Ungunned but not Unarmed

by Art Joslin, J.D., D.M.A.

Joslin AThis month, I’d like to discuss a topic I have given lectures on for several years. What do you carry for self-protection? If you can’t carry a gun in a specific situation, what do you do? I’ve heard many, many times over the years, especially from students, that they carry a gun and they’re sure they will be ready when they need it. That is very optimistic. What if you can’t get to your gun when you need it? What if you must enter a building unarmed (church, school, etc.) for just a few moments? Do you ever run up to the ATM for just a few minutes and leave your gun in the center console of your vehicle? If you do have it on you, what if you turn around and suddenly are pinned against the cash machine by a knife-wielding thug? Your gun is pinned, too, and can’t be accessed any time soon. How do you fight your attacker? 

We normally train with firearms in an environment of a square range, three to seven yards from the target, on even ground, and in nice, sunny weather. Three yards can be close quarters, but that gap can close very quickly, bringing an attacker into extreme close quarters. Rarely do we train where the attacker is twelve inches from us or even closer. So, what other weapons can you possibly use instead of a gun in close quarters or where you’re prohibited from carrying a gun? I’ve listed a few options below in no particular order. Certainly, there may be other options, but these are at the top of my list of alternatives to firearms.

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is a highly effective irritant that is made from capsaicinoids found in certain hot peppers. Oleoresin capsicum (OC) is the active ingredient that gives pepper spray its heat. Heat is measured by an index called Scoville heat units (SHU). For example, Tabasco® sauce has a SHU rating of 2,500 - 5,000. Pepper spray has a rating of 2 million - 3 million…quite a difference!

Pepper spray is considered an inflammatory agent and causes eye watering and burning, resulting in temporary loss of vision, coughing, runny nose and difficulty breathing. Where it contacts skin, a burning sensation occurs. Inhaled into the respiratory system, it causes throat irritation and burning with every breath.Spray

Pepper spray can be problematic when deployed improperly. Blowback to the user and over-spray can contaminate you or innocent by-standers. I’ve been over-sprayed with pepper spray simply because I was standing in the wrong place. One small whiff can set the pain in motion and effects can last up to 30 minutes or longer. 

Pepper spray is a close quarters weapon but can be used effectively up to about fifteen feet. Imagine you’re not carrying a gun (for whatever reason) and wrestling on the ground with the perpetrator. A free hand could possibly reach your pepper spray and discharge it effectively into the attacker’s face. The drawback, as I mentioned, is the back spray you might experience, in only slightly less intensity than your attacker experiences. I think this is a good argument for pulling pepper spray as early in the fight as possible when you’re still on your feet and can still move dynamically away from the area into which you discharge it.

Depending on the delivery method, pepper spray really can be a multi-distance tool, delivering the pain for out to 12 to 15 feet. Most manufacturers make different patterns of spray such as stream, cone-shaped fog or mist, foam, or gel, each of which has advantages and disadvantages depending on whether you are outdoors, or inside or crowded into close proximity to others. Stream delivery gives a directed stream that is best used to cover a greater distance. Foam is good at close quarters and can be directed into the mouth, eyes and nasal passages of an attacker with less likelihood that innocents will be affected. In addition to also limiting the risk of cross-contamination, a unique ability of gel is that it sticks to any surface like the face, causing the attacker to rub their eyes, mouth and nose inadvertently spreading the gel across other areas for increased exposure. The cone-shape fog or mist delivery method covers a wider area with a fine mist and can spray out to about 6 feet, including soaking door entrances and exits. Pepper spray in a fog or mist is also more likely to affect people who are wearing glasses, brimmed caps, or other facial protection.

One final caveat: just like a gun, your container of pepper spray must be readily accessible. Most females I know carry pepper spray in their purse, buried deep into the nexus, where it usually takes days to find.


An electro-muscular-disruption device, most commonly exemplified by a TASER®, has two barbed prongs that when fired transmit a high-voltage, low-amperage signal through thin wires, into the prongs and into the assailant’s body causing temporary muscle contraction. The idea behind the civilian TASER® is to pull the trigger, hit the intended target, set the device on the ground and run to safety during the 30-second jolt. Police TASER®s are compliance tools. They give a 5-second jolt to help police bring a fighting suspect into compliance, while the civilian model is meant to give you time to run and seek help. 

In order for a TASER® to be effective, both prongs must make contact with the assailant. Therein lies one major issue; the prongs must make full contact to be effective. A single prong making contact has zero effect on the assailant so a missed shot would require a reload but there is a very small chance the reload will be fast enough. The TASER® cartridge is not reusable but it is replaceable. Recently, TASER® introduced two-shot models that mirror law enforcement models’ 5-second incapacitation cycle. TASER®s can be employed out to 12 to 15 feet and can be carried on the right or left side in a special holster and drawn like a gun.


Introduced in the late 1960s, the Kubotan, which was developed by Grand Master Takayuki Kubota, attaches to the keyring and can be used on pressure points, joint locks, or as a small impact weapon. Attached to key rings, it allows the keys to be used as a flail for self defense when swung in a circular manner. Some states consider a Kubotan an offensive weapon and it may be illegal to carry or possess, an important distinction that’s determined by your jurisdiction.

Early on, the Kubotan was popularized when female officers of LAPD were trained to use it to restrain unruly suspects. Monadnock Lifetime Products, a police and security equipment company, licensed a version called the Persuader™ and made it part of their defensive tactics training. A number of knockoffs have evolved, some changing the original grooved 5 1/2 by 5/8-inch hard plastic flat-ended design; these are often called self-defense keychains or mini batons.

The versatility of the Kubotan is in its ease of carry and use as a weapon anywhere a finger can go and the ability for a trained user to apply varying levels of force with it, as appropriate. Its non-threatening appearance is another benefit that makes it easy to carry in your hand, waistband or pocket where it is quickly accessible.

Hand to Hand

Hand to hand combat is something everyone should know. Whether you master a few simple techniques or make it a life-long study, empty hand defense skills will serve you well. I’m not talking about martial arts. Martial arts take years to perfect, and most aren’t the most effective against an attacker in close quarters. This is not to say that martial arts can’t be effective (as well as giving many other benefits), but I’d humbly submit that close quarters fighting requires close quarters techniques. Basic Krav Maga (krav mah gah) will teach you street fighting because that’s where you’ll be fighting for your life.knife disarm

Krav Maga began in the early 1970s and was originally taught to Israeli special forces. It has developed over the years until today it is in use by U.S. armed forces and police world-wide. To get started, you don’t need any fighting experience and students of any size, strength, or physical condition can train. I teach it and I’ve had students as young as 10 and as seasoned as 79 in my classes.

Krav is technique based, not strength based. Even though it doesn’t require very much strength, it does require a fairly solid technique to be effective. It can be a very violent defense and used to attack or it can be “softer” where its techniques can be used to hold a suspect until police arrive. I’ve personally had experiences when I was a bouncer where I had to use Krav to stop a fight or throw someone out of the bar who wanted to fight me. I’ve used it also to take a suspect into custody.

Hand to hand skill is such an invaluable tool in the toolbox.

Gunless but Not Unarmed

In closing, there are many self-defense options one can use without a gun present. However, let’s not overlook some other common tools you can use. Your belt can be used as a flail, a chair can be used to block a knife attack, a broken bottle can be used as an edged weapon. You may have to fight your way to your gun. If threatened by someone with a gun, I might use a gun disarming technique and take the suspect’s gun if I can’t get to my gun in time.

Make sure you have been trained before attempting any of these defenses. Not only does effectiveness rely on proper technique, a class by a certified instructor can also alert you to laws and restrictions of which you must be aware. If you travel, you will need to research legality of self-defense tools where you intend to visit and restrictions applicable to taking your defense tools onboard your mode of transportation. Many states and municipalities have laws regulating possession and use of TASER®s, pepper spray and mini batons.

Written in law in all 50 states are provisions allowing less than lethal self-defense methods to be used against both non-lethal and lethal force. Even when using less than lethal force, one will be held to standards that parallel those governing use of deadly force. For example, lawful use of either deadly force or less-than-lethal methods generally require you to be in a place in which you have a legal right to be; generally you cannot be committing a crime; and you need to have an honest and reasonable belief that deadly (or non-deadly) force is necessary. You may use proportional non-lethal force to stop someone who is using non-lethal force up through lethal force but not the other way around. Know the laws in effect where you are!

One final comment: I want to thank those of you who responded to my previous eJournal article How to Spoil Your Self-Defense Case. There were great suggestions and comments and I’ll incorporate them in future articles.


About the author: The Network’s Director of Legal Services, Art Joslin, J.D., D.M.A., has worked as security and close protection specialist in the security and legal services industry. He is skilled in verbal judo, firearms, close protection, executive protection, armed security work, and has been a bar bouncer. His experience includes working crowd control, venue security, and working across the force continuum has nurtured a strong ability to rapidly de-escalate situations. He has provided executive protection, both armed and unarmed, for high and medium risk talent escort, and been a high risk armed escort and driver for the jewelry trade. He is a fourth level black belt in Commando Krav Maga with 35 years’ experience and training in Hapkido and Brazilian Jui Jitsu. He is a graduate of Force Science Institute, Massad Ayoob’s Use of Deadly Force Instructor class, and is certified as a TASER® International instructor, in addition to his firearms instructor and police certifications. He welcomes your questions and comments at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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