“I can cut him a little bit.” & Ham Sandwiches

Hang around gun people enough and you’ll inevitably meet a knife guy. Hang around them for more than two conversations and you’ll get into a discussion where the knife guy will play his trump card: “Yeah, well you can’t shoot someone a little bit, but you can cut someone a little bit.” And as far as he’s concerned, the discussion is over. Well I have a few problems with this particular bit of self defense community gospel.

Knife defense logical fallacy

Now on the surface of it this seems reasonable. If you shoot someone, he’s been shot, no two ways about it, but you can cut someone just a little bit. After all, who hasn’t cut themselves just a little bit while cooking?


But here’s the thing, this thinking involves the “ham sandwich argument”. Not familiar with it, you should be.


Did you know that a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness? I’ll prove it: I think we can all agree that there is nothing better than eternal happiness. And that a ham sandwich is better than nothing. Therefore a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness.


So what gives? Karl Marx’s Das Kapital starts off using the word “capitalist” to mean “someone who seeks to maximise profits by satisfying as many customer wants as possible”, but by the end of the book he’s using the same word in a way that is inconsistent with his earlier (and much more accurate) definition of the word “capitalist”. Same things goes with ham sandwiches. In the opening lines, the word “nothing” is used to mean “there is no thing”. But in the closing, “nothing” means “having no thing”. Marx, the ham sandwich argument and all those “I’ll cut him a little bit” guys are changing the definition of the word half-way through their arguments.


When someone says “you can’t shoot him a little bit”, they mean that he’s either been shot or not. They are talking in absolutes. Discrete events. Kinda like binary, there’s only 0’s (not shot) or 1’s (shot). There are no fractions or decimals in between. But when they say “you can cut him a little bit”, if we apply the same standard of absolutes, then he’s either cut (binary 1)  or he hasn’t been cut (binary 0). So when they say “cut a little bit”, now we’re talking spectrum/continuum problems. They’ve switched to “I’m a little bit pregnant” thinking. We can apply this continuum thinking to gunshots as well: What if the bullet on scratches the skin and doesn’t even draw blood? What if you only shoot off his pinky finger? What if cut off his pinky finger instead? Think the guy you shot/cut, the prosecutor, the magistrate, or the other guy’s family will think there’s a difference?

stab wounds
Honestly officer, I only cut him with a ham sandwich.

The root of this dual thinking is, I believe, based on a lack of legal understanding. There’s been big hypes in the gun communities across the world for many years now about, for lack of a better term, legal hysteria. Everybody’s being shitting themselves about having to shoot anyone because there’s this legal stigma attached to it. Like you’re automatically going to be considered the bad guy for having used a firearm (Weeeellll, how well can you articulate decisions?). The problem comes in because guns have always been demonised, and so the use of a knife just hasn’t been mentioned in the news or gun circles. Because of this people have had the chance to delude themselves into thinking that using a knife is different, mostly because the anti-gun hype has prevented any MSM (mainstream media) mention of knife use. (I’ll give you a hint: knives are also considered a lethal force instrument. Heck, even if your folder’s closed it’s legally a lethal weapon. Think of it as a pistol with an empty chamber. You still introduced a lethal implement, the prosecutor doesn’t care if it’s a chamber empty pistol or a closed folder)


Legally stupid

This brings up my next point of irritation: Legally, if you pulled a knife it’s usually the same as pulling a pistol at him. If you cut him, it’s the same as having shot him. Which thinking do you think the prosectuor will encourage? The continuum thinking of “Weeeell the defendant only shot his pinky off you know.” or the absolutes thinking of “The defendant severed his entire finger”? And the responding cops? They want to know if you cut him of not. They don’t care about degrees, just that your knife made contact (even that you just pulled a knife).


For the record, I am absolutely in favour of knives as weapons to be carried. I think they’re highly effective up close. I am also very interested in making sure that if any of you ever do have to stand in front of a judge, that you’re not arguing about degrees of severity when you cut him when the judge is thinking in terms of absolutes (another hint: If the judge only cares if you cut him at all (absolute thinking), and you then proceed to tell him about how careful you were in cutting him only a little bit, then the judge might hear the first bit about you being careful to cut him, and just blank out the rest of what you said.)


Another very important note: I am not a lawyer. Check with your local lawyers about this stuff. Preferably more than one. My experiences with lawyers have been 50% terrible and 50% great. The law varies by country, and sometimes by state/province within a country. So check. The legal system varies by prosecutor, by magistrate and by mood, whims and political pressures on the aforementioned.


And finally, if Mr “I do knife fighting” uses the word “just”, as in I’ll just cut him a little bit” then find someone else to talk to. This is what Marc MacYoung calls Talisman thinking. Like a super-secret spec-ops move that will always work, there is not “just” in self defense. Acting on this line of thought is a great way to talk yourself into doing irresponsible things (like doing something stupid – going to the ATM at 3 am “I’ll just take my flashlight and everything’ll be fine; or like not realising that there are more factors in play than you know about – if you know that you’ll “just” do something, then there’s no need to look into it any further). This thinking is usually a one-way ticket to trouble if you ever end up in a situation. In this case study “… just cut him a little bit” likely denotes that the speaker has decided that “cutting him a little bit” is a suitable response for when he can’t cut him a lot and kill him. I.e. that a knife can be used in a less lethal manner. Again, legally, this is bad. “Sure the drunken dude only tried to punch me, then basically fell over, that’s why I only cut him a little bit.” You’ve just admitted that Means, Ability (and possibly even Opportunity) were missing (i.e. it was no longer self defense), but you still used a lethal weapon on him. Even if he got up and kept trying to hit you, a low level threat doesn’t warrant a high level response.


I think I can sum this up best with: If you wouldn’t shoot him in that situation, then don’t stab him.


2 thoughts on ““I can cut him a little bit.” & Ham Sandwiches”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s