Lethal versus Less-lethal Self-Defense Options

Lethal Options —

If you own or are considering buying a gun for self-defense, consider not only the type of gun, but also its use. Killing in self-defense is always a difficult option; don’t take this decision lightly. I own a gun, and would, I think, use deadly force in self-defense. But I don’t look forward to that possibility, which I hope is remote.

I’m not a legal expert. So the first point I’ll make is that you should research and know the laws in your own nation, state, locality on the use of force in self-defense. My second point is that, within what is legal to do, there are a range of opinions on what is prudent and reasonable to do, in self-defense. I won’t try to decide that question for you.

The Hard Questions — Gracie’s Fireside Chat — An NRA certified instructor and Range Safety Officer, Gracie has a talk that she gives about the hard questions of self-defense:

“Consider this: every weekend I go out and teach a group of students how to defend themselves with a handgun. The problem is that no amount of hours on the range is going to wrap their heads around the idea of harming and possibly killing another human being.”

Her list of “hard questions” is worth reading and considering. She doesn’t answer the questions. You have to answer them.

BTW, Gracie is a total bad-ass: competition shooting, martial arts, knives and batons, concealed carry in a little black dress, and a self-defense instructor. You don’t want to be the bad guy she faces down.

It Happened To Me — An archive of columns from the gun magazine Combat Handguns (tactical-life.com). Each account is a real world self-defense situation. “Life-and-death cases where armed citizens fight back and survive!” These articles are useful to illustrate the wide range of different situations. It’s not like shooting a stationary target at a range. As the articles show, real self-defense situations can be complex. And no two self-defense shootings are the same.

Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network — The Network educates members about the legalities of using deadly force in self defense and what to expect from the criminal justice system after defending themselves. Their free Member’s Journal is here. They also offer this free PDF booklet has a useful overview of legal issues when using deadly force in self-defense: What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law.

However, laws vary a great deal from one place to another, so you should research the gun laws and self-defense laws that apply in your area also.

As for the moral decision to use deadly force in self-defense, nearly all religions, philosophical systems, and legal systems in the world acknowledge that the use of deadly force is moral, at least in some situations, for self-defense. I consider the use of lethal force in self-defense to be generally moral, although much depends on the particular situation. While it is not inherently wrong to kill in self-defense or in defense of your family, each circumstance is different. I think you will need to consider this point carefully, and come to your own decision. But what I will suggest to you is that you ignore the advice of anyone who takes killing in self-defense lightly.

In some U.S. States, lethal force can be used against certain types of threats (such as an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury) without any duty to retreat. In other States, citizens have a legal obligation to retreat, even from their own homes, if possible, instead of using deadly force. My opinion is that the duty to retreat is legal foolishness — but it is the law nonetheless. So I also think that people would do well to follow the laws of their locality. If you break a serious law, because you believe what you are doing is moral, you will still face the consequences of that law-breaking. Morality and legality are sometimes at odds. Yet both weigh upon us.

Less-lethal Options —

A number of less-lethal weapons — yes, these are weapons — are available to the public for self-defense. Restrictions on less-lethal weapons in some cities and States are not uncommon, so check your local laws.

This type of weapon is properly called less lethal, not non-lethal; it is a real weapon and can, in some cases, cause serious injury or death to an attacker. (See Less-Lethal.org). Misuse of this type of weapon can cause serious injury or death to an innocent person. The term used is less lethal because, even if the intent is to use non-lethal force, a lethal result is still possible. Consequently, less lethal weapons should only be used in cases where the use of lethal force would be legal and moral. Again, I cannot speak to the laws of your locality, nor can I substitute my judgment for yours. Take responsibility for informing yourself and for making your own decisions.

Pepper spray is widely available in many different forms. Some U.S. States and localities may restrict its possession, so check your local laws. Pepper spray works by causing pain to the attacker and by interfering with vision and breathing. Some pepper spray formulas are combined with tear gas, to cause profuse tearing and disorientation. Some formulas have a dye included in the spray to mark the attacker for possible identification by law enforcement at a later time. Pepper spray in any form can possibly be lethal, particularly by interfering with breathing. You might be tempted to use the most powerful version of pepper spray available. I suggest using one of the less powerful versions, since your goal is to keep the force non-lethal, if possible.

A stun gun uses a high voltage electric shock to disable an attacker. This type of weapon is often non-lethal, but can cause death or serious injury in some circumstances. There are two types. The first type requires you to get close enough to press the device against the body of the attacker. The second type instead fires a pair of probes (usually attached to wires), allowing you to stand off from your attacker by some number of feet (depending on the particular version of the device). Many States and localities restrict or prohibit the possession or use of stun guns; know your local laws. A good stun gun costs hundreds of dollars, much more than even high-end versions of pepper spray.

Less lethal shotgun ammunition has only recently reached the civilian market; previously it was available only to law enforcement. This type of weapon is often non-lethal, but can cause serious injury or death. Less lethal shotgun ammo will generally cause some level of injury to the attacker. Shots striking the attacker in the head, neck, spine, or chest are much more likely to be lethal or to cause serious injury. Shots striking the attacker in the arms, legs, or lower body are less likely to be lethal. This type of ammunition is capable of penetrating the body of an attacker, especially at close range. It will not necessarily just bounce off; and even when it does, some injury will likely result. The likelihood of serious injury or death depends on many factors; consult the manufacturer of the ammunition for more information.

Again, I remind the reader that less-lethal options for self-defense have the possibility to cause death or serious injury, even when used with the non-lethal intention. You are responsible for your own decisions and actions. Inform yourself from a variety of different sources, and use your own good judgment.

– Thoreau

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