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Self Defense & "Devices"

Do these gadgets really work?

There are many devices available on the market to enhance personal safety. Some can be effective. Some are not effective. Some are junk.

On this page we'll present two issues:

  • Which devices may work, and which may not work.
  • Why your "self-defense strategy" shouldn't be built around a device.

First, some of the devices:

Stun Guns (zappers)
Here are some vendor "claims" regarding "stun guns" sold on the web, as well through catalogs and in retail stores:

"...instantly stops attacker..."

"...merely touching a person with the gun, they are immobilized for several minutes, with no permanent damage..."

"...causing the assailant to drop . . .trying to remember how to move his arms and legs..."

"...the sound alone is enough to scare any attacker away..."

"...used by police departments. Strong enough to take down any attacker!..."

Sounds effective, eh?     WRONG!!!

Stun guns supposedly use electrodes to, when pressed against an attacker's clothing or flesh, send high voltages (50,000 to 300,000 volts at a tiny fraction of an amp) of electricity streaming through the assailant's body, instantly disabling them by overwhelming the assailant's nervous system.

When these devices first came on the market, some police officers and others were even video-taped in demonstrations where the stun guns supposedly "knocked them down" carefully staged demonstrations where the person being "stunned" had been set up -hyped- into thinking they were going to be knocked down.

Through lengthy discussion of how it was going to feel, signing liability waivers, placing cushions/mats below where they would surely fall, placing strong men on either side to catch them before they hit the ground, and other psychological tricks to "prep" them into truly believing they were going to be physically knocked off their feet.

Well, if you believe something strongly enough, it may happen. Unfortunately, your attacker will probably not be so carefully prepped into believing that your stun gun is going to have the desired effect...

Our OUPD self-defense instructors became aware of the the problem of all the bogus "zappers" on the market several years ago at an Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) school where the trainers advised that the FBI had conducted testing on a number of "stun gun" devices on the market and had found: 1) none that worked as claimed (i.e. disabling an attacker) and, 2) some that didn't even produce enough power to cause any significant pain to the attacker.

Our self defense instructors have attended CLEET training where we've repeatedly "zapped" each other with various brands and models of "stun guns". The effects?

Being "zapped" by a stun gun just made us MAD!

And that's very likely what will happen if you use a stun gun on an assailant...just make them very mad.

We've been zapped on bare skin and through clothes. We've been zapped on various body parts, including on the neck at the base of the skull. We've been zapped for a second, and for five seconds, and for longer.

We've seen a defensive tactics instructor zapped on bare skin on the neck, continuously, for over a minute, with the most powerful "stun gun" the state training center could find, while fighting an opponent. The effect? It made him EXTREMELY ANGRY. It actually caused him to fight harder because of the pain.

Yes, they can be "painful". And if you zap someone long enough you can cause tiny burns, and likely cause bruises where the metal leads are jammed into the skin if you press hard enough. A very hard "pinch" would probably cause as much pain and injury.

If your idea of self-defense is to "pinch" the assailant as hard as you can and make them very angry, then a "stun gun" may be for you!

We've even had instructors go out and buy the latest-greatest stun gun they've seen advertised, with their own money, and bring it back to work where they could zap each other with it to test its effectiveness. Painful, sure. But much less painful than "a good swift kick" and nothing that would disuade a determined attacker. Painful enough, however, to make almost any attacker very angry at you.

The only scenario we can think of where such a device WOULD be effective is against very stupid criminals who might "think" one touch from a stun gun will lay them out on the floor. It's probably not a good idea, however, to plan your defense strategy around being attacked by someone who's very stupid.

Note: There are some electrical-shock based devices, available to police and corrections officers, that are reported to be effective, in some circumstances, including some devices like the "Air-Taser" that fire wire-line projectiles into the skin (bypassing skin resistivity) but none that we'd recommend for the average citizen.

And, if the fact that they "just don't work" isn't enough, the stun gun is a device that requires that you prolong immediate contact with an attacker. We want you to get AWAY from the attacker!

Also, stun guns may be illegal to buy, carry, or use in your state.

The decision whether to carry a weapon is entirely yours; we want to provide information with which you can make an informed decision.

The primary consideration must be legal; many weapons are unlawful for anyone to possess, or to possess under specific conditions. Check the applicable laws in your community before even considering whether you want to acquire a weapon for personal defense.

The first thing you need to consider is that all weapons require training and regular practice to achieve and maintain proficiency. A weapon with which the user is unskilled is at least as dangerous to the user as it is to an attacker. The more lethal the weapon, the more practice is required, and the more difficult it is likely to be to find an appropriate location for practice.

If you are confident that you can become skilled with a weapon and are satisfied that you have a suitable location for practice and can observe a practice schedule that will maintain your proficiency, then a weapon for personal defense may be a viable choice for you.

A second consideration is lethality. While it may be comforting to think you can "blow away" an attacker, dead is dead. There are tragic stories in the news media frequently about children who have accessed firearms or other weapons or devices in the home which were there for home defense but which end up inflicting permanent (and in some cases fatal injuries) on family members, neighbors, and other unintended targets.

You must also consider what will happen if the weapon is taken from you and used by your assailant. If you are satisfied that you can provide and maintain appropriate control and security for a weapon, then it may be a viable choice for you.

Firearms are unlawful to carry, especially when concealed, in most states. Many states have passed laws allowing citizens to obtain permits for concealed carry, but impose conditions and qualifications which must be met before a firearm can be acquired and carried. Firearms are the most lethal legal weapon, and (depending upon the type of ammunition used) may inflict fatal injuries on unintended targets.

If you're thinking about a firearm for personal defense, make absolutely certain you're informed about the applicable laws.

And, if you're considering a firearm for personal defense, definitely plan on seeking out proper TRAINING on safe use, defensive/combat and weapon retention training (keeping an attacker from taking it away from you!) AND practice.
Not recommended.

Knives may be unlawful to carry, depending upon their size and type. Those which are legal to carry are often not very effective as weapons. Knives are difficult to achieve proficiency with, and almost impossible to practice with effectively. Knives require close proximity for use, and thus put you closer to an attacker.

While knives can be very effective as defensive weapons, proficiency takes professional training and plenty of practice.
Not recommended.

Martial Arts Devices
Ranging from swords to kubatons (essentially a short stick), martial arts devices may be unlawful to carry. Those which are legal can be effective only in the hands of a trained user, and the user must practice frequently to maintain proficiency. These devices also necessitate close proximity for use. Not recommended.

Concealed Devices
There are a variety of devices available whose utility as a weapon is disguised. Ranging from push-knives which double as belt-buckles to very thin blades enclosed in ball-point pen casings, the majority of these are unlawful. They are also exceptionally difficult to access and get into use if attacked by surprise (and most criminals don't announce their attack). These devices also necessitate close proximity for use. Not recommended.

Chemical Weapons
Pitfalls of Chemical Weapons
The majority of the following statements are applicable to almost any chemical weapons, whether it be aerosol, stream, foam, or otherwise applied:

  • Delayed Effect - chemicals take some time to affect the target, during which an attacker can continue to attack
  • Effectiveness Subject to Weather Conditions - completely ineffective in high winds (the average wind speed in Oklahoma is reportedly fourteen miles per hour) and less effective in extreme cold
  • May be Ineffective on Some Individuals - persons under the influence of some drugs, who are extremely agitated, or who have mental health problems may not be effected at all or may only be further agitated
  • Cannot be effectively deployed against a target expecting it - sprays work best on persons who are surprised by their use
  • Affect EVERYONE in range - chemicals are non-discriminating, and under some weather conditions, may affect the user as much as the target
  • Work only if immediately available - If not in-hand, it is unlikely that an attacker will allow someone to reach into a pocket or purse to obtain a chemical (or any other) weapon, and most attackers will be able to avoid the spray if used
  • Have an effective shelf life (which is shortened by exposure to temperature extremes) - like any aerosol, sprays can lose their propellant, can leak (causing great discomfort and contaminating whatever they're being carried in), and may decompose if left in an automobile in mid-summer or under hard-freeze conditions for protracted periods. The manufacturers do not guarantee the potency (or operation) of devices whose shelf life is expired

Pepper Spray (Oleoresin Capsicum)
Unlike "zappers", pepper spray may be quite effective, if used properly, under certain circumstances.

Many police departments issue pepper spray for use by their officers, including OUPD. Police generally use the same 10% concentration mixture available to the general public. Pepper sprayers are available to the public in 5% and 10% concentrations in many states.

Before you run out and buy a canister of pepper spray, however, consider:

  1. While many police officers are "issued" pepper spray as a standard tool, they also undergo extensive training on the use and effects of pepper spray, which may not be available to the average citizen buying it in a store.
  2. Pepper spray may not be effective in controlling an assailant if mis-aimed, or under windy conditions. It also is known to be less effective on some persons than on others. Police officers are trained that while it "can" be a very effective tool, it does have limitations in certain circumstances.
  3. Like any "device-based" self defense strategy, it's only useful if it's readily available the moment you need it. Police officers wear it on a holster on their belt at all times, and also have "other" tools/weapons available, if more or different force is called for, than just the use of pepper spray.

Pepper spray is legal to sell/carry/use in most states.

Other Chemical Sprays
"Tear Gas" (chemically alphachlorocedenphone and generically 'CN') is sold in packages intended for use by citizens as a self-defense device. It works by irritating the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and throat. It is fairly effective if sprayed into a "normal" person's nose or throat or directly into the eyes. Considered by many authorities to be less effective than OC Spray.

Chemical dyes, especially those which are "invisible to the naked eye" are almost universally worthless for self-defense. Not only does law enforcement not have ultraviolet detection lights conveniently available in most cases, the application is indiscriminate, and innocent bystanders in the vicinity when the material is used are as likely to be "dyed" as the intended target.

Some chemical sprays come in "foam" form; be aware that a target can gather foam and throw it back at the user....

There are hybrid chemical sprays on the market that combine OC and CN, and these are considered by some to be more effective than either agent by itself.

Martial Arts
There are a nearly infinite variety of martial arts which may be learned. Some are intended for defense while others are primarily offensive. Every martial art requires physical dexterity, conditioning, very substantial mental discipline, and lots of practice. To think that you can take a few lessons and pick up a few pointers and be ready to defend yourself is delusional. While martial arts techniques certainly do enable a diminutive individual to defeat a larger, stronger person, success is dependent upon proper execution; difficult in the practice environment and often impossible under conditions encountered in everyday activities.

We encourage participation in martial arts; they're good for you mentally and physically, and constitute outstanding exercise even if you never utilize the techniques. But we discourage the "ordinary person" from relying upon martial arts for personal safety and defense.

The short classes OUPD teaches in "self-defense" are focused almost exclusively on "escape and evade" tactics and discourage in the strongest terms any confrontation with or retaliation upon an attacker. The best defense if attacked is to draw public attention to the occurrence. The best defense prior to attack is to develop sound personal security habits, maintain awareness, and project an appearance of confidence.

Personal Alarm/Siren
(or even a simple whistle)
Many types of electronic alarm mechanisms are available, often on keychain attachments, which can be carried and sounded if you find yourself in trouble as a way of attracting attention and discouraging an assailant. Better models produce sound levels above 110 decibels.

As a device, such items are still only useful if kept immediately at hand. If you don't have it with you, or readily available, when assaulted, it won't do you any good. A positive side is that these devices are not offensive weapons and can't really be used against you like a can of pepper spray might be, should the attacker take it away from you.

Like virtually all electronic personal defense devices, if the battery is not replaced, it will eventually just be taking up space in a purse or pocket, useful only as a handy object to throw at an assailant.

If you're considering a "noise maker" as a means of summoning help, alerting passers-by, and discouraging an assailant, we'd suggest you consider a good quality whistle. There are several extremely loud whistles on the market that have no moving parts, no batteries to replace, have little weight, take up little space, cost very little, and can be used while running away from an assailant.

Unlike an offensive weapon, noise-makers don't require that you be (and stay) within a certain proximity of your attacker to use. You don't have to "confront" your attacker to use a noisemaker.

The only self-defense "device" that OUPD endorses for use by the public is a simple, loud, whistle. (The kind you blow.) We even distribute "personal safety" whistles at some crime prevention events.

Consider, however, that just making noise isn't enough. If there are other people in the area, yell to get their attention and call for them to help. Yell for them to call the police. Even yelling at an non-existent passerby to call the police ("Hey, YOU! Call the police!") may make your attacker pause to look, giving you a chance to gain distance and get away.

Why your "self-defense strategy" shouldn't be built around a device:

There are a number of components to building an effective self-defense strategy. While gadgets and devices may be handy, if available, we strongly recommend against purchasing and carrying one as your central strategy for dealing with an assault:

  • If you don't have it handy, or even with you, your whole plan of defense crumbles
  • If it doesn't work as intended, or at all, it may cause you to waste precious moments that could have been better spent trying another method to avoid or deal with the attack.
  • If it runs on batteries, Murphy's Law says they'll be dead when you need them the most.
Most defensive tactics instructors will recommend that you have a multi-tiered strategy for defending against an assault. If one thing fails, try something else. If that fails, try a third technique. The key is to having lots of options.

What you don't want to do is depend on a single device, ploy, or defense technique to handle any possible assault under any set of conditions.

A well prepared/trained person will have given the potential for an assault a lot of "pre-thinking" and pre-planning.

That well-prepared person will have the confidence that comes from knowing both his/her limitations and strengths, and have a flexible strategy that accommodates varying circumstances and which can best utilize whatever tools or conditions are at hand.

Good preparation for an active defense includes not only simply learning some good defense techniques in a book/classroom, but also practicing the techniques, visualization, role-play training, how to use common items as defensive tools, as well as preventive measures including such things as body language and eye contact in public, how to minimizing your risk factors, and creating positive mental images of how you will handle, and survive, any type of potential assault.

And, no matter how many techniques you learn, the first rule to avoid an assault is often, "Run!" Even police officers have to be taught that there are certain times when "descretion is the better part of valor" and it's wise to pull back and call for reinforcements. The best self-defense strategy is usually:

Escape and Evade!

There are a number of excellent books on the market, at any major bookstore, which can help you devise your personal defense strategy. Most communities also have local martial arts instructors, or even free defense training through the local police department.

Contact the Crime Prevention Unit of your local police department to find out what type of training resources may be available in your area.

OUPD offers free defensive tactics training each semester to both campus individuals/groups and to the general public.

Before you consider purchasing a gadget for self defense, consider buying a book on the subject, or attending a local class/workshop. We think you'll definitely be glad you did.

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