The 21 Foot Rule: Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight Can You Win?

21 Foot Rule Gun vs Knife

In 1988 Calibre Press put out a law enforcement training video titled “Surviving Edged Weapons”. The video demonstrated how long it takes the average police officer to draw and fire his or her sidearm. The video showed it takes one-and-a-half seconds for the average officer to draw and fire two rounds.

Throughout the years, various studies have reached the same conclusions. Keep in mind however, in some training exercises the participants were aware they would be confronted by someone with a knife. While other training courses kept the participants with the firearms unaware of the fact they would be confronted with a knife wielding opponent. It makes a difference. It certainly would make a difference to you.

The 1988 video also concluded that an assailant at 21 feet away with a knife, an edged weapon if you will, can make it to an officer and stab that officer before their sidearm can be drawn and fired effectively. This is the 21 foot rule (Irwin, 2007).

We will not get into the legalities, because this is not what this article is about, it is about you and what you may encounter out there. Having a handgun on your person does not mean you can always protect yourself.

Of course, if you have your firearm drawn, and in the ready to fire position, and someone with a knife, intent on doing you harm is at 21 feet, 15 feet or even from 10 feet away, then you with the firearm will likely prevail if you have sufficient firearm training.

It has been demonstrated a number of times that if a firearm is holstered it takes at least 1.5 seconds for the average police officer to draw and fire, and of course someone with a knife can cover 21 feet in less than 1.5 seconds. This is an accepted standard.

Police officers, trained and on guard can draw and fire in 1.5 seconds under ideal conditions, so what about you, how fast can you react. If your handgun is under your shirt and someone lunges at you with a knife your hands will come up in a defensive posture, you will fall back trying to grab your weapon. There is drawing fast and there is drawing and firing effectively.

Keep in mind there are any number of factors that can slow the draw. Are your hands full, have you practiced under various conditions, is a coat or shirt in the way, are you with your children. The 1.5 seconds is not set in stone, and you are only that fast under ideal circumstances. Circumstances are never ideal.

People have tried to debunk the 21 foot rule, and as with anything, there are numerous variables involved, and frankly anyone can do a study and have it come out to fit their objectives.

The reality is that if you are in a crowd and you are carrying concealed or even open carrying and someone lunges at you with a knife, box cutter, needle, or ice pick you will likely be stabbed before you can draw and fire your handgun.

As stated earlier, if you have your firearm drawn, and at the ready, then of course, a knife brought to a gunfight is a losing proposition.

The point is that a handgun strapped to your waist is not a guarantee of protection. Do not get lulled into thinking that a handgun is the be-all and end-all to your personal protection. You have to have situational awareness and avoid areas that may put your life in danger. You may very well be attacked before you can even think of drawing your firearm.

Things You Can Do

Wear a stab vest, which is not the same as a bulletproof vest. Body armor designed specifically to stop penetration from sharp objects will not provide much protection from bullets, while a bulletproof vest will not provide as much protection against sharp objects.

A stab vest guards against slashes and stabs. Needles, knives, box cutters, and ice picks are deflected and will offer protection to the wearer’s back, front, and sides. The vests prevent deep penetrations that could reach internal organs. You can be injured while wearing one of course, but the chances of the attack being fatal are dramatically reduced.

You can avoid crowds or at the very least do not get in the middle of a crowd. Keep space between you and others.

Give ground, move to the side, or use objects to deter the attacker, throw a chair or throw a drink, or throw anything that comes to hand quickly to give you time and space to draw and fire. It takes intensive training to overcome the natural inclination to raise your hands and arms in defense, hands that are needed to use your firearm and it takes hours upon hours of firearm training.

Therefore, yes, you can bring a knife to a gunfight and win, and you may be the one with the knife, but keep in mind all that you have read so far is for informational purposes only.

The best way to avoid injury or death is to avoid the confrontation in the first place. However, keep what you have just read in mind, just in case.

Irwin, B. (2007). Retrieved 2016, from (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from