Less-Than-Lethal Alternatives to Firearms for Ranged Personal Protection

Pepper Spray

Image from rothco.blogspot.com

When a criminal encounter turns violent – whether it starts out that way or simply escalates – the ability to incapacitate an attacker at a distance can sometimes make the difference between enagagement and escape or even life and death.  Many choose to own and legally carry a firearm and have obtained the training to use one safely and effectively for personal defense. However, for many, firearms are not an option for practical and ethical reasons. In this article, we explore some readily available, less-than-lethal alternatives for ranged personal protection devices.


Please note that this phrase is significant, as none of the ranged personal protection devices described here can truly be called non-lethal.  All of them have an inherent potential to kill, albeit at a far lower frequency than a firearm.  Fatal allergic reactions to chemicals in pepper spray are not unheard of.  Low-amperage electrical current can cause arrythmia or other cardiac system malfunctions that can lead to death.  Before electing to purchase and carry any of these devices, please make certain that you understand and are prepared to accept the fact using them could result in a fatality.


 There are many personal protection device options on the market, but only a subset of these are effective at a distance beyond which an attacker likely could strike or grapple, or close the distance before you could activate that device and disrupt the attack. 
Studies have shown that it can take up to half a second for an alert, observant person to notice a potential threat and begin reacting.  Other studies have shown that the time for a trained person to draw a firearm from concealment and prepare to fire is an average of one second (we are not discussing firearms here, but the same principles apply).  Taking all of that into consideration, a trained person cannot reasonably be expected to activate a ranged personal protection device in response to a perceived threat in less than 1.5 seconds.  On this basis, the minimum desirable range for a ranged personal protection device is at least the distance an attacker could be expected to cover in 1.5 seconds. As other studies show that a grown man in good health at a full run can cover seven yards (21 feet) in 2.3 seconds, and rounding for simplicity’s sake, that range is 13.5 feet.

Option #1: Ranged Pepper Spray

Image from kimberamerica.com

Image from kimberamerica.com

Most aerosol, stream and foam pepper sprays  have a range considerably shorter than 13.5 feet.  However, on the “high end” there are some that have significantly more range.  Personally, I carry a ranged pepper-spray dispenser (Kimber LifeAct PepperBlaster, 2-shot non-reloadable, 14-foot range) any time I am in my car or out on the street and not carrying a firearm.  This device retails for about $30. There are inert training units available to practice with safely, and practice you should — though the PepperBlaster launches a very large volume of high-potency pepper solution, more accuracy is required than with an up-close aerosol unit.
One step higher is the Kimber LifeAct JPX (Kimber LifeAct JPX, 2-shot reloadable, pistol-framed, 21-foot range).  This $300-ish device comed equipped with a laser sight to facilitate aiming and shoots an even larger volume of high-potency pepper solution. The fact it is reloadable means that you can retreat and try again if you miss, and if you are carrying additional cartridges.  Inert practice cartridges are available for this model as well and practice is highly recommended.
There are other ranged pepper spray devices on the market, including an inexpensive reloadable with a purported 17-foot range that looks like a flare gun. However, I don’t have enough personal experience with them to be comfortable discussing them here.  That is not to say, however, you shouldn’t consider them.

Option #2: Tasers

Image from tasersales.com

Image from tasersales.com

Until a few years ago, tasers were exclusively available to law-enforcement and the military. However, legislative changes and mass-production has brought these devices into the civillian marketplace and offer a less-than-lethal alternative to firearms for ranged personal protection devices. 
Taser International’s C2 was the first (and remains the most popular) consumer taser on the marketplace.  This $300-ish device boasts a 15-foot range, once inch of clothing penetration, five seconds of incapacitating current, a laser sight to assist aiming and can be reloaded quickly.  Like most tasers it also can be used as a contact stun-gun once the taser cartridge has been fired, providing a close-range personal protection device as well.
One step up is the Taser X26C, which is a consumer version of the law enforcement-only X26M taser, has the same 15-foot range and features, but also offers a pistol frame and a full two inches of clothing penetration. It also retails for $1,000 and so may beyond the reach of many consumers.
I personally don’t carry a taser but have had the opportunity to test both of these models and see their appeal. I also see the need to train with both these devices in more hands-on a fashion than the DVD included with both products.  If you go the taser route, please do purchase extra cartridges and a training target to be sure you can use one effectively.

Options #3 to Infinity

There are many other less-than-lethal ranged personal protection devices on the market, but few that (1) have entered the mainstream and (2) I have enough experience with to be comfortable discussing.  Incapacitating LED flashers, pepper-ball launchers and sonic stunners (for example) may all be viable options, but you should consider them for yourself.

Caveats, and Caveat Emptor

Please make absolutely certain that you have read and understand local laws regarding personal protection devices before you elect to purchase or carry one.  Restrictions can vary widely from state to state and city to city and the penalties for violating the law can be severe — often on par with the illegal posession of a firearm.  It is the buyer’s responsibility to understand and follow applicable laws — not the manufacturers’ and certainly not mine.
Please also be aware that with all personal protection devices, just as is the case with firearms, you may be subject to criminal or civil liability in the event you use one — even if you are doing so to protect your life.  Consider the legal and ethical implications of being armed (less-than-lethal or otherwise) before you arm yourself.
Finally, please note that even with the best products and the best training (and you should get it!) and the best preparation (like having a ranged personal protection device where you can get at it quickly, instead of burying it in a pocket or purse) it still may not be effective.  Some people are immune to the incapacitating effects of pepper spray. 
Others may have a second or two – in which they can do considerable harm – before the taser current overwhelms their nervous system. Depending on a personal protection device as your exclusive strategy for escaping a criminal confrontation is to invite being victimized.  Please remember that such devices are only one element of an effective personal safety plan.

One Response

  1. […] mugging can be over in less than ten seconds, a carjacking in less than fifteen. As discussed in a previous article about less-than-lethal personal protection devices, a person might require as much as 1.5 seconds before even realizing that something is wrong and […]

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