• James Willis, Jr.

More Than Assault Rifles

When people think of violence in our society today, one of the first images that comes to mind is an assault rifle. The past few decades have left us with terrifying images of the lone gunman roaming the halls of a school, church, or office building, or stalking innocent people from a dark alley, usually carrying a scary looking “assault” rifle. However, as visually striking these images may be, for most Americans the greater threat to their safety comes from other weapons, particularly handguns, as well as knives, blunt objects, and even an attacker’s bare hands.

Even though rifles such as the AR-15 are prominently highlighted by the media due to their visual impact and their use in some recent high-profile attacks, data shows that handguns are used in over 75% of all firearm related murders. According to the FBI, in 2017, just over 7,000 victims the US were murdered with handguns, yet that number is certainly higher as over 3,000 more murders are labeled as “unidentified firearm”. That same year the number of murders caused by rifles was 403 and shotguns was listed at 264.

Knives are the second most common deadly weapon (~1,500 murders) in the US and the most common used in many other countries. In the United Kingdom for example, 285 people were listed as being killed in knife attacks in 2017-2018. This is the highest number of knife murders since the end of World War II. In all, about 39% of violent deaths in England and Wales came from knives and sharp objects. The United Kingdom is a country famous for its strict firearm control policies, indeed handguns are generally forbidden everywhere except Northern Ireland and rifles and shotguns require permits and have other controls. Yet violent crime, including homicide, has been on the rise in the country. Between March 2017 and March 2018, the homicide rate in England and Wales was 12.4 per million(1). While that number is lower than the national peak of 17.9 in 2003, that last time the murder rate was lower than this century’s low of 8.9 (2003) was in 1977. In 2018 only 4% of British homicides came from shootings.

Knife attacks are common across the globe. Especially in places with strict gun laws. On May 28th, a Japanese man attacked a group of schoolgirls waiting for the bus outside Tokyo, killing 2 and injuring ~17 before taking his own life. In 2016, A Japanese man stabbed 4 people in a library for not receiving a satisfactory answer to his questions. It must be noted that Japan prides itself on having one of the lowest crime rates in the world. As these examples show, no matter the violent instrument is used; crime is crime. The takeaway – dead is dead, and murder is murder regardless of the weapon used.

One thing that you need to realize, is that someone intent on doing harm will usually succeed to some extent. And they will use the easiest and most effective weapons available. If firearms are denied to them, they will go to the next best thing, usually a knife. Indeed, knives can be deceptively useful as concealed weapons. Knives are easier to carry unobserved than most firearms, which allows an attacker to get closer to their intended victims. And, as opposed to firearms, most people aren’t usually expecting someone to come at them with a knife. Where someone will have to explain why they are carrying a handgun, even if they’re lawfully, most people don’t look twice at someone carrying a knife. Many of us carry pocketknives or have hunting knives amongst their things. Many people who don’t like or approve of firearms will carry a security or utility knife instead of a handgun. After knives, the “weapon” most responsible for death was the attacker’s own fists, with 696 cases in 2017, followed by blunt objects with 467 cases in 2017.

The bottom line is that your security training shouldn’t focus on response to any one type of attack (especially just long-guns), but it should also cover handgun, knife and blunt instrument attacks. Yes, plan for an active shooter situation, but take into account that the weapon may be something else.


1)The UK murders rates are based on “the outcome of the investigation and trial”, all other deaths are listed as "violent deaths of interest to the police" and not counted. The US counts all pretrial violent, non-accidental, non-natural, non-self-inflicted, non-negligent deaths as homicide. (

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