21 Foot Rule – MythBusters Style

In 1983, Dennis Tueller penned an article for SWAT magazine called “How Close is Too Close?” In that publication, he suggested that being within 21 feet of an suspect armed with a knife was the “danger zone.”

Tueller’s thinking was this:

  • the average police officer can draw and deliver two center mass hits with a handgun in about 1.5 seconds; and
  • a healthy adult male can run seven yards (21 feet) in about 1.5 seconds.

MythBusters recently ran an episode where they “test” bringing a knife to a gunfight, or some such nonsense. Here is their recreation of the drill:

Anyone see any problems with the show’s supposedly scientific testing? Yeah, me too.

In all of the demonstrations shown in this video clip, the shooter (we’ll assume an officer for our discussion) was severely wounded and/or killed. Sure, at 24′ the “officer” managed to get one shot off that would have severely wounded the attacker, but it was not an “instant stop” shot. The single bullet would not have prevented the “officer” from being stabbed.

Granted, the “officer” was manually racking the slide with every draw, but he also had several advantages, including:

  • the “officer” knew the attack was coming and was prepared for it,
  • the “officer” had several runs at the demo, meaning the attacker was slowing down, while the “officer” got more accustomed to the activity, and
  • the “officer” was not using any kind of retention holster that slows the draw

Ultimately, I think the MythBusters video shows how quickly someone can cover ground and be on you. If you want to see this in real life, watch the video I posted here.  In this video an officer is stabbed with a butcher knife when the suspect runs at him from about 22′ away.

Consider this: if 21′ is the distance someone can close in the time it takes you to draw and shoot them, isn’t that a tie? And wouldn’t the “tie” mean he is shot and you are stabbed? That’s not the game we play folks!

Engaging a suspect at distances greater than seven yards increases the odds that we can shoot and stop a suspect before he stabs us. Also, it increases the odds the subject will comply with our commands and we will never have to shoot them at all. That sounds far better to me.

We can never predict the actions of the assailants we run across. But we can try to stack the deck in our favor. If you have a known threat, use distance as part of your tactical solution. Don’t close the gap if you do not have to.

Stay safe!

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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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