Does barrel length make that much of a difference in a carry gun?


So I’ve seen many carry guns listed in 3.6" or 3.3" or 4" barrels. I figure that what a person chooses depends on their preference and I now that a 4" barrel has a bit better accuracy than the others but is it that noticeable? Besides having a shorter draw time are there any other benefits to having a barrel length less than 4" (all my carry guns are 4")?


The biggest ballistics difference in barrel legnth is feet per second but, with the difference being less than an inch it’s pretty negligable. As for being more accurate, it’s more hype than reality. Other than that it’s mostly personal preference from my understanding of that subject.


I’m usually more concerned with the grip length than the barrel. Another 1/2 inch of barrel is easy to conceal. Another 1/2 inch of grip can mean the difference in printing or not.


That’s true @45IPAC. I can conceal a compact pretty well. But I would assume that all compact and sub compact grip lengths are the same. Am I wrong in this assumption?


Capacity, caliber and, whether it’s a single stack or, a double stack are a factor in grip legnth regardless of frame size.


I’d say so. To get 7 rounds in a Shield 45, it will have a longer grip than my 45C, but be thinner. I’m thinking about a 45 Shield for a summer carry gun. It’s that, or lose 40 lbs. My wife is a good cook, so, I’m saving up for that Shield.


I can only speak for myself. I find the 4 & 6 inch barrels are great for the range. The longer barrels have greater accuracy and greater projectile velocity. Since the legal distance for self-defense is 7 yds (21 feet, barring any disparity of force issues), I carry a shorter barrel 9mm with guality self-defense ammo. Acceptable power, easier to conceal.


Isn’t the “legal distance “ wherever your life is in imminent danger? The March issue of Concealed Carry had a great article about using a handgun against an attacker armed with a rifle. It’s why I try to “stretch out” my handgun skills. God forbid I ever have to defend myself or others with any weapon, but if it arises, I want to be able to make a defense until the threat is completely neutralized. If that means a shot at 30, 40, 50 yards, I want to know what I can make, with the gun I have on me. I generally use the paper plate approach for this. Whatever distance I can put consistent, multiple rounds on a 10 inch paper plate, is the distance I consider myself effective with that handgun.


What is Your Safe Distance to Engage the Threat: The 21-Foot Rule


Ben Findley


What is Your Safe Distance to Engage the Threat: The 21-Foot Rule


[Ben Findley

What is Your Safe Distance to Engage the Threat: The 21-Foot Rule

Several of the fastest wide receivers and running backs in the National Football League can run 120 feet (40-yard dash) between 4.24 and 4.27 seconds. It is well-documented that many football players can run 120 feet in about 4.5 seconds. Football players at most positions and average-fit people can run about 20 feet in about 1.5 seconds or slightly less. This seems almost unbelievable, but it is true. So can some “bad guys.” So, is the 21-Foot Rule a sufficient guideline for deciding at what point and when to draw, present, and use your defensive gun before being overcome by the “bad guy?” Is it a safe distance for adequate reaction time to stop the threat? Some think so and some think not. Some think it should be a 30-Foot Rule and some jurisdictions have changed to it, e.g. certain jurisdictions in Texas, Georgia, Florida, and others.

Time, Distance, and Accuracy

This month I attended two NRA advanced and intermediate-level concealed carry courses near Atlanta, GA, Personal Protection Outside the Home. One of the instructors, a middle-aged female (average build & physical fitness), guided me in a 7-yard special drill. At the range, we were positioned back-to-back and she had her hand on my shoulder. I was the “good guy” and she was the “bad gal.” When she removed her hand from my shoulder, I was to unholster my gun from beneath my concealment shirt and fire 2 non-sighted shots at the target in front of me down range at 21 feet, while she (as the attacker) ran in the opposite direction up range. She stopped as my first shot was fired. As the good-guy shooter, I was successful only if one of my shots hit someplace in center-mass target and if she as the bad-gal runner did not cover 21 feet. Time is a very important personal-protection variable. We don’t want a “tie” with the attacker and defender in terms of time. The defender needs to win the time race. No excuses for this keyboard commando, but I tried to be quick and she covered about 24 feet before I accessed my concealed gun, drew it, and fired my two rapid shots. Both my shots hit center mass, but it took me too long to do it. In reality, I would be severly injured or dead, especially if the attacker was a lean and fit 25-year-old. This really hit home for me and I had been practicing my presentation, accuracy, and was not under undue stress. I was even aware in advance that my decision would be to draw and then that I would need to fire quickly. Luxuries usually not available when involved with your dynamic personal-protection situation. Being assaulted by a quick, on-rushing maniac or a crazy with a knife, gun, or other weapon is certainly different than practicing range shooting skills on a paper plate from the seven-yard line.

The Tueller Rule and Drill

For many years since 1983 when Sergeant Dennis Tueller, of the Salt Lake City, Utah Police Department, developed his 21-Foot Rule and the Tueller Drill, this distance was, and is, still accepted as a safety guideline for assaults. Tueller setup a training drill where he placed an average volunteer attacker armed with an edged weapon/knife 21 feet away from an officer with a holstered handgun. On the signal, the attacker ran toward the officer to stab him and Tueller timed the attacker over the 21 feet. He determined the attacker could easily cover the 21 feet and reach the officer in 1.5 seconds. His results were widely published and subsequent validation by others have supported his results. His police training video is entitled “How Close is Too Close?” The training objective was to determine whether the officer could draw and acurately fire upon the assailant to stop the threat before the attacker stabbed him. Was the 21 feet an adequate response parameter for deciding when to shoot or not and, if so, to draw and shoot? As you can imagine, this is highly controversial and states and jurisdictions vary a lot, as do the court decisions. There are a lot of variables to consider and many influencing factors. So, use caution when drawing your conclusions and, especially, about using the 21-Foot Rule, the 30-Foot Rule, or ANY rule for your actions. They are merely generalized guidelines and NOT absolute rules nor based on forensic research and all possible facts. Each individual SITUATION must dictate your defensive reaction, safe distance to engage the threat, and your response! Be very careful!

The question then is… Is 21 Feet enough of a cushion (reactionary gap) for you to prepare and do what you have to do to quickly defend yourself from the assailant? Many shooters believe that they can draw and deliver an effective hit on a charging assailant when the assailant starts his assault from a distance of seven yards. Experienced shooters at the range have told me “no problem,” but I have my serious doubts. Some range drills for some of my students have proven to me and them that this is not so under most situations. Also, consider whether or not the attack is in your home or on the street. Recognize that the rooms in a typical home are mostly about 21 feet or less from wall to wall, so you will probably be even closer inside your home, considering the space taken by furniture.

Tueller addressed the “reactionary gap” and concluded that sudden action is usually faster than a defensive response or reaction for humans. The closer an assailant is to you, the less time you have to defensively react to any aggressive action the assailant makes. Remember, one shot rarely stops the threat, so accurate hits are also important while you are under the time pressure.

Some Research and Court Guidance About the Rule

In 2014, Dr. Ron Martinelli, forensic criminologist, revisited the 21-Foot Rule related to police officers and concluded several key things. He said that it takes on average .58 seconds to experience the threat and determine if it is real. Then it takes an average of .56 to 1.0 seconds to make a response decision to act. Then comes access to the gun, draw, presentation, and firing, which consume more time. Some say it takes about .50 to 1.00 seconds to access and draw the gun. Of course, the location of the gun, the type of holster and concealment, and practice affect this. Others say it takes anywhere from .25 to .31 seconds then to actually press the trigger to fire it. So these factors alone add up to a minimum average requirement of about 1.89 seconds (up to 2.39 seconds or more) for me … which is more than the 1.5 seconds for the bad guy to reach you. And you have to have good hits to stop the bad guy. Further, he recognized that if the sidearm is secured in a Level III holster, it will have a slower draw-to-target acquisition time than drawing from a Level I holster or another type, e.g. pocket, ankle, or small of the back. So someone’s experience and competency with his or her holster system and particular handgun are also critical factors.

Dr. Bill Lewinski with the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University has also re-examined the 21 Foot Rule and made some conclusions for the police which are noteworthy for all:

  1. Because of prevalent misinterpretation, the Rule has been dangerously corrupted;
  2. When properly understood, the Rule is still valid in certain limited circumstances;
  3. For many officers and situations, the Rule is not sufficient;
  4. The weapon that officers often think they can depend on to defeat knife attacks can’t be relied upon to protect them in many cases; and
  5. Training in edged-weapon defense should by no means be abandoned.

Without a doubt, each deadly-force, high-risk encounter in a rapidly-changing situation is unique. This has been recognized and restated in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor for the police. In essence, the Graham standard guides that force should be applied in the same basic way that an objectively reasonable officer would in the same circumstances. Further, that the most important factor to consider in applying force is the threat faced by the officer or others at the scene. Seems this is important to judicious use of deadly force whether you are a police officer or not. Situationally dependent and reasonable .


It seems obvious to me that many factors and situations are involved in determiing if the 21-Foot Rule is applicable. The distance, time, and accuracy factors can be influenced by other things like the fitness level of the attacker, the mental state of both attacker and defender, the level of training and weapon or handgun proficiency of both participants, drugs, the terrain and location of the encounter, the weather, ambient light, full-duty gear, dress, gloves, and so many other variables. Be careful out there.

What are your thoughts about the 21-Foot Rule, your safe distance for engagement, and why do you believe what you believe?

Continued success!

Photo by author.

  • This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
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I didn’t realize you were talking about an attacker with a knife/edged weapon. Myth busters even tested the Tueller drill back in the day.

I thought you meant any self defense scenario was ok at 21 feet, hence my previous comment.


The 21’ rule is cool, but do these guys train? I know for a fact that I can draw from concealed and put 2 in center mass in 1.83 seconds because I train to do so, I also think that just standing there while someone is rushing you is crazy, there are so many factors, a 9mm may not stop the bad guys momentum where a .45 may knock them off their feet, donyou shoot for center mass only, or do you practice shooting Mozambique? I prefer mozambique personally, you can’t loose that way. I also train to fall onto my back while drawing, this gives your feet something to do as well. Lots of factors to consider


I can draw and empty my 45 in under 3 seconds. I train some draw, and point shooting. I do work on Mozambique, but not from a draw.


I didn’t know the chest shot and head shot was Mozambique. I’ve thought about training that way. I might try to do it next time I’m at the range. I was taught to just put 2-5 rounds center mass rapid fire and keep the headshots for hostage situations.
Do you feel like you could land that headshot under duress @Steve-G?

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Well guys, Training and real time situations are very different, in my opinion only, when we train, we are making muscle memory, could I do this under pressure? I don’t know for sure, no one could honestly answer that question, but I do know that its something I do on a regular basis, so what’s the difference between putting 2 in center mass vs. putting 2 center mass and one to the head? I know it seems like a smaller target, but when you incorporate this in your training, and you do it over and over again, it becomes natural to just do, but that really doesn’t mean that I would do this in a real situation. As you well know, all situations are very different, we cant make a plan as to how we would defend ourselves before the situation arises. I can only hope that we will never find out. I hope this answers the question. God bless…


A smaller barrel gun will be smaller overall, having less weight to help absorb some recoil, which could affect accuracy a bit. I prefer to carry as large a handgun as I can conceal. I don’t like the compacts or subcompacts as they feel weird in my hand and I don’t like how they shoot. I’m not a large guy by an means, but apparently I’m more comfortable handling a larger handgun. Currently that’s a VP9, which has a barrel a little over 4 inches and is described as being somewhere between a Glock 19 and Glock 17 size wise.

In a real life defensive situation, your heart rate will be off the charts. Not a bad idea every once in a while to get your heart rate elevated prior to shooting, if possible, maybe through some quick cardio; running in place, jumping jacks, etc.


A guy I know who owns a range I go to, sometimes he or others he trains with will run up the trail a bit and then sprint back as hard as they can up to the platform and all the while draw while running, stop and shoot.


That’s good stuff. Taking advanced classes that involve shooting on the move is also a good idea.

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I’ve always been curious about two barrel length questions.

First, does a snub nose on a .357 magnum make sense? I’ve heard arguments from both sides. The longer barrel develops more power. The shorter barrel is quicker to draw and easier to carry. Plus, anything over 21 feet is probably not a self-defense scenario (in most cases). For self-defense and carry, it seems the snubbie would be a good option, but why bother if it ends up not being any better than a subcompact 9mm?

Second question concerns .45 cal barrel lengths under 4". I’ve heard the shorter slide distance can misfeed the next round. Is it a barrel length question? A spring strength question? Or is it not a question at all.

I’m looking at my next two guns being one each of the above. My sights are set on a S&W 627 with a 4" barrel, but I would consider a shorter barrel if it makes sense. I’ve been looking at the 1911’s, don’t have a strong option yet. Some of the Smiths and Sigs I’ve looked at have compact 1911’s. Just want to make sure they perform as I expect.

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I had the 637 in a 2” barrel, didn’t like it at all, the 4” would have most likely made a difference. 4” and up seem to have better results in a revolver. 3” and up for a pistol, the shorter .45s should have a heavier spring in it, but then you can do a lot to help it out, polish the slide grooves, the feed ramp should look like a mirror, I have no issues with any of mine, I’m a big fan of the .45 in every way for carry or competition. My S&W 636 (.357 mag) has a 6” barrel, it’s smooth as silk to shoot, and it’s a 7 shot, also have a Ruger super Blackhawk in .44 mag single action with an 8” barrel, what a beast that is, super accurate, even out to 100 yards (believe it or not).

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