The 21-Foot Rule and Self Defense

December 15, 2020

The 21-Foot Rule and Self Defense

Janet walked briskly from the Mall through the rapidly receding daylight toward her small SUV. She prided herself on the steps taken to improve her personal safety. 

She had recently completed a woman’s self defense course, purchased a .380 small frame semi-auto pistol, and completed a citizen’s firearms class. She strode confidently with her purse containing her pistol and cell phone slung tightly over her left shoulder, several small shopping bags in her left hand, and car keys in her right hand.

She sensed danger before she saw the threat. Running toward her at full speed and placed between her and the Mall came a medium sized male in a black hoodie and blue jeans. Despite her training, her mind told her, “I’m a good person, this can’t be happening to me.”

The assailant was about seven yards away (her son played football, so she knew what seven yards looked like) when she dropped her bags and car keys and plunged her right hand into the purse to retrieve her .380. 

Just then, the assailant bowled her over knocking her violently to the ground. Janet managed to grasp her purse and pulled out her .380. Unfortunately, as she pulled out the .380, the entire pouch containing the pistol came with it.

At this point the assailant kicked it out of her hand and, retrieving the pistol and her purse, fled the scene. Janet flagged a passing motorist who called 911.



Is the 21-Foot Rule Useful for Civilians?

Was Janet a victim of the “21 foot rule?” Well yes, but lots of other things went wrong. An analysis of this scenario can be instructive and help us prevent future occurrences.

In 1983 police officer and firearms instructor Dennis Tueller concluded that an attacker could cover 21 feet successfully before an officer could remove their service pistol and accurately engage the threat. This theory turned out to be correct. Officers obviously “open carry” but even so, depending on the type of safety features on their holster, it is difficult to remove a weapon and bear down on a fast-moving target.  Unfortunately, western style quick draw holster rigs are sort of frowned upon by police administrators. 

How quickly can someone cover 21 feet? It took me 2.5 seconds to read the last sentence. Some trials show that running 21 feet in 1.5 is normal. That’s fast.

Many violent criminals are young and accustomed to fighting. Unless you frequent a lot of alcohol enhanced barbecues, most of us will not be attacked by an overweight, middle-aged guy wearing Crocs.


How to Interpret the 21-Foot Rule for Your Safety

Tueller intended that his findings be used for training purposes. He also added some very important points that are largely overlooked because of attention given “the rule.”  Here are some that can help regular citizens:

Maintain tactical alertness, or for us, situational awareness. Be a tourist, scan your environment, frequently look behind you. Understand that often attackers are not alone, so you have to be extra vigilant. 

If something seems dangerous in your estimation, it is. Do not ignore your gut feelings. You know people get attacked at shopping centerswhen they are carrying packages, so expect to be attacked.

Janet lost valuable time undergoing a victim denial experience. She knew she was targeted but still believed that she was a good person and thereby immune from criminal behavior. As safety expert Gordon Graham teaches, “predictable is preventable.”

Distance is your friend. Find some cover if you can. Don’t stand still with a bad guy bearing down on you. Get behind a light post, car, shopping cart or an overweight, middle-aged guy wearing Crocs (kidding here).

Use your voice. You can move and shout at the same time, my wrestling coach did it all the time. Hitting your car’s panic alarm button can also work.

Be realistic. Carrying a firearm and absorbing some training does not make you a skilled combat fighter. Keep practicing (dry fire exercises at home are cheap and effective) to stay safe but don’t overestimate your ability.

The 21-foot rule is basically “action vs. reaction” on another level. This is demonstrated by the sucker punch. Walk up to your significant other and (gently!) tap them on the shoulder. 

They didn’t get out of the way, did they? You just had to act, i.e., touch, that’s one thing. Their brain had to see your action and then react, that’s two things. One thing is always faster than two things.


Practice with Every Defense Weapon You Have

Did Janet do anything right? Sure. She took self-defense classes, she took a handgun class, she tucked away her purse and packages and kept her keys ready. Unfortunately, her handgun was concealed in such a way that it was difficult to retrieve. 

Did she ever practice this before? Even if she had retrieved her pistol, it is doubtful she could have accurately hit a fast-moving target. Last time I checked my friendly neighborhood gun range there were no moving targets.

As we know, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Practice all the problems that can arise so there are no surprises.



The MUNIO Self Defense Kubotan Keychain

One wrinkle on Janet’s story would have been if she had a MUNIO Self Defense Keychain.  Your MUNIO doesn’t have to be retrieved from inside your purse or holster and can be quickly deployed to slash, strike or puncture a bad guy. This is in addition to moving and shouting, of course.

Remember that winning in self defense is surviving, through any means possible. Using a MUNIO can stall an attacker long enough to get help or for you to escape. It may buy you time to retrieve that .380 and put some holes in the bad guy.

While a .380 won’t stop a charging Moose, a few bullet holes will certainly dampen the bad guy’s after attack festivities.

I also strongly recommend as part of your personal safety practice to subscribe to our free self defense series, “Simple Self Defense Moves Everyone Should Know.”

Take Care and Be Safe!


Dr. Art Amann is an instructor in both Karate and Kung Fu, with over forty years of experience in the martial arts. He has a doctorate in education and has spent close to 20 years as an instructor and director of the Police Academy and the Public Safety Institute at Mercyhurst University. He is also the former Erie County Prison warden and chief adult probation/parole officer with a lot of experience to share from it. He is a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops, a PA Act 120 Academic Instructor, PA Act 235 Classroom and Defensive Tactics Instructor, PA Municipal Police Defensive Tactics Instructor, NRA Basic Pistol Instructor, and Pressure Point Control Tactics Instructor.

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