WHAT IS YOUR “PLAN B”?
HOW TO RESPOND WHEN DEADLY FORCE ISN’T THE RIGHT ANSWER
When it comes to selfdefense and home invasion scenarios, most of the training we take focuses on the use of a gun of some sort: a shotgun, rifle or pistol. And it makes sense to train for the most drastic situations. They require more skills, more mental preparedness and having to make tougher decisions—all while your adrenaline level is spiking through the roof. However, training and practicing only for scenarios that end with a bang limit your options. But they can also leave you vulnerable to potentially serious legal issues that could have been avoided.
Sometimes, you won’t be able to use a firearm due to who is around, the distance between you and your attacker or how quickly you can get to your gun. A gun is not always the appropriate tool to use: Not every situation calls for deadly force.
OPTIONS ARE GOOD
The key to making the right choice is twofold: first, an understanding of “escalation of force,” and second, having the skills and tools to give you options other than deadly force.
“Escalation of force” means using the right amount of force to remove or negate the threat. If you are just showing that you are ready and willing to fight to make the attacker back down, that is what you should do. If your opponent is just trying to stop you from doing something and not threatening you with bodily harm, a nonlethal approach is definitely called for. If they escalate their actions and you feel threatened with bodily harm, less-thanlethal methods should be your next step … followed by lethal force, if it gets that far.
A key point to remember is that every time you step it up a notch, the other person might do the same instead of backing down. You need to be prepared for that contingency. What gives you the ability to go up and down that force continuum are options, in terms of skills and tools.
Don’t count on just one tool or technique. Have a variety of options ready so that when one fails you can go to Plan B, C or D. Sometimes, stun guns don’t work on an attacker, and Tasers can be ineffective against heavy clothing. And nothing works on someone hopped up on drugs.
… TRAINING AND PRACTICING ONLY FOR SCENARIOS THAT END WITH A BANG LIMIT YOUR OPTIONS.
LETHAL, LESS-LETHAL AND NON-LETHAL
Every year, military and law enforcement organizations conduct more non-lethal and less-than-lethal training, because they understand that lethal methods are not always the best approach. They might not work; they can have negative political and public relations effects; and there might not be enough time or distance to use them.
When it comes to defending yourself in a fight, a home invasion or a mugging, there are three levels of force you might choose—or be forced to use: lethal, lesslethal and non-lethal. Each has its place, and each is a little different.
“Lethal” is just that—potentially deadly force that can, and most likely will, kill someone. The options in this category that are available to civilians include weapons such as handguns, rifles, shotguns, and knives and other edged tools. It can include sticks and clubs if they are used in a lethal manner. These implements are designed to kill someone and should only be used if that is what the situation calls for: You should use lethal force only if you truly fear for your life or the lives of others and you can’t otherwise stop the aggressor.
“Less-lethal” is intended, and designed, to stop the aggressor, but without killing them. However, depending on the situation, it can be lethal. Items in this category that civilians can get include bean bag shotgun projectiles, stand-off electro-shock devices such as Tasers and close-in electro-shock devices such as stun guns.
Non-lethal devices are intended to incapacitate, confuse or delay the aggressor without killing or permanently injuring them. The items available to the civilian populace in this category include pepper spray, flashlights and handheld striking tools such as kubotans or tactical pens.
The items just discussed are available to civilians for self-defense. Law enforcement and military organizations have other, more sophisticated, products available to them (water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, paintball shotgun shells, shotgun shells that act like Tasers and microwave transmitters that cause pain and nausea). Although they are effective, they are not available to the general public.
A stun gun is a close-in tool for self-defense. It is battery-operated and generates a high-voltage, low-current charge across two electrodes. When pressed against an attacker’s body, it will cause the muscles to twitch uncontrollably, making the person lose control of their body. It is an excellent non-lethal tool when used correctly, but it can become less-lethal or lethal if used incorrectly. It is most effective when used against exposed skin or light clothing, because the charge needs to make contact with the skin. It is not effective against someone wearing multiple layers or thick clothing.
The Taser is another electroshock tool that is similar to the stun gun, but it is designed for use primarily in a stand-off mode, allowing you to keep distance between you and your attacker. Commercial versions have a range of approximately 15 feet. It propels two electrodes that are connected to a battery via two thin wires. The electrodes have barbs on them so that they will stay in the person’s skin or in their clothing. They have the same strengths and weaknesses as the stun gun, in terms of clothing getting in the way, but modern Tasers are more effective than stun guns when heavier clothing is encountered.
“Pepper spray” is the generic name for a number of formulations of Oleoresin capsicum in the form of powder, spray, mist or foam. Its active ingredient is capsaicin—the same thing that makes chili peppers hot. Pepper spray is delivered to the attacker’s mucous membrane areas, such as the eyes, nose and mouth. It irritates the membranes, causing pain and inflammation. It also makes it difficult to breathe if it gets into the lungs. Swelling of the eyes can also cause temporary blindness, because the person cannot open their eyes.
This makes it easy to get away or counterattack if necessary. Depending on its form, you can purchase it in a pen, in spray cans of various sizes or in a pistol-like dispenser. It is intended for use as a non-lethal product, but there have been cases in which it did cause deaths, likely due to overuse or pre-existing medical conditions.
As with any aerosol, caution must be used when employing it, because even a slight breeze can blow it back at you instead of at your opponent. It is also best not to use it indoors, because it can be blown from room to room by ceiling fans and air conditioning, and it can also stick to the walls.
A GUN IS NOT ALWAYS THE APPROPRIATE TOOL TO USE: NOT EVERY SITUATION CALLS FOR DEADLY FORCE.
Now that we have covered the tools you can use to defend yourself, let’s talk about some techniques you can use.
The first thing to keep in mind is that depending on your strength, skill level and luck, any martial technique can be nonlethal, less-lethal or even lethal.
The downside of using martial arts is that when they are needed, you are probably close to your attacker. For that reason, grappling techniques such as Kenpo karate, judo and Jiu-jitsu, which employ joint locks and pressure point strikes, are good choices to study. They allow you to control your attacker when you are close to each other and can also inflict pain to make them stop their attack.
Styles such as Krav Maga that don’t depend on kicks and full-length strikes or punches are also good choices when it comes to picking a style to learn and practice. “Krav Maga,” or “contact combat” in Hebrew, is all about fast and violent action that is intended to stop a fight quickly. For that reason, it is a good choice for those who are not big and strong and don’t have time to develop expertise in a number of techniques. Learning a few effective techniques that work for your
body type and skill level will serve you well if you need to defend yourself.
Go with what is simple but effective. If you are not someone who practices a martial art regularly, you need something that does not depend on good technique for it to work; something that won’t fail you when you have adrenaline pumping through your body and your fine motor control has gone out the window—joint locks and leverage, instead of strength and technique.
Some of the tools mentioned in this article are regulated or banned in different parts of the country. It can be difficult to know what you can and cannot use. For instance, an item might be legal at the state level but not at the county or local level. Also, just as when traveling with a firearm, you need to know what the laws and regulations are in each jurisdiction you are traveling in so you don’t unwittingly break the law when you cross a state, county or local boundary.
Fortunately, no state or jurisdiction legislates or regulates control of your unarmed capabilities, so you can take your Jiu-jitsu, boxing, karate or Krav Maga skills across a border. For this reason, having some martial art skills in your bag of tricks is a good idea.
Just be sure to use them judiciously. You are bound by the same laws on assault and battery as anyone else, and your additional skills could influence a jury in a civil legal case. Remember to use only the level of force needed to stop the threat. Make sure the attack on you was obvious and seen by others, if possible. If you don’t have witnesses, it might better to try to back out of the confrontation if you can. And that is the best plan in any situation.
It is the responsibility of the individual to make themselves aware of, and abide by, all laws and regulations pertaining to weapons and actions used in their self-defense efforts.
DON’T COUNT ON JUST ONE TOOL OR TECHNIQUE. HAVE A VARIETY OF OPTIONS READY …
KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, you don’t want deadly force to be your normal go-to solution for a conflict or attack. As the new idiom warns us, “Every bullet has a lawyer attached to it,” and if you do have to shoot, you also need to be prepared to find yourself in a courtroom.
Give yourself some options so you can choose the level and type of force you will use.
Above: The mist form of pepper spray makes it easy to cover a wide area on your target to help ensure you get the mucous membrane areas and facilitate their breathing it in. (Photo: Media.defense.gov)
Below: When pepper spray is used as a stream instead of a mist, it is easier to ensure you hit a particular place on the person’s body. While the stream’s range is greater, make sure you are within the distance limitation of the canister. (Photo: Media.defense.gov)
Stun guns create a highly charged electrical arc between two contacts located at the front of the device. Applying it to a person’s body will cause them to temporarily lose control of their muscles. (Photo: Media. Defense.gov)
Tasers, although they work on the same principle as stun guns, transmit their electric shock through barbs at the end of the wires (seen feeding out of the front of this device). (Photo: Media. Defense.gov)
Above: Krav Maga techniques are fast, to the point and very effective. The whole concept behind this style is to end the conflict as quickly as possible—ideal for individuals who cannot depend on physical strength and well-practiced techniques.
A palm strike is another good close-quarters defensive technique that does not require a lot of strength—just determination and the opportunity to use it. (Photo: Media.defense. gov)
Training in the use of grappling techniques is a good place to start in your martial arts journey. If you need to use martial skills, it will very likely be in close quarters such as this. (Photo: Media.defense. gov)
Not every situation calls for deadly force. Actually, some situations call for not doing anything—unless someone’s life is in danger.