Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Less lethal

"But why didn't you just use nonlethal force like a stun gun or pepper spray. You don't need to shoot someone..."

We hear that a lot actually. I think everyone who carries a gun openly on a regular basis will have that conversation at least once; and certainly anyone who does any self defense instruction has it on a regular basis.

I always recommend a gun for self defense, unless in my estimation the person cannot, or will not, achieve the necessary skill, knowledge and mind-set to employ a gun safely in defense of themselves or others, and here's why:

Less-lethal technologies don't always work; and they sometimes cause even more problems for the users defending themselves.

Just ask Rodney King...

If you ever get the opportunity, take some less-lethal force training. It's ... interesting stuff.

The basic concept is this: If you are going to use these devices responsibly and effectively, you must see how they are used, and experience them for yourself (if it is safe to do so) so you know what to expect, and what it feels like.

If you're thinking being the instructor for this course would be a great position for an evil sadist, you'd be correct.

A few years ago I took a two day course in less than lethal force technologies and applications.

On day one we went through various restraints (man come-alongs can hurt), bindings, and physical restraint techniques when unarmed, against unarmed and armed assailants, and with various size and configuration of batons (from shorty ASP to PR24 to classic billy, to a large mag-light) and other compliance devices.

The last part of the day was reserved for the various electrical devices i.e. Stun Guns.

Everyone got hit with various low powered stunners, and hit others with them. The rundown on the lower powered contact stunners is that they are quite painful and irritating, but they can be fought through or around depending on where you are hit and what kind of clothing you wear.

Signifcantly, it is very easy to shock yourself and lose control of the stunner with the smaller models.

Then we moved into the higher powered devices, those above 100kv... Yeah those HURT. Again, if it's a compact design you really have a significant risk of getting a nasty shock yourself, or having the device turned against you; and it is still possible to fight through them.

The Stun Batons on the other hand... DAMN. The 250kv solid baton (the extendable batons are all kinda flimsy)... did you ever see demolition man? Those stunners that they just touch to a guy and he's out? Yeah it's kinda like that except way more violent, and instead of a peaceful sleeep your twitching kicking and moaning on the ground.

That one was only tested on one volunteer, and since I was the biggest and most pain tolerant guy from the low powered testing, guess who the volunteer was.

Then we demonstrated a taser, on one of the instructors wearing heavy clothing. He was shocked, but he was able to draw and simulate firing a training weapon.

Here's the thing, for all of those devices except the taser, you have to be in contact with the assailant. Even if the device is effective, the wild thrashing the assailant will go through can injure you, especially if there is a knife or a gun involveds. You jsut can't count on these devices to protect you.

The final demonstration was the kidney belt. This is two high powered stun devices with probes contacting you all around your torso at kidney level. This device is specifically designed for the transport and restraint of high threat prisoners.

I dont care who you are, what kind of drugs you are on, how tough you are, what kind of beatings your dad gave you as a child... when they hit the belt, you are going to fall down crying and screaming. You rapidly and completely lose all voluntary motor control, and most higher mental function. You are literally only able to think "Hurts, stop hurting".

You will become compliant right frikken quick... assuming you have the ability to move or form coherent thought anyway.

You do not want the belt to be used on you. Ever.

Day two in the morning was various chemical repellants, markers, restraints etc... They demonstrated various high tech new toys like goop guns (video only), sticky net throwers, and pain balls (thick skinned water filled paintballs fired from an autotrigger paintball gun at high rates of fire).

We also got to go through all of the OC sprays, some of us got foamed by sticky foam that dyes the skin, CN and CS were demonstrated (and recommended only for riots and animal control). Since I'd been through CS training before it was no biggie; and I've been hit by OC more than once (long stories all) so that wasn't new.

Again, the chemical sprays have a major issue in that they often have unintended effects on the user, not simply on the assailant; and a determined assailant can fight through CN, CS, and OC in the normally available strengths.

Also, if you have Pulmonary/Respiratory or Cardiac problem, you do NOT want chemical irritants anywhere NEAR you. They can induce respiratory failure, or a cardiac event.

You know what really sucks though, OC and CS painballs. Yeah, they are paintballs like the ones I described above, only filled with OC or CS. Yeah those suck a lot. You really do not want to be hit by those.

Finally that afternoon they deomnstrated various less-lethal firearms and projectiles.

Once again, I "volunteered" to be a guniea pig for a demonstration.

Did you know that it's just about impossible to stand up after a 2oz bean bag has been fired into your thigh from 15 feet away. In fact it STAYS near impossible to stand up for several hours afterwards; and for about two weeks you'll remember that moment with distaste.

Then we got to shoot the various devices and projectiles at simulated targets, to wit galvanized steel trashcans filled with water.

Less-lethal is definitely a good word for these things. They used to call them "non-letahl" or "less than lethal" but they stopped doing that because it implied that they couldn't kill someone with them. That is simply untrue, because some of them are very definitely capable of killing someone, especially if used improperly.

They didn't demonstrate any of the more serious less-lethal projectiles on us, and shooting them into the trash cans you can see why. The Rubber and wood baton rounds from a 12ga, or from a grenade launcher are capable of completely crushing one of those cans in. I'm reasonably certain that a rib cage wouldnt be too much better off.

If you are firing a gun at someone with a projectile that can crush a rib cage, or shatter the orbit of the eye socket or the bridge of the nose and accidentally kill someone... aren't you better off using a lethal weapon like a gun? The tendency is to use less-lethal force more readily than lethal force, and I believe that in general at least as regards high powered stun devices, batons, and any of the projectile weapons, that this is incorrect. You should treat these devices as though they could kill the subject, and they should only be used as weapons of last resort...

Just as a lethal weapon is a weapon of last resort.

The training itself was extremely enlightening, and although I was in quite a bit of pain afterwards it was actually quite fun.

Oh and the reason I kept "Volunteering" ?

I was there for free, because a friend of mine was the main instructor for the course. He took GREAT pleasure in demonstrating all of these things on me.