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Self Defense Threat And The Tueller Distance 21-Foot-Rule

February 6, 2017, by Ken Jorgustin

Dennis Tueller, a now retired Salt Lake City police officer, had asked the question “At what distance is an impact weapon an imminent threat?” Is it five or ten feet? Fifteen feet? More?

In other words, at what distance will someone handling a baseball bat or a knife (for example) become a potential threat to you?

Tueller, also a firearms instructor, proceeded to run a lot of drills on this subject – to determine how long it takes to get one’s pistol out of a holster and engage a threat with center-mass hits versus the time it takes for an imminent threat with an impact weapon to get to you.

If you are someone who may carry a handgun, YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS for your own legal defense should you ever be involved in a self defense shooting. Here’s why…


 
The fact is, if you did not know about the ‘Tueller distance’ prior to a self defense shooting, the use of this aspect of your defense will NOT be admissible in court. In fact, if you did know about it, you will likely need to prove that you knew about it (I’ll explain later).

Why is it important to be able to cite this as part of your defense? Because depending on the incident it may help prove that there was ‘imminence’ and an imminent threat to your life (assuming there really was an imminent threat) which will be one part of your overall defense strategy.

 
The approximate time to engage with a handgun
Tueller discovered that most police officers are able to get their pistol out of their holster and engage within 1.5 seconds.

The approximate distance of an imminent threat with an impact weapon
Tueller also drilled the distance at which a person can run from a standing start for 1.5 seconds to be about 21 feet.

21 feet became the ‘Tueller distance’ – the approximate maximum distance from a police officer that a person can use a knife (or other impact weapon) against that officer before the officer can shoot them.

Note:
If the threat has a gun, then the Tueller distance does not apply, because the threat can shoot you from a much further distance!

 
Of course there is MUCH, MUCH MORE to a valid self defense shooting, and more importantly a self defense shooting that you can survive through the legal system, however that is not the focus of this article (there will be more subsequent articles).

 
The ‘Tueller distance’ also known as the ’21 foot rule’, is well cited in case law and is an important distinction to understand and to integrate into one’s defense (and prior actions!).

While you will have first needed to prove that you were an innocent party to the confrontation (e.g. that you were not the aggressor or escalated the confrontation), the next aspect of your defense will be proving there was an imminent threat. If that threat did not have a gun (instead an ‘impact weapon’), it will be exceedingly important to be able to cite the Tueller distance, or 21-foot-rule, and to have previously acted in accordance with that rule as part of your defense.

In other words, if you shot someone who you believed to be a threat to your life who had an ‘impact weapon’ from 40 feet away, it will be much, much more difficult if not impossible to prove imminence in court. If you cannot prove imminence, you lose.

On the other hand, if that same threat to your life was coming at you in the vicinity of approximately 21 feet or less, AND you were able to cite the ‘Tueller distance’ as prior knowledge in your defense, then the knowledge and facts of the ‘Tueller distance’ will very likely be admissible to the jury for them to understand and will greatly help your overall defense (although there is much more to your defense than just this).

Earlier I said that you might have to prove that you had prior knowledge of the Tueller distance (21-foot-rule). Yes, that will probably be required (you can’t say afterwards that you knew about it). So how can you prove it? And where have I received the information and knowledge that I wrote about in this article?

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that anyone who ever carries a handgun should absolutely read and understand the information in the following book written by Attorney Andrew Branca, the internationally recognized expert on self-defense law (the best I’ve ever read on the subject),
The Law of Self Defense: The Indispensable Guide to the Armed Citizen

Attorney Branca advises that one way to prove that you knew about the Tueller distance is to print out the receipt, which includes the date, and tuck it in the book. Highlight the section within the book that talks about this and tuck it away (after reading it all and understanding the rest too!)

If you don’t want to spend the money to buy this book for your self defense strategy in the event of a self defense shooting, then find this information (the Tueller distance) somewhere else and similarly document that you read about it.

 
Since I was so impressed with the informative knowledge in this book, I will be doing a series of articles on this subject over time because I know that many of you ‘carry’, and you need to understand some of this very important subject matter.