If you think about weapons for self-defense, the chances are the first thing that comes to mind is a gun. That makes perfect sense; after all, if it’s protection you need a gun is hard to beat.
They don’t rely on physical strength for effects, so almost anybody can use one. They let you deal with threats from a distance.
They’re the one weapon that gives you a real chance of defeating a group of attackers – or, even better, intimidating them into backing down and leaving you alone. And, of course, a gun is also great for hunting.
Even in the USA, though, not everyone can own a gun. Yes, the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but even the Constitution has exceptions.
Some jurisdictions have restrictive local laws that make it difficult to legally get a gun. For example, in San Francisco it’s almost impossible to get a handgun.
Then, of course, if you have a felony conviction or dishonorable discharge from the US military, you lose your right to own guns. But if you can’t own guns does that mean you have to be defenseless?
No, it doesn’t have to mean that. There are a range of weapons that aren’t guns, and aren’t covered by gun laws – so any adult can own them. If you can’t have a gun you can still have a weapon that will give you a good chance against an attacker.
In fact even if you do have a gun there are advantages in also having a weapon that lets you defend yourself without doing too much damage to your attacker; while sometimes it’s necessary to use lethal force, the potential legal and personal costs of doing that are high.
Even if you have a gun and you’re willing to use it, a non-lethal alternative can be deployed against a wider range of threats.
If you shoot an assailant who turns out to be unarmed you could face legal problems; if you hit him with pepper spray you’ll be fine. So what sort of non-lethal weapons should you consider?
I mentioned pepper spray already, so let’s start with that. Small aerosol cans are a popular non-lethal self defense option.
Although they’re generically called pepper spray, they can actually contain a variety of substances.
Related: How To Make Pepper Spray
One of the first was Mace, which went on sale in the 1960s and is still available. Mace contains phenacyl chloride, a tear gas better known by its military designation, CN. It’s very irritating, but basically harmless, although it can be toxic in very large doses.
Actual pepper spray, or OC, is made with natural capsaicin from chili peppers and it’s actually more irritating; it’s mostly replaced CN for police use. It’s also safer.
An alternative to pepper spray is CS. This has a shorter shelf life, but it’s truly evil stuff.
As well as being a powerful tear gas it also causes severe coughing, tightness in the chest and a strong burning sensation on the skin. The effects don’t last long – but while they do, your assailant will forget all about attacking you.
A taser is a non-lethal gun that fires a pair of darts which trail thin wires behind them.
When the darts hit the target they release a 50,000 volt pulse, which can immobilize someone for up to 30 seconds.
Tasers aren’t cheap, but they’re legal to own in every state except Rhode Island.
Like a gun, they give you the advantage of range – you can take down an attacker up to 15 feet away. Heavy clothing can sometimes defeat them, but the darts are sharp enough to get through normal clothes (and barbed so they stay in the target).
In many states Tasers are regulated like guns – if you have a recent felony or violent crime conviction you can’t buy one. However, if you can get one they’re probably the best non-lethal weapon out there.
Tasers on sale to the public include the top end (and expensive) law enforcement models, including the Taser 7 CQ, which has a two-shot capability; the smaller and much cheaper Taser Pulse, which is much easier to carry concealed; and the Bolt 2, which unlike the other models isn’t handgun-shaped and can be discreetly carried in a purse or pocket. The Bolt 2 also links to a cellphone app that can automatically call 911 when you fire the weapon.
Tasers aren’t discreet. As well as the darts the disposable cartridge is packed with serial-numbered confetti, which can be used to identify the purchaser. Every time the weapon is fired the area will be sprayed with clear evidence of exactly who fired.
Obviously there are risks in using a weapon that lets an attacker get close enough to stab you, so don’t overlook the value of the humble stick.
In fact it’s not so humble; a sturdy hickory or ash walking stick, with a nicely polished – and heavy – metal decorative head, is a formidable weapon.
It has more reach than a knife, letting you keep the bad guy beyond arm’s length, and if you can give someone a couple of good whacks on the head with three feet of metal-tipped hardwood there’s a strong chance they’re going to give up and go looking for an easier target.
If you live in Montana, Ohio or Oklahoma you can also legally carry a swordstick, which is what it sounds like – a walking stick with a sword concealed inside it. That might be stretching the definition of “non-lethal,” though.
If you’re at all prepared, a flashlight is probably one of your everyday carry items anyway.
Pick the right one and it can double up as a non-lethal weapon.
Modern tactical flashlights can be bright enough to dazzle, or even disorient, an attacker.
While they’re blinking and trying to work out what happened, a couple of quick strikes to vulnerable body parts with the scalloped glass-breaker bezel that surrounds the lens on many tactical flashlights will slow them down enough to let you disengage and escape.
Some larger models – like a long D-cell Maglite, for example – are big and heavy enough that you can simply bludgeon an assailant with them.
In many ways a stun gun is a Taser’s little brother.
It also works by giving an attacker a powerful electric shock.
The stun gun is a contact-only weapon.
You have to push the two studs on the end against your target then press the button.
The disadvantage is that if your assailant has a knife or other weapon, you have to come within range of it to use the stun gun.
The advantages are that stun guns are a lot cheaper than tasers and you don’t need a background check to buy one, so a youthful felony is no problem.
In a crisis it’s hard to beat the reliable protection provided by a gun, but non-lethal weapons have their place too. Often they’re all you need to deter or defeat an attacker.
You can get them more easily than a gun, and legally carry them in more places.
If you don’t already have non-lethal weapons to hand, you should definitely look at what’s available.
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