Pepper Spray: A Less-Lethal Tool Even For Tough Guys


I have carried a gun my entire adult life as a self-defense tool for situations that only such force can solve. If facing a “less lethal” assault my philosophy has always been that, if someone puts their hands on me, I will return the favor and the other individual will quickly learn the error of their wayward lifestyle. Well, I like to think that I have gained at least a bit of wisdom along the way, and I find that if we (the testosterone tribe, in particular) can put aside our ego for a moment, we can benefit. In this article I wish to share with you my reasoning for carrying a less-lethal tool, even if you are a tough guy. Actually, especially if you are a tough guy.

OC spray is still considered, by the majority of men, something that is used by women who are not willing to carry a gun and unfortunately that is the largest clientele for this product. I firmly believe that there is no substitute for a firearm in personal defense. However, I have become a true believer in the benefits of pepper spray for those that already carry a firearm on a daily basis. In the United States roughly four out of five assaults are “less lethal” in nature per yearly crime statistics. If you only carry a lethal weapon then you are refined to responding to such an assault with only your hands except for the variety where disparity of force may warrant a lethal response to even an unarmed attacker. You may be comfortable with going to hands, and I think that everyone who is serious about being able to defend themselves should have some unarmed combative skills. However, consider the following:

I have, as of late, come to consider OC Spray (pepper spray) the best all-around less-lethal option for most people. I am a recent convert to carrying it myself. I have for a long time resisted spray as there are a number of down sides. First of all, it can blow back on you if the wind is wrong, or you can get it on yourself when contacting the attacker you just sprayed. Also, it is effective much of the time, but it will not stop a determined aggressor. It will discourage the guy who gets heated and wants to push you around over a parking space. It will not stop the guy who is high on bath salts and wants to beat your brains out. Of course, just because you have a less-lethal tool does not mean you can’t go directly to lethal force if it is necessary and justified. As handgun carriers we have a good plan B and our discussion here is refined to carrying less-lethal in addition to your handgun, not in favor of it. But a firearm is not appropriate force for all situations.

Prior to my conversion to carrying pepper spray I did often carry a less-lethal tool and this was typically a kubaton or a tactical pen. These are focused impact tools and they do usually factor into the “less-lethal” category. My philosophy was that, should I need to go to hands, I have a significant force multiplier that also does not have the risk of blowing back on me like spray might, and whereas spray often fails, force can be escalated readily with an impact weapon. For example, a whack on the collar bone to dishearten an aggressive drunk can turn into a smash to the ocular cavity if things get really dangerous and you need to shut the opponent down. However, this varying force capability is both good and bad.

The problem with impact weapons as a singular less-lethal option, in my opinion, is that they are weapons that can run the gamut of less-lethal as well as potentially-lethal. They are intermediate force options that are certainly greater than your hands alone. If you land a strike to the temple with a kubaton you are going to end up with a seriously injured, or possibly dead, opponent, and under stress it is possible to land strikes where you don’t intend. This force level is useful for certain situations and I recommend carrying it if you wish, but as your only less-lethal option it is problematic. Similarly, I think conducted electricity weapons such as Tasers are limited for civilian less-lethal use. If you zap someone and they hit the pavement hard and sustain head trauma, you may face legal issues. Impact weapons and Tasers are good for environments that restrict firearms but allow these items. But for specifically less-lethal force for those already carrying guns I believe these devices are limited in use.

OC spray, on the other hand, gives you a force option that is actually lesser force than your hands. Most people think of pepper spray as what a relatively weak defender carries for self-defense as offering more effectiveness than only an unarmed response. Well, I believe it is a tool that the very strong physical defender should carry as well. Why? Because it gives you a less-lethal weapon that is highly unlikely to permanently harm someone. If you go to hands with anyone, no matter how skilled you are, you run the risk of injury to yourself, and you also risk significant injury to the adversary. Pepper spray can offer an alternative to the possibility of a scuffle turning into someone lying dead on the pavement after sustaining a serious blow to the head. This can happen more easily than one might think.

Also, consider this: what if you are a pretty tough dude but you get assaulted by a girl? What if some irate woman assaults you? I am aware of several incidents of this. Well, if she is just screaming at you then de-escalate and walk away if you can. But what if she puts her hands on you? Are you going to beat her up with open hands or crack her with a kubaton? This may be heavily scrutinized legally, no matter the circumstances. If she is armed with firearm, blade, or bludgeon, then it does not matter that she is a female, you can respond to a lethal threat with lethal force. But unarmed? Knock her out and see how that plays out legally. But spray her with pepper spray and you are in a much more defensible position. You will have used a proportional form of defense. If she fights through the spray and you need to escalate force by going to hands or an impact weapon at that point it is going to be more defensible for you as it is obvious that an attacker who fights through the spray is clearly determined.

Also consider this benefit: pepper spray gives you some stand-off distance. If you make contact with an aggressor to deal with him with open hand skills or an impact weapon, you are putting yourself in greater danger. How long does it take a man to produce a gun or blade from his pocket or waistline? Can you more effectively see him go for a weapon when locked up with him in a clinch, or from several feet away when spraying his face full of chemical deterrent? Also, if you lock up with the opponent he may discover the gun you are carrying. If that happens what started as a simple scrap may escalate into an attempt to disarm you. Making contact is always risky and if it can be avoided it should be.

The honest truth is, one reason I was for a long time resistant to pepper spray is due to the fact that it is yet another object to carry. Any of the duty sized spray cans take up significant pocket space, which is usually at a premium among gun carriers anyway. However, some of the key chain models are quite good. I like the Sabre Red Spitfire as this has a really good user interface and provides good throw for a unit that is so small. My only issue with it is that it still adds bulk to a key ring and I wear my keys hanging from my belt as I have no pocket space for them. Therefore, even a unit as small as the Spitfire dangles off of my belt conspicuously, but if that is not an issue for you I recommend this unit. I have, of late, discovered another great solution:

The ASP Key Defender. This device has actually been around for a long time. It is essentially a key chain kubaton that sprays pepper spray. Now, I have explained my thoughts on the limitations of only an impact tool for less-lethal, but as a two-in-one unit with pepper spray capability it makes more sense. This tool can be used strictly as pepper spray as a go-to less-lethal option, but if the spray does not deter the attack you are going to need to escalate your force anyway and the impact capability gives you another option that is immediately in your hand. ASP also makes the smaller Palm Defender model that is shorter and contains less chemical deterrent. I prefer the Key Defender as the Palm Defender model is, in my opinion, a bit too short to be used effectively for focused impact.

The Key Defender actually tucks into your waistline and the keys dangle from it, thus hiding the unit entirely and providing a means of wearing your keys that is very secure. I find that it really does not fall out even under vigorous activity. It looks non-threatening as well as it is just an aluminum tube, like a small Mag Light. These sorts of spray devices are usually more limited in range and spray capacity than larger alternatives, but I find the Key Defender’s range good for the size of the unit. Disarming the safety and actuating the Key Defender takes a bit more fine motor dexterity than does actuating the Spitfire unit so practicing deployment is necessary. But overall I like both units and would recommend either.

Pepper spray is a good option that will solve most less-lethal assaults, but it must be considered strictly a preemptive measure. I honestly consider it a deterrent rather than a weapon. If it works when used, great. If it does not you need to be ready to go directly to a higher level of force, or just make an escape if possible. If spray only manages to enrage an attacker that you can’t safely retreat from you need to have a game plan as to how you will handle the situation. Can you deal with it with open hands, do you have an impact weapon to employ, or has the threat truly become deadly, warranting a lethal response? These decisions will have to be made quickly and decisively. Think through it and train to transition from your spray to your other force options because the possibility of the spray failing is significant. However, it works most of the time to end simple physical hostilities and it can end things before they escalate.

Pepper spray may not be the best less-lethal alternative for everyone, but I do think it is the best for many, perhaps even the majority, of people who are already carrying a gun. It provides some options that really nothing else does. If you have always considered pepper spray just suited for women who refuse to carry a gun, think again and consider this option. Even tough guys can benefit from a less-lethal tool for certain situations.

About the Author

Salvatore is a firearms instructor, competitive shooter, and life-long practitioner of concealed carry. Salvatore actively trains and refines his own skills and understanding of the defensive handgun and strives to share his experience with the growing community of concealed carriers who take their own self-defense seriously. His daily carry gun is a Glock 19 worn in an Alien Gear Cloak Tuck holster.

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