spite I finish or not my canvas

  25. I do have knives, I play with knives in another theatre – I never take them out in the street.
    I would throw the bag – kick in the b*lls or stand between them and my children.
    I suspect they get taught that lesson in jail !

  26. Okay, Nicola, I gotcha! Tomorrow, though, you will not so easily be able to escape my scenario!

    I suspect they get taught that lesson in jail !

    Oh, you’re so delicious!

  27. Sounds like tomorrow is a good day to be doing my Christmas Shopping !
    I will have time to catch up tomorrow night.
    Jail – teaches young criminals everything they do not know already !

  28. One creates what one sees. If we want to see a killer so we can use our pre-planed knife attack we will. If ones karma is really screwed up the thug will turn the tables if he really is a thug and use the weapon against the original owner in spades with some karmic justification. If one really needs a knife or stick it will appear from “God.” “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
    i realize this goes against much belief, but i have no first hand experience in 66 years to show me otherwise. When “bad” happened to me i caused it. By being stupid, dual, careless, arrogant or whatever. i couldn’t care less what people think who see themselves as separate from their environment think or do. There seems to be no way to get people to see what is. It’s not in the mass commercial books for sure. So what. Where is the separation and the definitive boundry line? See what enlightened people and physicists say. We have been given the dual view of our separation from the environment to play us for fools. This type of thinking is a microcosm of the world situation. Now the dualists are saying, “i hope some thug attacks the poor misguided soul, to show him, how it really is.”
    i am into the beauy of found images. Not man made ones.”He who has eyes, let him see.” Why believe in separation to the point of looking for trouble and finding it? There is something higher than any man (the consciousness of the universe) and it is trying to show us something. Our own consciousness is a mirror image of this consciousness if we can see it.

  29. fred —
    There’s a disconnect between your karma argument and your “As ye sow, so shall ye reap” contention because they’re two different ideas — so using them together cancels out the logic of putting them in the same philosophical bin.
    Karma is the totality of a person’s action in this and previous lives that decides FUTURE existence. You don’t get karma payback in this life for deeds done in this lifetime.
    As for your God reference — that does deal with behavior in this life.

  30. David said:
    In the USA you can get a concealed gun permit and you may carry — though not on an airplane — a concealed non-switchblade knife with a blade of less than three inches without repercussion.
    Just to clarify, David, the laws vary from state to state. In California, where I live, you can concealed-carry a folding knife of any size, so long as it’s not a switchblade, and you carry it in the closed position. (The official statute requires “a detent or bias toward closure,” basically meaning that the knife tends to stay closed when the blade is folded.) There’s a specific law that prohibits knives on school grounds.
    In California, you can legally carry a switchblade — as long as the blade is less than two inches in length. You couldn’t carry or ship one across state lines, however, due to Federal regulations. You can open-carry (unconcealed) a non-folding knife of practically any dimension.
    As you might guess, I know the law not because I’m an attorney — I’m not, and my comments here do not constitute legal counsel — but because I carry a folding knife at all times. I carry knives for numerous reasons unrelated to self-defense — a good knife is the handiest tool you can stick in your pocket. I’d much rather run from an assailant than pull my knife to fight. But if I had to use my knife with deadly force to protect my family, I would.
    By the way, most of my everyday carry pieces are bigger than your SOGs. 🙂

  31. David- Tomorro is the future. So is the next minute. Each act has karma attached to it, and is a seed that grows when planted in a fertile valley. When planted in an infertile area, karma will be gotten then to, but naturally of a different type. Look around now. You see how you planted these seed that grew into what’s around you. The same happens when you go out in the street. Everything is a gift of “God.”

  32. SwanShadow back in the Urban Semiotic house big today, yah! Huzzah!
    Thanks for the cool details on the conceal and carry laws in California.
    For those who don’t know — what is the difference between a folding knife and a switchblade?
    A knife has many uses beyond throat cutting. They’re great for opening boxes and for prying things apart. Also, as a child of the theatre — I always need a knife for cutting stuff and for carving out niches.
    What knives do you own and where can we see them online?
    Have law enforcement ever given you a hard time over your knives?

  33. David saked:
    For those who don’t know — what is the difference between a folding knife and a switchblade?
    Without citing all of the legalese, a switchblade is any pocketknife whose blade can either be released automatically (i.e., with a trigger or spring mechanism), or by the weight of the knife (that means, it can fall out of the handle or be flicked open without resistance; i.e., a gravity knife).
    Under California law, a pocketknife that can be opened with one hand — like your SOG, which has a thumb stud for one-handed opening — doesn’t count as a switchblade as long as it has a detent (a device that provides resistance to opening the blade — usually it’s a ball bearing that fits into a notch in the blade, inside the handle) or a bias toward closure (that means something that causes the blade to be drawn into the handle when folded).
    What knives do you own and where can we see them online?
    I keep meaning to do a series of posts on my blog about my knife collection — sort of a “what’s in my pocket today?” feature — but I haven’t worked it to the top of the to-do list yet.
    I own around two dozen knives, only a few of which are “for show only.” Most of the pieces I own, I carry when the mood strikes. Today, my pocket is packing a Kershaw Storm II, which is one of my favorite carry pieces.
    Have law enforcement ever given you a hard time over your knives?
    No, but that’s why I know the carry and conceal laws backward and forward… just in case. 🙂

  34. SwanShadow!
    Thanks for the excellent explanation between folding knives and switchblades. You explained it clearly and succinctly!
    Your “what’s in my pocket?” article sounds like a lot of fun!
    Your knives are very cool! Thanks for the image!
    Why do you think Kershaw is a cut above the rest?

  35. I feel I may be able to lend a unique answer to this provocative question. Unique not because of my specific opinion on the matter–as I see it has already been voiced by a few–but because I am the survivor of a violent crime. I know firsthand how very precious human life is, and yet how very fragile it can be in the hands of someone else.
    Regarding the situation with my spouse and child being in danger, I would use my knife without hesitation. It is my conviction that that is how anyone who carries a deadly weapon should react: without hesitation. If, when you are placing a knife in your pocket, you cannot say absolutely truthfully, “I can kill a human being with this weapon,” you had better leave the knife at home. You may hesitate when faced with taking the life of another person but the one with a gun to your spouse’s head may not, and after they’ve finished that job they may turn to you too.
    After a great deal of thought, I have concluded that I would also do the same in the case of the arson. I believe it was Mark who earlier pointed out the more “cold-blooded” nature of arson because it is planned, thought-out, carefully executed. I would also like to point out that a person willing to put in that much time/effort dousing my entire house with gasoline is taking a much greater personal risk than someone who surprises me from around the corner with a gun. Obviously this person is willing to put himself in danger just to harm me and my family. In that case, I do not mind granting him his wish. 😀
    Maybe the person would not have pulled the trigger.
    Maybe my family and I were not in the house.
    Maybe the person would not have even lit the match.
    To me, it is no matter. My brush with violent death was enough to sharpen my focus, unblurring the oft-fuzzy lines of morality and making this issue starkly black and white.
    I prosecute on intent. End of story.
    In the end, I would rather regret taking an intended murderer’s life than regret watching a murderer take a life. In the end, the juice is worth the squeeze.

  36. Hi Emily!
    Wow! What a great and passionate, but extremely clear and logically biased, comment!
    I tend to agree with you. If you pack a knife, be prepared to pull it to the full extent of its power if lives are threatened.
    If you try to burn my house down, be prepared for my deadly reaction to your deadly threat. A fire lives to be uncontrolled, so if you start mayhem I will restore it.
    “Prosecute on intent” — I think that’s my new favorite mantra!

  37. I’m a bit better trained than that. I’d have already killed the attacker before he brought his weapon to bear in all likelihood. Threat assessment and instant response is essential in potentially violent locations.
    As for the arsonist, there’s the issue of range and timing, but I wouldn’t hesitate to kill him. The only reason for leaving an attacker alive is if you believe they have some sort of intelligence value.

  38. jonolan —
    Are you using a gun for the deed or something else?
    I’m with you on killing attackers — it’s the only way to guarantee your side of the story is the one that gets told in court. There are too many slimy lawyers out there who will advocate for the criminal behavior and blame you for protecting your family, goods and future.

  39. Close range I’d rather use a knife; firearms in close combat can be more of a hindrance than a help. But then I’ve had years of practice with my blades.
    There’s also that little NYC firearm ban…

  40. Okay, got it, jonolan.
    Yes, NYC is tough on guns. That’s a good thing, I think.
    I also find it interesting NYC is more liberal when it comes to carrying knives than NJ!

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