On the opening day of my college sociology class the professor called a girl to the stage. He gave her no instructions but to stand there. She did. He walked back to the podium, about seven feet away from her, and continued his lecture on how different societies have different ideas about what is acceptable and normal. As he talked he kept getting closer and closer to the girl.
When he was about three feet away the girl started looking at him a little strangely. When he got to about a foot away from her she took a step away from him and he stopped lecturing to ask us what we observed. Most of my freshmen classmates were clueless.
He was happy to explain that we Americans have a social understanding of personal space. The American standard is between three and four feet for strangers, two to three feet for friends and two feet or less for intimate partners. Strangers who violate the three foot rule for American's get a dirty look, if they continue to advance it is natural for an American to step away to regain their personal space unless there are extenuating circumstances like everyone is in an elevator, full bus, concert or other crowded event where space is limited.
Conversely, if one were to demand more than the socially accepted "norm" of allotted personal space (say five or six feet) they would also be looked at with suspicion, considered rude and possibly even be considered hostile for showing prejudice.
That being said, whenever I see self defense situations discussed on forums, facebook pages, Youtube and the like I am overwhelmed by how many people spout phrases along the lines of, "If you let someone get that close to you, you have already failed," or, "I would never let someone that close to me." Then someone, somewhere, will bring up the Tueller Drill (or, in lay terms, the 21-foot rule) and say something like, "If a bad guy gets within 21 feet of you you're dead!"
For those who do not know, The Tueller Drill was meant to demonstrate that someone attacking at or within 21 feet can usually reach an individual before he or she has time to draw and fire a defensive handgun.
The Drill is a very powerful teaching aid as it does raise awareness that, in most civilian defensive scenarios you are not going to be able to stand still, draw your firearm, bring it up to a full extended grip, acquire your sights and fire at an advancing attackers. It is meant to teach awareness but some have taken it to mean
that we should somehow aspire to keep 21 feet of personal space between
us and strangers.
That, my friends, is entirely unrealistic. Even sitting in your car in traffic allows others sitting in their cars to be within 21 feet of you. Walking through your favorite grocery store, getting gas as a gas station or standing in line at the convenience store is going to require you to get within the normal and socially accepted range of other people you don't know.
Yes, there is prudence in keeping strangers as far away from you as reasonably possible. There is even more prudence in moving away from individuals who alert you as being suspicious. Keeping watch of the people who do move within your Tueller Drill distance is far more practical than trying to shoo them out.
But now that you have accepted that people are going to get close to you it's time to answer the question as to whether or not you are capable of fighting at those decreased distances.
A gun is a good tool to fight with if you need it but sometimes you have to fight to get to the tool or else you might also find yourself in a fight over your tool.
Through hours and hours of getting beaten up and "killed" in force-on-force I was beginning to learn what was finally very simply laid out for me by Greg Ellifritz in my defensive knife class: In order to bring any defensive tool into play in a close quarters encounter you have to have either distance from or control of your attacker. Without one or the other you will very likely get your draw stuffed or your tool of choice taken away from you.
To accomplish this you need hand-to-hand skills and possibly a few other options in place besides a gun alone.
When people say "hand-to-hand" a lot of people groan and think this means they are going to have to go out and join the local martial arts studio. Though certainly an option and not a bad one, it's not the only one. A lot of martial arts studios will have short weekend seminars or classes with some quick and dirty defensive tactics that are easy to learn and use.
Universities, the YMCA, local police departments, women's support groups, fire houses and even hospitals will often host self defense classes. If they don't they might know who does or have the contact information of someone who does. Give them a call and start asking around. Believe it or not, the telephone can often be a better networking tool than the internet and provide better local resources than twenty-four straight hours of google searches.
Other, well known fighting schools like Krav Maga will also have traveling seminars for those who do not have centers in the area and one can find a more local class or be able to travel for just a weekend workshop.
No, you aren't going to learn everything in a weekend seminar or workshop but you are going to learn something and even if it's only one single thing that saves your life it was worth it.
Many of these schools and classes will also offer returning student discounts so you can go back for a refresher.
The next step is incorporating your defensive tools into your hand-to-hand skills. This can be done through close quarters gunfighting classes and force-on-force. These classes generally combine hand-to-hand tactics with gun work to help the shooter gain ability and confidence in introducing a firearm into a close quarters encounter.
Almost all of the well-known gun schools have a close quarters gunfighting course or two and it should be on the "go" list of every individual who packs a gun for self defense.
Accept the Tueller Drill for what it really is, a demonstration and be realistic about your proximity to others in daily life. Don't waste your time trying to achieve the impossible of keeping people 21 feet away from you. Train for the possibility of being an effective fighter within those 21 feet.