Issue 37

Know Your Limitations

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In all of my personal protection classes - be it a pepper spray/stun gun or a firearms class - I talk about choosing the right defensive tool.  Students have two things that need to be considered:  The physical abilities of the person and their commitment to practicing with the tool.

I'm going to touch on matching the physical abilities of the person with the right defensive tool.  All of these tools have strengths and weaknesses in their effectiveness in stopping an attacker.  This newsletter issue is only going to address the physical requirements needed to successfully use each type of tool.

Pepper Sprays, Stun Guns and Tasers

With pepper sprays, the key is your ability to easily depress the plunger button to release the spray.  Spray canisters with a sliding lock plunger can sometimes be difficult to depress by people with ailments such as arthritis or low finger/thumb strength. 

There can also be problems for women with long fingernails.  The nail can sometimes get in the way of being able to fully depress the plunger.

Pepper spray canisters with flip-top designs can many times accommodate these issues, as the plunger is generally larger and somewhat easier to depress. 

Stun guns are generally easier to grip and depress the trigger, but once again, you need to have sufficient hand strength to retain the stun gun while pushing it into your attacker - up to 4 seconds for incapacitation.

Tasers are the easiest to use in this category of defensive tool.  By depressing the activation button, the wired barbs are fired at the attacker, requiring very little strength on the part of the user. 

They also allow you to then set down the Taser, and it will continue applying the electrical charge to the attacker for 30 seconds - plenty of time to escape the danger in most situations.


If the gun is going to be used for self-defense, the big focus is again on hand strength.  You will generally need a semi-automatic handgun in 9mm or larger, or a revolver in .38 Special or larger.

If you own or are considering buying a semi-automatic handgun, you need to be sure you are able to consistently and safely rack (pull) and lock open the slide.  This is required so that you are able to verify that a handgun is empty, and so that you are able to safely clear any jammed ammunition.

For a Glock pistol, for instance, the factory spring in the slide requires 16 to 18 pounds of tension.  You also need a good bit of dexterity to simultaneously hold the gun, rack the slide and engage the slide lock.

With a revolver handgun, you need to be able to cock the hammer prior to firing (this gives you greater accuracy), or be able to pull the trigger of an un-cocked pistol (this action simultaneously cocks the hammer and fires the weapon).

None of these actions require Herculean feats of strength, but they must be do-able to safely use a gun.


Regardless of the defensive tool you choose, accurate aim is critically important.  You may have poor eyesight, and your glasses or contact lenses may not be available.  Also, the defensive tool may be required to be used in low-light conditions.

Most popular handguns can be purchased or retro-fitted with laser sights.  These project a (normally) red beam of light on to your attacker, indicating where the bullet will strike. 

Taser also makes some models that come with an integrated laser sight as well.

Regardless of what self-defense tool you choose, make sure you are able to use it properly and safely.  Pepper spray is fairly inexpensive, so you can purchase a number of different styles to test them out before you need them.

Most gun ranges have programs where you can rent a gun to try out various models before you make a purchase. 

For our Pistol Orientation class, if you don't already own a gun, we have an arrangement with the range to allow you to inexpensively try both a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol during the live-fire portion of the instruction.

Do your research on which defensive tool best fits your self-defense needs and physical abilities before you find yourself in a difficult situation.

Next Issue:  Consistency In Safety Routines

Bison Risk Management Associates is a Northern California-based company providing Personal Safety and Emergency Preparedness training, workshops and consulting for individuals, businesses and organizations.

Copyright 2014 Bison Risk Management Associates
[925] 658-4457
1145 2nd Street • #A251 • Brentwood, Ca • 94513