Friday, February 4, 2011

Saturday Night Specials

Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded a song called "Saturday Night Special" back in the early '70's when that term was first coming to prominence as an excuse for banning tools.  A derogatory term, Saturday Night Special was used much the way that "assault rifle" or "high capacity magazine" is used today.  The idea being that the gun itself was cheap, possibly dangerous and prone to accidental discharge, or that it was something used by the folks out on Saturday nights — drunks and partiers.  It came to be applied to any easily concealed, easily accessed handgun that was just powerful enough to kill a person at close range.  Most handguns labeled as SNS were probably .38 Specials, anemic .32's, or common .22LR's.  It was something a man could drop in his pocket or a woman could carry in her purse without much fuss.  As in most cases the propaganda was misleading.  Like rich people, poor people have a right to self-defense.  If they cannot afford expensive weapons, they should be able to buy cheap ones.

My understanding is that Ronnie Van Zant had no problem with guns in general — he was a southern boy who loved all things to do with the outdoors such as fishing, hunting, and trapping.  He appears to have been a victim of the hippie spirit of the times.  The most memorable line of the song, "Handguns were made for killin'/they ain't no good for nothin' else", always struck me as silly and self-canceling.  Of course they were made for killing.  That's why I carry one.  The one part of the song I could not sing along with said, "Why don't we dump 'em, people/ to the bottom of the sea/ Before somebody comes around here/ and wants to shoot either you or me".  As much as I loved Skynyrd, the logic was seriously flawed.  All guns were not going to be dumped, first of all, and I would be at a disadvantage giving up mine.  Second, I like my guns.  Some people like to play golf.  I like to shoot.  I shoot at paper targets, at empty cans, or at rocks.  Nothing is hurt; nothing suffers.  I enjoy it.  Why should I give up my enjoyment because there are evil people in the world?  In all the ammunition I've expended from firearms, I have never killed a single human being. 

Despite the lead-in, my point today is not about small handguns.  I'm going to talk about the Saturday Night Special of knives.  In this case, Skynyrd's assertion that "they ain't no good for nothin' else" applies pretty well, but, again, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I don't believe in "fighting knives" or "knife fighting".  Anybody who pulls a knife and flashes it at you is 1) an idiot, and 2) trying to intimidate you.  The best thing to do is flee the area even if you have to run right over the top of the knife-flasher.  If someone is actually seeking to do you bodily harm with a knife, and if that person has so much as a single functioning brain cell, 99 times of a 100 you can be cut before you even see the knife.  To get into a "duel" — which is what most knife training teaches — is stupid.  An edged weapon has limited reach.  If you have room to maneuver, you have room to escape.  Do that. 

So a knife is useless for self-defense, right?  No, the blade does have a use, but you must carefully consider the situations in which would resort to a knife.  An edged weapon, these days, is a weapon of last resort.  You use it when all your other options are closed.  

The fact is that if you are threatened and are able to deploy a firearm, the odds are pretty decent that you won't have to use it.  Even the most determined attacker will think twice when looking down the barrel of a gun.  Shootouts are actually rare occurrences and are limited geographically as well as demographically.  

Knives on the other hand, even Crocodile Dundee knives, are not necessarily fight stoppers.  I would back off if someone pulled a knife, but, of course, I wouldn't be an aggressor in the first place.  My problem is how to stop an attack and defend myself or an innocent loved one against aggression.  A previous post concerned a Gurkha who used his khukuri to defeat a group of 40 bandits robbing a train.  You and I are not Gurkhas and a khukuri is a seriously large knife.  It is practically a small sword.  So if you are carrying a small sword, and Gurkhas think you are a badass, you don't have to read any further.  This does not apply to you.

For the rest of us, I present the edged Saturday Night Special — the push dagger.  If you don't know what this is, go google "Cold Steel Safemaker II".  That's a good quality example.  A push dagger is a dual-edged blade — hence the dagger designation — with the handle in the shape of a T. You grip the hilt so that the narrow shaft of the knife passes between two of your fingers, and the blade, the vertical part of the "T", extends forward.  To use the knife against an opponent, you throw a punch.  Jab, that's it.  Not much training is required.  The main thing to think about is getting to the knife and keeping it out of sight until it has to be used.   

A push dagger is in the "boot knife" category.  That doesn't mean you have to carry it clipped to the top of your boot, it means that it is compact, stays close to your body and is well-concealed.  There are boot knives that are not push daggers, like the A.G. Russell "Sting".  They are good knives and have somewhat more utility for general knife applications than a push dagger.  About all a push dagger does at all well is stab.  But it does a really good job at that — possibly better than any other knife that you can carry on your person. 

These are, by the way, illegal in California, Massachussetts, and probably numerous other places.  If you are stopped by law enforcement anywhere, and they find a push dagger under your shirt, you may well need a lawyer.  I am not a lawyer nor am I a law enforcement officer nor do I have any specific legal expertise.  This is a disclaimer.  You carry one of these, and you are on your own.  You've been warned. 

At the very least, whatever you do, don't forget you're wearing it and try to go through a metal detector at the airport or down at the courthouse.  You'll be in a heap of trouble.

I can tell you for sure that if you ever actually stick another human with a push dagger, it had better be life-and-death or you are going to jail.  You might go to jail even if it is life-and-death and clearly self-defense.  These things look wicked when the prosecutor holds them up in front of a jury.  The same is true for most knives. 

All that said, if I am backed in a corner and my wife or my daughter or my granddaughter is about to be raped and the best weapon I have is a push dagger, I'm more than likely going to use it.  They can send me to prison if they want to.  Odds are I will have saved the state the cost of the would-be rapist's trial — so there's that.  Everybody has to make their decision on their own. 

Laws prohibiting the carry of double-edged knives or auto-opening knives are as nonsensical as laws banning rifles with flash suppressors and bayonet lugs.  Still, a push dagger is effective, and it doesn't require any specific training to use effectively.  It is possible to slash with a dagger, even a push dagger, but they are primarily thrusting weapons. 

This is the bottom line.  In an extreme and desperate situation where a person must prevail against stronger, better armed, and/or more numerous antagonists, the push dagger should be kept out of sight until the last possible moment then used as soon as it is drawn.  It should not even be drawn from the sheath unless the intent is to do great bodily harm to and quite possibly kill the opponent. 

If all they want is your wallet or your car or your money, forget it.  Give it to them.  None of that justifies killing even the lowest form of human life.  If I'm by myself, I'll take a beating before I kill anybody.  I don't mean I'll take a beating without fighting back, but I won't use deadly force.  That's a personal choice as well.  No one has a right to beat another person down.  You have to decide for yourself if you can live with the aftermath of a serious beating better than you can live with blood on your hands.  If I were older, weaker, and more physically frail, or a female, then I could possibly think using deadly force against an attacker might be justified. 

In any case, when the threat ceases, your defense must cease.     

Most of what I've said about the push dagger applies to any knife that a person will carry, especially the now-ubiquitous tactical folder.  If your life depends on a knife, use it with stealth and speed and without hesitancy.  Use it only to stop the threat or to create enough distance to escape.  If you use a knife of any kind, fully expect to answer for what you have done.  If possible use a Taser or pepper spray or even a collapsible baton instead of an edged weapon. 

One excellent way to use a knife such as a SAK or a stockman folder is to use it closed as a fistload to protect your fist when striking.  It might not be as good as a roll of quarters, but you're more likely to have it with you.  As Malcolm Reynolds says, "They say you should never hit a man with your closed fist.  But sometimes it is just hilarious." 

"Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves." 

Fly when you can. 

Be aware of your surroundings.

Think ahead of time about the consequences of possible actions.

Be not indecisive in the pinch.

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