When all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
Similarly, if all you do is carry a gun and punch holes in paper you may believe your firearm is the best possible solution for any conflict.
Guess what, though? It isn’t.
Here’s what you need to know about secondary defensive measures, de-escalation, and not letting your ego get the better of you.
Table of Contents
Why We Carry
We’ve all run into the swaggering John Wayne types of the gun world.
Those are the guys who carry for the cool factor alone, the guys who tend to post things to social media challenging the world at large – and some guy at the grocery store – to a fight.
The guys who dare people to “try me.” The ones who make sure anyone and everyone know they own guns (and often the same guys who push hard on open carry “because muh rights”).
Not only are those not the guys we want representing gun owners in general, they’re also not really the best ones to carry.
Now, before we wander off into the weeds of Second Amendment rights and How Dare You, let’s leave it at this: carrying a gun for self-defense is an enormous responsibility and should be taken seriously.
We carry guns for self-defense to defend our lives and the lives of our loved ones. A gun is not a badge of courage or a toy, it’s a tool.
Much like people see a fire extinguisher as a necessary part of their homes we see our firearms as a necessary part of our lives. It’s an insurance policy we hope we never have to take out but we will certainly be prepared should the time come.
That means we train, we invest in high-quality gear, and we know the laws wherever we intend to carry. We understand our own limitations and work to improve our weaknesses and maintain our strengths.
We’re being responsible, law-abiding gun owners and protectors. We have no illusions, there is no posturing, and we understand the cold, hard realities of self-defense (at least I hope you do).
But do you understand the need for more tools in your self-defense toolbox than just a handgun?
There are other options on the market for self-defense that allow you to defend yourself without reaching for your gun. It makes you a prepared, well-rounded gun owner if you carry more than just your gun to stop a fight.
There are countless circumstances where a secondary measure will get the job done. Perhaps the most commonly used and known is pepper spray (it’s also commonly misused).
All too often parents hand a canister of pepper spray to their teenage daughters with the stone-faced admonition to “stay safe”.
Right, because an unfamiliar canister of pepper spray is the magic bullet against all would-be rapists and murderers. That’s not how this works, guys, that’s not how any of this works.
All that said, pepper spray is an excellent secondary defensive tool. One of the popular brands out there is Sabre Red and fortunately for us they explain the realities of pepper spray rather clearly on their website:
“…[this] pepper spray is double the average strength. To put it into perspective, that’s 67X hotter than hot sauce and just as potent as our industry-leading police sprays.”
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
So, what exactly is it?
“Oleoresin capsicum (OC) is the oil taken from the placenta near the stem of a pepper. Although OC is the active ingredient used in most pepper sprays, the percentage of OC within the formulation does not indicate pepper spray strength. The OC percentage only measures the amount of red pepper contained in the pepper spray, not the pungency or effectiveness of the product.”
To put this in perspective Sabre Red goes on to explain on their website that “civilian and law enforcement pepper sprays range from 0.18% to 1.33% Major Capsaicinoids. Bear sprays range from 1.0% to 2.0% Major Capsaicinoids.”(www.sabrered.com)
Here are your bare basics. These numbers vary by brand but should give you a good idea what to expect from good pepper spray such as Sabre Red.
Their canisters produce a stream spray between 8 and 12 feet long. Once you’ve used your pepper spray it is smart to replace it. But should you really just point-and-spray?
The short answer is no.
Various factors must be considered when using pepper spray. The wind direction matters, and if you’re thinking it might be kind of inconvenient to stop and check the wind before sending a stream at an assailant, you’re not wrong.
That doesn’t negate its usefulness, though. You should spray to stop the threat as opposed to just one quick spray in the general direction of your assailant. Just as you shoot to stop a threat you spray to stop a threat.
Understanding how to use pepper spray is important and I highly suggest you take a class. Sabre Red and other companies manufacture practice spray canisters without an irritant so you can familiarize yourself with its use in advance.
Think of it like dry-firing your gun: necessary, useful, and potentially life-saving. It’s also a good idea to get yourself sprayed in a controlled environment (most classes will include this part).
Sound crazy? More like smart because it lets you know what it can and cannot do.
Getting pepper-sprayed helps you understand how it works. When you rinse, lean forward to keep it from running down the front of your body. You can thank me later for that tip.
Of the various secondary defensive tools on the market pepper spray is perhaps the best. Tasers, knives, and saps have uses but pepper spray has them beat due in part to the fact that it can be deployed at a distance (of sorts).
Do keep in mind that many violent offenders are resistant to pepper spray or simply won’t care.
There are also people out there who can either completely ignore pepper spray or who are going to be enraged by it. Know how to use it, when to use it, and when to escalate to your gun, instead.
This seems like a good time to touch on worthless tools.
Women, specifically, are frequently advised to do things like put their keys between their fingers to use as a stabbing or raking weapon.
Guess what happens when you weave chunks of serrated metal between your sensitive fingers?
Your fingers bear the brunt of the damage and you may deal yourself an injury that drastically reduces your ability to defend yourself.
Another less-than-stellar tool on the market is known as Brutus. Full disclosure: I have a Brutus.
He was given to me as a gift by a cop years ago and although I don’t actually carry him I never got rid of him. Brutus is a bulldog-face keychain with holes for your fingers where the dog’s eyes would be and sharpish points for ears.
The idea is that Brutus looks innocuous – it’s a harmless doggo, right? – but can actually work wonders defending your life.
Or can he?
When you use Brutus you’re going to have to be up-close-and-personal with your attacker and attempt to use his stubby little ears to deliver meaningful strikes.
Good luck. Oh, and don’t break your fingers in the process or get your hand and arm grabbed and locked into a position where you have well and truly lost the fight.
I suppose Brutus is better than nothing – sort of – not really. You can do better.
One of the biggest problems in self-defense tends to come down to ego. But here’s the thing.
When people fight they end up injured, dead, arrested, sued, the list goes on.
If a potential fight can be de-escalated into something that does not mess up the rest of your life – or theirs – isn’t it worth it?
Don’t you think it’s worth being the mature adult in the situation?
If someone gets in your face that does not give you license to get right back in their face (or to draw your firearm).
As a gun owner you are going to be held to a higher standard for self-control and wisdom, meaning you should not and cannot wander around with a short fuse.
Law enforcement, judges, the general public – they will all expect you to be the level-headed one, and rightfully so. Introducing a gun into the situation should be considered the last resort, not the first.
Of course, if you’ve been ambushed or blatantly physically attacked there’s not going to be time to attempt to calm things down. Plenty of circumstances exist where immediately drawing your handgun is your only option.
But if we’re talking about a matter of some heated words from a potentially-unexplainably angry person there may be room for de-escalation.
Be the calmer, cooler person. Remember that the matter of respect does vary culturally.
For example, you may think little of a stranger looking at you sideways on the street but a man who is deeply ensconced in the streets may feel a sideways look is a grave insult (and the only proper response is an attack).
If someone is yelling at you angrily, don’t respond by hurling curse words and insults at them.
Be calm. Use non-confrontational but prepared body language and, if the situation calls for it, simply ask what is wrong. If it’s something as basic as bumping into someone on the street or knocking something over, apologize.
Isn’t a small, polite apology worth it to stave off a life-threatening altercation?
A word of advice: do not turn your back on a potential attacker. Not only could that be seen as dismissive behavior but it removes your ability to keep an eye on a developing situation.
If you can walk away, do it, but don’t do it by flat-out turning away from the threat and wandering off. Also, beware of the risks of falling down or running into things if you walk backward. Easing away at an angle while watching the threat tends to work best.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
Consider learning how to speak, stand, and behave to be a vital part of your self-defense training, because it is. Attempting to save your ego is not worth your death or the injuries or deaths of your loved ones.
It is worth the investment of time and money to learn how to defuse a tense moment and avoid a fight. So many fights could be avoided if people just took the time to verbally de-escalate and remove themselves from the area.
Any fight you walk away from or otherwise avoid is a win. Refusing to fight is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of significant strength.
What constitutes an attack worthy of escalation? Circumstances vary and all fights are different but there are a few things that remove the need to attempt de-escalation.
If an attacker rushes at you or moves toward you in a clearly threatening manner – think clenched fists, body sharply angled in your direction, or otherwise aggressive behavior – you probably don’t have time to try to talk them down.
Any attacker who pulls a knife – or a gun – or produces any other kind of weapon is an imminent threat. Try to remember that anything can be an effective weapon when wielded with proper intent.
That means a thick branch, a glass beer bottle, and a lug wrench all qualify as life-threatening weapons.
Disparity of force is something else to consider. For me, as a woman, disparity of force tends to be more glaring.
A large man capable of out-muscling me in a heartbeat will be seen as a greater threat to me than he would to another large man. Similarly, a healthy adult threatening an elderly or disabled person has a clear edge.
Does that mean if I find myself facing a woman who is smaller than me but gripping a knife I should consider myself the bigger, stronger person?
Of course not, she has a knife. And guess what? A solid hit to my head from a broom handle or a heavy purse can ring my bell hard enough to take me out of a fight just long enough for me to lose.
Be aware what constitutes a legitimate threat so you are not taken by surprise.
Society as a whole badly misunderstands the dangers of edged weapons and weapons in general.
Do not let a threat get too close and remember an attacker can close a gap with incredible speed. Think one second, three if you’re lucky.
Weapons and improvised weapons enable them to harm or kill you with even greater speed.
I tell my kids they are never to start a fight but they’d better finish it.
Self-defense author Marc MacYoung has said he doesn’t have a problem with a woman striking her attacker, he has a problem with her failure to deliver a blow that breaks her attacker’s jaw and ends the fight on the spot.
When it comes time to end a fight, end it. Your ego should never be part of the equation and you should never go looking for a fight but if one finds you, by all means, finish it.
Training is critical in every aspect of self-defense. This includes training how not to fight.
The more tools you have at your disposal, the more able to face any situation you will be.
Don’t forget other areas to train, such as first-aid, what your local laws are, firearms training, and even concealed carry insurance.
You have the right to defend your life and your loved ones’ lives. You have the responsibility to handle yourself in a calm, reasonable manner and to de-escalate the situation when possible.
It won’t always be possible but it frequently will be. Learn to tell the difference. Someday your life may depend on it.
What other skills have you strengthened to improve your or your families self-defense capabilities? Let us know in the comments! To get started on some other tools to have in your toolbox, take a loot at these articles!