Revisiting the 21-Foot Rule

You can avoid an attack at bad breath distances and prevail using dynamic movement coupled with a smooth presentation.
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You can avoid an attack at bad breath distances and prevail using dynamic movement coupled with a smooth presentation.

A very large volume of information arrives in my e-mail inbox every month and an article by Bob Irwin titled, Rethinking the 21-Foot Rule caught my eye.

I agree with much that Mr. Irwin states in his article, but as we’ll see later on, I reach a far different conclusion.

The 21-foot rule is also known as the Tueller Drill, named after Dennis Tueller, a police officer with the Salt Lake City Police Department who asked the question: “How close is too close?” He essentially quantified the distance that an attacker can cover in the same time that a defender can draw his pistol and fire a shot on target.

He found that the distance of 21 feet can be covered in 1.5 seconds. This is the standard by which many defensive shootings have been measured. Shoot too soon, you are criminally liable. Shoot too late, you risk injury or death. There is very little margin for error.

 

It does not get any more fundamental than to get off the X to avoid an attack.

 

In reading the article by Mr. Irwin, he finds that the 21-foot rule is fundamentally flawed because the participants in the drill know an attack is coming. An unsuspecting civilian won’t have that luxury. I do agree that the 21-foot rule is limited in that it is a drill rather than a counter to an actual assault.

He comes to the conclusion that an officer who is caught unawares would need a little over 3.5 seconds to recognize and react appropriately to a deadly threat. This equates to approximately 50 feet of distance the assailant would cover in that time. In fairness to Mr. Irvin, he does mention a few tactics to delay a charging opponent. He speaks about drawing to low ready, giving ground to increase distance, using cover or placing an object between you and the attacker, as well as shots to the pelvic girdle.

He goes on to describe a drill to simulate a charging opponent. He has a method to make a charging target from an IDPA or IPSC target, some string, wood, and a couple of cup hooks. The instructor would pull the target towards the student to simulate a charging opponent. His final statement was: “After running this drill a few times, you will rethink the 21-foot rule.”

I have a much simpler solution: MOVE!

It does not get any more fundamental than to get off the X to avoid an attack. We have proved it time and time again with Airsoft in force on force scenarios. You can avoid an attack at bad breath distances and prevail using dynamic movement coupled with a smooth presentation. It’s amazing to me how a simple concept such as moving to the 1 o’clock or to the 11 o’clock can be dismissed for a static drill. It’s an example of how the mantra of stand and deliver permeates training, even today.

To illustrate the distances that were discussed in the article, we shot a series of photographs from the point of view of the defender. They represent distances of 50, 30, 21, 12, and 6 feet. As you can see, 50 feet looks like a mile from the defender’s POV. We typically perform our scenarios in the Interactive Gunfighting class from 21 feet and in closer, so I included those distances for comparison.

If we run simple drills at each of these distances, it’s not difficult to see how easily you can avoid your adversary and get shots on target. I’d love to have 50 feet to react to every assault. It would make me a very happy camper. But as we know, most assaults are up close and personal. Once we reach the inner distances of three to four yards, we must move with authority to avoid the attack.

As the distance becomes shorter, some sort of preemptive hand-to-hand techniques will be needed to counter the initial attack. Once the attack is blunted or redirected, you can employ your pistol to maximum effect.

 

The best place to shoot the pelvis happens to be the points of the hips, a target the size of a 50 cent piece.

 

Mr. Irwin suggests presenting to low ready during the attack. Low ready lacks the commitment that contact ready demonstrates to your attacker. He also mentions that you should give ground, seek cover, or use obstacles to your advantage. Using obstacles to slow your attacker is a great idea that will buy you precious seconds. Giving ground to the 6 o’clock line has not been shown to be a sound tactic in our Force-On-Force scenarios.

Usually the guy backing up gets run down and bowled over. The person running forward will always catch the person backpedaling. Moving to the 5 or 7 o’clock lines are not always optimal, but better choices than directly to your six. He also mentions that you should consider pelvic girdle shots to blunt the attack.

There are several issues with this. The best place to shoot the pelvis happens to be the points of the hips, a target the size of a 50 cent piece. Targets this size are challenging when both the shooter and target are stationary, much less when both are moving. The pelvis is a ring structure, and must be broken in two places to render it unstable. Pistol rounds are ballistically inferior, and not likely to do the kind of damage to the pelvis needed to break the bone.

Also, if you have time to shoot the pelvis, would you not also have the time to place shots center mass or in the head? Nothing is as final as two or three rounds in the cranial-ocular cavity. Couple this with dynamic movement off the X, and you have a winning combination.

Tactical Training: Contact ready means business.

Contact ready means business.

With regards to his training technique, it is extremely difficult to have total surprise in any training exercise. We do the best we can to randomize the scenarios. Sometimes an attack is launched; sometimes the contact is completely benign. There will always be some sort of anticipatory reaction shown by the student. There really isn’t a way to effectively get around this fact. All we can do is attempt to make all our training scenarios and drills as real as possible.

Next month we will be looking at another of the scenarios posted by our members. To have your scenario considered for publication, visit the Force- On-Force Notebook sub-forum under the USCCA Forums.


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