Deadly tools such as firearms and knives may be the most infamous types of weapons used today, but many alternative means of defence also exist. Nonlethal weapons are designed to slow or stop attackers without inflicting long-term harm. Many of these devices can be legally carried by civilians; however, care should always be taken to ensure that local laws are followed.
Sound-based nonlethal weapons use extremely loud and piercing alarms to distract attackers. Sound sources rising above 120 decibels can cause physical pain in the ears of an attacker, and can invoke a natural response to flinch and back away. In addition to discouraging attackers, sound weapons have the added benefit of attracting the attention of nearby bystanders, who can assist if needed.
The most basic type of nonlethal sound weapon is an air horn. These devices use a small compressed air tank attached to a special plastic bevel, and can be carried on a belt or in a purse. More advanced sound weapons use electronics and act as personal alarms. These alarms are powered by batteries, and produce an ear-ringing shriek when activated.
Impact weapons are blunt instruments that are designed to stop an attacker without inflicting lethal harm. Perhaps the most well-known example is a baton, which is commonly used by police officers. For civilians, expandable batons are available. These weapons fold into a small space and can be carried on the belt. When deployed, however, the baton telescopes to a length of several feet, and can be used for nonlethal striking.
Smaller nonlethal impact weapons are also available. These small metal tools, called "kubotans" or "tactical pens," are designed to be pushed against the sensitive pressure points of an attacker's body, such as the throat or temples. Compared to full-sized batons, kubotans are more readily concealed and are often small enough to be carried in a pocket.
The most sophisticated type of nonlethal weapons use direct electrical energy to stun an attacker. These electrical stun guns can send instant pain through an attacker's body, and can often be used effectively by weaker individuals such as the elderly to fend off a more powerful attacker.
While basic energy stun guns must be in physical contact with an attacker to be effective, more advanced versions can be used from a distance. The "Taser" brand of weapon is one common type of projectile energy weapon that, when fired, the deploys a small electrical cartridge connected by wires to a battery pack. This allows civilians and law enforcement officers to deal with attackers from safe distances.
Chemical nonlethal weapons use harsh substances to irritate the respiration system and eyes of a criminal. Pepper spray, for instance, contains concentrated red pepper extract housed in a compressed cartridge. When this pepper contacts the face, it causes swelling near the eyes as well as inflammation of the nose and mouth. These effects are painful and distracting, but not permanently harmful.
Tear gas is another chemical substance that is used as a nonlethal spray. Like pepper spray, this chemical can be directed at the face of an attacker. Living up to its name, tear gas causes the eyes to produce a large amount of tears, temporarily blinding the subject. Tear gas can also cause an attacker to experience difficulty breathing for a short period of time.
Nonlethal weapons based on light cause discomfort and temporary loss of vision when directed at the eyes of a criminal. The most basic weapon based on light is a high-powered flashlight. Modern tactical flashlights are commonly powered by lithium batteries and feature very efficient light bulbs, resulting in a strong and blinding beam.
More advanced nonlethal light weapons use laser beams to blind attackers. When spread over a wide area, laser beams can disperse a high amount of light energy to overpower all other visual signals. Lasers of this type do not cause permanent eye damage of they are not used for extended periods of time.