Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight: Using Knives for Handgun Retention By: Michael Janich

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Whether you are a duty-bound professional or a lawfully armed civilian, if you carry a firearm, you must maintain positive control of it at all times. That means learning at least some fundamental form of gun retention techniques. Using knives for handgun retention is an effective and increasingly popular method of doing just that. And here are some things you need to know.

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Utilizing Knives for Effective Handgun Retention

One approach to handgun retention that has become increasingly popular is the idea of using a knife as an auxiliary weapon. In simple terms, when the bad guy tries to grab your gun, you draw your knife and use it to force him to let go. While that seems pretty straightforward, there’s a lot more to it than that—especially for civilians.

First Line of Defense: Concealment

Uniformed armed professionals typically carry their handguns openly, so the threat of a gun grab while it’s still in the holster is high. Civilians, however, typically have concealed carry permits. The operative word in that term is “concealed.”

If you carry properly and choose your cover garments well, nobody should ever know your gun is there. If the bad guys can’t see it, they can’t try to grab it.

The first line of defense when it comes to handgun retention for civilians is proper concealment. This is an example of bad concealment.
This is a good example of bad concealment.

Similarly, good threat-management tactics should help keep your gun securely in its holster. Lethal force is not justified until you are in fear for your life or in fear of serious injury. If you face a potential threat, manage the situation with good boundary-setting skills and less-lethal tactics.

Do not announce that you’re carrying or display your holstered gun as a threat. Doing so—especially to an unarmed attacker—can literally invite an attempted gun grab.

Technology and Tactics

Even if a civilian does everything “right,” it is possible you could face an attempted gun grab. For example, you may be attacked by an unarmed assailant and end up in a clinch or grappling situation.

During that close contact, the bad guy realizes you’re carrying a gun and decides to try to take it. In that circumstance, it’s a good bet that he’s not trying to take your gun to go target shooting. At the same time, if the gun’s still in the holster, it’s not a clear lethal threat.

Your first priority should be to keep your gun from being drawn. From a technology standpoint, this is where a holster with an active retention mechanism can be a huge advantage. To be of any real value, that holster must also be attached to a sturdy gun belt with a proper mount. That combination can keep your gun in the holster while you employ other tactics—including drawing a knife.

If you’re like most civilians, however, your holster probably only offers enough retention to keep the gun in place. It will not prevent an attacker from drawing it. In that case, you must use physical means to retain your gun.

The best way to do that is to grab the assailant’s arm just above the elbow, limiting its mobility to the shoulder joint. This is much more effective than grabbing his wrist or pinning his hand. If the gun does come out, this grip also enables you to control his arm and the direction of the muzzle.

Deploying Your Knife

The most difficult part of using a knife for handgun retention is actually getting it into the fight. Many CCW permit holders carry knives—usually folders—on their non-dominant side. They typically do so with the belief they’ll use them as weapon-retention tools.

Unfortunately, when you ask them to deploy their knives with their weak hands, most can’t do it quickly or reliably under the best conditions.

It’s important to remember that defending against a gun grab is a dynamic physical event. Typically, it involves a violent tug-of-war with your dominant hand and arm. Trying to perform complex motor skills with your other hand at the same time doesn’t make sense. It makes even less sense when those skills involve a sharp knife.

Static cord carry allows quick, easy access to the knife with either hand. It’s also very comfortable. It is an ideal way to carry knives for handgun retention.

The most reliable type of knife for weapon retention is a fixed blade. Carried edge-forward on the non-dominant side, it allows a simple, reliable draw into a reverse grip. Although belt carry works well, my personal preference is “static cord” carry.

This carry style uses a short loop of paracord attached to your belt and the tip of the sheath. The sheathed knife is then tucked into your waistband. Carried in this way, the knife can be drawn in any direction with either hand and clears the sheath safely away from your body.

If you must carry a folding knife, carry one with an Emerson “Wave” feature to make one-handed opening more foolproof. The “Pickpocket” attachment from 5×5 Combat Solutions accomplishes the same goal. Again, configure your knife to be drawn into a reverse grip, edge forward.

If you opt for this style of carry, get a folder with a “Wave” opener and configure it for a reverse-grip draw.

What to Cut

Once your knife is in-hand, it’s important to address the problem at its root. That means forcing your attacker to release his grip on your gun. While attacking his face, neck, or other targets may persuade him to let go, it won’t guarantee it. To do that, destroy the physiological structures that enable him to grip and pull.

While maintaining a secure grip with your dominant hand, cut deeply through the upper part of his bicep. In the process, try to target the inner arm between his bicep and triceps. This is where the nerves that control the arm muscles lie.

This sequence demonstrates a practical use of the knives for handgun retention.

Severing the bicep destroys his mechanical ability to bend his elbow and pull with that arm. Likewise, severing the nerves disconnects them from the muscles they control, including the forearm muscles that power the hand’s grip.

If targeting the bicep doesn’t release his grip completely, continue by attacking his forearm. Slide your right hand down to his wrist and cut the flexor muscles and tendons on the inside of his forearm. That will destroy his ability to close his fingers and force him to let go of your gun.

Power it through the bicep muscle with a pressure cut, severing the muscle and, ideally, the nerves adjacent to it.

A knife can be a potent weapon-retention tool, but only if employed in the right context and with proper tactics. From a civilian perspective, it should be regarded as a last line of defense.

One final consideration: If you choose to rely on knives for handgun retention, invest in proper equipment and training. Get a good training knife and carry system, a SIRT pistol or blue gun, and a willing partner and put in the work. That’s the only way to validate your plan and develop skills that will save your bacon on the street.

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