In all of our personal safety classes, we spend a great deal of time discussing and demonstrating the working parts of each defensive tool. This is an important aspect of self-defense training, as virtually every defensive tool is subject to failure. Stuff can break!
If you don’t understand how it works, you have no chance of fixing it quickly – and perhaps saving your own life. Regular training with your defensive tools is crucial to your safety. Emergency defensive weapon fixes must become part of your regular safety routine. Practice with your tools.
The time to learn how to fix your self-defense weapon is NOT when you need to use it!
For all defensive weapons, maintenance is a key component. Inspect and test them. Change the batteries on your stunguns and Tasers. Clean and oil your handguns. Be sure your magazines or cylinders are full.
All of these things will go a long way in ensuring your self-defense tool works as expected when it’s needed.
Here is a brief overview, limitations and cautions for stun guns, Tasers, pepper spray, revolvers and semi-automatic handguns:
These work by delivering a low-amperage, high-voltage charge to your attacker. They “fry” the regular electrical impulses of the person or animal, causing a temporary loss of muscular control. They deliver between 100,000 and 10 million volts. Bigger is better!
They will generally have an “On” switch, and a trigger mechanism to deliver the charge. At least two (if there are more than two) of the protruding electrodes need to come in contact with the attacker, while at the same time, the trigger is being pulled.
If you lose contact with the attacker, release the trigger, or run out of battery power, the device is ineffective.
If the device does not deliver its charge, or does so without the probes in contact with the attacker, you’re in trouble! Since, to be effective, the stun gun must be in contact with the attacker, your “distance safety zone” to consider other options is gone.
Stun guns should always be considered a last line of defense, and never a primary option.
Taser is a trademark of Taser International. Like a stun gun, they deliver an electrical charge to the attacker. Unlike a stun gun, they fire two barbs connected to wires which deliver the charge – up to 15 feet away for the civilian models.
They are low-voltage when compared with a stun gun – only delivering 50,000 volts. In the civilian models, the barbs travel a maximum of 15 feet.
Like a stun gun, the two probes must both be in contact with the attacker to be effective. Once the attacker has been hit, you can set down the Taser body and it will continue to deliver the charge for up to 30 seconds. Use this time to leave the site of the attack.
If you miss with one or both of the barbs, the body of the Taser can be used as a stun gun. This is an important consideration, and is something that should be practiced on a regular basis.
If you have a failure to fire, attempt to reload the Taser with another probe pack. There are no moving mechanical parts that can be field repaired.
These work by delivering an aerosol solution into the face and eyes of the attacker. The solution has a cayenne pepper derivative which causes an involuntary physical reaction to the eyes and breathing of the attacker, incapacitating them for a half hour or more.
Depending on the model and manufacturer, the sprays can be disbursed from 5 to 20 feet away from the attacker. To be effective, the spray must be delivered to the face of the attacker. It is important to deliver the spray in short bursts, and that you move to your left or right after spraying. This prevents the temporarily-blinded attacker from using his forward momentum to tackle you and wait while the effects of the spray wear off.
There are generally two types of plungers that must be depressed to dispense the spray – a flip-top and a sliding safety top. Buyers with large fingers or long finger nails should try the different styles before purchase to ensure you are able to effectively depress the plunger.
Failures generally occur when lint or other material clog the aerosol hole, or debris obstruct the plunger. A quick “rap” of the spray to dislodge the problem can sometimes be effective.
The primary reason an attacker is not stopped is because the spray is not delivered to the face of the attacker. Re-apply the spray, move to the side, assess its effectiveness, then leave the area of the attack.
All handguns deliver a lead or copper-clad bullet into the attacker. A revolver has a part called the cylinder which generally holds between 5 and 9 bullet-tipped cartridges.
When the trigger is pulled, the firing pin strikes the primer at the rear of the cartridge, causing the bullet to be rapidly fired from the barrel of the gun. The cylinder “revolves”, bringing the next cartridge in line with the barrel, ready to fire.
Revolvers are generally considered as the best choice for firearms owners that do little ongoing practice. Their operation is much more streamlined than with a semi-automatic handgun.
If you have a failure to fire, you are either out of ammunition, have a faulty ammunition cartridge, or a mechanical issue with the gun.
In a self-defense situation only, your best option is to simply pull the trigger again – hoping that your issue was a single, faulty cartridge. If you still have a failure to fire, you may be out of ammunition, and should re-load.
If you notice the cylinder isn’t turning, you can attempt to use the cylinder release to dislodge anything that may be impeding its function.
Semi-automatic (“semi-auto”) pistols deliver a bullet in a similar fashion as a revolver, in that the firing pin strikes the cartridge primer, sending the bullet down the barrel. Instead of a cylinder, the cartridges are held in a device called a magazine, which is generally inserted into the hollow grips of the pistol.
When a cartridge is fired, a mechanism called the slide is pushed rearward by the pressure of the cartridge gases, expelling the now-empty cartridge. A spring in the magazine feeds the next cartridge to the top of the magazine, and the slide now comes forward, scraping it off the top of the magazine and pushing it into firing position.
Semi-autos generally hold more cartridges than a similarly sized revolver – any where between 6 and 15 cartridges (in some states, the maximum number of cartridges allowed is reduced, although law enforcement officers are allowed the larger magazines).
Because of the number of moving parts and complex mechanisms, various types of failures happen more often (though still very rarely) with semi-autos. Unless you are committed to ongoing practice with your pistol, semi-autos can be a poor choice for self-defense. Shooting a gun with which you’re unfamiliar with its operation and maintenance is foolish.
A failure to fire can be caused by faulty ammunition, being out of ammunition, or a mechanical failure. If you pull the trigger and do not get a cartridge to fire, look at the top of the slide. If it is locked open and fully to the rear, you are out of ammunition, and must reload the pistol.
In a self-defense situation only, for any of the other failures, you want to perform a “Tap and rack” exercise. Immediately slap (tap) the bottom of the magazine (Often times, if the magazine is not fully seated in the grips, when the slide comes forward it will miss the top cartridge). Then, forcefully pull back the slide to the rear of the gun. This action will dislodge any faulty cartridges that may be present. Finally, release the slide, allowing it to freely come forward. This will load the top cartridge from the magazine, making the gun operable once again.
Regardless of what type of defensive device you choose, don’t just buy it and store it. You must practice regularly to ensure it is operating properly, and you know how to use it in an emergency.