MAY 21, 2013

Editor's Notebook: There is no "21 Foot Rule"

Forget silly distance "rules" - if you're this close to your attacker, he can touch you before you can move. At this distance, it's not a "remote control" day.
It's come to my attention that various training concerns are spouting the old "21-foot rule" nonsense. It's time, yet again, to explain the Tueller Drill, how it came about and what is the objective of the drill. I'll also point out the appropriate way to execute the drill in order to achieve those objectives. In the early 1980s, in SWAT Magazine, Salt Lake City Police Sergeant Dennis Tueller wrote an article entitled "How Close is Too Close?" A firearms instructor, a student had asked when he'd be legal (ethical and moral) to shoot someone who was armed with a knife and intending to inflict death or great bodily harm. A reassuring smile and "You'll know," was not only unsatisfying but distasteful. The next day, students came to the range only to be deprived of their artillery. A target was set up, each student starting from the seven yard line got to run downrange and deliver a "fatal blow" to the target using a knife while being timed. It could have been a club or any contact weapon capable of inflicting deadly force. On signal, each student made the sprint and knifed the target. The average time was 1.5 seconds - the time in the Gunsite 250 School Drill to draw and deliver two hits to high chest from seven yards. The problems with that original exercise were legion. The "attacker" (student) started on a signal. In an attack, the attacker decides when to go. This leaves out the target's reaction time - ¼ to ½ second in the real world. The student-attacker would have to decelerate before reaching the target as there was a knee-wall; that's not the way violent criminal attacks happen particularly when an edge is involved. When you face a charge, they're not going to decelerate, he'll run right through you and take you to the ground - slicing and dicing while en route. Massad Ayoob changed the drill and my students have run it since the mid-1990s.
It may be a disarming attempt instead of a knife assault. The defender here (right) has his gun in the appendix position.
The Drill sought to focus on Cooper's Two Problems. Problem A is staying alive. Problem B is explaining your decision making process to triers of the fact. (If you believe you can dummy up and move for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case without putting on a defense, we can't help you.) In terms of Problem A, awareness of the contact weapon threat (edged weapon, bludgeon, disarming skills) is enhanced. Every person in a class participates in each and every role: record keeper, attacker and defender. Instead of a knife, the attacker simply strikes the outstretched hand of the defender as he/she runs by. The record keeper/timer starts the stopwatch when the attacker begins to move - factoring in reaction time - and stops the time at the slap of hands. Data is collected for Problem B: age, sex, height, weight, foot gear, ground surface and any recent/chronic injuries - as well as time to target. In later classes, we had people prone out for the start position. The fastest time I recorded for standing start was just over one second - a 34-year old Marine. That time was nearly matched by a track and field type starting from prone. Vince O'Neill, world-class firearms and DT trainer for police put it this way: "A world-class hurdler has ten hurdles to clear at full speed. The hurdles are spaced ten yards apart. That hurdler will cover that distance in a second -- or less than a second -- depending where he's at in the race. Some street creeps have world-class speed. It was found that most officers were not able to clear leather inside a second and a half even though they anticipated the activity. When they found an old guy like me could cover ten feet and still disarm them of their firearm--without getting hit--it brought a new dimension." And what if you got the gun out in time? Even if you could print a pair of hits on the attacker's cardiac complex before the knife sinks into your chest, do you think the bullets will stop the on-coming threat? This isn't a movie or TV show. Bullets don't work, the caliber-commandos notwithstanding. Knowing the threat exists, stepping behind obstacles ("cover" is different if the weapon is a contact weapon), drawing to guard and giving verbal warnings - all contribute to threat management. Besides, you give the attacker a "face-saving way out" and may not require gunfire to resolve. The data collection and retention is critical in the Problem B arena. You are the best witness for the defense. The jury has to learn what you learned. They may even do the Tueller Drill in the deliberation room to see how quickly this thing happens. It's not a "rule;" it's a life-saving exercise to save you from the perils of Problem A and Problem B. (Thanks to Vince O'Neill and James Yeager for their contributions to this piece, to Massad Ayoob and SWAT Magazine for getting the word out, and especially to Dennis Tueller, whose research in this area has saved lives and careers.) -- Rich Grassi