Self-Defense Snake Oil: Just Say No

Self-defense is a pretty broad topic and a pretty massive market. Big markets leave plenty of room for scams, crappy products, and snake oil. Self-defense snake oil is particularly dangerous. Someone offers you a tool that’s designed to protect your life and the life of your family, and it turns out to be a total piece of crap. Not all of today’s products are meant to be self-defense items, but somehow, misinformation has convinced others they are a great choice. Regardless of the tool, let’s debunk some of the more common pieces of self-defense snake oil.

Self-Defense Snake Oil

What makes something self-defense snake oil? In my opinion, it needs to be an ineffective weapon sold as an effective weapon. In the modern era, there are a lot of crappy tools, weapons, and accessories promising to be the next best thing in the world of self-defense. Here are seven of the more common pieces of self-defense snake oil.

Silly Cat Knuckles

A common sight amongst every gun show and flea market is various knuckle-based items promising to be an effective striking tool. They tend to be designs that appear to be rather cleverly disguised! If you’re in the know, you recognize that the ears are pointy, and your fingers just happen to fit in the ‘eye’ of the tool. Boom, toss it on your hands, and now you have a set of brass knuckles!

cat knuckles
Kitty Cat knuckles are a plague on gun shows and shoppers who don’t know any better.

In reality, you have something more likely to bend and break when used as a tool. If the tool bends and breaks, your fingers might bend and break. That’s straight-up not a good time, bro. It’s made from pot metal and not exactly a hefty duty thing. While it’s disguised as a kitty-based keychain, it might still be considered a weapon, which isn’t great in states that have laws against brass knuckles.

Leave those silly, cheaply made, made-in-China, and maybe illegal kitty cat knuckles on the table at the gun show.

Gimmicky Self-Defense Ammo

A more discreet and often easily marketed piece of self-defense snake oil is crappy, gimmicky ammo. It seems like every year, the market gets hit with some revolutionary cartridge offering that promises to be the next best thing ever. In reality, these rounds often tend to be less useful and effective than the classic defensive standards. Don’t get me wrong, there are some high-quality defensive ammo options out there, but it’s not all great.

rip ammo
Remember this stuff? I know I do.

My favorite example is the G2 RIP ammo, which made some obscene promises. The serrated hollow point promised to spin and act as a saw against a soft target. The ammo then promised to explode into a ton of pieces, each with the ability to penetrate deep enough to take down a threat.

It was a joke and remains a joke. Another honorable mention is the Winchester defensive birdshot that helped kill all the work we’ve put into defusing the idea that birdshot is an effective shotgun round.

Worthless Stun Guns

Electric weapons can be a very effective less lethal weapon for hand-to-hand combat. They can be an alternative to lethal force and have their place in the use of force continuum. However, most of them are absolutely terrible. The cheap stun guns that are fired up every five seconds at a gun show are pieces of crap.

knuckle stun gun
Crappy knuckles and a crappy stun gun? Why not?

As are the stun guns disguised as cell phones, pens, and similar items. They promise 8 million volts, which will clearly stop any man in the middle of a fight, right? Well, no, stun guns don’t incapacitate via voltage. It’s actually micro coulombs that take down bad guys. In fact, a stun gun with contacts only a centimeter apart can only generate 30,000 volts, so most of these are just lying.

Get a reputable stun gun from a brand like Sabre or TASER. They both make high-quality stun guns for defensive use.

Wasp Spray

Blame local news channels for spreading this myth. If you ever watch a news piece on self-defense, they always avoid mentioning firearms but will offer useless advice like using wasp spray to deter attackers. Wasp spray has an extended range that can reach out and blind a threat at advanced ranges.

In reality, wasp spray isn’t an effective tool for disabling attackers. Sure, it might make someone’s eye uncomfortable, but it won’t shut them down like a dedicated self-defense spray. Dedicated chemical weapons, like pepper spray from reputable manufacturers, will shut an attacker down and destroy their ability to see. If they can’t see, they sure as hell can’t fight.

That said, wasp spray is great for wasps, and I hate wasps. I love bees, but let’s kill all the wasps. For wasps, wasp spray is an effective self-defense tool.

McDojo Karate

If you ever want a good laugh, go to Instagram and check out McDojo Life. It’s a hilarious Instagram account that chronicles a variety of fake and ineffective dojos that teach bunk martial arts. This includes everything from weaponized chi to just silly and overly complicated attacks. Another of the more famous examples is D.U.S.T. or Detroit Urban Survival Training.

These dojos pop up all the time in self-defense and promise you the world. Don’t buy into it. Going hands-on is a skill worth knowing, so invest in a proven martial art from a reputable source. Boxing, Ju-Jitsu, and similar martial arts are a great way to start.

Mixing Lethal and NonLethal Tools

This one is fairly rare, but it still exists. Have you ever seen a police force with bright orange or green shotguns? Those are dedicated nonlethal shotguns. They keep their lethal shotguns and their nonlethal options separate to ensure there are no accidents or mishaps that end a human life. Still, people try to combine less lethal with lethal in a very stupid way.

glock less lethal tool
Yep, this ball is propelled by a real, lethal bullet.

From under-barrel pepper spray attachments for AR-15s to rail-mounted stun guns and more. My favorite is a less lethal ball that attaches over your Glock barrel. It ‘captures’ a bullet and propels a less lethal ball toward the target. It looks like a clown nose because you are a clown if you think this is a safe, non-lethal option.

Most .410 Pistols

I hesitate to say all .410 pistols because some, like the Taurus Judge Home Defender, tend to work well. However, the very short-barreled Judge models the S&W Governor, and the various derringers are just silly. The uber-short barrels throw terrible patterns and have terrible velocity.

cobray derringer
A .410 Derringer is not an advisable self-defense weapon.

However, most of them are better used as .45 Colt revolvers. With the classic Colt round, you can stop a horse, or well, almost. The .410 round tends to be pretty anemic from ultra-short barrels, so stick to proven choices. If you want a short barrel, the .38 Special is calling your name.

Washing Away the Snake Oil

Snake oil washes away pretty dang easily. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge and know-how to avoid purchasing and using an ineffective tool for self-defense. There are tons of crappy self-defense options, but luckily there are even more effective tools on the market. Do your research, do your homework, and make smart decisions.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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