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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Choosing The Right Weapon For YOU

Every person is different.  Some of us are strong.  Some of us... not so much.  Some have "hawk-eye vision"  while some of us suffer from various eye and sight ailments.  As we age, our dexterity, strength and agility can begin to wane.  Our physical "assets" must be taken into account when selecting a self-defense weapon.

Like it or not, we are responsible for our own safety.  In the most optimum case, the police are 5 minutes away - and that assumes we've been able to call 911.  Lots of bad things can happen in 5 minutes. In order for us to maintain our independence, we must know how to ensure our physical safety.

 Let's look at some defensive tools we can select, and the kind of training that's necessary to use them effectively.


There are a number of options, all of which are generally restricted in some form or another. It is of paramount importance for you to understand the state and local laws regarding any self-defense tool you purchase.

 For instance, in California, pepper spray is legal, but it has size limitations. In most states, expandable batons are legal, but they're illegal in California. Use one to save your life, and YOU will be going to jail.

 Expandable Batons - a great tool that is easily concealed.  Causes great pain to the assailant when they are struck on the boney portions of their bodies - knees, wrists, elbows, head.  Generally considered to be non-lethal, but will break bones when used on wrists and arms.  Since direct contact is necessary with the assailant, it should only be considered as a last-line of defense.


 Pepper Spray - an excellent all-around defensive tool. Causes involuntary closing of the assailant's eyes and makes breathing difficult. Easily carried and concealed, and relatively inexpensive to purchase. Able to stop multiple attackers, allowing you to escape. Spray must hit the face of the attacker to be effective.  Generally considered to be non-lethal.

 Stun Guns - very effective tools, but require direct contact with the assailant. They disable the attacker with an electrical charge (up to 10 million volts) that causes involuntary muscle seizures. Easily carried and concealed, inexpensive, but only able to stop one attacker at a time. Generally considered to be non-lethal.  Should only be considered as a last-line of defense.

 Tasers - like stun guns, the attacker is disabled by an electrical charge. The civilian models fire electrical probes up to 15 feet. Both of the probes must make contact with the attacker to be effective. In the event the probes miss their mark, the Taser can be quickly converted into a stun gun. Expensive compared to stun guns or pepper spray. Generally considered to be non-lethal.

Handguns - fires a projectile (the bullet) at a high rate of speed into the attacker, causing trauma to their internal organs. Concealed possession in public is highly restricted in most states, unless state-sponsored training is completed. Very effective if used properly. Able to stop multiple attackers. Considered to be a lethal weapon.  The single most effective tool for ensuring your physical safety when proper training has been taken.

Shotguns - the favored home-defense weapon by most experts. Home defense models can be purchased for less than most handguns, and they are allowed in virtually all states. Contrary to popular belief, shotguns must be aimed like any other weapon to be effective, but when "shot" is used (as opposed to slugs), the defender has a greater margin for error to ensure they stop the attacker. Effective against multiple attackers. Considered to be a lethal weapon.

Rifles - generally not recommended for in-home defense, as the risk of "over penetration" (the bullet hitting the attacker and still passing through walls behind him) is too great. Like shotguns, they are generally allowed in virtually all states. Effective against multiple attackers (less so for bolt-action rifles). Considered to be a lethal weapon.  


Once you have decided on the self-defense tools you wish to use, and which are legal in your jurisdiction, proper training is very important. Simply owning a defensive tool is not enough - you need to know how to use it to its highest effectiveness.

Let me stress something:  Your objective is to escape harm.  You're not a police officer looking to incapacitate a suspect prior to arrest.  Your plan is to incapacitate the assailant, and then get the hell out!

 Non-lethal weapons - there is very little training available for non-law enforcement individuals. This pepper spray video offers some great tips - with a couple of caveats:  I teach my students to only buy the stream style of spray.  It allows you to be the furthest away from your attacker, as well as reducing (but not eliminating) the chance of "blow back" should the wind be blowing in your direction.  Additionally, I suggest a "Z" pattern for the spray towards the face.  In this way, you have the greatest opportunity to hit the eyes, nose and mouth of your attacker.


 As this next video demonstrates, stun guns are very effective in keeping an assailant away from you, but it is more difficult to disable them.  To disable the assailant, you must maintain contact for 3 to 5 seconds. Personally, I keep a stun gun in my car as a means of stunning an attacker that is attempting to enter my vehicle, or for removing them form the vehicle.


 This video on expandable batons - though a bit melodramatic - is a good demonstration of how to use it effectively.  Strike at the weapons and the arms/wrists holding them, then disable the attacker and escape.


 Lethal weapons - there is a great deal more hands-on training available for handguns, shotguns and rifles. For handguns, I strongly encourage new and prospective gun owners to first take the NRA FIRST Steps Pistol Orientation class.  It's a 3+ hour class where you'll learn the basics of gun safety, usage, ammo selection, cleaning and storage.

After practice and when you've become proficient, consider joining an IDPA Practical Shooting Organization.  These will teach you how to shoot in realistic defensive situations, while also placing you under some of the stress that comes with real self-defense.

Many local shooting clubs have basic trap and skeet shooting courses for individuals to be able to learn how to properly use a shotgun. Most of these skills are transferable to defensive situations. The NRA also offers a number of shotgun courses around the country. One note, though: Home defense shotguns generally have a shorter barrel - 18 1/2 inches or so. Be sure to get some practice to be able to see how your shot pattern changes with the shorter barrel.

As noted above, a rifle is not a great choice for a in-home self-defense weapon, but the skills you learn can be transferred to pistol and shotgun shooting. Rifle training is offered by the NRA, but I believe the best rifle training is offered by the Appleseed Project. It is two days of practical training that is geared towards males and females of all ages and abilities.

 I truly cannot recommend this training highly enough.

 Put together a plan. The first choice is always avoidance. The best place to be when disaster strikes is somewhere else.

Sadly, our world doesn't always allow us to avoid danger. Obtaining the proper tools and training will go a long way in keeping you and your loved ones safe.

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Copyright 2014 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Ryan said...

This is certainly a lot of ground to cover.

It is worth noting that physical capabilities or lack thereof sort of cut both ways. An 80 year old 90lbs grannny with arthritis can justify a higher level of force faster than a 30 year old 220 pound rugby player.

Batons are a mixed bag in terms of utility. I like the intimidation/ presence and the reach. I also really like that you can jack somebody up pretty bad but not kill them. A person in a criminal or otherwise compromised situation who gets whacked with a baton a few times probably will not call the cops or get much sympathy if they do.

On the other hand a baton is absolutely lethal and saying it could not be treated as such in a courtroom is idealist at best. In that regard if it's going to be considered lethal you might as well use a pistola.

OC/ pepper spray is a mixed bag. Conditions for use have limits ie confined areas and wind conditions. Also effectiveness is iffy. Somebody who has been sprayed a few times or is on drugs might not react much.

Anecdotally (not data but still...) the people I know who have been sprayed in the real world ended up going Viking style Berserk. Sprayers getting beaten might be counter intuitive because on the whole 130 pound dweebs are probably more likely to carry OC than 300 pound defensive lineman who do MMA.

That being said I like that it is definitely considered less lethal. Good for giving you the opportunity to move while not permanently harming the other side. There is a real opportunity to use OC as a 'break contact weapon'.

Stun gun's. My problem with stun gun's is that if you can say confidently you can employ a stun gun on a person you likely do not need a stun gun.

Taser, Works but is clothing dependent so might be an issue in winter.

Handgun, Like em but the ability to have them reliably in some places is problematic.

Shotguns, Hard to hide. Hard to really use well, particularly pump guns. Legal everywhere, affordable.

Rifles, Got to disagree with you as to their CQB/ home defense capability. Hold way more rounds than a shotgun and are self loading. In terms of two legged game anything a shotgun can do an AR/ AK can do better. The best trained, best equipped gunslingers are using highy modified AR-15 variants not 870's or Benelli M1's.

Also counter intuitively fast light rifle rounds penetrate more manageable in dwellings than handgun or shotgun ammunition suitable for defensive use.

Unknown said...

I prefer to go firearm training to know which gun will be best suitable for me and other gun related rules. Currently I am doing my firearm training from mass firearm school and I have learn a lot in this training.

Chief Instructor said...

TOR, indeed, the less physically equal, the greater latitude the law affords the smaller person.

Pepper: I teach in my classes for you to step laterally as soon as you spray - similar to "shoot n move" with guns. I tell my (mostly female) students to assume the attacker will just charge your last known point, hold on for 30 mins while the pain subsides, then kill you.

It helps to focus their thoughts.

We're gonna disagree on the rifles in the home for home defense. Perhaps a highly and regularly trained professionals (swat, military) with unlimited budgets may perform best with AR's, etc., but they will also perform better than the average bear with pistols, shotguns, etc.

I fully agree/understand about the light rounds not over penetrating - physics.

Doesn't change my opinion that handguns and shotguns are better than rifles for the average American gun owner for home self-defense.

Ryan said...

Chief, I think shotguns vs carbines is an interesting discussion.

Cost favors shotguns as does legal acceptability in certain places, like CA. Joe Everyday can get a Mossberg 500 for $200 n change. If he has a hunting shotgun already a spare 18.5-20" riot barrel can be had for $100ish.

On the other hand while they have a higher price tag and legal issues a modern defensive weapon holds a lot more bullets and reloads faster. I can put a fresh 30rd magazine in an AR as fast as I can put 1 single round in a pump gun.

My professional opinion is that at any training level based on a level standard (novice vs novice, etc) a person with a modern defensive carbine will outperform one with a pump shotgun.

That being said the gun near my bed is an 870. Why you might ask. First it is amply capable of any realistic self defense scenario except the least likely. Second I do not really care if it rusts in a police evidence locker. Third given that Louisiana is duck hunting land on average I bet there is close to 1 shotgun per household. I want to be on trail after using a wood stocked 870 like half the jurors or their families own, not my tweaked out AR-15.

Chief Instructor said...

The juror issue is a hell of a point. In our PM store, part of our thinking was along those lines. An AR or AK "black gun" in California makes you a loser in most courts. Doesn't matter that the dead guy drew his gun first, or was committing a crime. An "assault rifle" makes juries sympathetic towards criminals.