For many years in my LE career, I was taught that if an assailant had an edged weapon, I could draw my sidearm to effectively defend myself if that assailant was 21 feet away. Any closer and I would have to resort to hand to hand combat against a bladed adversary. Any further away, than 21 feet or so, we were told in essence that we did not have cause to shoot an aggressor armed with a blade. Of course, as a LE firearms instructor, I also taught others that same mantra. The thing about it though was that it was utter bullshit, at least the parts about being able to draw your weapon to effectively defend yourself against someone who was 21 feet away and that someone more than 21 feet away, armed with an edged weapon, basically did not pose enough of a threat against which to use deadly force. At the time we believed it because it had come from those who knew or at least claimed they knew.
Years later, I am going to guess it was at least 10 years into my career and at least a few into my having become a firearms instructor (collateral duties - not full time), that mantra changed. The new set of rules for engagement against an armed intruder was that if someone armed with an edged weapon was within 30 feet they posed a threat of serious bodily injury or death to you and you potentially could be justified to use deadly force against that person depending on the circumstances. So why did that change? Well, someone decided to test the 21 foot rule - and it failed miserably. It was not one person either, as I remember there were a few different so called armed encounter experts who taught the new 30 foot rule after debunking the 21 foot rule. Watch this video and you will see why the 21 foot rule was found to be inadequate.
I don't know when that video was made or compiled but am pretty sure I saw the first part of it, where the officers approach the role player suspect in that indoor range, way back and fairly early in my career. It left a lasting impression on me because when our firearms/defensive tactics instructor asked what people in the training class would do (before seeing the video), I said I might fall back to the floor, draw and fire. When you see the video, you will see why it left its mark emblazoned in my memory forever and remember, I made my suggestion before I watched video. I also made another suggestion - keeping something between me and the suspect, using available cover. I was told there wasn't any but that it was a good idea. That also remained in my memory and believe me if cover of any sort has been there when I have approached a potential bad guy, I have used it.
Throughout my career, if I could do it, I liked to keep my distance when approaching subjects. Let's face, to pat down a suspect, or check an ID, or put the cuffs on them, or pull a raging maniac off of another officer or third party - you have to be close. Still though, in a good number of instances it was easy enough to keep your distance and remain behind cover while telling a suspect what to do, such as hands up, hands higher, slowly turn around in a complete rotation, face away, drop to your knees, cross your ankles, interlock your fingers behind your neck, sit down on your crossed legs, all the way down - things like that.
Remember, this was best done from behind cover if available. Only then, after you were in control of the situation would you approach the subject and only after you had scanned and assessed to make sure no others were around. It worked pretty much the same with multiple suspects. Of course, I am talking about compliant ones but then why take chances of doing anything less no matter how compliant they seem. They could be acting compliant so that you let down your guard and just be hoping you will get close enough before you have them in too awkward a situation to get you.
Many criminals though, even very violent ones, will not always take the chance of attacking, especially if it seems to them that the officer knows what he is doing. Calmly controlling a situation from behind cover, more or less as just described, can send that message to the bad guys. If they do not comply that is another can of worms but you should have been calling for back-up as soon as you knew you were going to be dealing with a suspicious person. This also applies when anyone finds himself in a similar situation and needs to control a bad guy (mind you though that the steps I just gave are not all inclusive and you should not even attempt to carry them out unless properly trained to do so -and this is not a training lesson, it is merely something to give you pause for thought and get you headed in the right direction to get that training).
Anyway, I am beginning to digress a bit so let me get back to the distance thing. Distance is your friend when dealing with a potentially violent person (and everyone has that potential). Distance though can be thought of as not merely how far away you are from one another. While an actual distance in yards or feet may be a measured amount, you can enhance distance by the effective use of cover. If an assailant armed with a knife tries to attack you from a distance, of let's say 21 feet, and you are behind a telephone pole for cover, he has to get around or at least reach around the pole to get to you. Keeping the pole between you and him enhances distance and gives you what might be the split second or even several seconds more you need to effectively defend yourself. I'd like to show you a situation in which cover was used to effectively defend from a knife attack giving the attacked person a chance to draw and fire a handgun but I could not find one. I did find one though in which an apparently unarmed man - a lawyer - defends himself from an assailant firing a pistol at him by using a tree for cover.
Go ahead, watch it again if you have not already. The quick thinking on the part of the lawyer probably saved his life. Did you catch it when they said he only received minor injuries? I guess minor is a relative term. He reportedly was hit by five of six shots fired (source). Five hit him the his right arm and apparently one of them also lodged in his neck (source). Had he not put the tree between himself and his attacker and then maneuvered to keep it between them, my guess is he would have wound up either dead or at least with extremely serious gunshot wounds. On the other hand, had he been armed with a handgun, he likely would have been able to draw and return fire. I have to wonder, did he arm himself and get some training in self defense tactics after that but after reading this article, it sounds doubtful.
Regardless of what the lawyer did after the shooting, I think you can easily understand how his use of cover effectively enhanced the distance between him and the shooter. Even though they were only a few feet apart at most it was virtually like there were miles between them in some regards, almost certainly it was like miles between get killed and not. Now, I am not saying that cover is always going to keep you from being injured, especially if you are unarmed or for ay reason do not fight back. As can be seen from this video, the lawyer was injured - in fact he was shot - but his effective use of cover almost certainly prevented the shooter from killing him. That probably was in part because the shooter was in a rage and did not think of how to overcome the lawyers use of the tree as a shield. Yet, it was also because the lawyer was at least smart enough to seek and use cover in the first place, then to keep the cover between him and his potential killer.
What I am saying is that if cover is available and you find yourself in a potentially dangerous encounter with a bad guy, you should use cover if there and if you can effectively do so and that goes for an assailant with a knife as well as for one with a gun. Remember though, the difference with an attacker armed with an edged weapon is he will probably try to come around, under or over your cover more so than did the attacker armed with a gun in this video. After all he has to get close enough to slash or stab. Bear in mind though that the effective use of cover can possibly give you time to draw your own weapon - if you have one and I am a strong proponent of citizens intelligently arming for self defense.
By the way, if you do not know what constitutes cover, especially versus concealment, you need to find out. Motivate yourself and do it, or let the lawyer's words at the end of the video motivate you to do so. Do you remember what he said about the incident? "...it always happens to someone else, you think well this is the thing you see on TV but this time it happened to me...". It could happen to anyone at any time in any setting. I could happen to you. Would you be ready if it did?
A hat tip to Herr Richie M for sending me the 21 foot rule video and getting me going on this one. Although he has been retired as an officer from the NYPD and then from the U.S. Customs Service Office of Investigations as a firearms instructor - he is still keeping me on my toes with stuff like this and is the best firearms instructor I have ever had the honor of knowing.
A man returns home a day early from a business trip. It's after midnight. While en-route home, he asks the cabby if he would be a witness. The man suspects his wife is having an affair, and he wants to catch her in the act. For $100, the cabby agrees.
Quietly arriving home, the husband and cabby tiptoe into the bedroom. The husband switches on the lights, yanks the blanket back and there is his wife, naked, with a man!
The husband puts a gun to the naked man's head.
The wife shouts, 'Don't do it! I lied when I told you I inherited money'.
"HE paid for the Porsche I gave you".
"HE paid for your new 25 ft. Ranger Fishing Boat."
"HE paid for your Packer season tickets".
"HE paid for our house at the lake".
"HE paid for your Golf Trip to St Andrews".
"HE paid for your new 4x4".
"HE paid for our country club membership, and HE even pays the monthly dues". Shaking his head from side-to-side, the husband lowers the gun. He looks over at the cabby and says: "What would you do"?
The cabby replies, "I'd holster the gun and cover him with that blanket before he catches a cold".
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