Self-defense options for the home?
May 25, 2010 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Someone's repeatedly trying to gain entrance to our condo complex. We're working with the police, but in the meantime I'd like to get something for stand-off personal defense. The catch: no firearms.

I've been looking at pepper spray and tasers but am open to other options. Ideally, whatever I choose would be deployable at a distance of up to 20 feet (but inside 2 feet if necessary) and would be designed for incapacitation (lethal options are ok but not necessarily desirable). SO objects to firearms in the house, so my preferred (and, frustratingly enough, available!) choice is not an option, as they're locked up in storage. Cost should be less than $500 or so.

So, what can you tell me about the various pros/cons of pepper spray and/or tasers? Anything other devices I'm overlooking? What features/options should I be looking for?

(Please confine answers to recommending / discussing the effectiveness of various products. Thanks.)
posted by anonymous to Shopping (44 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Would a big dog be an option?
posted by sueinnyc at 8:26 AM on May 25, 2010

Baseball bat?
posted by Carol Anne at 8:27 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about taking a self-defense course?
posted by foxjacket at 8:30 AM on May 25, 2010

I carry pepper spray, but you use it, you do have to be careful that the wind doesn't blow it back at you. Also, if you get some, you should give it a short test spray (outside), just to get a feel for it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:34 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

At 20 feet, only a gun is going to be worth anything.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:36 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

An airhorn. It will wake the dead, alert other people, and scare the crap out of the person trying to break in.
posted by rtha at 8:37 AM on May 25, 2010 [10 favorites]

If you're ready for a lifelong commitment, a big dog is an excellent answer. Many criminals that laugh at alarm systems are really afraid of dogs.
posted by musofire at 8:39 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Someone's repeatedly trying to gain entrance to our condo complex.

That sounds weird to me, the repeatedly trying. Usually criminals want an easy target, something that's has as least risk as possible. Motion sensors connected to spotlights and a loud alarm might be goo for helping for deterrence.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:43 AM on May 25, 2010

Bear spray is another good option. Often has more range than pepper spray, and in a more focused beam. I'd favor sprays over tazers, since you have more chance to strike a hit.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:45 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

deployable at a distance of up to 20 feet (but inside 2 feet if necessary)

Short of a gun, I can't think of many things that are effective at both ranges and everything in between-- I would suggest concentrating on the "inside 2 feet" since it has to be effective then. Whatever solution you come up with, decide in advance if it's for peace of mind or if you intend to use it. Because you don't want to have that discussion with yourself in the moment. And take MexicanYenta's advice to practice with the item. The whole process, no matter how stupid it feels to be play-acting: getting the item out, prepping it and using it. It will need to be second nature.

I'm trying to restrict my response to answering the question, but this sounds like an over-reaction to the problem. Hopefully the police are going to solve the problem-- are you going to throw away the pepper spray/ taser/ whatever? If not, it's sitting around waiting to be mis-used.
posted by yerfatma at 8:48 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

mini baseball batt. Just as effective, requires less strength. I hope your safe and be careful when using any dangerous weapon.
posted by Hurst at 8:55 AM on May 25, 2010

Build a safe room with its own phone line. It doesn't have to be literally an armored safe room. A bathroom with a solid core door, a deadbolt and a barred latch would be fine. You need it only to be safe long enough for the police to arrive.

Preferably, you'd have both -- a safe room with a weapon inside it. And if firearms aren't an option, go for a modern tomahawk.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:59 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

A dog is only a good answer if what you care about is deterrence (i.e. a dog who will alert) and not actual physical protection. The dogs who will actually take on a human when in danger of physical harm (and remain controllable and not a complete menace to all and sundry the rest of the time) are few and far between, no matter what popular opinion would have you believe, and there is a lot of training and maintenance involved with actual, trained, protection dogs (not to mention huge liabilities - this is not something for a casual pet owner to take on). And a miscreant willing to break into a home with a barking dog is prepared to deal with the dog, whether it's a Yorkie or a Cane Corso.

A good alarm system is your best bet, IMO.
posted by biscotti at 9:06 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

At 20 feet, only a gun is going to be worth anything.

Actually, at 20 feet, a usally gun isn't worth anything. That's why there's the 21 foot rule.
posted by Jairus at 9:25 AM on May 25, 2010

You don't mention where you live, but you're going to want to check your local laws as to what sorts of weapons are legal. In many places, it's illegal to possess or use pepper spray, mace, tasers, switchblades, etc. You might not care, and many people flout those laws, but you asked for pros and cons, and getting arrested for defending yourself is a definite con in my book.
posted by decathecting at 9:26 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Getting into any sort of fight with the intruder is a bad idea. Even if you're not killed, minor injuries just aren't worth it. Lets say you get slashed or stabbed, and it leaves you with a limp or without the use of your arm. Wouldn't you rather have deterred the intruder in some non-contact way? E.g. motion triggered lights, signs warning that the place is under video surveillance, etc?

More than likely they are after some item of value on your property, rather than intending to physically attack you or your spouse.
posted by randomstriker at 9:30 AM on May 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Nthing learning self-defense.....sprays, knives, guns, heavy objects, etc. can all be taken away from and used against you by the attacker.
posted by brujita at 9:31 AM on May 25, 2010

Bear spray. Mine comes in a huge container, has about a 30' range and produces a dense fog rather than a stream so it's impossible to miss. I've tested it a couple of times and accidentally caught a bit of a whiff once and, yeah, no one's going to want to stick around when you use it. It's impressive. I carry it with me whenever I'm going somewhere where a guy with $5K in photography gear might be a target and it's very reassuring to have around.

Downside: I don't think it could be used inside without getting yourself a little bit. Small price to pay, though.
posted by pjaust at 10:06 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

don't depend on pepper or bear spray until you've deployed it and gotten some in your own face, and determined that it's still the right answer.

Personally, I vote for airhorn + crowbar + safe room.
posted by KathrynT at 10:32 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do you know what this intruder is after? I think a safer and better idea than any weapon is conspicuously removing the thing he wants, if that is within your power.

If not, what KathrynT said.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:46 AM on May 25, 2010

This may not be the answer that you are looking for, but wouldn't a camera or cameras be a deterrent?

Have a small sign "Smile! You are being filmed" plus one prominently displayed camera.

Or, if you want to go really cheap - something that looks like a camera.

I think that this would dissuade some thieves.

Also lower liability risk if some of the above schemes cause injury to a child or mail delivery person

posted by Wolfster at 10:54 AM on May 25, 2010

It seems to me that someone who is repeatedly trying, and failing, to break in, is probably not your run-of-the-mill burglar. My guess is that they are after a specific person in the complex, rather than stuff to steal. In this case, the best course of action would be improving your locks, alarm systems, etc. KathrynT has it right, in that unless the intruder is looking for you or your girlfriend specifically, you are safest locked inside near a phone.
posted by SamanthaK at 10:58 AM on May 25, 2010

If you live in Brooklyn, then a Fox Police Lock and an aluminum baseball bat are all you need for indoor security. All perfectly legal.

+1 to motion sensors attached to bright lights. Obvious video cameras are also good, as are dummy video cameras.

If you're worried about security in the hallway of your building, then as everyone else said - foghorn, mace - just be aware that there's a real possibility of getting it in your own face, especially under the pressure of the moment, so practice with it if you're planning on using it. I'd skip the taser - if you want to get any distance it'll be costly, bulky, and you only get one shot. Mace gives you a stream of pepper spray, so you're more likely to hit your target.

Whatever you do, just remember that you'll have to explain yourself to a cop, a grand jury, and possibly a real jury, but as they say "it's better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6". Provoking a fight may be worse, in all respects, than just running for it. Don't let these props give you a sense of false confidence.
posted by MesoFilter at 11:05 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest a weighted baton or the like over a bat. Or you can get a two foot piece of lead pipe and wrap it in electrical tape. A bat requires some swing and you may be in a hallway or the like. Pipe will hurt with just a short swing and it's easier to hold it casually at your side.

I similarly can't think of anything useful as a projectile. Personally I don't care for sprays and firing tasers need to be reloaded.
posted by phearlez at 11:30 AM on May 25, 2010

If you're getting repeated break-in attempts, there are really only two reasons:

#1: you live in such a high-crime area, and are such an easy, attractive target, that different thieves keep trying to break in.

#2: your "burglar" is someone who is after something (or someone) specific, in the complex or in one of the units.

You can address #1 by making your complex less attractive; talk to the board about getting a camera, or a security guard, or an alarm, or better intrusion prevention, or some combination thereof. If it's #1, that should be enough to discourage casual burglary attempts.

Addressing #2 is harder, but you should start off the same way, with emphasis on the camera. Get a good shot of the person who's trying to get in, then show it to your neighbors and see if you can figure out who or what he's going after.
posted by davejay at 12:02 PM on May 25, 2010

I'd suggest a weighted baton or the like over a bat.

You mean like an ASP steel expandable police baton. Again, that's obviously a weapon & you'll have to justify owning it to a cop, judge and jury.
posted by MesoFilter at 12:07 PM on May 25, 2010

It seems to me that someone who is repeatedly trying, and failing, to break in, is probably not your run-of-the-mill burglar. My guess is that they are after a specific person in the complex, rather than stuff to steal.

Oh please, you watch too much TV. If they were after a person, they'd just wait for him/her to come out.

It's not your "run-of-the-mill" (i.e. opportunistic B&E) burglar. It's your sophisticated "let's go after the expensive shit in yuppie condos" burglar.
posted by randomstriker at 12:14 PM on May 25, 2010

Are they attempting entry at night?

Then perhaps consider a motion activated infrared game camera mounted so that the entry point is in view, but yet out of arms reach.

Won't help you with self defense, but will help with policing efforts.
posted by de void at 1:12 PM on May 25, 2010

maybe your SO will let you keep a revolver in the house (in a gun safe or with a trigger lock) if all you have is rubber bullets? keep the real ammunition in storage.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:47 PM on May 25, 2010

I'd suggest a weighted baton or the like over a bat.

You mean like an ASP steel expandable police baton.

I actually meant a nightstick; I have seen them filled with lead shot or the like to make them heavier. An asp is fine but I think it requires a little more knowledge/skill. My thought was something that is more akin to a hammer - a heavy weight that'll really smart when smacked with it.

For that matter, why not a hammer?
posted by phearlez at 1:56 PM on May 25, 2010

As is my way, here is where I would normally suggest a Zulu Spear, which I am convinced is the perfect close quarters home defense weapon. But that's not what you were asking for, for your needs, you might want to look at some of the non-lethal options from Kimber. Specifically, something like the Pepperblaster 2 or the JPX which have ranges of 13 feet to 21 feet respectively. The idea is that rather than a stream or cloud, it projects a pepper spray like material as a high velocity glob that can punch through glasses and masks. By all accounts, it's very uncomfortable.

Problem is, they are kind of expensive. And they only work if you are willing to use them, which many people won't (they think they will, but when the situation arises, they hesitate).

All that said, the suggestions in this thread regarding cameras and other ways of getting the police more information are probably better choices for actually keeping you safe.
posted by quin at 1:57 PM on May 25, 2010

Don't get a dog. A dog that is willing to bite a human is a dog that isn't socialized properly. It means you can never have anyone over your house ever (invited people, I mean) and especially not children. Odds are you'll put the dog down.
posted by about_time at 4:08 PM on May 25, 2010

Also dogs cost way way more than $500 over time.
posted by about_time at 4:09 PM on May 25, 2010

Prevention should be your number one priority. It does not have to be complicated, small things like motion activated lights, or keeping your lights on at night will help you prevent break-in. The majority of break-ins are opportunity based, so the perpetrators do not plan it in advance.

Secondly, think hard about your tool of self defense. I am trained in hand to hand combat, knife fighting and gun defense. Here is several basic facts about fighting and self defense:

First, the chance that you will get cut in a knife fighting is about 90%. So expect to get cut in a knife fight, the cuts/stabs varies from non-lethal to lethal.

Second, bringing someone down is harder than you think. In a fight for survival when adrenaline kicks in, it is very very hard to knock someone unconscious. It is something that is very primal. Forget the fight scenes in the movies... here I give you a sample of reality.

Third, if you have a gun and you are ready to shoot... then great. If not, you could be stabbed 37 times before you get your gun ready. There is a rule in the law enforcement community, it is called 21 foot rule, search youtube for video of what it is about.

Generally you want to avoid close contact with the intruder. The bear pepper spray that the others have already recommended should be fine, but you should combine that with something else. Taser... great if you have it ready, but if you're not ready you'll be fumbling while you're being attacked. I don't recommend baseball bats, the chance that you'll hit the intruder is good, but you probably won't knock him unconscious, and only aggravating him even further. Short bladed knife is a no... unless you're willing to get cut/stabbed. Long bladed knife/light sword (katana maybe?) should be better for that purpose. But be careful and get some training on how to use it, it is a seriously dangerous thing.

The most important thing is having a cool head. Never let emotions take over you when you have to deal with this kind of situation. What is more important to you? Your belongings or your life and the life of loved ones? Say the intruder has a gun or a knife and he wants money, give him money and let him leave. Or do you prefer to tackle him, get shot or stabbed then deal with the consequences (e.g. being disabled) or die as a hero (and say bye to your loved ones)?

Have your self defense tools ready, but know when to use them and when not to use them.
posted by bbxx at 4:33 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

In a fight for survival when adrenaline kicks in, it is very very hard to knock someone unconscious. It is something that is very primal. Forget the fight scenes in the movies...

Seconding this. To bring someone down, you have to almost literally go ape shit.

I like the spear. If someone sees a guy with a spear, they are going to think twice. I would also suggest slingshot. (Which, ironically, are illegal where I live and as such, it is all I want for christmas. Guns, OTOH, are perfectly legal here...) Get some heavy steel shot or heavy rocks and you can easily take someone down. Not cool, but effective. Back that up with a baseball bat and you're good.

But yeah, prevention is better.
posted by gjc at 4:53 PM on May 25, 2010

Spear will make the invader think "WTF!", but it is not suited for a close quarter combat, try running and swinging a broom stick around the house... bad idea!

Additionally, if you're not skilled using the spear, you can easily be disarmed. If I were the attacker, I'll just pick a chair, use it as a shield with the legs facing the opponent, block the spear with it while keep pushing forward until the spear gets dropped or the person holding the spear trips and fall.
posted by bbxx at 5:50 PM on May 25, 2010

Long bladed knife/light sword (katana maybe?) should be better for that purpose.

A katana is a terrible home-defense weapon unless you live in one giant room with no hallways, doors, etc. It would certainly be a scary weapon to an intruder, but so would a .45 automatic. And the latter has the advantage of having a wider useful ranger.

So, what can you tell me about the various pros/cons

If you're ruling firearms out from the get-go you should give up completely on the idea of a physical alteration with an intruder and go for passive deterrence. Carrying around a bladed weapon with the idea that a confrontation with a prepared intruder is going to go anyway except very badly for you is just going to get you hurt. Unless you're a dude who is in pretty decent shape and trained to use the knife, of course, but if you were you wouldn't be asking this question.

Bats, sticks, clubs, knives, etc are all things you would grab in an emergency if you have no other option except to fight for your life. They are not things you plan to use in an emergency situation. Pepper spray and other non-lethal chemicals are only effective some of the time. A lot of guys can take a shot of it in the face and it does nothing but piss them off. This is not a good outcome.

Your SO has ruled out the most effective tool; the alternative is not to find a bad tool, it is to either convince her to allow the effective tool or to make every effort to ensure that the situation where such a tool is necessary doesn't arise. So my suggestion: High quality locks and security cameras. They will likely deter the person trying to break in. If not, you will at least know who it is and can take appropriate steps.

All the talk about swords, spears, tasers, batons, etc is fun in a shoot-the-breeze kind of way but as I said, if you were the type of guy who could expect to use those effectively as your primary means of self defense, you would not be asking the question in the first place. And if you aren't a guy at all for the love of god don't try to defend yourself with something like a bat.
posted by Justinian at 7:38 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hornet spray, legal to have, unquestioned to have, shoots 20+ feet, Will make someone change their trajectory and give you time to vacate.
posted by Pecantree at 8:11 PM on May 25, 2010

Six-cell flashlight. Useful as a utility and a thumping tool, though you'd need to practise to be able to thump someone with it effectively.

It I was feeling silly, I'd recommend a crossbow for ranged defense, but the ways in which that could go horribly wrong are numerous.
posted by rodgerd at 1:10 AM on May 26, 2010

The idea is to have something that have a long reach, does not restrain movements too much and lethal enough that one blow can incapacitate the opponent. I gave it a long thought and here is a list of weapons that can be used:

+ Very effective
+ Long reach
+ Does not restrain movements
- It is not a pick it up and fight weapon. See 21 feet rule
- OP ruled out the use of firearms

Taser (The kind that shoots projectiles)
+ Effective
+ Medium reach
+ Does not restrain movements
- Not a pick it up and fight weapon
- Very limited ammo. Easy to miss the target in a dark environment
- Doesn't work well with multiple attackers. You shoot one attacker, the other(s) will beat you silly.

Bear spray
+ Long reach
- Doesn't work on some people.
- Only work temporarily, it has to be combined with something else...

Baseball bat
It can be combined with bear spray, after you spray the invader, disorienting him, pick up your baseball bat, hit him on the head as many times as possible until he doesn't move.
+ It makes you look tough
- Only a clean blow on the head will knock someone down. In a fight, don't expect that too happen. Painful hits will only aggravate the opponent

Long bladed knife/small sword
@Justinian, yeah you're right... Katana is a bit long and heavy. This is the sword that I actually had in mind, the second samurai sword. It is shorter and lighter than Katana. A demonstration.
+ Effective
+ Pick up and fight weapon
- Requires training to use
posted by bbxx at 1:21 AM on May 26, 2010

Only a clean blow on the head [with a bat] will knock someone down.

Really? How about the knees or a clean shot to the abdomen/ groin? I can assure you getting clipped across the stomach isn't fun. Either way, it's probably a poor choice since most people will wield it like a baseball player rather than putting a hand on each end and using the business end for short strikes. The problem with anything like a spear or bat or what have you is they effectively become one-shot weapons: if you miss me once when I'm at the edge of their range, I'm going to be inside the arc before you get a second chance. The same thing's true for the taser and is somewhat true for sprays (it's also why you should hold a knife back-hand, i.e., with the blade pointing down out of your fist: the smaller the arc, the more chances yo get and the less room for error on your attacker's part).

It'd be nice to know how many people recommending various options have ever deployed them in a situation (and what the end result was)*. You have to account for how much you're going to be shaking. The adrenaline rush is going to be like nothing (I hope) you've ever felt before and if you don't know how to deal with it, it's going to complicate things.

I'm with Justinian: locks & cameras will deter this threat and future ones. Buy a web-enabled security camera and stick it in a really obvious place (but hard to get at). Offer to pay for it yourself. The worst thing that happens if the camera doesn't make a difference is you're out the cost of the camera.

* I've never used anything other than my hands & feet in a confrontation.
posted by yerfatma at 6:15 AM on May 26, 2010


In a normal situation a hit with a baseball bat on the knees or abdomen will bring someone down, but not when the person is adrenaline charged and strong.

How do you hit the groin with a baseball bat in a tense situation? I am thinking though... multiple blows to the shin with a bat can stop someone from moving. But while you're hitting, you'll be in a vulnerable position. I agree with you with the one shot weapon argument.

Now you know your options of self defense. But the most important thing is prevention, not confrontation.

If prevention fails, the use common sense to handle the confrontation. If you have to fight, fight for your life. Don't fight for your belongings or money.
posted by bbxx at 6:51 AM on May 26, 2010

I mentioned it in a dismissive sense, but since people keep brining it up, for posterity's sake, I'll point out a couple of things in favor of the Zulu Assegai which people are overlooking; first, it's not a long weapon. The short handled version (the Iklwa) is only three feet overall (shorter than a katana) with 1/3rd of it being blade. It was designed specifically for close quarters battle. So think less swinging-like-a-bat-or-broom and more short range thrusting.

Speaking of, while the one foot long blade certainly works well as a slashing weapon, the primary value would be in it's ability to prevent someone from charging (for fear of being impaled) giving the wielder an opportunity to force a stand off, providing time to think, and call the cops.

It also has the simple benefit of being dead-easy to use. Japanese swords are things of beauty, but they take many years to get good enough to not be a threat to yourself when using them, a spear speaks to a primal part of our brain, and anyone can pick one up under even the most terrifying situations and know that the pointy end goes towards the bad guy.

Plus, it's absolutely terrifying looking. So you've got the whole psychological thing happening.

All that being said, I really don't think it's what the poster here needs, but if it's going to be dismissed, it shouldn't be for shortcomings which it doesn't have.

posted by quin at 7:32 AM on May 26, 2010

Hi. I realize that you said "no firearms" but I thought I'd mention this:
I keep an unloaded Mossberg 500 in my apartment - for safety reasons, there is never ammunition for any of my guns in the house at the same time as the guns. I purchase ammo on my way out to go shooting and dispose of any unused ammo before returning home. So, it's an unloaded shotgun. Racking it is pretty loud - my downstairs neighbor says he can hear it through two walls and a floor. It's a pretty good deterrent for anyone who would try to break in. Failing that, it's got great heft. Can be purchased for under $200 used at your local dealer. And who knows? You might decide to go hunting some day.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:35 PM on May 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

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