Less-Lethal Self-Defense

Posted on by

The massive amount of publicity that police shootings have received in recent years has coincidentally coincided with a time when police are looking for less-lethal means of apprehending their suspects. No police officer likes using lethal force and most spend months in therapy after being forced to do so in the execution of their duties.

But while police are being given less-lethal options, they are still armed with real guns that fire real bullets. It is widely recognized that those less-lethal options don’t work all the time, so the police still need to be armed. Becoming a police officer doesn’t take away their right to self-defense, which is why they have to still carry guns.

This puts extra strain on the officers, making the shoot/don’t shoot decision even more complicated. Now it’s a shoot with deadly force/don’t shoot/use less-lethal force decision. And they’re not issued any extra time to make that more complex decision.

So why bother? Partially because of all the negative press and partially because it is better to apprehend a suspect and allow them to face the bar of justice, than it is to kill them out of hand. Even so, giving the police that option puts them more at risk, as trying to use the less-lethal option before reverting to lethal force may give the suspect more time in which to inflict harm on the officer.

Okay, so how does this apply to us?

First of all, the idea of having another option is a good one. There may very well be situations we are faced with, where we are confronted by a dangerous adversary. At the same time, while they may be dangerous to us, they may not be dangerous to the point of killing us. While self-defense laws make allowance for that, we have to be able prove that our actions were rational in a court of law. That can be challenging at times.

Let’s say you’ve got two options, your pistol and a shotgun with beanbag rounds in it. If a bad guy starts shooting at you, it wouldn’t make any sense to use that shotgun. Doing so would give them the advantage. At that time, there’s no question that using deadly force is appropriate.

But let’s take a situation which isn’t so cut and dried. You’re an older man, working around your home and a couple of young toughs hop your fence, making threats to you. You’re outnumbered and their relative youth gives them an additional advantage. But they don’t have a weapon in their hands, or the only weapon is a piece of pipe. That’s a dangerous situation, but until they swing that pipe at you, it can be written off to angry rhetoric. How do you know if you should shoot or not?

I can see where those beanbag rounds might be useful in that situation. Not only would it be a similar level of force to what they are using, but it would probably look good in court to be able to say that you used a less-lethal method, even though you had your pistol strapped to your side.

There’s a concept that the police teach, which I learned in the National Guard (riot training). That’s to use the least necessary force. For those two toughs, a .45 caliber slug probably isn’t the least necessary force. On the other hand, the beanbag round or rubber bullets could be considered to be the least necessary force, especially when compared to the other option of using lead bullets.