Dennis Tueller has become famous in self-defense circles for his work on answering the question “How close it too close?” His article, first published in 1983 in S.W.A.T. magazine, became a foundational work against which many thousands have been trained under what was coined the 21 Foot Rule. It really never was a 21-foot rule from Tueller’s viewpoint: “The term “21-foot Rule” was not one I used. In the article, I talked about recognizing the danger zone, and about using cover or at least obstacles to slow an attacker.”
“The term “21-foot Rule” was not one I used”, said Dennis Tueller in a recent interview with the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, a group that supports Network members in their interaction with the criminal justice system after an act of self-defense as well as educating their members about the legalities of using deadly force in self-defense and what to expect from the criminal justice system after defending themselves. “I still think the “21-foot rule” is a poor use of terminology. Why not a call it a “rule”? Because words have meaning in the context in which we use them. What do you think of when you hear the word “rule?” “Follow the rules…” “Don’t break the rules…” “That is a violation of the rules…” In that context, the “21-Foot Rule” could be incorrectly interpreted to require you to shoot someone who is fifteen feet away and brandishing a knife. Conversely, it could be erroneously inferred that “the rule” prohibits the shooting of this same would-be slasher if he is 24 feet and nine inches away. This may be over-stating the case, but I don’t think so, as I have heard people express both of these views when discussing the subject.”
Totality of Circumstances Drive Use-of-Force Decisions
For us law-abiding citizens who carry our firearms concealed, the time and distance scenarios we face cannot be neatly put in a 21-foot box. Especially here in Minnesota, added layers of clothing in the winter increase the amount of time required to access a firearm, which means that the “bubble” increases proportionally. In addition to proximity, variables that determine imminent may include “the physical size and condition of both the aggressor and the defender, the presence of obstacles, cover, bystanders, partners, the terrain, footing, lighting, environment, holster type (high-security holsters take longer to clear than low security holsters), [and so forth]. All of these factors combine to create the “totality of circumstances” which will drive our use-of-force decisions.” In our Minnesota Permit to Carry class, we teach a minimum 32-foot rule, but we also explain that other variables might exist to extend this to longer distances, depending on the exact scenario. We can envision a scenario in which 30 or more yards would still be “imminent” if a certain mix of circumstances where present. For example, consider the man who was harassed and eventually beaten nearly to death on a New York interstate. It seems to me that being boxed-in by ~ 30 motorcyclists would significantly increase the distance in which an imminent danger existed and thus drive a use-of-force scenario.
Movement Matters Too
“Speaking only for myself,” says Tueller, “I think being able to move then shoot, shoot and then move again is tremendously important. So is moving when you see a potential threat, so you are not standing where the attack was directed. That way you can get inside your adversary’s reaction time, forcing him to react to what you are doing.” Tueller is right: in the heat of the moment, movement provides you a tactical advantage in that the threat must react to your movement. It also has the added advantage of keeping your wits about you during the shooting. If you’re moving, then shooting, moving again, then shooting, it seems that you have to think more intentionally about what you’re doing, which will help you handle the stress better and help you be a bit more thoughtful about your actions. If you’re making real-time decisions instead of just reacting, that helps you do a better job of managing yourself during the stressful event.
Most people don’t practice moving as a self-defense tactic. They just practice hitting a target in a well-lit room with even temperatures. But most self-defense shootings don’t occur in such sterile environments. This is why getting to an outdoor range where you can practice movement is so important.
Stepping Back is Good Movement Too
Says Tueller: “I wanted to sell the idea of taking a single big step back as you draw – to gain a bit more distance from your attacker – as an acceptable technique. Of course I’ve come to realize that if one step back is good, six or eight are better if you can maintain control and move smoothly.” Stepping back creates distance. Distances often increases your safety as well as forcing the attacker to respond to you. In our Minnesota Permit to Carry course, stepping back is highly recommended as a way to increase safety and yet maintain control of the situation and yourself.
Being Alert is Your Number One Tool
More than your firearm, being alerts to potential dangers is your best form of self-defense. In our Minnesota Permit to Carry class, we teach that the only conflict you cannot lose is the one you never engage in. So conflict avoidance is one of the first topics we discuss. We don’t care if you lose all dignity to avoid the confrontation. Lose your dignity. Engaging in a confrontation with potentially deadly consequences is a scenario we hope we never experience and never want to see occur. We don’t rejoice in the death of anyone – even an attacker. The use of deadly force is and must be a last resort – after verbal commands, retreat (when reasonable), brandishing and other, less lethal options.
“You need to believe it can happen to you. You need to recognize dangers in your vicinity, trust your feelings, and act based on your knowledge, experience and training”, said Tueller. We agree.