The Right Self-Defense Tool For You

Woman in hallway with bruise on her cheek with menacing manEvery 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 Boomers 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.  Our creed of, “Experienced • Resourceful • Independent” speaks to our ability to “take care of business.”

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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