On Her Own

Self defense products: bogus or not?

On Wednesday evening, I was on Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus’s Caucus Live, talking about bogus self defense products. One of the areas of discussion was how you can tell if a self defense product is worth carrying. I want to expand on that topic a little, because I think it’s too complex to really get across in an unscripted video. It’s also difficult to follow the analysis steps in real-time when you’re doing the work of deciding if you want to carry and use a specific tool or incorporate a specific technique into your personal protection plan. You’ll need to perform a multi-point assessment that takes into account your personal situation because while some products are clearly problematic, others have a little more “it depends” to them.

We start always by looking at the product itself and seeing whether it can work as is, even in theory, even when used exactly as imagined by the creator. In perfect conditions, assuming an ideal attacker and defender, can the product be effective? It seems like a baseline question, but you might be surprised, for instance, at how many products I’ve seen where the idea might be to cut, slash, or stab the attacker but the tool itself doesn’t have enough sharpness, pokiness, or rigidity to actually accomplish that. Check, too, whether the product can injure you while it’s being used, like the kitty kat key chains that I did a video on a few weeks ago, or if incorrectly used. Like several areas you’ll need to evaluate, you might need some level of technical knowledge and understanding, or to find reliable sources to get that information from (just make sure the experts you consult really are experts!).

Part of examining the effectiveness of the product is to decide whether it’s intended to cause a physiological or a psychological effect on the attacker. If it’s supposed to physically keep the attacker from hurting you, can it actually accomplish that goal? If it can only discourage the attacker from continuing – a psychological stop – then it is likely to be less effective because a determined attacker can decide to keep going, and you won’t have introduced any physical limitations on their ability to do so. Pain, by the way, is a psychological problem. Even if you think that a product causes a lot of it, pain is a highly individualized perception and one that may not be noticed by someone who is driven by adrenaline or drugs. When I talk about physiological stops, I’m talking about creating an actual, involuntary physical handicap, usually in the form of a temporary or permanent injury. Either way, you will also need to think about whether you are comfortable inflicting that effect on another human being, someone who may not be a stranger to you. While the choice may be them or you, it can still be difficult to accept the idea of potentially killing or seriously hurting someone.

That’s all assuming that everything works as intended, in the hands of someone who is capable of using the product exactly as intended. You need to ask, then, exactly what is required for all of those conditions to be met? How much training do you need? What is assumed about the characteristics of the attacker and the attack? What environmental conditions are necessary for success? You need to consider, honestly, whether you have the needed skills or can acquire them quickly enough and maintain them long enough to be of use to you. You also need to consider how likely the type of attack you might actually face will be similar to the type of attack in the mind of the product’s inventor, and how likely you will otherwise be in danger in the settings that the product works best in. Here, your analysis will become more personal. An expert may be able to guide you in terms of understanding what the ideals are and what kinds of attacks are likely for people living lives like yours, but only you know exactly where you live, how you live, and what you are capable of doing. In doing so, you will be able to determine how likely the product is to be effective in your context.

Even if the product has a high percentage likelihood of stopping attacks you might actually face, using skills you actually have, there’s another area you also need to think about: what are the downsides of using it? An area many people fail to consider is whether the product is legal in their jurisdiction. Force multiplier/striking tools in particular can be illegal in non-obvious ways, but complying with all of the laws and regulations relating to guns, knives, pepper spray, and other tools can also be tricky. Having the product with you, let alone using it, can cause you more trouble than what can happen if you beat the long odds of having the opportunity to use it to defend yourself. If it’s more likely that you’ll get in trouble for carrying the product or using it wrongly than you are to successfully face the particular attack it can protect you against, then maybe it’s not a good idea to carry it. Even though some folks like to argue about “being judged by 12 instead of carried by 6,” the monetary, emotional, mental, and social costs of that trouble might in fact be worse than the attack – or at least, worse than another product you can instead use against the attacker.

Then not for nothing, there can be other downsides to carrying or using the product: it might cost a lot of money; it might require a lot of practice you don’t want to commit to; it might be difficult or uncomfortable to add to your life; it might come with the danger of hurting yourself or someone you love, in ways you are not comfortable with; it might be something you just don’t like. Those, and others, can all be valid reasons for adding to the “do not carry” column. Even if a product might otherwise be perfect on paper, it might not be right for you – and that’s okay. At the end of the day, when the effectiveness and safety factors are accounted for, personal preference really does come into play.

The trick is to make sure that you’ve thought about all of this, that you’ve weighted each factor appropriately, and that you’ve made a real decision instead of simply accepting an unqualified recommendation.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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