The 21 Foot Rule and Over-reliance on Firearms

First off let me say there is a definite need for firearms in personal and third party security in certain environments and situations.  I firmly support the right to keep and bear arms and also recognize their utility in many different scenarios. That said some people put too much confidence in their ability to use their weapon to protect themselves against a myriad of threats.

This over-reliance can cause them to downplay or ignore skills like situational awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, less than lethal weapons and unarmed combatives.  There are good legal and ethical reasons for considering and training in skillsets across the use of force continuum.  Obviously using a firearm is not the best response to every situation.  Beyond that there are also good tactical reasons to use other options.

Consider the 21 foot rule.  Originally presented by Dennis Tueller, a sergeant in the Salt Lake City, Utah Police Department in an article called “How Close is Too Close?” published in SWAT Magazine in 1983, the 21 foot rule posits that a police officer with his or her weapon holstered will not be able to respond in time to stop an attacker armed with a knife attacking from 21 feet or less distance.  In other words someone with a knife can cover 21 feet (7 meters) of ground and attack the officer before he or she can draw their weapon and shoot the attacker.

In the years since the idea was first introduced it has been debated and some have argued the distance is actually more than 21 feet – proposing 30 feet or some other number.  We don’t need to dwell on this – suffice to say that there is a very real concern that a motivated assailant could attack an armed citizen / law enforcement officer / protective agent, etc. before they have an opportunity to use their weapon to defend themselves.  Additionally, it’s important to realize the attacker doesn’t need to have a knife or some other edged weapon.  An impact weapon or even bare hands can constitute a very significant threat if the attacker can rapidly close with and engage the victim.

For this reason its critical that persons involved in daily weapons carriage, either for personal protection or professional reasons practice awareness and have some level of skill at unarmed combatives – at least enough to defend against the initial assault and create a gap where they can safely draw their weapon.

Unfortunately too many people believe carrying a firearm in and of itself is a “magic bullet” – excuse the pun.  As we see illustrated in the 21 foot rule – having a firearm is no assurance if it can’t be deployed in time in the face of an oncoming threat.  It’s critical that defensive skills be more complete than just firearms skills for a variety of reasons.  Not the least of which is the tactical reality than you might not get your weapon into play in the face of a sudden threat.


9 Responses to The 21 Foot Rule and Over-reliance on Firearms

  1. Excellent Post brother. I agree 100%, most assaults will occur within arm’s reach, meaning that, unless you were able to covertly draw the handgun and have it at retention, while intercepting / jamming the initial strike/ attempt to grab, your gun taken away/ it won’t have effect on target / its utility will be reduced.

    In the case of an attacker with a knife, unless shot exactly in the “credit Card” area (Between the upper lip and the eyes where the Medulla is), the bad guy will still have enough momentum to crash into its intended victim. Meaning stabs/ slashes/ uncool stuff gets done to you..

    Like you said, avoidance, deterrence, escape, deescalation, unarmed combatives before drawing that handgun.

    Unless the attacker(s) is at a distance already, in that case, the handgun will give you that edge.

  2. veritaze says:

    Reblogged this on Veritaze and commented:
    2 police killed by crazy knife-wielder (graphic)

    See also: sawed-off shotgun, pistol-grip

    There was a police ballistics analysis I read recently where over 20 officers spent over 100 rounds trying to subdue one subject, who had taken I think 15 rounds of 2 different calibers before they finally got him. One bullet had shattered and broken his upper arm while another had shattered his foot after an officer shot under the car.

    Carry and know your knife and learn some basic hand-to-hand, fatboy. Once a zombie closes the distance, hopefully you can run or fight effectively.

  3. Pingback: The 21 Foot Rule and Over-Reliance on Firearms « YouViewed/Editorial

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