There’s a scene in the movie “Dead Man’s Shoes” that struck me for reasons the moviemakers probably did not expect. A group of thugs armed with pistol-crossbows and blowguns, or with movie-prop daggers and fantasy swords, seems more laughable than scary to someone familiar with real weaponry. In the U.K., however, where strict weapons prohibition and a mentally weak culture mean handguns are (only slightly) less available, a group of toughs wielding crap I used to mail-order from the Bud K catalog does actually seem more menacing than amusing.

The technology of self-defense is inextricably enmeshed in the concept, the application and the execution of our rights to defend ourselves. Previously in Technocracy, I have discussed both the “hardware,” the technology of self-defense – such as the push to develop so-called “smart” firearms, the utility of the pump-action shotgun and attempts to ban knives – and the “software,” the mental attitudes connected to and pervading our development and use of self-defense technology – that affect your Second Amendment rights.

Not surprisingly, libs and leftists of every stripe fear and loathe your right to defend your person and, accordingly, seek to prohibit and confiscate the tools of self-defense. There exists, however, within the “personal weapons industry,” a sub-population of manufacturers, customers, self-described martial artists and would-be self-defense experts who, while they certainly do advocate the carry of personal weaponry, are part of the problem. They are part of the problem because their attitudes are unrealistic and their beliefs are unsupportable. They are part of the problem because they sell, buy, or advocate the carry and use of toys rather than weapons. A weapon will save your life. A toy will fail catastrophically.

If we presume that law-abiding, prepared citizens of this nation seek to acquire and carry legal weapons of self-defense, how do they then choose? What distinguishes “toy” from “tool” and “weapon” from “useless junk”? Speaking very generally, there are certain principles that can be applied to choosing the technology of self-defense. Keep these principles in mind, study carefully and seek training in the use of personal weaponry, and you will be able to make informed choices that better serve your needs while protecting you and your family.

A weapon must afford a positive, secure grip. A handle that is slippery, improperly sized or shaped, or even painful in one’s grip makes that weapon useless, as does any holster or sheath that inhibits a positive drawstroke. Some misguided martial artists go so far as to strap weapons to their bodies in the form of “ninja hand claws” or other arm blades and bracers. These interfere with a positive, secure grip should the wearer attempt to use any other weapon, while representing a constant threat of self-injury to the wearer. A weapon that affords a poor grip will fail because it is not under positive control.

A weapon must not be awkward to use. Some weapons sacrifice utility to style. In self-defense, stress and adrenaline combine with the speed of a life-threatening scenario to demand fast and decisive action. If your action involves wielding a weapon, you will have neither the time nor the required fine motor skills to wield an awkward tool. If the weapon you carry is not handy and reasonably efficient, if it is poorly balanced, improperly sized, or uncomfortable, it will fail because you will fail.

A weapon must be capable of delivering repeated shots or strikes. Knives and clubs never run out of ammunition, but projectile weapons do. A weapon that can deliver only a single shot before it must be slowly and painstakingly reloaded is, barring great luck on your part, a dangerous toy. That crossbow or single-shot firearm may well deal a deadly blow … once. If you miss, and human beings frequently do miss under stress, you have missed your chance. You will fail because you will be overwhelmed as you attempt to reload your slow and cumbersome toy.

A weapon must not be fragile A weapon that is not properly constructed, a weapon that simply breaks, is a weapon that has irrevocably failed. Stainless steel swords, junk-guns sold cheaply and manufactured by companies that never seem to survive long, pocket knives with locks that don’t lock or springs that stop springing … these are fragile toys, junk that seems lethal but stops working too quickly. A fragile weapon is not a weapon at all. Reliability is success. Fragility is failure.

A weapon must yield reproducible, reliable results, be it lethal or less-lethal by design. Any weapon and many dangerous toys can conceivably cause great harm by fluke or happenstance. Some air guns and spring guns could, under freak conditions, hurt or even kill a human being. A blow gun might, under extreme circumstances, successfully propel a dart through a vital portion of the human body. A firearm that jams constantly might well get off the first shot or two. While any of these things could perform as weapons, most of the time they will not. If the results produced by the weapon are not reliably reproducible, it must be considered a toy. Success that is rare and random is failure.

A weapon must not be more dangerous to the user than to the target. In all cases, your weapon is a toy if it is more likely to cause more problems than it solves. If you can’t control it, if you’re not sure if it will work, if it handles poorly, if it may break, then you wield a “weapon” that any assailant fervently hopes you will choose. Your failure, your weapon’s failure, is your attacker’s success. He wants you to choose a tool that has one or more of the problems I have described. He wants you to fail in taking self-defense seriously, in preparing for self-preservation, in arming yourself to meet adversity.

Armed self-defense is not a game. There is no place in it for toys; there is no provision within self-defense for play. Without doubt, a free people should be armed. Without exception, they must choose technology that will not fail.

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