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What is your best defensive weapon?

I am assuming a low level of violence as found in American suburbia. In other situations, the thinking my differer, but the same principals will still hold.

Your best weapon is your brain. Thinking about where you are and what you are doing, your situation awareness, will provide you the biggest return. Minimizing or avoiding unnecessary danger is a tried and true tactic. While this cannot and does not work for every situation, it works better than any other solution because it's the most reliable solution and the one that provides you with the most predictable outcome.

Your second best defensive weapon is "no handgun." That sounds weird, but once you think about it, it makes sense. Most people don't carry guns most of the time. Why? Because the risk or burden that a handgun introduces is greater than the risks faced by the potential carrier. Guns aren't neutral objects. People react to them. They can make a situation worse just as easily as make a situation better. A weapon means that more people around you feel on guard and are more likely to interpret you as potentially hostile when there's no call for being armed. The presence of a gun increases the perceived risk to everyone who isn't the gun owner. This isn't new behavior. Even back in the middle ages, towns and cities required that men stow their weapons with their innkeeper while in town. Limiting carrying is a long used practice in keeping the peace.

Your third best defensive weapon is de-escalation. You've heard about that lately, I'm sure, as many police departments are using this technique. When the possibility of violence appears, you are usually better off defusing tensions and reducing the chance of violence with words. Keeping a situation from turning violent gets nobody thrown in jail, ruins no lives, leaves no widows or orphans, and generally makes life better for everyone. If the technique fails, you are usually no worse off than you were before.

Numbers are another good defensive weapon. Most people recognize this. You don't have to be tough as nails to appear too much to handle, you just have to be numerous enough that anyone threatening thinks twice before messing with you. In war torn areas, people hire guards to escort them about, but most of the work of the guards is just being their, making you more numerous, making any threat against you far more uncertain.

At the bottom of defenses is guns. They might seem like the top from gun ads and macho talkers, but guns add as much complication as they resolve. A gun seems like a safety net, and with a safety net, you tend to depend on it for saving you from your mistakes. That's the sort of thinking that gets you into trouble. A gun isn't a safety net, and it won't save you from your own trouble. A gun is an option of last resort, not first.

Consider for the moment a person who's bought a gun, practiced with it, and feels confident. When a situation arises where the gun would be useful, it's likely to come out, and once weapons come out, the predictability of a situation flies out the window. You don't want unpredictability. This is why I emphasized everything above as better options. If you only practice with a gun, then a gun becomes your only bad solution, even in situations where other solutions would work better. Instead, you should practice all of the above, so that you have a variety of skills can be best deployed to resolve a situation.

A second issue with a gun is assuming that you'll have the initiative, that you'll be in a situation where you have control. That's not a given. Bad guys may not be smart, but they're smart enough to know that they need control. They want to strike when you're not ready. No gun can defend you against that, but the defenses outline above give you a far better chance at avoiding them, talking them down. and knowing your priorities. 

A gun is only the best tool if you have no other tools.

Are there situations where this breaks down? Of course there is. In those cases, you'll know exactly why you need a gun, but hopefully you'll also know the limits of that gun. The gun isn't a forcefield or a suit of battle armor. Once people start shooting, the gun won't stop bullets. And once a gun gets fired, there will be legal headaches. 

You see these principals used in home defense. Most homes are defended with locking doors, barking dogs, alarm systems, and in some circumstances, retreat. In self-defense terms, each of these is a controlled response to a circumstance. Once a weapon comes out, a situation becomes far more unpredictable, and as most people aren't trained in the complexities of home defense, their better options is usually non-confrontational.

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