In “The Thirteenth Hole,” the bad guys are out on the links, pretending that they’re interested in their golf game. When they get to the thirteenth hole, they find an agent snooping around. Reed tells his caddy that he wants his “303” golf club. This turns out to be a rifle, with which Reed shoots and kills the agent.
Later, when Steed and Mrs Peel are heading out for their final showdown with the villains, Mrs Peel pulls a walking stick out of Steed’s golf bag. Steed says that it’s actually a sword stick, but later when they’re fighting in the villains’ hideout Steed discovers that he brought the wrong stick from home: this one is a plain walking stick, no shiny sharp objects included.
One of the enduring myths about The Avengers is that Steed did not carry a gun. He didn’t carry one often, and he didn’t use one often, true, but he did own one and he absolutely did use a gun in circumstances that demanded it. However, on the whole, Steed does prefer to avoid using firearms if he can.
I think that the juxtaposition of the bad guy’s rifle with Steed’s sword stick in “Thirteenth Hole” says something important about Steed and his approach to fighting. Steed likes his battles up close and personal. If he has to fight, he wants to do it man to man, with fists, with swords, with umbrellas, with teapots, or with anything else within reach that might be useful. But whatever he uses, he prefers the fight to be him and the baddies, toe to toe.
Using firearms, by contrast, is impersonal. A gun throws death and injury from a safe distance. A bad guy using a gun doesn’t see a human being: he sees a target, a piece of meat that he wants to put a hole into, and the person he kills can die not knowing what hit them.
I think Steed prefers hand-to-hand combat because his battles with diabolical masterminds are personal to him. It’s not usually personal as in a personal animus against whatever particular mastermind he might be facing at the time (except in unusual circumstances such as with Cartney and Willy in “Touch of Brimstone”). But Steed really hates the destruction and harm the villains cause. He hates it when innocent people are hurt or killed, and he wants to stop the villains in their tracks and make it right for the survivors.
There’s also an issue of cowardice vs courage involved. It takes just about no courage to pull a trigger on an unarmed foe from a distance, or on someone who might be armed but isn’t aware that they’re about to get shot. But fencing with an opponent who also has a sword and knows what he is doing? Coming out swinging against an enemy who also can defend themselves? It takes bravery to wade into a flurry of fists or defend against the thrusts and slashes of a sharpened blade.
Steed is no coward. He not only talks a good game against the villains, he risks his body and his very life to stop them. And if he is going to have to fight the baddies, he wants them to see his eyes when he defeats them. He wants them to know exactly who put them out of business. Because it’s personal.