The Lethal vs. Non-Lethal Force Mindset

Non-lethal post

Things to Consider When Deciding on Self Defense

Pepper Spray

Many people carry a firearm for self-defense. Others carry non-lethal self-defense products for self-defense. The number of people that carry both is by far the smallest group of the three. This is because many people have the mindset of Lethal vs. Non-Lethal Force when it comes to self-defense options. I often hear people say that because they carry a firearm, they do not have a need to carry a non-lethal option. This mindset is wrong and could get you or someone else injured or killed.

A firearm can be used to apply lethal force in a situation in which an attacker’s actions justify the use of deadly force. For this reason, many people view carrying a firearm as the “ultimate” self-defense tool. However, there are many situations in which you may find yourself in which someone or something is presenting a threat that does not meet the threshold for lethal force. In these cases, your firearm will do you no good.

The Mentality of Self Defense

Self-defense is defined as “the defense of one’s person or interests, especially through the use of physical force, which is permitted in certain cases as an answer to a charge of violent crime.” Some of the practical things to consider when using self-defense and factoring lethal vs non-lethal self-defense are.

  • There may be scenarios where other innocent people’s lives could be in danger if you use a firearm as self-defense.
  • Even if you carry a legally concealed weapon, there are places you must remove it for legal reasons.
  • If the opportunity arose where you did have to brandish your firearm, are you very confident you could discharge it, if you had to?
  • If a person’s intent is to rob you and you don’t feel confident you could overcome them physically, do feel like a firearm is the best choice to thwart their attempt to rob you?
  • If your potential threat is an animal, which obviously you couldn’t reason with, are you prepared to utilize lethal force to stop the assault?
  • The legal issues

These are just a few of the many scenarios to consider. They should help you start to consider multiple options for living a life that prepares you for protecting yourself in many scenarios. To assist with that process, we’ll explore the above examples in a bit more detail.

Using force for protection in a crowded place


Imagine you and your family are taking an out-of-town trip during the holidays.

You stop in an unknown town to get gas and stretch your legs. As you enter the town city limits you see a large group of people nearby.

When you stop at a red light the crowd quickly descends upon your car. There is obviously some sort of disturbance taking place, but it has nothing to do with you and you just want to get your family out of the area. However, the crowd is now in front of and behind your vehicle. On both sides of you, people are pressed up against your vehicle and yelling at you and your family. Your family is scared and while the crowd is intimidating no one is attempting to enter your vehicle or attempting to attack your family. Obviously, you need to get yourself and your family out of the area as quickly as legally possible.

What use of force would be effective?

What use of force is legally justified? Using a firearm in a crowd or even brandishing one in this situation could have some serious legal consequences. Would using a non-lethal option such as pepper spray be a viable option?

Many people would view their choices as using lethal force which not only be the use of a firearm but in this case, the car itself could become a lethal force option. Other people would view pepper spray as the preferred method to disperse the crowd using non-lethal force.

Pepper spray could be used first in an attempt to end the confrontation, but the use of lethal force is still readily available. You can transition instantly between pepper spray and a firearm if the situation takes a turn for the worse and lethal force is necessary to stop the threat. In this case, having a non-lethal option does not preclude the use of a firearm or other lethal force options. It simply gives you more options to stop the threat using the least amount of reasonable force.

Restrictions on Carrying Firearms

There are many places where you cannot carry a firearm even if you legally possess a “carry” or “firearms permit.” Airports, government buildings, and many private businesses do not allow firearms on their premises. There are also restrictions on carrying non-lethal self-defense products. However, these restrictions are not as extensive as the restrictions on carrying firearms. In a situation where carrying a firearm is prohibited, carrying a form of non-lethal self-defense may be your only option. While both lethal and non-lethal options are prohibited in certain areas and circumstances, generally speaking anywhere that allows firearms will also allow non-lethal weapons (with a few exceptions).

Firearms are for Lethal-Force Only


For those situations that can occur in which you can feel threatened or are attacked and not in fear for your life. The opposite is true as well. You can be in a situation in which you are in fear for your life but others in the same situation are not. It is important to understand that in many states, “in fear of one’s life” is not the litmus test for justifiably using lethal force.

In the past few years, there have been many instances of people who pulled a firearm out to defend themselves in situations that did not require lethal force. In these situations, pulling a firearm often escalates the confrontation. For example, you could have a heated argument and the other person gets so mad that they spit in your face and push you. While you are definitely being attacked and have the right to defend yourself these two acts alone would not warrant the use of lethal force. Pulling a firearm to scare the attacker will often escalate the situation and might be illegal. You can very easily become engaged in a fight over the firearm or even face legal consequences for shooting your attacker. In this case, having a non-lethal alternative to defending yourself would be advantageous.

Is the Answer Lethal and or Non-Lethal?

Having and utilizing a non-lethal self-defense product does not mean that you cannot also have a firearm with you. Also, if the confrontation escalates, you can instantly transition to a firearm. To be clear, if you find yourself in a situation that requires lethal force then you should apply that force. However, introducing a firearm into a confrontation that does not rise to the level of lethal force will create problems and unintended consequences. You can escalate your level of force instantly in a confrontation, but it is much more difficult to de-escalate a confrontation. In this case, you have introduced a firearm and then realize that lethal force is not needed or justifiable.

Plan for Different Self-Defense Situations

Preparedness is an important part of understanding the responsibility of carrying self-defense tools.


Do you know how you would react in a confrontation?

How many people have experience making important decisions under stress?

Do you know when to use non-lethal and lethal force?

Have you trained?

When is it best to avoid the confrontation completely?

Defending yourself and your loved ones from a violent attack is very different from stopping a thief from stealing a package off of your front porch. Knowing applicable laws is essential in your overall self-defense plan. Also, thinking about different scenarios and how you would react will help you to act quickly in a real-life confrontation.

Defending yourself from an animal

One commonly overlooked scenario is a circumstance where the offender isn’t human. Think about these scenarios.

  • A dog is becoming aggressive or even worse attacks your child
  • You’re in the woods and encounter a dangerous animal. Lethal force in this scenario is a viable solution, but there are some that would have reservations.
  • A dog is attacking your pet

These are a couple of many scenarios that could very likely happen. So, if you haven’t given them thought you could find yourself hesitating because you are unsure of what to do. Encounters with dangerous animals often require both lethal and non-lethal options. For example, an aggressive dog won’t retreat just because you point a gun at it. Also, it won’t respond to de-escalation techniques or reason.

There are many factors such as distance, size of the animal, type of animal, possible exits, and your surroundings that will determine if lethal or non-lethal force is best.

Know the Laws Regarding both Lethal and Non-Lethal Force

It is imperative that you understand all applicable laws regarding the use of force. This includes both lethal and non-lethal force. Also, know what you are legally allowed to carry to defend yourself. Not having a good understanding of these laws can cause you to hesitate when being attacked.

Using force that is not legally justifiable will mean serious legal issues and possible jail time. Having a good understanding of relevant laws will allow you to act decisively while ensuring that you are within the confines of the law. After learning the laws, make a plan on what to do after the incident. Do you apply first aid to the person who just attacked you? Do you leave the area and then call law enforcement or do you stay around and call your attorney first? These are all questions you need to have answered before an incident happens.

Self-Defense Alternatives

Upon weighing the many different scenarios, this is where a non-lethal force option is good to have with you in addition to a firearm. Many of us need to change the “lethal vs. non-lethal” mindset. We also need to change the thought process that a firearm is an end-all-be-all for self-defense. Each self-defense scenario is different. The unique factors that surround each self-defense situation will dictate what level of force is required (and legal) to stop the threat. Carrying non-lethal and lethal force options simply gives you more options to deal with different threat levels.

Lethal vs Non-Lethal Mindset Conclusion

To wrap things up, I want to be clear that I am definitely in favor of the use of firearms for self-defense. However, I only advocate carrying one as long as you are knowledgeable about how to use it. I also know, from my time as a police officer and from life experience. Many self-defense situations will not rise to the level of deadly force. However, you still have a right to defend yourself against a threat even if it doesn’t rise to the level of lethal force. This is where non-lethal options are good to have.

Keep an eye out for future blogs where I will dive into non-lethal use of force options and how to integrate them with carrying a firearm for defense. I will also discuss the pros and cons of different non-lethal self-defense tools.


  • John Hill

    John Hill is an active police officer with over 18 years of experience. He has served on road patrol, crime suppression team, and K-9. He is also the co-owner of Shield Protection Products.

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