What ‘Less Lethal’ Weapons Actually Do

A less lethal weapon is a firearm or projectile designed to be used in a way that will minimize the probability of fatality, generally by providing a degree of separation between shooter and target when firing.

In contrast, “non-lethal” weapons put minimal distance between the person using the weapon [sic]n and intended targets, with an increased risk of mortality.(1)

Officially, “less lethal” munitions are those which are explicitly intended to be non-lethal. This designation has been applied in order to reduce real or perceived lethality when law enforcement personnel use force against civilians. The term “non-lethal” has often been criticized as being counterintuitive since all types of violence can cause death.

Types of less lethal weapons

Although there are multiple types of less lethal weapons, they all have one thing in common: the need for the user to be as close as possible to their targets.

– Oleoresin Capsicum (OC): The use of oleoresin capsicum as a less than lethal weapon is based on its debilitating effects on an individual. There are various delivery methods that can be used with this chemical agent including: grenades, launchers and shotguns. Effects may include skin irritation and inflammation, coughing and shortness of breath, bloodshot eyes and light sensitivity. Other potential health risks may exist depending upon the method of delivery and amount used.

– Rubber bullets: This type of projectile is frequently referred to as flexible baton round (FBR). When fired, it is designed to suppress the target by hitting them with the weapon’s rubber-encased metal projectile. It can cause bone fractures, soft tissue damage and other internal organ damage.

– Stingballs: Stingballs are a non-lethal handheld device that consists of a gun with a magazine loaded with multiple projectiles. They explode on impact and release a cloud of fine wire netting over their intended targets in order to immobilize them. This type of less lethal weapon is used primarily for crowd control within enclosed areas.

– TASER: A TASER is an electrical device which utilizes compressed nitrogen in order to shoot conductive wires into its target from “X” feet away. Once the subject is hit, an electric charge (50,000 volts) travels through the wires and into the body of the target. The TASER also sends a radio signal which triggers its cartridge to automatically deploy two more barbs at a distance of up to “X” feet from its original location.

– Mini stun guns: This type of less lethal weapon is used for self-defense purposes or in situations where defence against aggressive animals is necessary. They are handheld devices that shoot small electrodes attached by wire to batteries powered by electricity.

– OC Aerosols: This type of chemical agent works by creating an intense burning sensation and inflammation on contact with skin and membranes.

– Ball bearings: These projectiles are used mostly during riot control because of their ability to disperse crowds through sheer pain. They can be fired from pump shotguns or grenade launchers.

– Other less lethal weapons include (but are not limited to): Flashbang grenades, rubber pellets, beanbag rounds and pepper ball guns/launchers.

Advantages and disadvantages of less lethal weapons

Advantages of less lethal weapons :

– They are generally effective in minimizing the total number of injuries when compared to law enforcement personnel firing their firearms.

– Since they are not intended to kill the target, they provide a degree of accountability that allows for an unbiased record keeping process since there can be no claim that use of force was excessive.

– They have good utility in areas where open fires are prohibited which include airports, schools and other public spaces.

– Less lethal technologies have become more accepted by police agencies around the world because their deployment is much safer than conventional weapons used for riot or crowd control purposes. By using less lethal technology, organizations are able to decrease fatalities better controlling groups/individuals who are non-compliant.

Disadvantages of less lethal weapons :

– They can be extremely dangerous and even fatal to individuals due to the intensity of the force used on a target.

– Their usage may result in serious injury or death especially when they are used improperly or without proper training.

– A majority of their effectiveness depends on the type of delivery mechanism being used for deployment which means that not all instruments will have the same impact on an individual’s physiological reaction.

– Inability to control constricted muscles, loss of balance and disorientation have been reported as common effects after receiving a TASER shock from a distance greater than “X” feet away

– The level of pain caused by chemical agents can result in panic and unpredictable behaviour.

##Who uses less lethal weapons?

Less lethal weapons are used by military personnel, law enforcement agencies (both local and federal), correctional facilities (county jails, state prisons etc.) as well as educational institutions (public and private). They are also used on some occasions for personal use during activities such as hunting.

Although they do not always cause the same levels of damage that firearms may inflict on a target, there is still research being conducted to determine how best to minimize fatalities or unnecessary harm that may be caused through some of these weapons. There is no doubt however that their increased safety has encouraged some organizations to embrace them as a safer alternative to conventional weapons.

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