[This is part of a series of posts drawn from my Nonlethal Self-Defense, Nonlethal Weapons, and the Rights To Keep and Bear Arms, Defend Life, and Practice Religion (forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review). For footnotes, and for the rest of the argument, check out the full draft; I will also post most of the rest of the argument in the coming days.]
Some people are especially reluctant to use lethal force or possess lethal tools, even when they legally can. There are many possible reasons for this, some of which may be mutually reinforcing:
(1) Some people have religious or ethical compunctions about killing.
(2) Some feel they will be emotionally unable to pull the trigger on a deadly weapon even when doing so would be ethically proper.
(3) Some worry about erroneously killing someone who turns out not to be an attacker.
(4) Some are reluctant to kill a particular potential attacker, for instance when a woman doesn't want to kill her abusive ex-husband because she doesn't want to have to explain to her children that she killed their father, even in self-defense.
(5) Some fear a gun they own might be misused, for instance by their children or by a suicidal adult housemate. It's not clear whether the availability of guns actually increases the risk of suicide, given the availability of other comparably lethal means, but it's at least reasonable to be concerned about the possibility that a gun would make suicide more likely. And this is especially so because some people might feel especially emotionally traumatized if their guns are used by a family member or friend to commit suicide, even if they suspect that the suicide would have happened in any event.
These are not just esthetic preferences, such as a person's desire to have a particular gun that he most likes, or that has special sentimental value (for instance, his father's military-issue weapon), when other equally effective guns are available. Perhaps even those esthetic preferences should be respected in the absence of particularly good reasons to disregard them. But there should be even more respect for preferences that stem from understandable and even laudable moral belief systems and emotional reactions, or reasonable worries about the risk that a gun might be abused. Even if one thinks (as I do) that killing in self-defense is morally proper, people who take the opposite view should be presumptively free to act on their beliefs without having to go without the most effective self-defense tools.
(A few people might be able to learn unarmed self-defense techniques. But many people can't, because they are physically disabled or otherwise not strong enough. Many others might lack the time needed to train themselves in such techniques, especially if they have work or family obligations. And even those who are comparatively well-trained might end up being considerably less effective with their limbs alone than they would be with a stun gun.)
Naturally, many people don't have such worries, or conclude that the value of having a gun for self-defense overcomes such worries. Both firearms and nonlethal weapons can stop people, and can deter through the risk of pain or incapacitation leading to arrest. But firearms have the major extra deterrent force of threatening death: That's why "I have a gun!" is more likely to cause an attacker to flee than "I have a stun gun!"
Also, civilian stun guns today are good only for one shot. After the cartridge is shot, the stun gun can only be used in direct contact mode. This makes stun guns less useful than firearms against multiple attackers, or when the defender misses with the first shot.
But this just shows that many people may reasonably prefer firearms for self-defense. It doesn't undermine the legitimacy of other people's preference for stun guns or irritant sprays instead of firearms.
A ban on stun guns would be a less substantial burden if other nonlethal weapons remained available and were pretty much as effective for self-defense purposes. But batons and similar devices generally aren't as effective at stopping the attacker with one blow, and, to be even moderately effective, they require strength that many defenders don't possess.
Stun guns also appear to be materially more effective than irritant sprays. Pepper spray (the most effective irritant spray in use today) may still leave the attacker able to attack, though he is distracted and in pain. It's especially likely to be ineffective when the attacker is less sensitive to pain because he's drunk or on drugs. To be most effective, pepper spray requires a hit on the suspect's face rather than, as with a stun gun, any part of the suspect's body. Pepper spray may in part blow back at the defender, which can leave the defender especially vulnerable if the attacker isn't entirely stopped. And pepper spray has an effective range of only about 7 feet (about the average width of a car), as opposed to 15 feet for modern stun guns. Since an attacker can lunge 7 feet in a split second, pepper spray gives a defender less time to react.
Pepper spray does have advantages. It can be used at a distance more than once, which is useful when one misses the first time, or needs to fight off multiple attackers. It's also much cheaper than a stun gun. Bans on carrying irritant sprays would thus also materially interfere with people's ability to defend themselves, even if stun guns were an available option. But that just reflects that different defensive devices are optimal for different people, and that banning either one may materially interfere with the ability of many people to defend themselves.
[More on the arguments in favor of such nonlethal weapons restrictions, even when when guns are allowed, in coming posts.]
Related Posts (on one page):
- Nonlethal Weapons and the Right To Defend Life:
- More on the Right To Bear Arms and Nonlethal Weapons Bans:
- Constitutional Objections to Nonlethal Weapons Bans:
- Laws That Ban Nonlethal Weapon Possession by Felons:
- Minors with Stun Guns and Sprays, Oh My!
- Laws That Ban Both Possession or Carrying of Stun Guns and of Handguns (and Sometimes of Irritant Sprays):
- Avoiding Nonlethal-Weapon Crime as Justification for Restricting Nonlethal Weapons Even When Firearms Are Allowed:
- Why Some People May Reasonably Prefer Nonlethal Weapons Over Guns:
- Nonlethal Self-Defense, Nonlethal Weapons, and the Rights To Keep and Bear Arms, Defend Life, and Practice Religion: