Generally speaking, we in the prepping and survival community focus on lethal weapons for self-defense. The general attitude is that if things are bad enough to warrant the use of a weapon, they’re bad enough that you’ll probably need to shot to kill. I mean, who wants to try and use a taser or pepper spray on a zombie anyway?
This attitude mostly comes from the fact that we tend to prepare for worst-case scenarios, TEOTWAWKI events. But not everything we’re preparing for falls into that category. The people who survived Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma aren’t looking at a total collapse of society, no matter how bad things got. Rather, they’re looking at a situation where they need to protect their homes from looters. You don’t want to kill someone for that, you just want to stop them.
Then there’s the everyday. I’m licensed and carry concealed as part of my EDC. But that doesn’t mean that I really want to have to be quick on the draw. There are a lot of complications when you have to shoot someone, not the least of which is having to live the rest of your life with the knowledge that you’ve killed a person.
The Case for Less-Lethal Weapons
For much of the time that I’ve been carrying, I’ve avoided carrying less-lethal options. This is sound advice in some circles, as if you are forced to shoot someone in self-defense, and you have a less-lethal option, the question can be raised as to why you didn’t use it. If all you have is a gun, then when things escalate to the point of violence, there’s really no question why you didn’t reach for a stun gun, rather than putting a bullet in them.
But putting a bullet in someone, even worse, ending their life with one is a serious step to take. Granted, there are some times when an attacker doesn’t give you any other option. But there are also other times where using some restraint is a wiser choice of action. The trick is discerning between the two.
There is a legal term here, which is very important, even if it isn’t always applied to self-defense cases. That is, “minimal necessary force.” Police are trained to use the minimal necessary force in a situation. That’s why they carry more than just a gun. In many police forces, officers carry a stun gun, pepper spray and a baton, in addition to their primary firearm. If they need to go farther than that, there’s a good chance that they have a long gun in the car somewhere.
The Problem with Multiple Weapons
There is a big problem with carrying multiple weapons though, and before we start looking at any, I want to discuss it. That is, when you have multiple weapons you increase your training requirements enormously. Not only do you have to become proficient with each type of weapon you are carrying, but you also need to develop the thought process of selecting which weapon you are going to use in any particular situation.
Firearms are so popular as weapons not only because of the amount of lethal power they provide, but their relative ease of use as well. Although it can take considerable practice time to truly become proficient in the use of firearms, especially pistols, one can learn the basics in just a few hours.
Granted, I personally would never want to use a firearm in self-defense with only a few hours of instruction and practice, you could do that. The only real problem you’ll have is that your accuracy won’t be as good as someone who has practiced a lot. That not only means that you are likely to miss your target, but it also increases the chances of hitting an innocent bystander by mistake.
In comparison, every other weapon out there requires a considerable amount of training and practice to become minimally proficient, let alone mastering them; much more so than firearms. Even some of the weapons that I’m going to mention in this article require longer to become proficient in, than using a pistol to defend yourself.
Then you’ve got the decision cycle; deciding which weapon to use. Fortunately, this can be learned mostly as a mental exercise, rather than in practice. What I mean by that is that you can train yourself on that by thinking through various scenarios, deciding how you would deal with them. As part of that, decide which weapon you would use and how you would deploy it for use. Practice the deployment part, drawing and presenting the weapon over and over again, even if you are unable to practice using it on a real target.
I want to start out by talking about contact weapons. These are handheld weapons, where you actually need to make contact with the individual. As such, they are probably the worst sort for you to use in self-defense. The closer you are to your assailant, the closer they are to you. That means that you don’t have any advantage over them. if you’re close enough to strike them, they are close enough to strike you as well.
Taser (Stun Gun)
The taser or stun gun is a common choice for a contact-type self-defense weapon. It produces a high-voltage, low-amperage charge, which when the two contacts are touched to a person, cause what is essentially an overload of their nervous system, causing them to collapse in pain.
For what it is, the taser is effective, incapacitating an individual for several minutes and allowing you to get away. However, the trick with this weapon is that you have to be able to touch it to your attacker. Most criminals know of these and are alert for them. So, you might find it hard to get through their defenses and make contact.
The best sorts of tasers are the compact ones, that you can hide in your hand. Of course, those are usually lower voltage and have smaller batteries. Nevertheless, the advantage of concealability, increasing the chances of making contact with an adversary, are such that it is worth using the smaller ones, even if it doesn’t incapacitate the bad guys as long.
As far as I’m concerned, the tactical pen is somewhat of a joke, as far as weapons go. Basically, it’s just a high quality, machined aluminum pen. As such, it is a one-handed stabbing weapon, nothing more. There are many other options which are much better.
Having said that, I must admit that I carry a tactical pen on a regular basis. Since I need to carry a pen anyway, I prefer carrying one that can double as a weapon, albeit a not very effective one. If I have nothing else to use, a tactical pen is better than a bare fist.
One big advantage of a tactical pen is that it is not seen as a weapon in most cases. I have carried them through airport security and into courtrooms; both places where weapons are prohibited. Were I to end up in an altercation in one of those places, the tactical pen would give me an advantage over an unarmed individual.
There are a couple of different types of keychain weapons around, most specifically the spike and one that looks a bit like a martial arts Tonfa. Like the tactical pen, these can give you an advantage over an unarmed assailant; but their utility is limited to that. However, that may be enough in some circumstances.
One thing to keep in mind with these is that you don’t want to use them with a really heavy keychain. If you have a lot of other stuff hanging off your keychain, especially heavy stuff, you will find it difficult to work with these weapons. My keychain has more than enough on it, so I don’t bother with one of these.
Melee Distance Weapons
I did an article on melee weapons, which mostly talked about medieval weaponry. That’s really not what I’m talking about here. Those weapons are designed to be lethal weapons, and we’re talking about non-lethal weapons in this post. So, while a sword might be an excellent weapon, it’s not what we want right now.
These weapons aren’t really melee weapons in the classic sense, simply because they are not weapons used for warfare. But the concept still applies. What I’m interested in here, are weapons that can be used at an arm’s distance, rather than your hand being in contact with the assailant. While that isn’t a whole lot of distance, it does give you some tactical advantage, especially if they are using a knife or just their bare fists.
Probably the most common non-lethal weapon in this category is pepper spray. I list it here, mostly because the better quality pepper spray brands will shoot three feet or more. That allows you to get your attacker, before they can get you.
The problem with pepper spray, like tasers, is hiding it in your hand. Once again, this has been around long enough, that criminals are accustomed to seeing it and watching for it. If they see that you have a pepper spray container in your hand, they are likely to try and counter its effects in some way, such as knocking your arm out of position.
If you choose to use pepper spray as a weapon, make sure that you buy two of them. That allows you to experiment with one, learning how much range it has and how to aim it, without depleting the one you are going to be carrying. Since different brands work at different distances, this experimentation is important.
The asp was originally developed for police and security personnel, to give them a more convenient way of carrying a baton. The smaller size also provides some level of concealability. Fully extended, one of these telescoping batons is 16 to 26 inches long, depending on the brand and model. Collapsed, they are about 1/3 their extended length.
These collapsible batons are a lot like using a stick to strike someone. However, that’s better than being limited to your fists. At least it gives you more distance, as well as a harder hit. They are typically made with a weighted tip, providing a harder impact, with the possibility of incapacitating the assailant.
The big problem with this option is that it is harder to use than some of the others we are looking at. Your physical strength is a factor as well. People with little arm strength or limited mobility probably shouldn’t look at using this option.
Of course, you could just carry a stick around with you and use that for a self-defense weapon. The stick is one of the oldest weapons known to man, the other being the rock. Personally, I’ve always had an affinity for the quarterstaff, which is really nothing more than a long stick. My hiking stick makes an admirable quarterstaff, when needed.
In a way, the stun cane is a bit of a novelty item, but it’s one with some real potential. This is essentially the taser we talked about before, built into a cane. As such, it might be a great option for the elderly, whether they actually need a cane to walk, or are just good at faking it.
While anyone who knows what it is will be able to recognize the stun cane when they see it, they really aren’t all that common. So it could very well look like nothing more than a fancy, futuristic styled cane to someone who has never seen one. That gives you an advantage when using it, as the attacker won’t realize what it is.
There is also a version of this that looks like a walking stick for hiking. Rather than the metal rings that this one has around it, that version has the electrodes in the tip. On one hand, that makes it harder to use, as you have to hit them with the end of it; but on the other hand, you’ll be able to strike at them at a longer distance, keeping them from you.
Martial Arts Weapons
A number of martial arts weapons can be used in a non-lethal manner. Many of these came from tools that the Chinese used for farming. When the Japanese conquered parts of China, they did not allow the Chinese to have any bladed weapons, lest they revolt. So, the people developed ways of using their tools as weapons.
While some of these are quite deadly, some are less so; or they are only deadly when one tries to use them that way. But since they are not bladed or pointed weapons, they can be used for non-lethal self-defense. Weapons such as the bo staff, escrima, nunchaku and tonfas fall into this category.
There are two basic problems with using these weapons though. The first is that they are obvious for what they are. You really can’t carry these weapons concealed or make believe that you just carry them around for the fun of it. The other is that they require considerable time to master. Unless you are already a martial arts student, this may not be the best route for you to go.
Today’s tactical LED flashlights are worlds better than the old two-cell lights that I grew up with. They are more rugged, there are no bulbs to break and they are much brighter. Made out of machined aluminum, most of them can be used as weapons, along the lines of the keychain weapons I mentioned earlier.
But there’s another way of using a tactical light as a weapon, that’s to shine it in the eyes of an assailant. This can be very effective, especially in flashing mode and also especially at night. However, you really need a quality tactical flashlight for this to work.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of tactical flashlights on the market which are making claims that they can’t fulfill. Specifically, they claim to be much brighter than what they actually are. I’ve seen a number of flashlights which are advertised as providing 1,000 lumens of light, which only produce about 300. So you want to be careful about what you buy. Sticking with high-quality brands helps.
I have a Streamlight, similar to the one pictured. Mine produces 500 lumens of light, the brightest that Streamlight made at the time I bought it. The one pictured above, which is very similar, produce 1,000 lumens. Mine is bright enough to stun and even temporarily blind, this one has to be even better.
Longer Distance Weapons
There aren’t a whole lot of options for non-lethal weapons when you get beyond arm’s length. However, there are a few. The problem with most of them, is that you need to use them with a shotgun. There is one exception to that, which I’ll mention.
Shooting Stun Gun
Yes, we’re talking about stun guns once again. It seems that there are more options for stun guns than just about anything, except the 12 gauge shotgun. But these stun guns are different, in that they shoot the electrodes at the person, allowing you to engage them from across the room.
Many police departments are having their officers carry these now, offering them a less-lethal option to use in the apprehension of criminals. They shoot much like a regular handgun, using a laser sight to aim. With a range of about 15 feet, they aren’t great for use outdoors, but indoors there are few situations where they would not be effective.
I’ll warn you though, these are just about as expensive as buying a gun; so don’t let their toy-like appearance fool you. The cartridges are rather expensive too, running over $40 per round. So this isn’t the kind of thing you want to play around with. For that matter, they fire an identifying confetti, so you can’t get away with shooting someone as a gag and running. They’ll be able to trace the shot to you.
Of course, the other issue is whether or not you can carry one legally in your state. Laws regarding these stun guns vary much more from state to state, than they do for the ones where you have to make contact with the other person.
Less-lethal Shotgun Shells
There are a wide range of 12-gauge less-lethal shotgun shells on the market, with more coming out all the time. These are being developed mostly for police, to combat the problem of police being accused of using unnecessary force. Less lethal options allow them to being the accused before the courts, rather than having to kill them if they fight.
Amongst the various options that exist for use with 12-gauge shotguns you’ll find:
- Rubber balls and slugs of various types
- Stun-gun rounds (same as shooting a stun gun at them)
- Beanbag rounds (small beanbag that is designed to knock the wind out of them)
- Cayenne pepper
- Dragon’s Breath (pyrotechnics - doesn’t hurt anyone)
The problem here is that if you’re going to have to use a shotgun anyway, why are you using less-lethal round? About the only advantage that they are giving you, is that you won’t have the person’s death on your conscience. But then, if you’ve decided to shoot anyone with anything, you should have already decided that you could live with that decision.
You have to understand that the risk in using these less-lethal shotgun shells is much higher than shooting an assailant with a gun. The big problem is that if it doesn’t stop them, all it will do is anger them. While I wouldn’t want to be hit by any of them, someone on drugs might not even feel it. If that were the case, they could keep on coming and attack you, while you are trying to pump your shotgun for the next shot.
With the stun-gun rounds, chances are that if the assailant is wearing any sort of jacket, the probes won’t penetrate through it. In that case, you’ve just wasted an expensive shot and haven’t accomplished a thing. The same can be said for some of these other rounds, like the beanbag. Basically, depending on the situation, you really don’t know if any of them will get the job done.
Integrating Your Weapons
While there are a number of different non-lethal options that you can go with, it isn’t practical to try to carry all of them. You and I aren’t superheroes in the movies, so I imagine if the police saw us armed to the teeth with a dozen different weapons, they would think it highly suspicious, if not illegal.
Speaking of legalities, you want to check your state’s laws, before carrying any of these. The Asp baton, for example, is illegal in Texas, even though you can carry any sort of knife, even a sword. Laws may not always make sense, but they are always the law. Carrying something less-lethal to avoid the legal problems of having to kill someone in self-defense doesn’t work, if the thing you are carrying is illegal in its own right. You might not be charged with murder, but you’d still be under charges.
I would limit myself to no more than one less-lethal weapon, assuming that you’re already carrying a gun; or perhaps one less-lethal option, a gun and a knife. That’s what I typically carry, as I feel that any more than that would probably look rather suspicious.
The next thing you need to decide is how to carry these items. Ideally, you want your weapons hidden, as that gives you the advantage of surprise, a very valuable tactical asset in any fight. However, carrying your weapons concealed does slow you down when it is time to draw the weapon, so you will need to practice drawing each of your weapons and readying them for use.
I was recently talking to a police officer in my area, who was attacked fiercely by a man who was apparently hoped up on drugs. He managed to trip the officer, causing him to fall on his back. Once he had fallen, the assailant straddled his chest and started to choke him. Although the officer was armed, he couldn’t reach his gun or his stun gun the way he was pinned. Had it not been for his knife, which he could reach, he would have been totally helpless.
So, locating your weapons in different places around your body not only makes them easier to conceal, but also makes them easier to work with, if you find yourself in a position where you can’t get to one weapon easily. It’s hard to draw a gun from a waist-mounted holster if you are seated; but something attached to your ankle or in a shirt pocket is easy to get to.
Ultimately, you have to decide what works for you. This will require a bit of experimentation. But once you find that, be consistent. You don’t want to have to think about where your weapons are. Rather, you want to train your muscle memory, so that you can draw them quickly, without conscious thought.Work on drills to draw your various weapons, as well as to transition from one weapon to another. Any non-lethal weapon you are carrying is only a first line of defense. If necessary, you should be ready to step up to something more lethal, like a gun or knife. But at the same time, you don’t want to just drop that weapon where a criminal might be able to pick it up and use it against you. Transitions are important to prevent this.