Use of Lethal and Non-Lethal Force Without Guns in Self-Defense
by Marty Hayes, J.D.
Network members must at times travel and work in locations where they cannot carry a gun, either because it is illegal and they cannot obtain the requisite concealed weapon permit or perhaps they work in what has become known as a “non-permissive environment.” It is the position of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Inc. that our members should not violate laws governing carrying handguns for defense, but instead, if forced to choose between violating the law and going gun-less, develop a range of defense skills including non-firearm and non-lethal defense methods. We limit grants of financial assistance to fight an unmeritorious prosecution to situations where the member is legally carrying the weapon used in defense.
We recommend “layered defense” preparations to our members. That means a person should not only have a gun for self defense, but also have the means to mount an intermediate defense with pepper spray, Kubotan/mini-baton, cane or empty hand self-defense techniques.
However, use of intermediate force while also armed with a deadly weapon is not the subject of this treatise. Our discussion today is about using non-gun defense methods when deadly force would likely be warranted or when there is justification for at least defensive display of a deadly weapon with commands to stop the offending activity. With this in mind, let’s start our exploration of non-firearm use of lethal force and non-lethal force when deadly force is likely merited. The tools? Highly effective intermediate weapons such as a knife, a Conducted Electrical Weapon, pepper spray or an impact weapon that can be possessed legally and if used effectively, offers a reasonably good chance of stopping a deadly force attack.
As with a firearm, successfully employing an alternate weapon requires an advanced level of skill and documented training so you can articulate why you employed the weapon. Lack of documented training results in not having trainers available to testify in court about how you were trained and why your use of force was reasonable. Even if you possess the skill to use the weapon effectively, for this reason alone, you also need to have training. Our further discussion assumes you have training in the non-gun defense method under discussion.
Use of Knives for Self Defense
When traveling through states where I do not possess a concealed weapon permit, I will replace the gun with the knife as my “go-to” weapon. In fact, as I am writing this article, I have just done exactly that, stopping at the California border and switching the legally carried Colt Defender concealed beneath a light jacket with an unconcealed, legal folding knife.
Effectiveness of a hand-held weapon such as a knife is limited to close to contact distances, and thus I find it a less than ideal primary weapon.
On the other hand, we know about knife lethality and so do the bad guys.
Lawful use of a knife in self defense is very dependent on your local state’s statutory and case law. Research this aspect of the law, talk to your local attorney and make sure the knife that you choose is legal to carry. Get a good start at http://www.handgunlaw.us/documents/USKnife.pdf but you still need to verify knife laws in your jurisdiction.
So, assuming that it is legal to carry a knife, we must next ask, when and how would you deploy a knife for self defense? Knife deployment breaks down into three categories. The first category is surreptitious carry. For over 20 years, I have carried a small folding Spyderco knife as a money clip. With it, whenever I am standing in line to pay for something, I have a deadly weapon in my hand, ready to press into service as a defensive tool if needed. No, the knife blade is not extended, but that takes only a moment to accomplish. I take a lot of road trips, both in cars and on motorcycle, resulting in a lot of stops at rest areas, many at night. I routinely carry a larger folding knife in my right hand when walking into the restroom at night. If there is an attacker or two lurking inside the restroom, or behind the bushes cleverly placed near the entrance/exit of the restroom, I have a fighting chance to mount a good defense.
The second type of deployment is the defensive display of the weapon to ward off danger. Threatening someone with a deadly weapon–in this case, a knife–without clear justification would constitute the crime of aggravated assault.
If you display a knife and warn someone to stop what they are doing or not do what they are contemplating, you will have to decide whether to call the cops or not, assuming the defensive display of the knife works and you escape unharmed. Deciding whether or not to call police is situational, but I would err on the side of caution and make the 911 call. Remember, you have already ascertained that carrying the knife was legal, so there is no worry about a weapons charge. You will need your knowledge about pre-attack indicators that precede criminal attack to explain why you were justified in threating your assailants with a deadly weapon.
On the other hand, you run the risk of having your knife confiscated, so bear that in mind. The Böker knife I routinely carry when traveling retails for less than $40.00. Not a great loss. And remember, witnesses and perhaps even the perpetrators might call the cops, making you the subject of a felony car stop 10 miles down the road if you choose not to make the phone call to be sure you are the complainant. My former police officer persona would like you to call in the crime, because police might be looking for that robbery team to solve other crimes. Your phone call might be the key to arresting and putting these guys in jail. Having said all the above, if you decide that there really is no need to call the police and that you just want to get down the road and you feel the robbers are not going to call or that there are no witnesses, then I am not going to criticize you for getting out of Dodge and getting on with your life.
But what happens if you actually cut or stab someone in self defense? You need to dig yourself out of serious trouble. By all means, in these circumstances you really need to call the cops. Without making that phone call, YOU will be the suspect in an attempted murder investigation, and if police catch up to you, you WILL BE ARRESTED. Unfortunately, the knife is seen by the courts as purely an offensive weapon, with little established case law justifying its use as a defensive weapon. Your legal defense team will have some work to do, even if your actions were justified and you really had no other option.
Articulating your intent to simply wound to stop the attack or defining your use of the knife to kill is an aspect of self defense that has yet to be fully vetted. Michael Janich has done good work in that arena, however, and readers are urged to review his interview in our Network eJournal http://www.armedcitizensnetwork.org/our-journal/282-march-2013?start=1
Impact Weapons for Self Defense
One of my favorite traveling companions is a cane given to me when my back was being pretty finicky a few years ago by one of my Firearms Academy of Seattle staff instructors. A cane makes a great self-defense tool, either as an addition to, or if necessary, a replacement for the gun. An infinite amount of training from the police use of force discipline exists to justify using a cane as a self-defense tool. It would behoove the armed citizen to study police use of impact weaponry. I take my training from the Monadnock PR-24 Training Council. The 20-year old chart from Monadnock shown to the right is still relevant to self defense using contact weapons.
Green indicates areas where you could reasonably employ an impact weapon without fear of causing death or grave bodily injury. Applying an impact weapon to green areas will likely cause pain and bruising, but no lingering or disabling injury, hence they are also not reasonable target areas for an individual facing a lethal threat.
The yellow ink identifies areas where situation and technique determine whether or not use of an impact weapon would or should be considered deadly force. A strike to the yellow area may cause intense pain and debilitating injury.
For example, a full-force strike with a cane or baton to the side of the knee will likely put the guy on the ground, with a trip to the hospital in his near future. And a downward smack on the wrist with an extended baton would likely shatter the wrist and make the assailant drop their weapon.
The chart’s red areas show where an impact weapon used effectively creates the risk of injury leading to permanent disability or death.
For example, front thrust with the cane into the solar plexus is also a pretty effective defensive move. If you were at risk of grave bodily injury or death from the assailant, then you would likely be justified in causing his death. You will need to be able to articulate the danger you faced, though, during the legal process. An upward full force strike to the groin, a front jab to the eye sockets or a full force smack on the neck will pretty much stop the fight and possibly cause death. Forewarned is forearmed.
Conducted Electrical Weapons
Nearly every person in the free world has heard of the TASER®, also known as the Conducted Electronic Weapon, or CEW. I was trained more than a decade ago as a TASER® instructor when I was working law enforcement and during that training, I “took the ride.” Let me tell you, the TASER® works as advertised.
I started thinking about writing this article when I came across a booth at the SHOT Show marketing the Phazzer, a CEW now competing with the TASER® http://www.phazzerstore.com/.
I have long wished TASER® would allow non-law enforcement folks to purchase police-type TASER®s and not just the civilian C2 version. (Learn about the differences on the TASER® website http://www.taser.com/products/self-defense-products). I never liked the C2 version, because it didn’t look like a serious weapon and the 15 foot maximum deployment distance was not far enough, in my opinion.
In checking out the Phazzer I found that it works much like the TASER®. To activate the unit, slide up an activator switch on the back of the gun-shaped CEW, turning on the light and laser-aiming sight.
Then, a pull of the trigger fires the two electronic probes at the target, reaching as far as 21 feet. The unit will run for five seconds, long enough for the attacker to fall down.
If another application of electricity is needed, just pull the trigger again. This is preferable, in my opinion, to the TASER® C2, which administers a minimum 30 second application of electricity, during which time the user is taught to set the C2 down and run away (according to TASER® training protocols). Putting the device on the ground and running away is not what first comes to mind for me.
The Phazzer looks much like a real gun and could be employed with the same verbalization as a real gun, “Stop, Don't Move,” etc. When the light and laser come on, I would expect it might be mistaken for a handgun, which in my opinion would not be the worst thing in the world. Phazzer has made a misstep, though, calling this product “The Enforcer.” Sheesh, I feel like I am watching a Dirty Harry movie! I could live with the name, although I’d expect to have to explain to the court that I didn’t name the thing.
Electronic application of force painfully locks up the muscles and the person will fall down if there is any movement at all. Consequently, one must be ready to justify the use of force where a person could fall, hit their head on a hard surface and possibly die because of that trauma to the head. For the citizen armed with a TASER® or Phazzer, employing this weapon should fall under the same guidelines as the use of a handgun, with one big exception. I believe it might be deemed legal to display as a deterrent much earlier in a confrontation than a handgun, because of CEW’s track record of use by law enforcement. The TASER® gets used every day by law enforcement for application of non-deadly force, primarily in arresting combative subjects, although private citizens should probably not be arresting combative subjects and limit their CEW’s use to self defense. As with all tools of self defense, documented training is the key to justifying in a court of law defensive CEW use. Both TASER® and Phazzer offer training with their products, so buyers will want to check out their respective websites to research what is available in their area.
More About TASER®
As I was preparing this article, I went to the Taser website (http://www.taser.com/products/self-defense-products/?ref=cj) to get current (pun intended) information about their product line. I was pleased to learn that they allow civilians to purchase their popular law enforcement models. Purchasing a TASER® X-26C comes with a hefty price tag of $999, whereas the Phazzer is being sold direct to the end user for $630. The Phazzer cartridges can be used out to 21 feet, and TASER® still restricts their civilian models to 15 feet. I guess they don’t understand that distance is king when it comes to civilian use of force. Perhaps they will read this message and re-consider.
Then again, TASER® has a great safe use track record with law enforcement and the purchase of one comes with a training CD, which could be very useful in court. Additionally, if budget is a big issue for you, both companies offer a budget model, the aforementioned C2 for TASER® at $299.99, and the Phazzer Dragon for $350.00. For me, though, the look and feel of a device similar to a handgun is worth the higher price. If you look at the TASER® website, you will also see the M-26C, which retails for $499.99. Unfortunately, it is very large and not at all suitable for concealed carry. TASER® markets it as their home defense model, but for our purposes, I suspect we would rather have a gun in the home than a TASER®.
If you are considering a CEW you must realize that it is not a toy. If you decide a CEW is a viable solution for defense in a non-permissive environment, do your research well, check out the video links on the websites, and take the same approach to responsibility with the CEW as you would do with the handgun.
Pepper Spray for Self Defense
If there is one thing every average gun owner can carry as an alternative to firearms and still have fast, reasonably effective results, that choice is pepper spray. I am not talking about the lipstick sized pepper spray typically sold at your local gun shop or in the check-out line at your local gas station. Having conducted pepper spray training for the last 20 years, I can unequivocally state that these lipstick models are pretty much worthless because they neither have the type of delivery system necessary for good self defense, nor do they contain the volume of pepper spray needed to quickly shut down an attacker. I’ll explain.
The small units are manufactured to emit a small stream when you push the activator. While the quality of the liquid is acceptable, the quantity is seriously sub-par, and all it takes to defeat the delivery system is to hold one hand up to shield your eyes, while grabbing the spray unit with the other. Inhaling the atomized particles contaminating the air in your immediate area plays a big role in pepper spray’s effectiveness. One good whiff and your lungs will be compromised. A two ounce can with fogger-type delivery can do the job, but the lipstick variety just isn’t up to the task.
My favorite pepper spray product is Counter Assault Systems’ two ounce fogger (http://counterassault.com/). I learned about this Counter Assault’s OC-10 many years ago, when the larger four ounce canister was a standard of local law enforcement. The two ounce can (pictured, above) is small enough to put in your coat pocket or carry in your hand. As I was wandering the aisles of the 2015 SHOT Show, I came across a fabric glove that a woman is supposed to wear while jogging, with a lipstick sized can of spray clipped to the glove.
It is a neat idea and anyone with a modicum of skill could adapt it for a larger, two ounce can.
At the risk of unintentionally turning this into a training article, let me take a minute and explain one method of using pepper spray for self defense. If you let people get within arms-reach, you have severely compromised your ability to use pepper spray effectively. If you use pepper spray with a fogger type delivery in an enclosed room, you will contaminate everyone in the room, including yourself. From those facts, I conclude that pepper spray is best used on the street, preferably with the wind to your back or in no wind. If the wind is in your face, don’t spray without moving.
When you do spray, you need to be retreating. First, if you back up and spray, chances are better that you can avoid contaminating yourself. Assuming that your threat is moving towards you, he will move into the fog of pepper spray, hastening its deterrent effect. An example of this can be seen on our eighth member education DVD, Legal Considerations of the Use of Non-Lethal Defensive Force.
When is pepper spray a good alternative to the use of a firearm? Well, obviously not if the attacker is armed with a gun! In fact, none of the aforementioned weapons is a good choice against a gun-wielding attacker! However, if the person is armed with a contact weapon AND there is sufficient space between you so you could lay down a fog of pepper spray while you back up so they have to come through the fog of pepper spray to reach you, you will increase your odds of surviving unscathed immensely. There are many qualified pepper spray instructors in the country, so with little effort, a person who wanted to get training on the use of pepper spray for self defense should be able to find credible training.
When using a knife, impact weapon, Conducted Electrical Weapon or pepper spray as an alternative to a concealed handgun, you need to really increase awareness and sharpen decision-making skills. For example, if I need to buy fuel I will routinely take a quick survey of the surrounding area before I pull up to the pumps. If I am not armed with a handgun, and instead carry a legal but less effective tool, I might take a little longer to survey the area and even pass up that location if I get that creepy feeling.
When I walk into a convenience store armed with my concealed handgun, I observe what is around me but do not normally hesitate before entering. If I am not carrying a concealed handgun, I will typically wait and observe the store for a little while to make sure everything looks normal and non-threatening, and then pause and look at the area outside the store before exiting.
In addition, before relying on a knife, CEW or impact weapon, good training is absolutely necessary.
As you know, I own and operate a shooting school, and have been trained both as a user and instructor in batons, pepper spray, TASER® and more. Consequently, I am comfortable carrying each of these. If I did not have that training, I would not employ them.
Never forget the law of unintended consequences. While you may not intend to severely injure or kill your attacker with an alternative weapon, you must be prepared for your assailant to die. With all of these weapons, death is possible. You may cut an artery with a knife and the guy might bleed to death. With a bludgeon, you could fracture the assailant’s skull. Employ a CEW and the guy might fall and hit his head and die. And even with pepper spray, the person you spray could stumble out in traffic and get run over. Understand that while the attacker also assumes the risks associated with participating in his felonious behavior, we must still be able to articulate the particulars of the threat against us, so that a reasonable person would say to themselves, “Yes, I would have done the same thing under those circumstances.”