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Lethal vs. Less-Lethal: Should You Carry Both?

Lethal vs. Less-Lethal: Should You Carry Both?

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." - Abraham Maslow

The lawful carry of a concealed handgun can be an ace up your sleeve when faced with a potentially deadly threat. However, as Maslow's famous quote suggests, when your only self-defense option is a handgun, there's a tendency to assume it is the answer to whatever problem you're faced with.

Unfortunately, a gun isn't an amulet that bestows magical powers of protection to its possessor. In fact, drawing your gun when it's not the right tool for the job is likely to exacerbate an already dangerous situation.

In order to address the potential over reliance on their gun, where legally permissible, many CCW holders are opting to carry purpose-designed less-lethal force options such as pepper spray, telescopic batons and electronic control devices. But just how viable and practical are these supplemental tools?

pepper-sprayPepper Spray

Oleoresin Capsicum a.k.a. pepper spray has been used for decades by police and citizens alike as a less-lethal force option. As the name implies, pepper spray is derived from peppers. When sprayed on the face — particularly the eyes of a subject — the subsequent burning sensation, inflammation and reflexive closing of the eyes tends to dissuade all but the most committed adversary.

Even if the assailant has the wherewithal to fight through the effects of being sprayed, the pain and impaired vision he experiences can create an opportunity for you to escape. Having been pepper sprayed several times in training, I can confirm that the effects tend to linger for approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Pepper spray comes in a variety of canister sizes, shapes and attachment options. While a police officer can easily carry a large canister in a belt or external ballistic vest mounted holster, civilians generally opt for a smaller canister that can be clipped to a pocket like many tactical folding knives or attached to a key ring. Obviously, a canister of pepper spray rolling around the bottom of a purse or kept in your vehicle's glove compartment probably won't be accessible when you need it.

The most common spray patterns are stream and fog, with the former requiring more precise aiming. A one-second burst to the eyes is usually sufficient with stream. If not, multiple one-second bursts may be required. With fog, you can actually spray in a wide sweeping motion to create a cloud of spray through which the assailant would have to cross in order to reach you.

As a police officer, I've used pepper spray on several occasions to subdue non-compliant or combative individuals. In most cases, after being sprayed, the subject complied with orders and additional force was not required in order to take them into custody. However, wind conditions, the assailant's movement and even eye wear can render pepper spray useless. Then there's the possibility of you yourself being contaminated.

batonTelescoping batons

It's easy to imagine how a compact baton that extends with the flick of the wrist can come in handy in a self-defense situation. Not only does such a baton expand your striking range, it also enables you to generate far more power than is possible with your fist and with a dramatically reduced risk of injuring yourself in the process.


As a police impact weapon instructor, I teach officers to target primarily an assailant's hands and arms for a couple reasons. First, since hands usually are the weapon or hold the weapon, striking the hand or arm of an assailant can significantly impair his ability to attack. Secondarily, the bones in the arms and particularly in the hands are close to the surface, making them more susceptible to being struck with a baton than a more muscular or fatty area, such as the thigh.

Of course, a strike to the head, neck, throat, groin, spine, etc., would also be highly effective in subduing an assailant, but striking these sensitive areas of the body with a baton carries with it an inherent risk of serious bodily injury or death. In other words, while a baton is considered a less-lethal tool, its use could be considered deadly force, depending on where you strike.

taserElectronic Control Devices (ECD)

All manner of stun guns have been espoused in self-defense ads for as far back as I can remember. However, since these devices required contact with the attacker, you were inevitably well within striking distance. As if that wasn't bad enough, most stun guns didn't generate sufficient pain to cause a determined assailant to desist. Truth be told, I'd always considered stun guns more of a novelty than a legitimate self-defense option. But, these days, police and even civilians have access to Electronic Control Devices far more effective than the stun gun, the most popular of which is the Taser.

Not based on the pain/compliance concept, a Taser is designed to override the central nervous system, thus neutralizing an assailant. Although the Taser C2 (civilian model) can be used like a stun gun, it can also be fired from up to 15 feet away. The C2 is designed to incapacitate an assailant for 30 seconds, allowing you plenty of time to escape. I've seen the Taser work like a charm, and I've seen it fail.

Heavy clothing preventing dart penetration or a dart missing the intended target are the most common problems I've seen, but since it's battery operated, there's always a chance the Taser can fail to operate altogether. As with the baton, there are specified target areas with the Taser. The head, neck, chest and groin are to be avoided due to the increased risk of injury or death.

Should You Carry Both?

Carrying a less-lethal tool for those situations when the threat you're facing does not warrant a deadly force response makes perfect sense. Practice with these tools and understand their limitations, but realize that, in certain cases, insufficient time and distance may preclude you from arming yourself. In such case, you will be relegated to an empty-handed response, at least initially.

You don't need to be a black belt martial artist to protect yourself, but you should have an understanding of your body's natural weapons and how to bring them to bear with maximum power. I'll never forget the quote uttered by Hans Marrero, former chief instructor of Hand-to-Hand Combat for the U.S. Marine Corps at a training conference I attended several years ago, "Your hands are your first and last line of defense."

Words of wisdom, indeed.

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