Force Options

by Gila Hayes
There is much to be said in favor of honing physical skills and intermediate defenses to complement your firearms skills. Indeed, having only a gun and only shooting skills for the extremely varied spectrum of self-defense problems is something like trying to perform Beethoven’s Ninth symphony with only an oboe.

Still, while possessing various force options is highly beneficial, in our zeal to encourage armed citizens to add non-gun defense methods to their repertoire, we must take care not to set standards and expectations that are too high for the average citizen to meet. As this edition’s lead article explains, intermediate defense tools like batons and pepper spray are great for stopping an escalating threat that has not yet reached lethal force, and should be only guardedly relied upon at times when your right to back up the pepper spray, for example, with your carry gun is denied.

Many of our ideas about use of force in self defense devolve from law enforcement practices. Police officers can base their actions on department use of force policies; private citizens cannot. As private armed citizens, we operate largely without a codified standard upon which to fall back to explain why our use of force was objectively reasonable. Absence of a formal use of force policy for private citizens is not so bad in that it provides freedom to pursue the best survival options at the moment of the attack.

Allowing broad defense options to private citizens is vital, because unlike police forces where physical fitness standards can and are imposed, it is the frail senior citizen who most needs deadly force to avoid being killed or crippled by a strong, young predator. In that example, the thug’s physical force is indeed potentially lethal to the frailer victim, and use of a gun to counter it is appropriate. It is ridiculous to suggest that the intended victim try to fend off a physical attack with merely his or her empty hands.

However, as we operate without a private citizen use of force policy, misunderstandings inevitably arise, especially about application of intermediate force in self defense. Does carrying pepper spray, a mini-baton or other intermediate defense tools require fighting back with that intermediate force option before “going to guns?” Of course not, even law enforcement in moving away from terms like “force continuum” in favor of terms like “use of force model,” acknowledges that when attacked one need not try to resolve the situation with lower levels of force than the aggressor threatens.

A parallel misunderstanding arises when effectiveness of physical defense tactics is overestimated and citizens are told they should try to fight off younger, stronger aggressors instead of using a gun in self defense. Partly to blame is the prejudice against shooting an unarmed attacker–even if the attacker is fully capable and actively trying to injure or kill the armed citizen. This we have seen played out over and over in the courts, to say nothing of the media and resultant public outcry. Few understand or will acknowledge that the shooter was fighting for his very life, not a complicit participant in a school-yard fist fight with a bloody nose or black eye about the worst damage likely.


Our battle to influence public opinion is far from over. How easily death or permanent injury can be inflicted by brawn, fists and feet needs to penetrate the consciousness of anyone who may ever be called to jury duty. Among the Network’s several educational projects in various states of completion is a study of the dangers from an ostensibly unarmed assailant. The subject is serious enough that I want to cover all the bases from the medical aspects to legal justifications before putting anything into print.

It is encouraging when, in the middle of a challenging task like this one, someone else speaks up and says, “I’m worried about this, too! What can be done?” That happened on the topic of unarmed attackers last week when one of our members emailed a question about what was being done to correct misunderstandings about the lethality of physical force and later generously agreed to share his expertise as an emergency room physician of nearly two decades experience.

Having struggled to get this project on its feet for several months, upon receiving his offer of assistance, I felt like I had won the lottery!

The use of physical force series is only one of the projects presently on my desk. In addition, we are undertaking a targeted advertising campaign in both print and radio to reach more armed citizens with the Network’s aftermath solutions.

With an increasingly high public profile, we at the Network happily shoulder the task of continuing to attract well-educated armed citizens to our membership. Concurrent with that challenge comes improving understanding of use of force issues ranging from “when, how and why” to articulating those factors for police, prosecutors and the courts. It is also an interesting challenge and one we undertake with relish.