It’s 7:30AM and I have five minutes to grab everything I need to have with me when I leave for the day. I immediately grab my billfold, car keys, lip-gloss, hand cleaner, defensive flashlight, water bottle, and put on my appendix carry holster with my Smith and Wesson M&P Shield. What’s on your “grab and go” list?
My items may not be what most women grab before they leave the house, but for me it is a ritual and routine. I value having my Shield to protect myself more than any of the other items, except my car keys, of course, so I don’t have to walk 30 minutes to town.
I have been carrying concealed for 18 years and thankfully have not had to draw my handgun on anyone. I had a very scary incident last year and I was stalked and almost attacked when I was with my two daughters in what I thought was a “safe place”. I was carrying a handgun and had a lot of training with firearms, but no training with Situational Awareness, verbal defenses, or learning to keep my personal space. Instinctively, I knew the man’s body language was ominous and I actually held onto my girls’ hands and stood there and “froze.” Luckily for us, my brother showed up at the right time and the guy took off. That event left me feeling helpless and was the impetus to find other methods to learn to avoid encounters and give me more options.
Now it’s a different story. I’ve spent a year on a quest to empower and load myself with a myriad of skills and knowledge to prevent predators from getting close to me. If they happen to anyway, I’ve multiplied those options as well. Now, I not only protect myself, but I am a self-defense instructor, and I teach Situational Awareness training and defensive body tactics to as many people as I can. I’ve learned that if you pay attention to the signs and signals, and are smart about it, you can keep yourself out of trouble most of the time with just these skills.
Even the most skilled person at threat avoidance may find themselves in a critical defensive incident, in a time when one absolutely can’t predict an attack, and this is when it is nice to have a back up plan.
Defensive hardware is a “force multiplier” when other tactics have failed, assuming you 1) have it with you, and 2) know what the heck to do to put it into action effectively. Hardware usually falls into three categories: lethal, less lethal, and non-lethal.
Keep in mind the saying, “Two is one and one is none,” since you want to have more than one option at your disposal. The most important thing is to know how your device works and practice using it. I don’t care what your hardware device is, but you must “own” it.
I have learned as much as I can about all the options out there, and I was a little shocked when I started researching how some products worked and what could go wrong with them. They are not the “magic wand” many believe them to be.
I’m going to discuss the less lethal and non-lethal options, because I think there is much more misconception about these than firearms. I will talk about pepper sprays, stun guns, Tasers and defensive flashlights.
One of the top comments I hear from female students is, “I run on an isolated path all by myself when it is still a little dark out. Don’t worry because I have my keychain pepper spray in my hand and I’m ready to blast anyone that gets close!”
Seriously? Have you tried shooting your keychain pepper spray so you know how far it shoots or how long you have until it runs out? I have tested numerous sizes of pepper sprays and I was disappointed and shocked at how ineffective the small sizes turned out to be. Truth be told? Throw the grocery store, pink keychain pepper spray away because it won’t blind a squirrel.
All pepper sprays are not created equal and you should make sure your pepper spray is an effective one. Many highly effective pepper spray products are rated at 1 million or more Scoville Heat Units (SHU). I like Fox Labs and Inferno because they have some wicked SHU ratings. Comparing a cheap pepper spray to a high end one is like comparing a paper match (about 451 degrees F) to a blue-hot blowtorch (about 2000 degrees F).
Contact with pepper spray in a sprayed mist induces an immediate and intense burning sensation of the skin, but especially impacts the eyes causing them to slam shut, burn, tear, swell. In fact, even though tear gas is fairly nasty, it does not have the same inflammation and swelling effects of pepper spray. However, know that some people on drugs may not be affected at all.
One over-marketed claim is the distance at which pepper spray is effective. To find out for yourself, buy an inert training canister and practice spraying it so you know how well you can aim and how far it will reach. I have found that the pepper spray will effectively reach 6-8 feet and not 15 feet, like it says on the label. Remember to think about the wind drift, and you will likely get some spray on yourself because you’ll likely be so close to the attacker. A final note on Pepper Spray is that they have an expiration date, and I’d suggest replacing it yearly, even if not technically expired. Use the old one for practice.
Stun guns are another favorite device to carry and it’s important to understand the realities of their use as well. A stun gun is an electrical device that uses high voltage to stop an attacker by discharging its electricity into the muscles at a high pulse frequency that makes the muscles spasm so rapidly that the person has no control over them. One of the huge negatives about stun guns is that you have to be at “contact distance” (close enough to touch the person, a very scary place to be) and you have to hold the stun gun in place long enough to have an effect. I’ve noticed in the fine print of the directions that stun guns can be over charged, and discharging them for too long in the air can cause malfunctions. I had a stun gun, for an example, in my classes and I fired it in the air four times to show the students (staying under the recommended discharge time) and it died. Also, will your attacker’s clothing be thin enough for the stun gun to penetrate? Bad guys are notorious for not cooperating when they need to.
Tasers are often confused with a stun gun, but they are very different. A Taser discharges one or two sharp probes that are connected to the handheld unit with thin wires. These probes hopefully hit a minimum distance apart and can make it through the clothing. The Taser has more profound effects than the stun gun, if it works as planned and disrupts the central nervous system. It directly controls the skeletal muscles causing an uncontrollable contraction of the muscles. Tasers have been known to result in deaths, sometimes from the shock itself, and sometimes from falls that result from the shock.
One of my favorite tools to have on me is my Surefire defensive flashlight because having a flashlight at all times is just a good idea anyway. The power could go out in a large department store and you’re at a huge obvious advantage if you have a light on you. At certain times during the year it is dark when you go to work and dark when you leave, so it is wise to use a flashlight to assess your car for anyone around it or in it. Spend some money and invest in a flashlight with over 100 lumens so it has the potential to blind someone if needed. Another important consideration is to have the flashlight’s first activation be the 100 lumen setting, as many have a low setting, as well. The Surefire Defender that I carry is made of strong aluminum and has an ominous looking “strike bezel” that would be able to injure someone if you needed to. So far the TSA is allowing flashlights onto planes, but this should be checked out before you fly, since their rules change often. There are less tactical flashlights that may be more appropriate in the eyes of the security screeners.
Next time you are leaving for the day and you are packing up your purse or your pockets with your everyday carry items, think about what defensive hardware you could add to improve your safety. Will you add a non-lethal device tool such as a defensive flashlight, just in case the unfortunate situation should arise? As the wise say: “It is better to have the tools and not need them than need the tools and not have them,” and get the skills and training to go with them.