Concealed Carry

The Dangers of the 21-Foot Rule

Police Officer aiming a Glock pistol with a red barn in the background

The word “rule” has been carelessly tossed about by law enforcement and CCW trainers for decades—perhaps it was just misunderstood. In truth, when talking about the 21-foot rule, most are referring to the “Tueller Drill.” Careless lips have led to some dangerous conclusions, especially among the civilian population. It’s a confusion that’s being cynically exploited to get headlines, and it has even reared its ugly head in the courtroom a time or two, but it needs to be addressed for safety.

Police Officer aiming a Glock pistol with a red barn in the background
Teuller’s drill is well suited to law enforcement and civilians, but the 21-Foot Rule is not.

What Is the 21-Foot Rule?

My first introduction to this topic came about 25 years ago while attending the sheriff’s academy. I remember the class and, more important, the video “Surviving Edged Weapons.” The video and instructional seminars were based on research by Salt Lake City trainer Dennis Tueller. The “21-Foot Rule” was a measure of distance that related to the time it would take an officer to recognize a threat, draw a sidearm, and fire two rounds center mass against an attacker charging with a knife or other stabbing weapon.

To be clear, this article is not intended to be the rule or guide to law enforcement. In fact, most of what this article covers will be common knowledge to today’s LEOs. However, I would hope those with experience behind the badge will chime in and challenge or correct the assertions I scribe here by supplementing it with their own experiences. The ultimate purpose is to give some real-world guidance to the nonprofessional concealed gun handlers reading The Shooter’s Log.


The first issue I have with the 21-Foot Rule is the belief that it is somehow rooted in police doctrine or a legal standard. Removing the number “21” and the word “rule” would go a long way toward dispelling the myth. Tueller’s research did not culminate in a rule; you are not suddenly safer at 22 feet than you were at 20. It is important to distinguish that Tueller developed a drill, not a standard.

Shooter behind cover
Movement and the use of cover is your best defense against any attacker. The is doubly true of an attacker with an edged weapon.

Just as many firearm enthusiasts insist the distinction between a modern sporting rifle and an assault rifle, magazine versus a clip, and a dozen other examples we could come up with off the top of our heads. I believe we need to properly identify our subject as the Tueller Drill and not the 21-Foot Rule. This is not only factually true, it goes a long way toward setting the correct mindset of the neophyte gun handler.

There were two main conclusions that can be contributed to Tueller’s research. First, an attacker with a knife could cover 21 feet in about 1.5 seconds. (This is not word for word, but it covers the general gist.) Second, a helluva lot of law enforcement would be lucky to recognize a threat, unholster their sidearm, and successfully stop the threat from being able to deliver a blow with a knife in less than 1.5 seconds. This was quite a revelation at the time and created much discussion.


Tueller’s lesson should not indicate that anyone, even if they have a knife in hand, is a justified bullet sponge. How many of us carry a pocketknife? Every waitress or busboy in a restaurant would have a target on their chest. Not even in the context of a heated confrontation could you immediately jump to this conclusion. The lesson does not teach that we should shoot a hostile actor with a knife if they are within 21 feet. The lesson merely put a number to the test data and created a mindset for officers to rethink their response and posture to a threat or potentially sudden dynamic attack.

The mindset was fine, but the lessons that followed…not so much. Tueller’s research revealed training deficiencies of the day. As previously stated, it created a lot of discussion, which was good. Where it went wrong, in my opinion, was when they started teaching the number over the mindset. I recall this being demonstrated on the range at the academy. A large, intimidating deputy with a rubber knife rushed a student from 21 feet. The deputy did not run, just marched at a quick pace wielding the knife over his head and screaming obscenities.

Bob Campbell shooting a 1911 pistol from a retention position
Seldom in an emergency situation where you have to draw and fire quickly will you ever see the gun’s sights.

The student had to recognize the threat’s approach, unsnap his holster, and draw his weapon. He failed. In fact, the truth be told, we all failed. Some may have cleared leather and pulled the trigger, but the threat was so close he still would have struck a blow falling on you. Let’s not forget the audience here. You are likely carrying concealed, not openly in a Sam Brown.

The 21-Foot Lesson was—graphically—received. Unfortunately, at the time, we learned the number more than the correct lesson. In time, however, we learned to get off the “X” instead of being a static target. Instead of backing up in a straight line, we were taught to react by moving “off-line.” (Attackers in these scenarios may be so enraged they continue on the beeline path instead of tracking you.) More important, we were taught to read body language, situational awareness (which directions could you move off-line, soft and hard cover, etc.), reactionary gaps, and other close-quarters defensive techniques not involving a firearm.

Final Thoughts

The focus of The Shooter’s Log does not include training civilians to be cops or instruction in matters of law enforcement. However, I see far too many videos of self-professed firearm trainers, tactical weapons specialists, home defense “experts,” and even a few prior LEOs who teach like they did to officers or cadets at the academy or in the military and not to civilians. Sadly, I would say while I respect the effort, they have no business standing in front of a student. Too often, I have heard friends (after such training, watching a cop show on TV, or reading something on the Internet) throw out the term “21-Foot Rule”  and improperly state it as a threshold of safe versus justifiable homicide.

I hope, after reading this and the comments from readers with much more knowledge and experience than I have, that you dedicate some of your concealed carry training to going beyond the minimum gun-handling skills and—as important—practicing your communication skills, situational awareness, and good old-fashioned common sense.

What is your impression of the 21-Foot Rule? Have you ever heard of the Tueller Drill? Have you practiced it? Share your answers, opinions, or experiences in the comment section.


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (77)

  1. once married was enough for me. after having a few girls friends for even the same amount of time i just gave up. it would be nice but the problems it brought with it was just to muck. no one would stay if they were anti gun or else they would change their views. anyone that marries someone to change them, well, they are in for trouble.

    the 21 foot rule is telling you to be prepared so you aren’t trying to catch up.if you notice a knife big or small, a stick, bat, club, a liquid bottle with a fuse out of it and a lighter, a pipe with a fuse out of it, or a gun no mater how far away, you should prepare, get your hand on the gun, maybe draw it or not. if the perp is focused on you it should be drawn. if he is yelling and starts toward you, or be taking to you and starts toward you, or just starts toward you get the gun out before he does or at least have your hand on it so the draw will be quicker. you should get off his line perpendicular, or close to it, the hypotenuses of a triangle he will be taking will always be a longer distance, you can even go back the other dirtection and gain more feet.. once he has made you involve producing the gun might just end it and even if it doesn’t you will be able to shoot him quicker.the 21 foot rule is just one that tells you start your draw if you can before he starts to run. why, because you know how bad things can go down quickly. be a step a head. be aware of your surroundings, it tells you you need to be aware quicker and move of the x and keep move off the x it makes his distance further . it also means we all should be practicing shoot on the move. even if he has a gun you should be moving and if you can shoot while moving and he can’t shoot a moving target, you just might win.of course if you show the gun early it might stop the whole problem. i know the 2 times i pulled a gun stopped the incident right off. one was a guy throwing rocks at me, the other were 4 guys with chain, bats, knife and one i could not see both hands and on i could no see what was in his hand. they were coming at me and my friend. i pulled a little 380 fyi and you have never seen 4 people run as fast back to their car. i pointed the gun at the guy i could not see what was in his hand, and after they got back in the car i pointed the gun at the driver thinking he might come forward with the car. instead the car got out of there quickly. i hope i never have to shoot anyone but i will if the circumstances require it.BE AWARE AND IF THINGS LOOK DANGEROUS GET CLOSER TO DRAWING YOUR GUN OR DRAWING IT. IF NEED BE KEEP A LOW PROFILE OF IT. the guy throwing the rocks i had my glock 40 holding it under my arm pit and it was not noticed until i drew it, it was easy the butt was right there. so there are was you can keep it hidden even if you draw at the right time, even covering it with the other arm like your hands are aware and start you defense as early as you can, move off the X and keep moving off the X. i am going to practice firing while i am moving a lot more i think.

    1. ART, I see from your comment that you have learned the proper mindset and are prepared to defend yourself IF NEEDED. Good for you that you have done this. Many years back in my life, I had to face a gun and talked my way out of that one – would do it again if I can but am ready to defend myself if needed.

    2. i have not had to talk my way out of someone with a gun, it is good you could the best fight is the one you are not in.i live in one of those places everyone tells you to stay out is kind of hard to do when you live there.i opened a small shop 30 years ago and the last 2 it has lost money i doubt i will open up next year. over the period of those 30 years i have been threatened with death by large gangs. big national gangs. i have learned to live in the state of orange.the latest is a big coke ring. that gang has threatened me twice now with death and just a few weeks ago i was suckered punch after he told me he was going to slit my throat. a wild hook to the back of my head.i guess he thought he was going to knock me out, but it didn’t. i guess i got a little lax after he kept faking the hook.he then backed up out of reach and felt proud of what he had done. he misjudged me, he was not out of my legs reach, so i kicked him in the balls. he then started claiming i assaulted him. i have a camera system but when he hit me it was out of any of the cameras. i did not know it at the time so i called the police. it did show him as the aggressor though. went to court and had to leave early and do not know what happened yet. he did move off the street. at 70 i am not moving and my knees, well, i am not going to run.i have had stage 3 cancer andmy aortic valve replaced with a pigs. i certainly try and avoid fights if i can but it seems sometimes it is unavoidable. i have a medium size mutt now after my 2 rotties were poisoned. the police won’t help me with these large quantity coke dealers and what i tell the police gets back to the street, so i am not very well likesince over the years i have been threatened over 1/2 dozen tines with death from different national gangs it has become natural to pay close attention to my surroundings. they might be qble to kill me, but they can’t scare me.

      just have bad luck i guess. i rented my parents house out for the first time. they were renters from hell. they destroyed the place. every day off for over 1 and 1/2 years i have been working on it. my sister said i should check it for meth and i did. it turned up positive for it had to do most of the work my self and it certainly has destroyed my finances. it is getting closer to being done but still needs a lot of work. i called the law 2 times and got no response, they did not seem to care they were producing meth there and probably where they moved to. i am getting so tired of the police not doing anything. of course i keep writing 2 jurisdictions chiefs because they would not do anything. i guess i have pissed them off is harder then it ever has been but i keep plugging away.
      this will sound crazy but i believe all drugs should be legal just as prohibition does not ever work neither does the war on drugs. even if they do legalize all the drugs we have made sure we will be dealing through perpetuity with the cartels just as we did with the mafia. crazy, we can’t even learn from history. all this work cleaning up the drugs has not been good for my health i am sure of that. sorry for the rant i just get so pissed over the thing and lack of response from 2 different jurisdictions. my problem though i found out is they combined the narcotics would be nice if they did their job. you would think they would want to find the snitch in the midst.

  2. Condolences on your loss.

    My brother was strange in some ways. Anti-war, yet taught martial arts. He also owned a .45 1911 which he took to the range regularly. H said it helped with his hand eye coordination… and relieved stress. Then he remarried and his wife made him get rid of it. While I’m between spouses, both my priors were pro-gun. The second one said when someone gets divorced there should be a crime amnesty period and whichever one was left standing got everything. LOL

  3. a stick is a stick….

    Because commoners were not permitted to have weapons, or ever touch one, martial arts took everyday tools, the rake, hoe, scythe, and so on and turned them into weapons, along with the weapons the parts of the body became, fingers, knife, axe, club, etc. Anything can be a weapon. We were taught next to nothing in martial arts in the military. I am very thankful we had a ROK Major as an instructor in Vietnam who taught the history and the spiritual sides of martial arts along with the moves.

    On a side note, my kid brother was anti-war but was flown to Japan each year for additional training by his dojo. He was in training to become a Master, and taught at the UofCalif. Unfortunately, cancer brought him down too soon.

    1. DAVE W. May I express sorrow for the loss of your younger brother. I lost my youngest brother in February of this year. On the information you expressed in your comment on “A stick is a stick” is very true for many countries and cultures in history. The origin of many weapons were common farming tools or household items that were pressed into service when needed by commoners to defend themselves. Those weapons became systems of defense over a period of time and are now incorporated into Martial Arts Styles and taught to students. There is always a need however for a student to learn all the basic techniques for hands, feet and body, etc before learning weapons as if the weapon is removed the person is defenseless without the basics to fall back on. Thank you for your comment and information.

  4. Maybe we need a conceal permit Rule–also you add feet or second depend on your age or Disability, Think about It.

    In driving School you have the 2 second rule –Then you add road condition etc–raining add 2 more second–Bad brakes add 1 more second–some jerk is on your Bumper add 2 more second–Get It -???

  5. I am reading the comments above and can see that few of you have ever seen the video Surviving edged weapons or any video along that line. Let me offer insight please.

    I am fourtunate enough to have been a student and instructor of FMA (Filipino Martial Arts) for these last 20 years. In FMA we practice with edged and impact weapons almost primarily; the Filipino Culture being a Bladed Society. I have been lucky enough to be a student of a gentleman named Leo T. Gaje. Leo is a Grandmaster (we say Grand Tuhon) of an art called Pekiti Tirsia Kali or PTK for short. PTK has been called the world’s deadliest martial art; indeed FMA in general certainly is. Leo starred in this film and several others just like it over the years. Produced primarily for Law Enforcement Officers it was not designed to demonstrate how slow you can be when drawing a weapon, but rather how FAST one can be when crossing a seemingly large distance. It was meant to show how not only can a man with motivation or training move in such a way as to eliminate distance as a deciding factor but also to demonstrate that not everyone an LEO encounters cares whether or not he/she lives or dies. The second factor of course being the scariest, especially in today’s society of enhanced threats.

    The lessons taken away from the 21 foot rule is that static positioning when drawing a weapon can be fatal for the LEO and an LEO should be prepared to use other defensive tactics including employment of an impact weapon such as a baton or knife or chair in addition to primary service weapons. Also learning to utilise even a small amount of mano a mano can and will save your life.

    I encourage everyone reading this to seek out PTK or FMA instructors and learn one or two good techniques to fall back on, it may save your life. Tell them Guro Michael sent you..

    1. Michael Paliotta, You are absolutely correct in your knowledge that because a person can move much faster then expected, anybody that is not practiced in MOVING OFF LINE or USING ANYTHING TO DEFEND ONE’S SELF means that person is very venerable to attack. Like you I have studied Martial Arts for over 40 years, learning Korean Hapkido from the Koreans in Korea and one thing that was taught more than any other was to MOVE WHEN ATTACKED, secondly was USE ANYTHING AS A WEAPON from the simple to the specialized Martial Arts weapons used in Hapkido. Since then I have also learned many more weapons and techniques of their use, however the basic techniques learned in Korea do not change much no matter the weapon (Example: a stick is a stick doesn’t matter how short or long it may be if you know how to use it, it becomes a weapon.). Many persons do not take the time to even learn how to use one weapon let alone several different types of weapons to save their lives and to me just like you they are not preparing themselves to defend their lives from attack. Thanking you for your dedication to Martial Arts and you words of WISDOM TO OTHERS.

  6. This has been an insightful discussion. I doubt anyone that has been a Concealed Carrier for any length of time takes issue with the term ‘rule’. We all know it is a basic guide for minimum distance to reveal and/or present. It is that 1.5 seconds for someone who is 100% ready to go, but none of us are (be honest), so we know that is bare minimum. I believe the problem lies with non-shooters perception of the term ‘rule’. Just as explaining why I would want to reload for my hunting rifle or for my handgun for practice; they cannot fathom why someone would need 21 feet or more as a defensive zone.

    We are told we will be judged by a jury of our peers, if that were true, there would be only CCW holders on the jury. But, we will at best have 2 or 3, probably none. Now our Lawyer needs to convince the rest of them the distance between ourselves and the attacker was indeed reasonable even though the prosecutor or the deceased family’s Law Dog said the ‘rule’ was 21 feet and you drew at 28.

    We are each different. You are probably faster than I am. I have had shoulder reconstruction, then later shattered the top of arm. Sorry, If you attack me with a ball bat or knife; I will try to de-escalate things, escape or evade first, but if you charge or crowd me I will not wait until you are 21 feet away before I draw.

  7. I think everyone is making too much of the term “rule”. The first definition (below) is “a prescribed guide for conduct or action”. A “guide” does not equate with a mandatory procedure. In the words of ‘Slick Willie Clinton, it depends on what your definition of is is.’ It is also ” a usually valid generalization” or “a standard of judgment”.

    In my career I have experienced a lot of training and a lot of rules which were subject to existing conditions. This “rule” is only a guide for training purposes used in a classroom environment for demonstration purposes. People are always mixing terms, like when they use the term automatic for a semi-automatic, or call a revolver a pistol. Things I learned which were called “rules” were often not what I considered so. In the field, I used common sense. I didn’t run through a mental list of “rules” in order to decide what action to take.

    Definition of rule
    a a prescribed guide for conduct or action
    b the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members
    c an accepted procedure, custom, or habit
    d (1)
    a usually written order or direction made by a court regulating court practice or the action of parties
    (2) a legal precept or doctrine
    e a regulation or bylaw governing procedure or controlling conduct
    a (1) a usually valid generalization
    (2) a generally prevailing quality, state, or mode
    b a standard of judgment
    c a regulating principle
    d a determinate method for performing a mathematical operation and obtaining a certain result
    a the exercise of authority or control :
    b a period during which a specified ruler or government exercises control
    a a strip of material marked off in units used especially for measuring
    ruler 3, tape measure
    b a metal strip with a type-high face that prints a linear design; also
    a linear design produced by or as if by such a strip

    as a rule

    for the most part

    1. We had the benefit of a couple lessons re the”rubber knife at 21 feet” in a TN Tactical Handgun Class some yrs ago.. IMHO only 2 out of 12 students got off even one shot b4 being “stabbed’..I was not one of them.
      What it taught me was ‘……”situational awareness is very important” and I put that in the top 3 things I consider in self-defense:
      1. have a loaded gun
      2. have the WILL to shoot
      3. situatinal awareness

  8. Yep. Los Angeles. Six rounds of .357 point blank by a patrolman in a bear hug with a scrawny little PCP user finally brought him to a halt in the 1970s

  9. I remember as a young Special Agent in our Firearms Instructor class, we were assigned to create a video on a topic of our choice. Mine was on the reality of using an ankle holster (the SA rage in the 80’s). Though I didn’t title it as such, I used the Tueller drill to demonstrate that crouching statically while trying to draw from the ankle could get you killed, even by a rubber hatchet wielding attacker at 7 yds. walking a moderate pace. To our boar-killing Dirty Harry friend, good luck. I hope it never happens to you.

  10. While drills and theories are well and fine for training, one basic I have learned in over 37 years of LE and Corrections is: NO TWO SITUATIONS ARE EVER THE SAME. And, there is no drill or theory to counter this fact.

  11. As I read these comments it seems the important part of this drill is learning to move off-line. So maybe the next article could be about the OODA process and disrupting your attackers. A good book on this entire topic is “Left of Bang” by Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley. Avail. on amazon and select bookstores.

    1. Very good , moving off line is very important when we did this drill in MACP it was plainly shown that at 21Ft. you could not reliably draw and fire (airsoft) without evasion and that is without the OODA decide because you knew it was coming.

  12. If you were taught the 21 foot rule as a Rule you were taught wrong. The 21 foot rule is a Tool to be considered with other information you combined from Situational Awareness and information gathered from your contact with the person that May pose a threat. In your overall assessment of your situation forget about any Stand Your Ground law at this time. Remember your not an assassin, your either a LEO or a private citizen protecting yourself. After you have confirmed an imminent threat, and your situational awareness determined NO better place of defense, the Stand Your Ground Law enters your decision. And this all occurs within 1.5 seconds if the threat is within 21 feet. So always keep in your mind your situational awareness, ALWAYS. Anytime your strap on a gun and when you aren’t your mind should be in overdrive assessing and reassessing your surroundings and situation, Situational awareness. If your are unable to do this or don’t want to do this, leave your gun at home. Also remember not all men are equal, some may take a little longer than 21 seconds to close the distance and some may take a little less.

  13. I use this drill when teaching people to shoot under pressure. We start at 21′ and then adjust to a distance that works. The goal is to show them how different it is when pulling their weapon under pressure. We always start with dry fire and rightfully so. When someone does this for the first time, a drop cloth or fall friendly surface like grass is nice when things get fumbled.
    As someone who lives in the woods, it’s good to practice in a natural environment. The goal is to get a reality check of what it truly takes to present a weapon. In the end the distance used by the runner is a mark for improvement. Animals cover ground faster than humans, learning to draw & fire quickly and accurately is the greatest chance for survival.

  14. Obviously the author never saw a 200lb wild boar DROP like a stone, in his tracks, after a single shot. ONE well placed shot will take the legs out from under any assailant — IMMEDIATELY. That’s why they call it being “Stopped DEAD in his tracks.” And if the caliber is large enough, it may even knock him BACKWARDS, or cause him to lose his grip on a weapon. Whoever wrote this article FAILED to take these factors into account. What was he using a PEASHOOTER ?

    1. Obviously, you’ve never seen a 200 lb guy on PCP, or some other similar drug. Also, there’s cases where people have been dropped with a well-placed .22 shot, and cases where large calibers didn’t stop them, although I would rather have a .45 or .357 in my hand vs a .22 if I were ever in that situation.

    2. Not sure what you’re commenting on but regardless it’s a pretty asinine statement. When I was stationed at Camp Pendleton a female Marine was shot in her barracks room by the man she recently dumped. She was shot 6 times in the chest and abdomen with a 10mm from less than 10ft and survived. There are countless accounts of humans being shot multiple times and continuing to fight. Yes 1 well placed shot, the fatal T, will put down a person. But to imply you only need to shoot once in a defensive situation is just stupid. I don’t know many people carrying a 30.06, .308, 7mm Magnum for their defense firearm.

    3. Have you ever faced a charging 200 lb wild boar at 21-30 feet and had to draw and fire your weapon for self defense? i agree a well aimed shot with the proper bullet and load can drop a boar or even a grizzly dead in their tracks. But that well aimed shot takes a some time and proper breathing and trigger pull technique to make.Not the type of luxury you have in a shoot/don’t shoot situation The author, I believe was talking about average normal people either on a police force where carrying a hand cannon like you described as knocking you backwards and losing your grip implies, is not permitted. And most reasonably intelligent licensed carry citizens won’t carry one because in their environment they’re not likely to encounter wild boar. I believed the author passed in his article, taking into account his target audience and purpose.

  15. I read your article with interest since I was trained by Dennis. It was in the mid 70’s and not much time was spent on “Officer Survival”. Thanks to Dennis we as a department were light years ahead of most police department in that time! I want to thank then Sgt. Dennis Tueller for the training and forward looking training, that training helped me “survive” 25 years on the street! Thanks

  16. From a train video a gunner firing on a person in the open with no close cover was recommended if possible to run 90 degrees to shooter to force the shooter to have to track the person if you run away or toward the shooter you make an easy target. Your recommendations about dealing with a blade sounds similar. Great article May God protect all LEO

  17. The late Louis Awerbuck had a great way of teaching the lessons of the Tueller Drill. It was conducted in three stages with inert training weapons (blue gun and rubber knife). A class volunteer made three different “attacks” on Louis from 21-feet. The first: Louis had his back turned and the attacker launched and Louis responded (drew and presented while standing on “X”) upon an oral signal from the timekeeper. The drill ended when Louis yelled “Bang!” In this first drill, he got off a simulated defensive shot when the attacker had covered about half the distance–then again, both started on the same signal.

    Drill 2 was set up identically, except the attacker launched whenever he wanted–no oral warning, and thus more like real life. Typically, the “Bang” came when the attacker was almost within an arm’s length of the defender, who could react only when he became aware that a sneak attack was underway.

    Drill 3 was setup and started identically to Drill 2, but as Louis turned, drew and presented, he moved 90-degrees off-line and even fish-hooked back slightly in the direction of the attack. The attacker tried to follow him, but the defender now had the initiative and the “Bang” always came when the attacker (a young, fit guy) was no closer than 6 to 10 feet.

    The takeaway for students was to begin to move off-line as soon as Condition Red kicks-in. I believe the FBI changed its training protocol around 2011 or 2013 to begin emphasizing quick hits from presentation at 3 yards–a more realistic handgun combat distance–as well as practice for 7 yards and further.

  18. Very interesting reading…This all boils down to training, whether it’s 15-20-30-feet you need to know how to draw, when to draw and who to draw on and fire …….you get these const, carry fanatic’s that think just strap on a gun and your dirty harry…these are the guys that get killed or other people killed…no training, at least a cc class will help some, most people have never really fired a gun, do I believe in 2nd admed..yes, but there should be some kind of training first…….sorry for getting off the line, My problem is finding someplace to run drills…I run drygun drills at home but it is hard to find somewhere to live fire…

  19. I recall the 21 foot rule being bandied are even before 25 years ago. You really hit the nail on the head with this article. I began my law enforcement career in 1957 (retired in 2000) and have seen many demonstrations of attacks with blades and am aware of at least one case where it was demonstrated in court on a civil suit against a Leo. I guess the thing that has disgusted me the most in my 60 years of law enforcement affiliation is the number of experts out there who have never spent a day on the street. Oh well that will never change and it’s actually getting worse with the social media’s influence. By the way, I still hit the range at least once a month.

  20. Sorry, but as an addendum to my last comment, I say this. NEVER BE A STATIC TARGET. As your assailant moves, so should you. Even at 15 feet, a side step or so should garner the 3 seconds you need to draw and put them down. Its the old “knife to a gunfight” RULE. The RULE clearly states, the one with the gun wins.

  21. Just to update everyone on this 21′ Rule/Guide that you need to put yourself between you and the bad guy, it has been recently updated and proven, that you now need approximately 30′ of distance to draw your weapon and fire a round before the bad guy can make contact with you with a knife in his hand. It is also good practice to not just stand in one place but to move side to side as it will disrupt your attackers advancement towards you as he has to change direction an attempt to get to you.

  22. As a former LEO and firearms training officer, I could not agree more with Dave’s comments. I spent a lot of time trying to explain this concept to LEOs that had received training at academies and elsewhere. Focusing on the numbers often gives the wrong impression, and calling something a rule leaves the typical entry-level police officer with the impression that he must always wait until his attacker is within that 21 feet. Good job Dave.

    1. Well Tom, the fact that you realize you need more training, is in fact your first lesson. Good for you!!! So many, because of peer pressure or machismo, refuse to believe that they dont know everything about their weapon.
      Here’s lesson #2;
      Dont rely on the interweb. Your best teacher is a military veteran, or an active LEO. We have lived it, and have insights not taught in any, or at least most conventional courses.
      Good luck.
      Class dismissed.

    2. Tom, when you find someone who can’t benefit from more training, it will be because they are dead. I’ve been carrying for over 30 years and I still train, take classes, watch DVDs, practice dry firing, read books and spend time at the range. There are a lot of good sources out there, but as with everything decide for yourself what will work best for you. Then hope that you are ready if it is required and pray it is never required. Never stop learning.

  23. Well… I thought the issue was the bad guy had to be at least 25′ from your gun or you could not prove imminent danger in a court of law if sued or charged with a crime.

  24. To me, it is the same as calling a magazine a clip. I don’t care what you call it, I still know what is meant. The “Tueller Drill” shows that the average person can cover/run 21′ in 1.5 seconds. And, it usually takes a bit longer for the average (minimally trained shooter) to draw and fire a round in self defense. If the runner has a weapon, the other person may already be behind the curve.
    21′ rule, Tueller Drill, one in the same to me. What’s the big deal here?

  25. to show the problem with using distance to define the drill look at the recent incidents in the UK, the police there are trained for people with knives yet with the terrorist none were able to avoid or disarm the threat.

    the drill should evolve now into working on technique- moving the student past the “oh crap” phase into the area where they can disarm the threat- trying to get the firearm out – on target and pull the trigger- may not be the quickest solution.

  26. Several of us met for range time yesterday. The Tueller/time/distance concept was included in the discussion over breakfast. I states that by 20 to 25 feet your hand should at least be on your weapon ready to draw if not out and down, and yes, it depends on the situation. One of the newer guys thought that was to far. The regular guys new what was coming next.

    After we got to the range, and warmed up a bit, since you are not allowed to draw, I had him start in the low ready position. I told him when he saw the target move to put two rounds in the black. Perhaps this wasn’t fair as there was plenty of noise as distraction. With the target starting at seven yards, I hit the recall button. The trolley took a couple of second to return but let’s just say most people, even those who practice normal target shooting, are not used to shooting a target that is moving, let alone one moving at them. They are used to taking time to bring the gun up and to steady before the shot. We did this this several times. He did improve, but he was embarrassed a bit. So was I the first time I tried it. Target shooting is good, but when ever possible try to add something to the standard range shooting to push your limits, safely of course.

    Just like in defensive driving, reaction time is only a part of total time. Situational awareness is critical, practice is important, mental preparation is critical.

  27. Hey Dale the 21 foot rule does not exist anymore in law enforcement. They have extended it to 30ft now. Law enforcement instructors are saying that the 21ft rule still does not give adequate time to react in a edge weapon confrontation..

  28. Just be prepared and practice with the gun you carry. And remember the golden rule. He who hesitates is the one in the box! It almost has to become habit what you do if you need to.

  29. The truth is, a bad guy with a knife, at 21 feet, will only need approximately 1.5 seconds to close on you. Your shot needs to be fast and accurate

  30. Some of you folks may find it interesting to know that most of our federal law enforcement training on edged weapon attacks is derived from research on knife attacks in Great Britain. For obvious reasons their strict gun laws has made edged weapons one of the prevalent assault and homicide tools of choice over there. This offers us an abundance of information that doesn’t exist here in the U.S.

    In federal law enforcement, defensive tactics trainers dedicate entire blocks of training specifically to the dangers of edged weapons. These federal trainers work in programs that also teach State, Local, and foreign police officers that have previously been indoctrinated by the 21-foot Rule.

    Federal trainers acknowledge Tueller’s drill as a valuable training concept, but do so with an emphasis on eliminating any preconceived notions towards the 21-foot Rule. Instead the focus is on the need for a constant awareness over edged weapons and the deadly consequences of misjudging the “Reactionary Gap”.

    For federal trainers, a disregard for the specific 21-foot Rule is due to information garnered from the U.S. Marine Corps at the turn of the century which revealed that charging enemy combatants were still able to keep coming and still seriously wound our troops with edged weapons even after being fatally wounded by weapons fire from rather long distances.

    Combined this with additional federal law enforcement studies which show a person can move 30 feet in 2 seconds. According to FBI training manuals: “There is sufficient oxygen within the brain to support full, voluntary action for 10 to 15 seconds after the heart has been destroyed.”

    My training states that even after being shot, an individual can continue moving 70 yards. These 10-15 seconds is plenty of time for an attacker to lash out with an edged weapon before dropping. For obvious reasons the 21-foot distance is not accepted by any federal training standards.

    As for personal experience, so far I have been lucky when it comes to edged weapon incidents. Having encountered many a knife, only one ever drew blood. However, that was a female at an airport that had gone off her meds and somehow managed to gain access to the flight line and was wondering around. She was suicidal and just as we approached to subdue her she slit her throat. While the amount of blood made the wound appear to be fatal, fortunately she survived.

    1. What a testament to your (and your cohorts) professionalism G-Man as you didn’t presume the suicidal woman in your last sentence was a goner and saved her life.

  31. My Grandpa was a gunsmith so I learned safety early and fired my first shot by age 3. Over 4 decades of shooting I have heard of, and practiced the Tueller drill. I was called to help my best friend get out of a bad situation and My wife was with me 2 friends there and he was supposed to be gone. I stepped out the door with a box to see 4 horrified people backing up and turned to see a large, bare chested boyfriend wielding a large claw hammer, another man with a hand I couldn’t see, and a third with no weapons. 5 lives potentially at risk and 7 rounds on my Glock 36. I wasn’t worried about the assailants(potential) I drill myself constantly and shoot ambidexterously and can cross draw and rack 1 handed. I dropped the box as they were 20 feet and closing, turned my holster side away from them and backed sideways. The threat was real and closing fast and loud, but the sight of me backing at an angle turned caused an immediate reaction. All three stopped the hammer dropped and I saw six hands and over the silence the words “we don’t want any trouble.” They never turned to come at me the whole time, I had less than 15 feet when they stopped. They never saw my gun, which was carrying its 6+1, and they turned giving apologies to walk back to where they came from, leaving a 10″ kitchen knife “hidden hand” and hammer in the grass not knowing that the CIVILIAN training and lifelong drills that nearly cost them their lives was exactly what saved them. Moral: If you are going to carry, don’t just shoot at silhouettes, practice scenarios until reaction is burned into your brain. If you need to, buy paintball guns and safety gear, hurts like heck but may stop you from killing someone that you don’t need to. Don’t get a permit, get a gun, and shoot it a few times; practice, practice, practice. Once you pull the gun YOU are the armed one and they don’t know if you are legal and likely don’t care. Be prepared, but be knowledgeable and practiced, and buy ammunition that doesn’t exit and hit anyone else. You may change a life without ending it and you might save your own in the process. It’s not speed and numbers etched in stone, and if you aren’t a LEO, or a Combat Veteran, it pays to remember that every situation is different and you don’t want to learn the hard way.

  32. A young kid with sprinter speed you might need 30 feet. An old slow guy you might get by with 15 feet. Must take in ALL variables.

  33. Generally a fine written article UNTIL the ‘bullet sponge’ nonsense comes up. ANYONE brandishing any knife in a heated argument is a threat (the pocket knife example really had nothing to do with the topic). A knife has no business in someone’s hand unless it is being legitimately used. And any size knife can be used, and has been, as a deadly weapon. A potential weapon in a ‘heated’ argument (is there any other kind) should be treated as a threat….period.

    1. That bullet sponge “nonsense”, as you refer to it, pertained to LEOs failing to assess the situation before they shoot first and ask questions later. I could be a fish cutter on the dock and in the middle of an argument with someone over some petty billing issue. That doesn’t mean I’m intentioning to put his heart alongside a recently filleted Sea Bass. Many people who have to work for a living often use the tool they are holding as a finger extension to make a point.

      I could be a carpenter working in an Italian family business and if you happened to come by as a LEO and couldn’t discern that my brother was too lazy to put his hammer or utility knife down to point at me with his finger instead, I’d be attending his funeral because you failed to read the situation before dragging your own insecurity into it. Just because you had a few emotional loose screws wouldn’t mean that there was justification to make my sister-in-law a widow.

      And yes, there ARE other kinds of arguments. I have argued on a number of occasions with people while I have carried concealed. That doesn’t mean that I ever felt threatened by them. Here’s hoping that if they ever give you a badge, you learn about discernment.

  34. Much ado about nothing. I’ve heard the “rule” for years and seen it demonstrated in training classes more than once, maybe as far back as academy, 30+ years ago. I never heard it taught as an actual “rule” but as a demonstration to increase awareness. I really doubt many would misinterpret it as a hard and fast rule. But I understand that you’re a writer and need material so it’s OK.

    1. Actually, in the State of North Carolina, where I received my original CCL training, the “21 Foot Rule” is used to determine justified lethal force. It is taught that an attacker can cover that distance in an extremely short period of time and this limitation does not offer the attacked enough time/distance to evade or seek an alternate position; therefore, stand and fight. This is the reasoning used for the 3 & 7 yard qualification standard, as instructed in class.

      This is the stupidest standard for justification. As the author rightly states, how can a normal carrying civilian, much less a trained officer, identify, draw, confirm threat, determine hazards beyond the threat, aim and pull trigger in under 1.5 seconds much less 5 seconds! But this is the standard taught in North Carolina conceal carrying training.

  35. Speaking as someone with a knife scar not inflicted by myself– well done.

    The gun is never the only answer and too often it is found too easy to shoot instead. Your own edged weapon is sometimes a better choice and may be the only choice when the attacker is on top of you–

  36. in our advanced training class “awareness” was based on the “bubble” our example was based on 36 feet around you for scanning. the distance is not set in stone, it’s more about training oneself to be aware as to what is around you at all times…being vigilant is the best defense, you might want to “exit stage left”

  37. As a confessed stickler for distinguishing between assault weapon and MSR, I appreciate this article very much. Particularly; “The lesson merely put a number to the test data and created a mindset for officers to rethink their response and posture to a threat or potentially sudden dynamic attack.” I see and hear too many people who take “advice” as the word of God and looking for black and white answers to dynamic questions. The key word being dynamic. All of life is dynamic and has to be interpreted in context. One of the worst is the cyber-commando’s phrase “that will get you killed on the street”. No it won’t, because of a million and a half other things. The Tueller Lesson is what’s important. The drill only helps people actualize the lesson.

  38. I too was taught through “21 foot rule”, 26 years ago in the police academy. But I was also taught it 10 years earlier, by one of my karate instructors. I don’t remember anyone named Tueller, but I remember Dan Inosanto demonstrating in the video. 21 feet was a demonstrated reference point, not an absolute.

  39. I remember the days when an officer would get out of his car, with his clipboard in his hand, when responding to a “routine” citizens complaint. Normally leaving his baton in the vehicle–such a bother.

    This lackadaisical approach always bothered me. On a possible gun, or weapon call, they’d leave the best weapon at hand, their shotgun, in the vehicle.

    While you can never foresee every eventuality, especially being ambushed or beset, out of the blue, by an armed citizen; keeping your mind in the game, anticipating and having a plan is always, always, a critical part of an officers duty to himself, his employers and his family.

    While I would do anything reasonably possibly to avoid shooting a person with an edged weapon, if they advanced aggressively towards me, in a menacing manner, or continue to approach after a warning, I’d not hesitate to send two to center mass and one to the head, providing innocents were not endangered.

    I came within 1/4″ of having my aorta punctured many years ago, lung liver and diaphragm damaged & spent a month in the hospital. I don’t recommend anyone ever let someone cut them.

  40. One of the problems with the “21 foot rule” is the number 21. The original statement was 7 yards. It has a level of precision (if you can apply that term to a guestimate) of a yard. So a 24 foot rule would be about as accurate. Or maybe we should call it the 252 inch rule.

    It’s a guestimate not a rule. The point is to improve your situational awareness.

  41. The “21-foot rule” should be taught as mindset and situational awareness. The Tueller Drill is an eye opener as most people would not have believed someone could close that distance before they could react! This should ,instead of rote memorization, make folks more aware of what’s going on around them and focus on surrounding people’s “tells”.

    1. “…… taught as a mindset and situational awareness”. Absolutely perfect way to describe the value of this level of training. I was exposed to this about 30 years I think and have never forgotten. It was a great example on just how quickly a situation can change, so your mindset is that your situational awareness skills are never not working – bad things can and do happen!

  42. I enjoyed reading this article – especially since it reinforces something I’ve encountered all my life. I attended a number of training sessions in the Army and my professional career (none of which were law-enforcement), and found that the “good” or “correct” idea at the center of the training, was corrupted somewhere along the way, and tended to emphasize the “wrong” things – even to the point of negated the purpose of the training.
    If I understand the point of this article, the drill or rule, was not to dictate a particular action (run, shot, etc.), but to alert the officer that the time for thinking about the situation is over, it is now time to take action (hopefully the appropriate action).

  43. Good corrective and explanatory article re: 21′ Rule. It is very educational to say the least. The misinformation about this is wide spread. I have seen a segment on TV’s Guns & Ammo, the Handguns portion when they play out the 21′ Rule using a mechanized dummy attaching the law abiding citizen in the scenario where they make it work that the citizen gets 2 shot off within the 21′ distance. I’ve seen this more than once with re-runs of Guns and Ammo being shown. The program director should be requested to ditch this particular show. Thanks.

  44. This is a great article about what the Tueller drill is and is not. Thank you.

    I wanted to share the following link to a YouTube video. I think it is one of the better demonstrations of off-angle movement and its effect on the principles of the Tueller drill. It is, I believe, an excellent complement to the discussion in this article.

    Instructor Zero and Doug Marcaida talk a lot at the beginning, I think what they are saying is good, but if you want to “cut to the chase,” go to 4:30.

    After seeing this video, you should be convinced that there is far more to training for successful armed defense than simply putting lots of bullets into a paper target downrange.

  45. The ’21 ft rule’ test apparently relies on surprise by the attacker. Makes sense that a surprise attacker has a great advantage suddenly charging and stabbing you. However, it would be informative if the 21 ft rule was tested when the attack was against an armed person who was on alert and on guard against a sudden attack. What if the officer was on guard with his firearm in hand and ready to fire?

  46. As a Former Use of Force Trainer and retired Martial Arts Instructor, yes I have known about the “21 foot rule” for a long time…however I’ve always encountered it’s use a little differently. Not that you are “safe” at 22 feet, but for an LE officer it meant a guy with a knife means you better have your firearm (at the very least) at low ready.
    The drills I’ve seen have all been pointless since the student always knew that the pretend bad guy infront of them had a knife and was about to use it so they had an advantage they wouldn’t have had in a real confrontation.
    We always used this ‘rule” simply to engrain situational awareness and just like any Martial Art, it teaches the different ranges.. such as kicking/punching/grappling.
    To contrast this “rule”, when we would teach our knife classes, one of the major tenants is to never advertise the fact that you have a knife in your hand.

  47. Though I’ve never heard of the 21 foot “rule” I’ve often wondered how quickly I could react to an imminent threat to me or my family.

    After reading your article, I’m even more concerned as I feel it would take me a lot longer to recognize that I am in imminent danger, then begin the reaction to draw a concealed carry weapon, quick-check for friendlies in the area, then fire. I’m not military or law enforcement trained (other than an M-16 many, many moons ago) and am quite sure it would take me a bit of time to go through the steps.

    That being the case it appears to me that if someone is brandishing a knife or other serious instrument, I would need a much longer time. I’m not even sure 50 ft would be enough.

    Is anyone aware of actual studies of lay people such as myself? Or, in the alternative, am I just kidding myself about CCW and its benefits to me

    1. Although I played the Green Machine game for 20 years, we were never taught anything about this drill or 21 foot rule. Of course, “we traveled not often ALONE!” Once aware of this ‘person of average physicality’ having the ability to be on you in +-1.5 seconds, I trained to get those two shots off in under 2 seconds from concealment – rarely, however, being able to break the second shot under 1.5sec! Some, like Jerry Miculek, can git-er-dun in <1 sec; however, have not seen it done from concealment. My issue with the 'whole idea' of this rule, has to do with the fact some whack is NOT going to be coming at you in any 'direct' manner, especially if they have the intention of doing you some harm/assault/robbery! They want to 'suddenly' appear at your elbow, or already have you looking up from the ground, if still conscious. Consider the recent NO assault: My hated phrase, bottom line reads, if you have the time to see "it" coming, as noted, definitely MOVE, learn to access your smoke pole while moving, and better, have some plan/idea how you might need the ability to FIGHT your way to your gun! As proven in too many instances, police officers are often shot with their own weapons!!

  48. The above article is absolutely correct. In my Martial Arts experiences persons can move much faster then you think they can and to be prepared for that takes a lot of training and experience to overcome. My best advice is to practice, practice, practice to be prepared. Getting ‘OFF-LINE” is of great value, however again it takes practice, practice, practice to achieve a proficient level to be prepared.

  49. Excellent article. I have seen videos of traiining drills where the ‘assailant’ was 21 feet or even further from the ‘victim’ and by running could easily overwhelm the ‘victim’ before the ‘victim’ could react, let alone present, aim and shoot. Even close quarters shooting technique wouldn’t allow the ‘victim’ to stop the attacker. In my opinion, even 30 feet would be questionable.

  50. I think this is an excellent article and long overdue. For the civilian population in particular with the variability of personal skills with a firearm and the potential speed differences and skills of an attacker it is wise to put the emphasis not on distance but threat recognition and potential responses to different situations that will keep a person safe. Even with that said and done perhaps the most important thing is whether or not the person being attacked has the will to use their weapon in the first place.

  51. An officer should always be “situationally aware”. The movements of a subject should be observed for any change in posture or demeanor. An officer should maintain distance between the subject and the office in order to mitigate the possibility of being grabbed/assaulted.

    The subject who decides to act will have the element of surprise since the subject knows they are going to act before the officer can detect intend and react to that intent. The same as driving. The drive ahead decides to panic stop. The driver following has to see the brake lights come on visually, recognize what is happening, transmit the information to the foot to push on the brake. This is why we have the car length rule for following. (Naturally this has zero meaning for anyone who has driven in LA.)

    The officer should, if the subject is advancing, be backing away while drawing the sidearm or baton (if issued). If time is not sufficient, it may be best to fall backward while drawing and firing.

  52. took the info to mean if an attacker has a knife and is threatening you get you gun out and be ready. i probably have no business even giving my thoughts hear just a civilian that started carrying in the late 80’s because of my first death threat.
    even if you can shoot him center mass, if you don’t take out the spine you are probably going to get stabbed. my guess is even a heart shoot won’t stop him in time to keep him from stabbing you. like deer hunting you can shoot one in the heart and he can run 50 to a hundred yards before expiring.
    as you stated keep moving off the X, and keep firing. as he gets really close maybe a head shot.
    hopefully just get your gun out will stop most thinking perps. if it doesn’t keep moving and changing directions. keep firing until he is not moving toward you. hope i never have to play this game for real. just carrying insurance and insurance does not cover everything.
    probably should have just kept my keyboard away. great article!!

  53. Thank you for the article. I was not aware of the “Tueller Rule”. My only knowledge of anything designated by 21 was what was told to one of my concealed carry classes, and the gist of it was that if an incident occurred in which you had to use your weapon it would more than likely be at a distance of 21 ft or less. I understood, but that seemed pretty close to me and I would hope that my situational awareness would afford me the chance to spot, draw, and engage if required. Our course of fire was at 3, 5 and 7 yards and I feel pretty certain the 7 yard target had something to do with the 21 foot history. Myself, while I do practice “short shots”, maintain a pretty good routine of practice from 10-25 yards. Thanks again for the article.

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