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Distance overcomes skill.
          Sgt Aaron Walls

What's the BEST self-defense weapon?

On this page: Best Weapon? | Point A: Appropriateness Of Use | Point B: Commitment Of The Attacker| Point C: Distance vs. Defense

There are 'eternal questions' and then there are just some things that will never go away. One thing that never seems to leave is some people's desire for a simplistic answer to extremely complex subjects.

And then comes the same people's tendency to argue over what flawed and simplistic answer is the 'right one.'

Right after 'what is the best martial art for self-defense' comes the question 'what's the best self-defense tool?"

Guns? Knives? Peppersprays? Tasers? Strike enhancers?

If you have time to waste you can watch further arguments over which version of your preferred simplistic answer is the best. Guns? Colt? Bereta? Knives? Cold Steel? Emerson? Non lethal? Taser? Stun gun? OC spray? Mace? Gear geeks can micro-argue the subject into insanity and obsession.

And yet when it finally comes down to using the item in a live-fire situation, ALL of these items have strengths, weaknesses, limitations, consequences and most of all failure.

By the last I not only mean 'failure is always an option,' but also that they won't work in time to keep you from getting injured. Something else we can add into the 'fail' category is when they do work ... except that their use was inappropriate.

Let me categorically state that IF you choose to carry an item for 'self-defense,' you WILL be held to a higher standard. In fact, if you you ever use it, your actions before, during and after will be reviewed. Actually let me rephrase that, think crawl, up, anus and microscope. And I should warn you, this will be done by people who are intent on proving that your use of force was unjustified -- if not outright bad, evil and wrong.

And that's over and above the problem of the item might not work in time. This is why this subject is a LOT more complicated than just what item you choose to carry.

Below is my response to someone who asked me the 'what's the best' question. In it I lay out the three primary reasons why there is no simplistic answer


Here's are the three fundamental problems
a) is the use of the item appropriate?
b) will it work on that particular individual?
c) will it work fast enough to keep him from killing you?

Point A: You cannot unmake a corpse. While less-than-lethal items tend to avoid this problem, lethal force instruments tend to make corpses. As such, the 'terms and conditions' of when using a lethal force instrument is legally and ethically allowed are a LOT higher. Unlike martial arts, when you are talking about using a weapon in self-defense, you MUST plan on success. And that includes dealing with the consequences and aftermath of your decision to deploy and use said weapon. If you use a tool  ANY KIND of tool for self-defense, you damned well be able to articulate and explain -- to a lot of people -- why that was a reasonable and justifiable decision given the circumstances.

Simply stated I can more easily justify and explain using a taser/pepperspray as they are non-lethal (although to be technically accurate they are usually less-than-lethal). While these items inflict pain, they seldom injure. And yes there is a BIG difference. While inflicting unwarranted pain on someone will get you into trouble, it's inflicting injury that will really get you into hot water. So yeah, you'll still have some explaining to do if you use these, but there is more tolerance about their use because you were 'scared' That is to say you 'thought' you were about to be attacked.

HOWEVER, when it comes to shooting or stabbing someone I'd better have had a DAMNED good reason. And by that I mean MORE than just you were scared about what he might do.

There must be articulatable facts (that you can identify and explain) that
A) lead you to the conclusion that you were in immediate danger of being seriously injured.
B) other people can understand and agree with your conclusion

Putting that into simple terms: If you use a lethal force instrument on someone, you need to be able to explain to people -- most of whom REALLY dislike the idea that you killed someone -- why it wasn't you freaking out and overreacting. If you can't do that, or if the situation didn't warrant it ... you're going to get hosed.

Furthermore, if I am carrying only a pistol, then I not only have to accept the reality that I will be held to a higher standard, but that in most conflicts and even physical violence, its use is inappropriate.

Again, putting this into simple terms, 99% of the time you are not legally justified to pull a knife and stab someone just because he punched you (this despite what some so-called knife fighting expert told you). Remember lethal force instruments, even if they don't kill, cause injury.

Having said that, there are times and circumstances where pulling that trigger IS the best and correct answer. When those times come, a less-than-lethal tool is inappropriate and ineffective.

Point B, people are different -- especially when it comes to pain. Some things will cause a particular attacker to scream in pain, break off the attack and fall down. Other attackers will just smile at you and keep on coming. It depends ENTIRELY on the attacker and how committed he is to hurting you (i.e. how much pain is he willing to endure to get you). Those two points are what make this subject like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree -- and why there is no one, easy answer.

Someone who sorta kinda wants something, but doesn't want to suffer to get it, will fold like a cheap suit when you pepperspray them. Someone who wants to kill you and doesn't mind dying to achieve this goal will eat multiple bullets and keep on coming. He can be dead on his feet and still be attacking.  Conversely, there are many more people who will turn and flee at the very sight of any of the items you are asking about. They may want something, but not bad enough to risk pain, injury or death.

The details of the circumstances and the level of commitment you are facing cannot be predicted before hand. You won't be able to determine these until you are in the situation. The situation, not you, will dictate what is the 'best' item for the job

There's a saying I'm fond of: You can't get an accurate answer if you don't ask an accurate question. The reason there is no simple answer to 'what is best?' is that it has to be qualified with 'under what circumstances?'  The details of the answer will determine what is the most appropriate tool.

Point C I have a friend who likes to say "Distance overcomes skill."  My parallel is 'the greater the distance the less you have to worry about defense.' 

But let's look at my friend's point first. Distance overcomes skill. This is a two way street. Going one way, someone who is a skilled martial artist has very little chance against someone with a rifle. By the time he can close the distance to use his skills, the shooter can riddle him with bullets.  Thereby rendering the MAer's skills invalid in those circumstances.

In the other direction, if the MAer is close enough to grab the shooter's weapon  then all the shooter's skills (and equipment) are rendered null and void. In the same manner that someone who is bigger and stronger can overwhelm a trained martial artist if the martial artist allows himself to be rushed upon and tackled. Keep this 'neutralization of skills' in mind because it's important.

My prallel of 'the greater the distance the less you have to worry about defense' has a subclause. That is 'the closer the distance, the MORE you have to worry about defense." 

And by defense, I do mean defense.

Distance weapons rely on distance for your safety. If you shoot someone across the room, there is absolutely nothing to prevent him from shooting back. Your safety is dependant on your bullets, his excitement, etc., screwing up his aim. If it hasn't then you are going to eat lead too.

What's more, is 'distance equals time.'  If the guy has a knife and you've shot him from a distance, you're relying on the time that it take for him to cover the distance to you for that bullet to take effect.  In both cases your safety is entirely dependant in what you did effecting your attacker BEFORE he can effectively counter attack. That whether it is shoot back with accuracy or close the distance to injure you.

I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Simply stated, most so-called self-defense items have NO defensive capabilities at all. By this I mean while they may stop an attacker from continuing with more attacks, they can NOT protect you from an attack in progress. If a guy is charging you, a taser, spray or a bullet will NOT stop his forward momentum. He will still reach you and proceed to do damage to you (e.g. if you taser someone and he slams into you, there's a good chance you'll lose your triggering.) Now you have a guy up close and eating your face.

That's the fundamental weakness of ANY distance weapon. If the guy gets close enough to negate the advantage of range, they are useless to prevent damage to you. From a defensive standpoint, you cannot block an incoming attack with these items. Your only hope is to create enough pain and damage to the individual that he is overcome BEFORE the damage he does to you overwhelms you. 

The bottomline is the closer an attacker is the less you need to be worrying about what you are going to do to him and more about keeping him from doing to you.  Don't fall for the old lie that the 'best defense is a good offense.' Because the closer you are to an attacker the more likely that attitude will turn it into trading damage contest.  Actual defense against a closing attacker is THE most overlooked aspect of this entire business. People are too fixated on what they are going to do to their attacker to make him stop attacking rather than what they need to do to keep his attack from landing. Gee, you both go to the hospital or the morgue, that ain't what I call a win.

Take these three points and apply them to what you are asking. Because these elements are the realities surrounding this topic. To tell you the truth, it is really far less about what is the 'best' item than it is knowing when it is time to use each.


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