What’s the real story behind “less lethal,” and why is it considered a critical force option for both law enforcement and civilian application? The term “less lethal” is applied to any technique, system, or methodology utilized to slow or stop an aggressor (physical threat) without loss of life.

Civilians who choose not to carry a firearm should be aware of this possible use of force option. Civilians who carry a firearm should also be cognizant of this same viable force option as there are any one of three conditions in which you may one day find yourself. The first is where you don’t have a gun. Places like airports, government buildings (post office, courthouse, etc.), hospitals, schools, posted businesses, and the like, do not permit carry on their premises.

The second is that you cannot get to your gun in time. Imagine, if you will, turning a corner, and someone is in your face with a knife at your throat. In this situation, you do not have a sufficient reactionary gap to defeat your cover garment, attain a positive grip on your weapon, draw it from the holster and align your muzzle with the threat.

Last but certainly not least is where you decide that it is best NOT to revert to your firearm to solve the tactical problem. Less lethal force options are applicable in all three of these circumstances.


Most people forget that standing toe-to-toe with someone trying to shoot you in the face is a less-than-optimal scenario. It is also not good for your health. The idea is to utilize an appropriate force option (lethal or less lethal) to get yourself and those with you off that fateful “X” and to a safer physical position.

One way to accomplish this objective is to utilize your environment to prevail. Identify and plan to move to your exits. Determine which cover and concealment options are available if you need to move toward one of your planned exit areas.

Less lethal options can also include batons, Tasers, and stun guns. Batons are available in fixed, expandible, and flexible options. Civilian Tasers can reach a distance of up to fifteen feet and provide a 30-second muscular override. You can only use a stun gun if you are in physical contact with another human being. Such devices buy you time to get off that “X’ and to better physical position. However, it would be best if you had a Plan “B” beyond that 30-second ride.





Another option is CS/CN gasses and pepper sprays. There are a few considerations should you choose either of these options. One consideration is the propellant agent itself, and the other is the application of that agent.

The first consideration is a gas or CS/ CN. CS, also known as Ortho-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, and CN, known as alpha-chloro-acetophenone, are commonly used tear gases. CS and CN are both synthetic, complex chemical compounds. These chemicals can and do have expiration dates because oil-based compounds tend to separate over time.

OC, or Oleoresin capsicum, is a naturally occurring compound derived from naturally grown peppers such as habanero and ghost peppers. OC is used in chemical sprays as an inflammatory agent. Unlike CS and CN gases, OC sprays effectively affect persons under the influence of other substances.

Pepper-spray projectiles (also called pepper-spray ball, pepper-ball, pepper bomb, or pepper-pellet) is a frangible projectile containing a powdered chemical. The chemical irritates the soft tissue of the eyes and nose like that of pepper spray. These projectiles are fired from specially designed delivery systems, such as modified paintball guns.

Overall considerations of gasses, pepper sprays or pepper spray projectiles should include three crucial application considerations. Legality – are they legal to carry in your state or county. Training – do you have the skill to retain it (not have it taken away from and used against you) and to keep from spraying yourself. Even though you may be trained in basic usage – do you have the requisite skills in safe-handling, carry, access, marksmanship, and immediate operation under duress.


Empty-hand or bare hands is another less lethal option. The onus remains on the practitioner regarding learning and keeping training currency (keep your skills at a functional level).

The best of all worlds is to maintain good situational awareness. Forewarned is forearmed. If you can hear it, see it, and smell it coming ahead of time, you are ahead of the action-reaction power curve. If situational awareness as a proactive measure has failed, you only have your remaining less lethal reactive measures. Those measures include impact or improvised weapons, Taser or stun guns, gas or pepper spray, and empty hands.

The option to “exit or equalize” is an integral part of the less lethal force options spectrum. Exit is to move off that “X” promptly and with the lowest scale of physical injury possible or get something in your hands to equalize the physical threat. Should your chosen less lethal force option fail to produce the desired effect, then you have your paramount objective to fall back on – get out of harms’ way (run away) or engage the active threat (fight it out to a point where you can then run away).

Whether or not you carry a firearm for self-defense, having a cursory understanding of less lethal alternative use of force options affords you more tools in your kit should you ever be pressed into solving a tactical problem.