A visitor to this site recently left a comment suggesting that Mace, pepper spray, or some other less lethal self defense tool would work just as well as a gun, and that using a gun for self defense against a violent criminal is wrong. I find both of those assertions to be untrue. While Tasers, pepper spray, and other self defense tools have their place, none of them can match the ability of a gun to stop a criminal before it is too late, and that is why I advocate self defense with firearms.
Requirements for effective self defense
When acting in self defense, the goal is to stop the criminal before they can inflict harm. Reliably stopping a criminal requires that the criminal be physically prevented from continuing their attack. It is not enough to simply cause fear/discomfort/injury to the criminal, as a drug user may be virtually immune from pain, and an insane or irrational person may not fear injury to themselves. Even a sane, non-drug-using criminal will have adrenaline rushing through their body as they attack, and this will make them less susceptible to pain and fear. The only reliable way to stop an attack is to make it physically impossible for a criminal to continue the attack.
Pepper spray is no substitute for a gun
Pepper spray and Mace work by irritating a criminal’s eyes, mouth, nose, throat, respiratory tract, and skin. The active ingredient tends to be capsaicin (the chemical compound that makes peppers spicy), sometimes with tear gas added as well. While quite painful, these ingredients are not guaranteed to stop an aggressive human, as experiencing great pain and even being unable to see will not render an attacker unable to continue stabbing, shooting, punching, kicking, etc.
For example, a Berkeley, CA woman sprayed an attacker with pepper spray, however he was able to complete the armed robbery and escape. If an attacker who has been pepper sprayed can still manage to rob a woman in the wide open space of a public street, just image the harm that an attacker could inflict in the close quarters of a bedroom, where being able to find the victim by sight is not nearly as important, and a flailing knife or blunt object could be difficult to dodge. Also, note that wind can cause pepper spray to blow back into the victim’s face, while bullets don’t suffer from this shortcoming. Similarly, wrestling around with a criminal after they have been pepper sprayed can transfer the pepper spray to the victim as well, putting the victim in no better of a position than their attacker.
I also have some first hand experience that shows the potential ineffectiveness of pepper spray. In my freshman year of college a few friends and I were sitting in a dorm room, when another guy from our floor opens the door and bursts in the room, wearing only his boxers. I could immediately see that there was something wrong with him, as his face was bright red and he was obviously in pain. It turns out that while drunk, he thought it would be a good idea to try and “build up a tolerance” to pepper spray. With his eyes open, he had sprayed himself in the face with the pepper spray that he had “borrowed” from his father (a police officer). Even after spraying himself, he was able to open the door to his bathroom, open the door to his dorm room, walk about 150 feet through the dorm hallways and around obstacles like chairs, and then open the door to the room that we were in. He then borrowed a 1/2 gallon of milk and some ice cream in order to wash the pepper spray out of his eyes, nose, mouth… and a certain most uncomfortable place that it has apparently dripped onto, due to his lack of pants!
Stun guns and Tasers are no substitute for a gun
These electronic self defense tools rely upon interfering with the ability of an attacker to control their muscles, combined with the pain caused by electrical stimulation of nerves. A person who is “tased” will involuntarily convulse and temporarily lose the ability to move or remain standing, while simultaneously experiencing a great deal of pain. However seconds later, the person will be able to resume their attack. In short, Tasers and similar stun gun products rely upon briefly incapacitating a person so that other means of force can be used to subdue them. Tasers may be quite effective when there are 5 cops ready to tackle a criminal before he can get back up, but a little old lady wouldn’t be much better off after the attacker gets back up and is able to continue attacking. When a citizen is attacked, the police are usually minutes away under even the best circumstances, which means that Tasing an assailant probably won’t be enough to save the citizen.
For example, an Atlanta man was driving in his van when a carjacker jumped in. The man used a stun gun to shock the carjacker, but that didn’t stop the criminal. Instead, the criminal shot the man 5 times, and then escaped after the van crashed.
Why guns are so effective
Guns stop an attacker by firing a bullet that can physically disrupt an attacker’s vital organs. Hits to the brain and other parts of the central nervous system can stop an attacker immediately. Hits to the heart can stop a violent criminal nearly immediately as well. While unpleasant to think about, these facts are important to recognize, as stopping the attacker right away is critical. An attacker who has been severely injured may die an hour later, or a month later, but will have ample time to complete their murder of the victim. In an ideal world, it would be possible to stop a criminal while doing no injury to them – however that is not the world in which we live, and it is far better that a violent criminal suffer death, rather than their innocent victim (as well as future victims).
Tools like Tasers and pepper spray certainly have their place (such as areas were guns are illegal), however they are no substitute for a gun. They lack the ability to quickly stop a criminal the way that only a gun can, and as such I feel it is not generally prudent to trust one’s safety to such tools when a gun is a viable option. That is why police still carry guns, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Each person, of course, must make their own decisions when it comes to personal safety, and I encourage everyone to do their due diligence to determine what is right for them.