When he got within 5 or 6 feet… Lawler leveled the Glock and fired once, hitting DeCosta in the groin.
A previous post discussed The Tueller Principle, or as Dennis put it originally “How Close Is Too Close?” In light of the above incident, The Tueller Principle and two related concepts bear further clarification and quantification.
A concept that is seldom discussed in the personal protection community, among either instructors or practitioners, is proxemics. The term proxemics was originated by a cultural anthropologist, Edward Hall, in his book The Hidden Dimension. Its meaning is how we, as humans, interpret and manage the physical space around us. This should be an integral part of planning for personal protection, but usually is not.
Professor Hall’s work breaks out several spatial zones that we perceive around us. Most important to us regarding the realm of personal protection is that we make instinctive judgments about whom we allow into these zones and what our reactions are to those who enter, or try to enter, the zones.
- Intimate Space – where we only allow loved ones to be.
- Personal Space – the area in which we are comfortable having people we know and trust.
- Social Space – the zone where we communicate and/or interact with others generally.
- Public Space – an area where we accept that people in general can be, regardless of whether we know them or are interacting with them.
It is also important to note that Hall’s work was preceded and partially inspired by the work of a Swiss zoologist, Dr. Heini Hediger. After extensive study of animals in the wild, Dr Hediger, in his book Wild Animals in Captivity, introduced several concepts about predator-prey behavior that are particularly relevant to the personal protection community.
- Flight distance – the distance at which prey will seek to escape the approach of a predator.
- Defense distance – the point at which pursued prey, which is being overtaken by a predator, will have a ‘defense reaction,’ in the words of Dr. Hediger.
- Critical distance – the boundary at which prey that is cornered, or feels it is, will initiate a counter-attack on the predator. I.e., the prey has lost its ability to maneuver or escape (decisively engaged) and then reacts in an emergency mode.
Dr. Hediger states that these distances “are specific, within certain limits, and may be accurately measured, often within inches.” p20 When he says inches, he is referring to very small animals; larger animals will generally be measured at intervals of feet or yards/meters. The larger the animal, the greater each distance will be, generally speaking.
The questions that then arise are: 1) what is the overlap between the works of Tueller, Hall, and Hediger and 2) why is that overlap important? Hall theorized that Hediger’s concepts of flight, defense, and critical distance are no longer applicable to humans. However, I do not believe that is true. Human behavior during a criminal predation tends to follow Dr. Hediger’s concept quite closely.
The incident described in the first paragraph is an excellent example of a phenomenon I observed in my long term study of The Armed Citizen and other reports of armed self-defense by private citizens. My impression after the study of thousands of incidents was that people tended to allow human predators to encroach not quite to arm’s length before shooting. When I say encroach, I do not mean actually shoot at, as in a gunfight, but rather attempt to close the distance, whether armed or unarmed.
Encroaching is actually more dangerous than a full throttle attack. If an armed predator runs at us at full speed, it’s obvious what his intent is and our decision becomes fairly simple. On the other hand, an encroachment induces uncertainty into the encounter, in the form of the question “How Close Is Too Close?” Of course, if gunfire is being exchanged, then typical spatial boundaries and zones no longer apply.
Shooting a human predator, especially when he is encroaching, is a communication and social transaction. It is the strongest form of communicating “Stop, don’t come any closer!” Dr. Hediger would term this the critical reaction that occurs at ‘Critical Distance.’ My impression is that it will most likely occur in what Hall termed the ‘near phase of Social Space.’ For North Americans, this zone is between four and seven feet. In other words, our Critical Distance lies within that zone. We will do what we need to do to prevent a predator from crossing the boundary between Social Space and our Personal Space.
How does this relate to The Tueller Principle? The minimum safe boundary established by Tueller is 21 feet. However, the boundary that Hall theorized between public space and social space is only 12 feet. What this means is that we will have an inherent tendency to allow people, and specifically predators, to approach us well with the boundary of safety established by Tueller. That 12 foot boundary for Social Space may be the maximum boundary of our Flight Distance, even with a sketchy character. If our Critical Distance is only 4-7 feet, that could represent a major problem when dealing with a predator.
My late colleague Paul Gomez periodically quizzically commented that “people don’t shoot criminals far enough away.” The relationship between the concepts of Tueller, Hall, and Hediger may be the reason why. It’s something we in the training community need to do a better job of explaining and training.
Situational awareness is not just about seeing what’s going on; it’s also about interpreting that information and what to do about it.
At least a half-dozen times, I ordered him to stop.
Another of my colleagues commented to me “We only say ‘Drop the gun’ once around here.”