Self Defense

How to de-escalate situations


Cop Block provides a big list of apps that might be useful if you are able to keep your phone safe & to safely use your phone during a confrontation with the cops. Notable ones include the ACLU’s copwatch apps as well as the I’m Getting Arrested app which will notify people if you get arrested. (Please note that these are suggestions and we cannot guarantee they will work in all cases.)


Inclusive firearms resources: 

You do not need to go to a gun store (which are often unfriendly spaces) to obtain one; big-box stores such as Walmart and many sporting goods stores will carry firearms as well. You can also purchase firearms from online retailers. The firearms must be shipped to a licensed dealer with a Federal Firearms License (referred to as an FFL), who will perform the background check. The FFL will charge you a fee for this service, typically around $20 per firearm. Most large online retailers will have a list of FFL in your area that you can choose from, but if they don’t, you can find one by searching the Internet. Make sure to call a prospective FFL and ask what their transfer fee is before having a firearm sent to them, as some charge more than others. Once you order a firearm, notify your FFL that you have a shipment on the way. Be sure to check the laws in your state (and municipality) as gun laws across the U.S. are inconsistent. Different areas have different regulations on what can be purchased, owned, and carried. The process may take time depending on where you live, so it may be best to start sooner rather than later if you plan to.

Guns are not magic. They will not protect you on their own if you do not know how to use them. Consider a safety/training course (in most places, this is required to obtain a purchase/carry permit anyway). Be prepared to practice shooting on at least a biweekly basis for several months. If you are not completely comfortable and proficient  in the use of your firearm, it will not serve its purpose. Ammunition is expensive. Online retailers usually have better deals. Look for specials on shipping as ammunition is heavy. The GunBot app is an excellent  tool for quickly finding the lowest prices among registered retailers.

A small safe for storing the weapon at home is very important, especially if there are children in the home. It should be a “fast access” gun safe so as not to impede your ability to reach the weapon in an emergency. Storing ammunition separately from the gun will make it harder for accidents or mistakes to occur. However, this will prevent it from being used quickly in an emergency. It is most important to practice the key rules of gun safety:

  1. All guns are always loaded. (Even if they aren’t, treat them like they are.)
  2. Never point the muzzle in an unsafe direction.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Please do not purchase a gun if you or a member of your household has ever had suicide ideation.

There are endless arguments about caliber, type of round, and type of weapon to use for home or self defense. You should carefully consider your purchase, and ideally handle multiple guns before buying one to get a sense of what works best for you.

Type of round:

Hollow points are generally agreed as the best for defensive weapons. They minimize over-penetration and maximize the effect on targets. However, they are not legal in all areas (for example, they are banned in New Jersey).

Size of gun/round:

Generally speaking the larger/heavier the gun and smaller the round it fires, the easier the recoil is to manage. This is because a heavier gun will move less in reaction to the gun being fired, and a smaller, less energetic round will provide less kick to begin with. The argument that larger rounds have more “stopping power” is beyond the scope of this document.

A compact handgun is a good choice for self defense carry as it is more easily concealed than a larger model. However, bear in mind the kick will feel stronger with a lighter weapon, and the magazine capacity will likely be smaller as well.

A rifle or shotgun is obviously not feasible for daily carry but is possible to use for home defense. In many areas where handgun purchases are restricted, these may be the only options. If you are going to use a rifle for home defense, consider a pistol caliber carbine. The barrels are shorter, allowing for easier movement inside your home. The pistol caliber rounds are less likely to overpenetrate walls and strike unintended targets. If you are going to purchase a shotgun for home defense, look for a shotgun made for that purpose as it will also have a shorter barrel and a larger magazine capacity than a hunting shotgun.

Pepper spray

Know the laws: 

Pepper spray does not work in all situations. The effect varies from person to person, especially depending on whether their eyes/nose are covered. In tight spaces or when spraying into the wind, it’s possible there may be backwash. For this reason, pepper gel or pepper foam is more effective in some situations. More manufacturers are including bright orange dye in these products to aid in the identification of assailants.

Bear spray is a large can of pepper spray carried by backcountry hikers to deter aggressive bears they may encounter. The advantage of bear spray is the length of the stream of pepper spray, which allows you to engage a target at a much safer distance. The disadvantage is that bear spray comes in a large bulky can.

Another option for you could be a pepper ball marker. These self defense tools operate similarly to paintball markers  but fire pepper or tear gas balls that rupture on impact.

“Stun guns”

Know the laws:

Stun guns do not work in all situations. People wearing heavy clothing may be difficult to get a good “connection” on. They only briefly incapacitate people, unlike pepper spray which may be debilitating for a while.

Knives (and why not to use them)

Knives are not a good idea for self defense. Many places have laws against easy-open variants like switchblades, gravity knives, and so on. Even if they didn’t, a knife is not a good defensive weapon for legal and practical reasons. It may be useful to carry a pocket knife for other purposes, but that’s not the point of this doc.

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