Lethal Force or Non-Lethal Force
In the first installment of this series, we examined the minimum legal threshold required for deploying and using lethal force. As noted in Part I of this article, we advise you to consult an attorney about the specific requirements that apply in your jurisdiction before you purchase a gun for self-protection. Should you purchase a gun for personal or property protection, in the strongest terms we advise that you: seek training in the use of the weapon, and; training in when to use, and when NOT to use lethal force.
Part I is written for citizens to carefully consider their options as this article is not intended and should not be considered as legal advice. Instead, it is written with the intention of encouraging the reader also consider other options of force, below the lethal level, as alternatives for their specific security needs. Furthermore. In Part 1 we suggested that, for a typical citizen (not of law enforcement), the circumstances surrounding the application of lethal force is fraught with complexities that could render a citizen defending his property or life in serious trouble with the law – despite the citizen’s best intentions.
Considering the higher-level of criminal and civil scrutiny when lethal force is used, we suggest that non-lethal means of force may offer one or more alternatives more palatable to citizens who not wanting a gun or who wish to avoid the web of potential/likely legal entanglements of using a gun.
Non-Lethal Force Options
In 2020 with criminal violence escalating in intensity and in actual numbers in many of America’s largest cities, gun sales climbed to record levels. People who never-before owned a gun, bought guns and quantities of ammunition – presumably to use to achieve proficiency in the use of the gun. Many gun owners also took the opportunity to add to their armory. Sales of guns to African Americans and other ethnic groups reached never-before-seen levels in response to violent crime that tripled in some cities and states.
There can be no question, then, that a great number of people fear for their safety and want to defend themselves. The question is: Are there effective options that can serve some of the gun-buying public, but without the inherent risks of using a firearm?
The answer to this question is, “Yes.” There are a variety of non-lethal or less-than-lethal systems for personal and property security. In this article, we will examine some of the less-lethal options and their applications and limitations to personal security.
To begin with, what is non-lethal force? In the broadest terms it is anything that is not lethal. For our purpose, non-lethal force is: Any defensive measure that with ordinary use will not kill and is not intended to kill. Non-lethal force is enough force, short of lethality, to deter or thwart an attacker or other criminal.
Let’s examine some of the more common non-lethal force tools currently available.
Taser is a well-known and established non-lethal force device commonly used by many police agencies. Taser is battery-powered and when fired, several sharp-edged prongs penetrate the skin as 50,000 volts of electricity is pulsed into the body of the target, generally rendering the person compliant. In its ordinary use, the Taser is non-lethal.
Advantages: Taser operates much like a firearm in that it is shaped like a gun and is as simple as “point and shoot”. Taser is effective and will disable a threat almost instantly. The voltage may continue to be applied so long as the prongs remain under the skin of the attacker. Generally, a short burst of voltage is enough to do the job.
Disadvantages: Taser is not available to the public; Taser is only for law enforcement officers and private security officers with a demonstrated need who are then certified in using a Taser. Taser’s effective range is limited by the length of the wires connecting the battery to the prongs, or about 15-feet or less. Taser is a “one-and-done” device; Taser cannot be rapidly fired; it is not semi-automatic. Taser must be reloaded before it can be refired. Reloading can take about 10-seconds or less.
While Taser is an outstanding non-lethal force tool for some law enforcement applications, without statutory changes it remains out-of-reach for home and business security. Deaths or serious injuries caused using Taser on the elderly or people with serious medical conditions have been reported. Alleged incidents of abuse with a Taser have caused some cities and counties to consider banning from the device from police use in their jurisdictions.
Other designs of taser are hand-held and require the device be pressed against the skin of the attacker. Such proximity to an attacker is inherently dangerous, but this is precisely the purpose of this model. Additionally, there are reports of the hand-held the device being appropriated by attackers and using them on the defender.
Cost: About $59.00 per unit, depending upon quantity, not including training and refill cannisters. View Taser guns on Amazon.
These are chemical agents that, when sprayed in the face of an attacker, may cause burning sensation in the eyes and on the skin. Although pepper spray and mace are different products, for convenience we combine them here. Pepper spray/mace reacts instantly to the skin or the eyes. Small cannisters of pepper spray/mace are commonly carried on the utility belts of police and federal officers.
Advantages: About 2 to 4 ounces of pepper spray/mace, directly applied, is sufficient to distract and repel an attacker for several minutes, enough time to secure a suspect into custody or for a defender to escape and seek help. Lacking any other manner of self-defense, it is much better than nothing at all.
Disadvantages: An attacker may not be deterred if the pepper spray/mace does not come into direct contact with the attacker’s face or eyes. Pepper spray/mace dispensers are intended for use when an attacker is in close-proximity (within 6-feet or less of the defender) and must be sprayed directly in the face of the attacker.
An attacker may not demonstrate any ill-intent until he is within 3-feet of a defender, or the attack may come from behind the defender – leaving no time to draw the cannister and spray. A cannister requires a defender’s aim to be precise; should the defender discharge the entire cannister without hitting the attacker face, there is no second shot. Like Taser, it is “one shot and done”.
To increase the distance between a defender and an attacker one is required to purchase what can easily be mistaken for a gun. Such devices may project a stream of pepper spray/mace up to 20-feet. Other designs fire a “paintball” filled with pepper spray/ mace up to 50-feet. The “paintball” version relies on a CO2 cannister of pressurized gas that, once loaded, must be used quickly before the pressure dissipates. Dissipation of pressure means the gun will not project the pepper spray/mace more than a dozen feet or so, and without sufficient impact the cause the Paintball to burst, thereby releasing pepper spray/ mace.
The drawbacks of these gun-like designs, while very practical for extending the effective range of defense, are obvious. A pepper spray/ mace gun could easily be mistaken as a firearm and result in catastrophic consequences because of “misidentification” as a lethal weapon. Second, it requires the defender to identify a threat from a longer distance. If the defender is mistaken about a potential threat and fires the pepper spray/ mace without cause, the defender could face criminal charges for assault. Third, firing a high-speed object such as a paintball into someone’s face could cause serious injury, including blindness.
Like Taser, more and more cities and counties are banning the use of pepper spray/mace when it is deployed as a “concealable, carry around weapon.” Many of these same cities are considering the ban on pepper spray/ mace cannisters or guns even by their police agencies, but some versions are still legal for ordinary citizens.
Cost: Between about $12.00 to $15.00 for a 4-ounce one-use cannister. Pepper spray/mace guns are about $50.00 and more. Visit Mace store on Amazon.
Yes, high-intensity light is a non-lethal force option. Surefire, LLC and now others manufacture their lights for precisely this purpose. Surefire is generally considered the first company to produce illumination tools with high-intensity light as a force option and even launched a separate division of the company to train law enforcement and military personnel on tactics for employing high intensity light. (I was the Executive Director of the Surefire Institute from its inception in the 1990’s until 2007.)
High-intensity light and strobing disrupts the flow of the visual information from the eye to brain in two ways. First, the brightness of the light (or a strobe) flash creates afterimages in the brain. For instance, if you look at a bright light — please don’t choose the sun — and then close your eyes, you’ll “see” an afterimage of the light.
Second, to achieve this effect the frequency of the light hovers near levels of hertz that impairs the brain’s ability to process visual information, which produces disorientation, and in the case of a strobe could even induce nausea. (Once the strobe is turned off, the nausea lingers for a few minutes as the brain recovers.) Depending upon the power of the light, it may even blind an attacker in broad daylight.
Advantages: A flashlight can be a highly effective and easy-to-use non-lethal force tool. The human eye is simply overwhelmed and the brain’s ability to process visual information or to compensate for the sudden change in the environment. The natural physiological response is to close the eyes, turn the head away from the light, or both. Regardless, it’s too late for the attacker because the “blind spots” that obscure his vision when he reopens his eyes. These blind spots last for a few to several minutes, depending on conditions, long enough for a person to escape and evade the attacker.
High-intensity light is not limited to short-range or one-and-done. In many instances, the light is effective to 100 meters and more. The closer the range, the more powerful the effect. The light can be used again and again, as necessary.
There are no known limitations or proposed limitations against using a flashlight as a non-lethal force tool in any jurisdiction in the US.
Disadvantages: A lack of training about best techniques and practices to deter with light is a limiting factor. Merely “shining a light at someone” will do little or nothing; The high-intensity light must be directed into the eyes, without hesitation or remorse.
Cost: A typical tactical light is about $150.00 to $350.00. Visit Surefire store on Amazon.
Note: Beware that some companies claim higher lumen output than is produced. Frequently the problem is easily remedied. The problem may be caused, but not always, from the use of cheap, imported batteries. Replacing the batteries with Duracell or Panasonic batteries will usually remedy the problem by increasing lumen output.
CCTV, or high-definition security cameras (HDTV) are commonly, but mistakenly, believed to be a non-lethal force tool. Whether it is a home security camera, business or commercial security camera, it makes no difference. Security cameras record watch; they don’t record without a recording software or a separate device to preserve the recording/upload to the cloud. Where people believe that cameras are non-lethal force is based on a false notion of force.
While a security camera MAY deter someone who fears being recorded and subsequently caught, the cameras DO NOT exert any physical or physiological force; they will not stop or deter a determined attacker. The cameras will, however, record your demise if you have recording capability.
The use of non-lethal force cannot be deployed without the presence of a reasonable threat. Happily, the level of criminal and civil scrutiny of non-lethal force is significantly less than that of lethal force. (See “Part I” of this article.) Additionally, the use of non-lethal force should not exceed the force necessary posed by the threat. This point is a two-sided coin. The non-lethal force allows for a quick recovery without permanent effects on the attacker.
In most instances, a “reasonable” belief of an imminent threat is sufficient to avoid criminal and civil issues. This does NOT mean a person can run around using pepper spray on passersby without cause by claiming the other person posed a threat.
- A threat must be current, immediate, and unavoidable.
- Your use of non-lethal force must be appropriate to the threat.
- Your use of non-lethal force must stop when the threat ceases.
Unlike when using lethal force, if at any point you misjudge the first, exceed the second, or forget the third, you are far-less likely of running the risk of a criminal indictment because the perceived attacker is not permanently harmed; he didn’t die. Everyone involved survived the encounter without permanent physical harm. This, after all, is the point of non-lethal force.