A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama, Guns and ‘The Untouchables’

Q. Did President Obama once say of Republicans: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

A: Yes. Obama made those remarks at a fundraiser in Philadelphia during the 2008 presidential campaign. He was paraphrasing a quote from the 1987 mob movie "The Untouchables."


Good evening: A WGN talk show was trying to draw a direct comparison between Pres. Obama and Sarah Palin in BOTH having contributed to the hatred across the country:

The host said while Palin had her crosshairs, Pres. Obama has said (meaning Republicans): "If they bring knives, we will use guns."

I follow politics closely and cannot remember seeing or hearing such a statement, and the show did not site a year or source.

Thanks if you can help, as I'm in a debate with the show host.


We have received a lot of questions about Obama's quote since the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., which left six people dead, injured Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and sparked a national debate about the tone of political discourse.

One reader asked if Obama was misquoted or if the quote was taken out of context, because "it just doesn't sound like Obama." He indeed said it at a 2008 fundraiser in Philadelphia, but the quote may not "sound like Obama" because it was first uttered by Sean Connery in "The Untouchables" — a 1987 movie about Eliot Ness, a federal agent in Chicago who was credited with bringing down mobster Al Capone. Connery played Jim Malone, an honest, tough, Irish American cop recruited by Ness (played by Kevin Costner) to help deal with Chicago mobsters. Connery's character said this in the movie: "Here's how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!"

Obama attended a fundraiser June 13, 2008, at the Sheraton in downtown Philadelphia. Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Chozick provided a "pool report." This is a report of an event provided to all in the media by the one reporter allowed to cover it, when circumstances will not allow for the entire press corps to cover it directly. In her blog, Chozick wrote at the time that the campaign of Republican nominee John McCain criticized Obama for the gun reference. She also said this about the quote's context: "Obama made the comment in the context of warning donors that the general election campaign against McCain could get ugly."

The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., published the entire pool report, which included the quote now attributed to Obama.

Chozick, June 13, 2008: He [Obama] warned that the general election campaign could get ugly. “They’re going to try to scare people. They’re going to try to say that ‘that Obama is a scary guy,’ ” he said. A donor yelled out a deep accented “Don’t give in!”

“I won’t but that sounded pretty scary. You’re a tough guy,” Obama said.

“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

So, yes, Obama said it and now you have the context. We'll leave it to you to decide whether Obama's remarks were appropriate or not.

— Eugene Kiely


Smith, Ben. "Obama brings gun to knife fight." Politico. 14 Jun 2008.

"The Untouchables." The Internet Movie Database. Undated, accessed 14 Jan 2011.

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Eliot Ness." Undated, accessed 14 Jan 2011.

Drobnyk, Josh. "Rendell Drinking the Kool-Aid." The Morning Call. 16 Jun 2011.

Chozick, Amy. "Obama: If They Bring a Knife to the Fight, We Bring a Gun." Wall Street Journal. 14 Jun 2008.