21 Feet

If you hang around the “People of the Gun” soon or later you’ll hear someone repeat as writ gospel that “inside 21 feet a bad guy with a knife has a good chance of killing you.”

As much as I enjoy taking down dogmatic orthodoxy, someone else has done the hard work on this one for me: http://lawofficer.com/exclusive/21footrule/

The “Tueller Drill” is often one of the reasons why people insist that you need to carry in “condition one” with a round in the chamber. LT Tueller’s initial insight into combat ranges for police officers was ground breaking, but like many ground breakers from Marx to Freud, his work is revered far too long after it has been found lacking, and misapplied beyond any defensible position.

What should you know about combat ranges? Less range equals more risk. In a crowded area, someone will have a knife in your back before you can even assess the threat. LT Tueller’s original videos had a well dressed man, who DIDN’T look like a threat, spontaneously pulling out a knife and wildly slashing at a uniformed police officer. Having watched as many real world videos of knife attacks as I can find, exactly none of them played out anywhere near the scenarios that Tueller came up with. It’s like those amazing martial arts moves that happen in the dojo just don’t happen in street fights.

What should you do about combat ranges? Give yourself as wide a tactical response array as possible. Avoid crowds when possible. Learn some basic hand to hand techniques (because you can’t always avoid crowds, and you might want to not shoot someone that day). Carry something other than a pistol such as OC spray or a Tazer. Wear leather or a kevlar biker’s jacket, it won’t stop a knife stab but can slow down a slash a little bit.

The real key to “winning the 21 foot fight” is maintaining situational awareness. Most people who are mugged were asked something reasonable like, “You got the time?” or “Hey man, you got a light?” In order for the perpetrator to close the distance to the victim and begin the assault. The Tueller scenario of a businessman randomly pulling a knife from a briefcase and attacking a police officer isn’t a statistically likely risk for private citizens.

Now I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t carry in condition one and practice your quick draw. By all means do that if it is what you are comfortable with, but don’t do ONLY that. Don’t disparage someone who carries in condition three with “you’ll get someone killed!” nonsense as the statistics of violent encounters don’t support that conclusion.

Since there isn’t good data on what kills armed citizens more, I’ll use a Tuellerism and look at the police data:

Circumstances: Of the 51 officers feloniously killed, 11 were killed while answering disturbance calls, nine were conducting traffic pursuits/stops, seven were ambushed, seven were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, five were conducting investigative activities (such as surveillances, searches, or interviews), four were killed in arrest situations, four were involved in tactical situations, and three were handling persons with mental illnesses. One officer was killed in an unprovoked attack.

Weapons: Offenders used firearms to kill 46 of the 51 victim officers. Of these 46 officers, 33 were slain with handguns, 10 with rifles, and three with shotguns. Four officers were killed with vehicles used as weapons, and one was killed with personal weapons such as hands, fists, or feet.  https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-releases-2014-statistics-on-law-enforcement-officers-killed-and-assaulted

That is the FBI UCR data for 2014. Notice zero knives or stabbing weapons. That isn’t to say they aren’t used, just that they aren’t very lethal when attacking cops.

But, getting back on track, is the 21 foot rule really useful? Lets look at the data for cops who have experienced an ambush scenario: (all graphs taken from https://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-p340-pub.pdf )


Notice that 66.5% of ALL ambushes occur at LESS than 21 feet, with 46.2% happening under ten feet. Unless you are superhuman fast getting your condition one carry gun into the fight is already too slow. Simply carrying in condition one isn’t enough to make up for the lack of time and space with which to react.

So if the distance is tight, are you likely to get off a shot? The data says no.


Only just over a quarter of incidents could the officer even get a shot off. But, in the vast majority of incidents the officer was able to retain their firearm. Clearly having options other than shooting an attacker inside 20 feet is a good thing based on these statistics of 231 different ambush situations.


The above chart clearly states that you are likely to be attacked by someone with a gun, not a knife. So training to stop someone charging with a knife is likely to spend your time addressing a 5% situation, and hoping that the skills will transfer over to the other 95% of likely defense scenarios. Remember from the UCR data that knives are not a successful murder weapon when used against he police.

So, carry as you see fit, train as you see fit, feel free to ignore anything I write here. It’s a free country. Your interpretation of the data presented here may support completely different conclusions than I have presented. You may have really great data for the risks associated with the particular area and environment in which you have to live and work.

But there is one thing you should take away from this, keep your head on a swivel. Maintain awareness of who is getting into your personal space. Control the distance as best you can. And have more than just a gun to respond to a threat.

Comments are open for bitches, gripes, complaints, anecdotes, war stories, fairy tales, factoids, inspirational sayings, and epic poems of adventure.

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3 Responses to 21 Feet

  1. B says:

    I remember a time when “on killing” was the flavor of the month and much like Tipper Gore war on rock&roll, data doesn’t support the proposed reaction. I recently contemplated changing from appendix carry to strong side four o’clock but a friend reminded me of this same information. I’ve been investigating slash proof t-shirt which have come a long way and training at firing from a run (away). I should maybe buy a yellow t-shirt to match my cowardice. I think I might have an allergy to death…

    Now per this blog authors request I shall recite a Klingon war poem…

    tajpe’ joj ‘oy’wI’Daq
    boS yabwImey
    legh choSmeyDaq
    nuqDaq Hon e’be’ pa’
    Qoy ghoghmey tun
    retlh HeH yabmey
    ghIH nuqDaqvIpbe’


  2. Pingback: Condition 3 carry revisited, again. | Wandering Through The Night

  3. Pingback: Accidental firearm injury | Wandering Through The Night

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