Citizen defenders concerned about protecting themselves, their homes, and their neighborhoods in perilous times are often in search of ways to enhance their defensive capabilities. While the most effective riot/crowd control products are unavailable to civilians, even if they are technically legal to own, there are some solutions. In the category of distraction devices, airsoft flashbangs are widely available.
The airsoft and paintball world often devotes itself to realism, joining the two sports and the use of military tactics under the acronym MILSIM, for military simulation. As many of the Close Quarter Battle (CQB) tactics used in combat are used in MILSIM games, distraction devices are very popular. Best of all, these are all civilian-legal products with no special licensing (in the USA) required.
Stun grenades, or flashbangs, are non-fragmenting less-than-lethal distraction devices intended to temporarily disorient a person by startling them, inducing temporary hearing loss, and impairing their vision from the bright flash. They are often deployed when breaching a room to give the entry team time to neutralize the disoriented suspect or enemy.
Flashbangs utilize a fuse to ignite a pyrotechnic mixture of flammable metals and oxidizers to produce one or more extremely loud bangs and a bright flash. Military/LE models can generate sound greater that 170 dB, which can cause hearing damage. In enclosed spaces, concussion can disrupt a person’s sense of balance. Flashbangs generally differ from more powerful concussion grenades, which are often considered to be lethal force.
Airsoft (and they can be used for paintball) flashbangs are civilian legal devices that mimic law enforcement and military flashbangs. Many come with bodies that are styled after the military/LE models and can be realistic enough that a casual observer may not be able to tell the difference. Like real grenades, most are designed to be thrown and many can be adapted to boobytraps.
Technically, the airsoft products would be classified as sound distraction devices as not all flash but they do bang. The intent of these products is to startle the opponent to give the player an advantage immediately after deploying the grenade. While these devices certainly will startle someone, they are not as loud, bright, or disorienting as the real thing. They can, however, relatively cheaply and easily provide a distraction/diversion capability to a citizen defender.
There are three types of airsoft sound distraction devices; CO2 gas powered, blank cartridge, and pyrotechnic. The gas powered type uses pressurized gas to basically rapidly inflate a balloon that then pops with a loud bang. The pyrotechnic types are basically firecrackers in a shell that lends the appearance of a grenade. Nail-gun blank types use .22 blanks to create the bang sound. All use pin-and-spoon fuses. Some gas powered types are reusable or have reusable parts. None should be considered field reloadable.
Fuse timing is variable depending on the individual product purchased; varieties may be sold based on fuse time (i.e. two second, five second) or it may be user-selectable. Detonation may be initiated by releasing the spoon (the trigger) or upon impact, depending on the product. Most products resemble military/LE devices to a degree. There are only a few widely available manufacturers available.
True gas flashbang designs have a balloon-like shell that expands under gas pressure and ruptures or “pops.” Pressurized gas is provided by a 12g CO2 cartridge or “green gas” to basically rapidly inflate a balloon that then pops with a loud bang. These have a single use shell (“balloon”) and reusable core which consists of the fuse mechanism and gas cylinder or cylinder holder.
Rupturing shells are single-use consumable items, often sold in twelve-packs. Cores are reusable multiple times as are some bodies. Depending on the model and the user, some timers can be modified. Timing is often dependent on the type of the body purchased with the manufacturer specifying the delay.
“Green gas” is a propellant that is user-refillable for airsoft weapons, similar to a butane lighter refill. Green gas is pressurized propane gas mixed with lubricants such as silicone, which is flammable, though the amount of gas expelled from a banger grenade is minimal. Gas powered grenades should not be mixed with pyrotechnic weapons and use in lethal combat situations may be contraindicated. Without an external source of flame, the chance of a fire is much lower than a pyrotechnic grenade.
Bodies are typically round but some products may feature anti-roll hex ends (“dumbbells”) like some genuine flashbangs to limit rolling. The Thunder B series of reusable gas grenades has the widest variety of bodies/shells available. Note that cores and shells/bodies are often sold separately due to the reusable nature of some products. Replacement shells, pins/spoons, and extra gas or cylinders should be purchased before any anticipated emergency.
Gas powered grenades are based on “fragmentation” type airsoft grenades that expel plastic BBs instead of lethal shrapnel. The bodies are engineered failure points to enable the shell to rupture so the BBs can escape. Early airsoft and paintball grenades shot out, respectively, BBs or paint to “kill” the enemy. With high pressure gas alone for “bangers” there are no fragments, though many BB “frag” grenades have empty shells that can be filled.
These airsoft frag grenades tend to have a softer report than bangers, which are optimized for sound though some newer designs may produce both a louder report and spray of BBs. Law enforcement uses similar “Stinger” grenades in riot/crowd control but using harder rubber balls or chemical irritants. The spray of BBs is non-lethal and non-injurious to a protected person, although the greatest risk of serious injury to an unprotected person would be a pellet striking an eyeball. Thus, care should be exercised if these are deployed outside training or a game.
Pyrotechnic flashbangs are essentially fused firecrackers in a grenade-like shell with the triggering mechanism a pin-and-spoon. They are the only non-electric type to produce a flash. While these are combustible items, unlike military/law enforcement grade flashbangs, these contain less powder and do not create the same level of noise and flash. Some models are available to law enforcement only for training purposes and generate much louder sound levels.
For defensive usage, bodies constructed of foam should be used, rather than hollow cardboard or plastic, to ensure crush resistance. In combat, one may need to drop prone suddenly or make other sudden movements that could result in damage to a grenade body. Accidental detonation is very low-probability, but not impossible, though use of standard airsoft/paintball protective gear is sufficient to safeguard the user.
The products are considered flammable, but many products have been designed to mitigate the danger of fire should they land in dry grass or other combustible debris. Some versions do spray sparks similar to small fireworks. Pyrotechnic grenades are subject to HAZMAT shipping which will entail higher charges, adult signature, and receiving a package with a prominent explosives warning sticker.
The flash effect is enhanced at night or in dark spaces. Smoke is produced, but not to the degree of a true, concealment smoke grenade. Bits of foam or cardboard may be blasted around but should produce no injuries. The debris, smoke, and flash may be used to enhance their psychological effect or it may lead some to wrongly conclude an explosive detonated, which could be a concern in the case of political prosecutions.
For those in search of a turn-key solution, these are the best option. No loading or other prep work is required, although one may want to secure the spoon and pin with electrical tape in the event of a mishap.
Note: TAGInn, the leading maker of pyrotechnic grenades is Russian, so the supply dried up in the West due to the 2022 economic sanctions as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. Supposedly the company was looking to start a Western subsidiary, but I have not seen any evidence of that coming to fruition. These grenades are not hard to build, and I do seem to recall a similar one with a cardboard body in the past, but I have not seen any available online.
The newest MILSIM distraction grenade, blank cartridge devices are gaining popularity. These use .22 caliber nail gun cartridge blanks a.k.a. powder-actuated fasteners (“Ramsets”) as the sound generating device. While the design is currently proprietary, they are billed as the loudest grenades available. The report sounds like a gunshot, however (video: language warning).
Nail gun fastener blanks are available at many hardware stores. These tend to be the loudest versions and may have selectable degrees of loudness, depending on the product. These are reusable and considered very reliable. Excluding damage to the body and replacement of safety pins, these are probably the most cost-effective options.
To load, the timer delay is set, a blank is inserted, the body screwed closed, and the safety pin is inserted. To deploy, the safety pin is pilled, the grenade thrown, and the impact-actuated timer will be activated on contact with the ground. No flash will be produced.
As of this writing, electronic distraction grenades are uncommon. Strobe lights in dark environments are known to produce a disorienting effect. One would think something so simple would be a common product as it could simply be recharged after each game, but alas, they are not. Electronic flashbangs are basically personal alarms intended for self-defense use in jurisdictions where guns and pepper spray (OC) are illegal.
Nextorch Distractor video (not pictured)
These include strobe lights with a loud speaker inside to blare an alarm (not an explosion). These are reusable and rechargeable products. Some models have more grenade like features, but also some only have a strobe light. These may be used as a rescue signaling device or in combination with a non-flash grenade, but don’t have the same effect as a true flashbang. For strobe light usage, an actual purpose-built strobe is probably best.
It must noted that any flash effect produced, if at all, will not be as effective as a military/LE grenade, nor will the sound/concussion. These are mainly psychological devices, rather than a weapon that will produce involuntary physiological reactions. For more information regarding airsoft grenades, including smoke grenades, and the employment of these devices and other methods of riot/crowd control, please see my books Suburban Defense and Suburban Warfare.
"But I could just use a firecracker/firework."
You need matches or a lighter to ignite a firecracker and most fireworks. This adds precious time to the deployment process which you might not have. Also, these are much more likely to be regarded as destructive devices than a noisemaker. Fireworks also carry a higher chance of injuring those on the ground or the user, as well as starting a fire.
The author is providing this content on an “as is” basis and makes no representations or warranties of any kind with respect to this content. The author disclaims all such representations and warranties. In addition, the author assumes no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any other inconsistencies herein. The content is of an editorial nature and for informational purposes only. Your use of the information is at your own risk. The author hereby disclaims any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption through use of the information.
Note: dB levels may be variable based on the source and distance measured at. All should be considered as loud as an unsuppressed gunshot and hearing/eye protection should always be used. No retailer endorsement is implied. These products tend to sell out easily and fast, especially the more effective models.
A friend who recently retired from law enforcement and I were discussing the pros and cons of less-lethal shotgun usage by the average citizen. In defensive situations, outside of very rare one-offs that are unlikely to occur, we couldn’t think of a single good example. Where it would be useful always required that the SHTF already, things were very dangerous outside, and there was no rule of law (or police). Then, and only in stand-off type situations, did we deem their usage conceivable.
Normal times or SHTF times, you are likely not going to be dealing with suicidal subjects or with persons resisting arrest. You will be concerned with shooting bad guys or driving them off. A less-lethal shotgun is in the “drive them off” tool box. If you are planning for SHTF and especially if you have a defensive group drawn up for your neighborhood or homestead, why not put another tool in your toolbox?
I am going to focus my scenarios on a without the rule of law situation (WROL), that is, there are no police to respond and no courts to prosecute you. If there are, they are totally ineffective to help you, deter the bad guys, or come after you for using excessive force. Wider use of less-lethal ammunition may be made where it is necessary or desirable to kinetically dissuade someone but not kill them. Further discussion regarding WROL employment of less-lethal weapons can be found in my book Suburban Defense.
In WROL, less-lethal shotguns should only be employed when a lethal shot would be justified. This covers any potential legal ground as well as moral grounds. Because the weapons are still firearms and may kill, you need to treat firing a less-lethal shot just as firing a lead one.
There may be a rare circumstance when killing the person is legally justifiable, but not desirable, and it is tactically permissible to use less-lethal force. Lethal cover (another person with a deadly firearm aimed at the target) must be present and ready to stop any deadly threat. Typically, in ordinary life less-lethal ammo usage should be avoided.
Less-lethal force is not a substitute for lethal force, when morally and legally justified. I envision it being used when the attitudes of your homestead, neighborhood, or community may make it difficult to outright shoot someone. Mowing down a crowd of rioters, even if they deserve it, presents a lot of problems. You may also feel bad shooting a really determined and desperate father stealing from your garden. If a 12 gauge rubber slug can send them away and keep them away, it helps avoid you being labeled a murderer or war criminal.
Violent crowd control
The less-lethal bearer should not have a lethal firearm at the ready; lethal weapons need to be holstered or slung out of the way. He should not be trying to juggle an AR-15 and a less-lethal shotgun. If at all possible, the less-lethal bearer should not also be armed with a lethal shotgun, nor should he have any lethal shotgun shells on his person, to avoid mix-ups.
“Less-lethal ready/up!” is the announcement the less-lethal bearer is in position and ready to fire.
“Less-lethal, standby!” is the incident commander or primary team member delegating the authority to fire. It also serves as a warning to those around that a less-lethal weapon will be fired.
“Less-lethal out,” should be yelled and/or radioed after the shot or string of shots so distant team members know what happened.
Other variations can be used as long as they are clear and unambiguous. Additionally, the type of less-lethal ammunition can be substituted for specificity, i.e. “bean bag.” Note that circumstances may necessitate immediate deployment based on the less-lethal bearer’s observations of the situation. Good communication should be maintained with the details for the need of the weapon going out so that upon hearing a gun shot, distant team members don’t mistake it for an incoming shot.
Aimpoint: lower center of torso (belly) or more specifically the belt line to the navel.
Aim for large muscle groups, abdomen and below. Arms and legs should be avoided when in proximity to vital areas. The preferred dorsal target area is the legs (away from the lower spine).
Avoid: head, neck, sternum (upper chest), spine, kidneys, and genitals. When firing at the target from behind, do not aim for the center of the back due to the risk of spinal cord damage. Firing at bare skin should be avoided when possible.
Do not fire at pregnant women, young women, or the elderly if at all possible.
Do not fire a target who may fall from height or into dangerous areas.
Minimum safe range: 5 feet
Minimum recommended range: 10 feet
Optimal safe minimum range: 21 feet
Maximum recommended range: 50 feet
Optimal engagement distances: 7-25 yards
Average maximum range: 40 yards
Now in ordinary life you’re probably never going to use less-lethal ammunition against a human. I would recommend against it, actually. If you’re going to shoot them, make sure you can legally use lethal force and preferably use lead to make sure the threat is stopped. If you aren’t going to shoot them, it’s easier and less legally risky to punch them, shoot them with a Taser, or give them a face full of OC spray. But then again, the Second Amendment was written for those outside contingencies.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney nor an expert. This should not be taken as legal or expert advice. Get specialized training before using less-lethal ammunition and any action taken is at your own risk. You probably shouldn’t be using this kind of ammo against humans unless the world has really ended.
It’s 3 AM on a freezing cold morning. For the second time this week, a skinny teenager is trying to cut through the fence that closes off the end of your residential street. You could kill him, but that might upset the refugees he lives among in the regional park. You raise a shotgun and fire a rubber slug.. He falls and rolls to his side before jumping up and running away, clutching his belly. Back in a tent next to the playground, his mother says “You’re lucky they only used a rubble bullet.”
This scenario illustrates a conundrum that the SHTF survivor will have to face; balance of force. Under the circumstances, an intruder might well be justifiably shot trying to penetrate a perimeter. Yet in this case, there is a risk of a riot from his fellow refugees who might find it overkill. Neighbors might disagree with the harshness of lethal force. Having a less-lethal option to discourage and deter bad guys is prudent.
Less-lethal impact munitions
Impact munitions (less-lethal ones) can be thought of remotely delivering a staggering blow to a person using a firearm or launcher. These projectiles are intended to cause pain through blunt force trauma to elicit compliance. Injuries typically include bruises, welts, and lacerations. Of these, the most common injuries are bruising and abrasions, though they may be severe, followed by lacerations. Penetration is uncommon.
Less-lethal is the preferred term (over “non-lethal” and “less-than-lethal”) because these weapons can cause death in extreme cases. Some rounds may penetrate the skin, hit vital areas, and can cause serious injuries. They can penetrate clothing and damage commonly carried objects. Headshots that don’t penetrate can still cause concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
One legal note; usage of less-lethal impact munitions in ordinary times is not recommended for civilian use. Using a firearm, even if it has an orange stock and is pumping out bean bags, is still a firearm. The projectile is less-lethal, not non-lethal, and firearms are still firearms capable of inflicting death and firing lethal ammunition.
Usage these days could be construed as assault with a deadly weapon to murder in the off-chance someone is killed. The items discussed here are generally only for post-SHTF employment. All the factors used when firing a lethal shot are involved when firing a less-lethal one, from trigger discipline to legal justification.
A variety of less-lethal impact munitions are available for use. This includes:
37/40mm impact rounds and projectiles are not illegal, however, manufacturers and retailers typically only sell such products to law enforcement. Empty shells are often sold freely to civilian launcher owners to build or reload their own cartridges. Attempting to create one’s own less-lethal projectile for these (or any) weapons should be left to owners who are experienced reloaders in dire end-of-the-world emergencies only.
37/40mm launchers should only be used in defensive roles by trained and experienced owners. Training rounds (chalk rounds) should not be employed against persons. True NFA regulated 40mm grenade launcher owners may be able to more easily purchase controlled specialty ammo. Such owners should take additional training or seek a qualified law enforcement/military user to employ these rounds in a tactical situation.
I do not recommend 37/40mm launchers to average citizens without extensive firearms knowledge and experience. Common 37mm launcher rounds that would be useful and easily available are distraction pyrotechnic rounds that can deliver flashbang effects into a crowd from a safe standoff distance.
Usage of surplus plastic bullet ammunition is not recommended. “Rubber bullets” have a negative connotation and these cartridges are intended for usage in training, not as anti-personnel weapons. The velocity of these bullets can cause serious injury or death. Usage of a regular, unmodified firearm firing at people, even with plastic bullets, may cause confusion as to what is going on, potentially creating a more dangerous situation than before.
12 gauge less-lethal shotguns and shells
For the average citizen defender, 12 gauge shotguns and less-lethal shells will be the most common impact munitions available. Construction is usually of a durable, yet sturdy material such as rubber, plastics (Zytel or Nylon), or Kevlar and lead bean bags.
There is a wide variety of shells available, including non-impact distraction type shells, as well as the legion of individual shotgun models than can be adapted for a less-lethal mission. Shotguns are near the top end of the less-lethal distance spectrum (versus Tasers and OC/pepper spray) with a maximum range of about 40 yards, depending on ammunition type.
Weapons specially designated for less-lethal employment should be equipped with bright orange furniture to provide a visual signal to both user and potential targets that the weapon is not being employed as a lethal weapon. Note that less-lethal shotguns have no permanent modifications to prevent loading of lethal ammo, so color and ammo segregation is important.
LAPD uses unique green (almost teal) stocks for its less-lethal shotguns, however, orange shotgun furniture is more common. Orange is also universally recognized as a warning color and more easily understood as a less-lethal platform than other colors. Green in particular can be confused for “zombie green” that was a fad in years past, a custom paintjob, or even a toy gun. Note the barrels remain unpainted in black as they are still potentially lethal and legally firearms.
Note that most less-lethal 12 gauge rounds do not create enough velocity to reliability cycle semi-automatic shotguns. Less-lethal shells should not be used in semi-autos and preferably only in pump action shotguns.
I am familiar with 14” smoothbore barrel Remington 870s equipped with a sidesaddle. The length was adequate from what I could tell and handy in tight quarters. Ultimately, I think the decision to go with this length had more to do with the fact it fit easily in the Crown Victoria trunk rack more than anything else.
LAPD uses Remington 870s with rifled barrels (18 ½” long & 1-35” twist) firing CTS Model LAPD 2588, also known as the “Super-Sock” bean bag. This is a cloth tail stabilized bean bag round. These are firearms dedicated to a single ammunition type; do not attempt to use other ammunition types (shot or slugs) in rifled barrels unless the ammo manufacturer specifically approves rifled barrels. It is worth noting that bean bags can be used in smoothbore barrels or even with paradox rifling.
Longer barrels are most optimal for proper projectile and shell separation as well as accuracy. Effective deployment on-target may be dependent on velocity and rifling-imparted spin depending on the exact product used. Barrel length does seem to dramatically affect accuracy at ranges of 10-50 feet. Even 10” barrels will perform adequately at under 50 feet, but 18” have been shown to be the most accurate at all ranges and up to 80 feet. 14” may be an optimal compromise up to 50 feet, after which its performance falls off substantially.
18” seems to be fairly standard but short-barreled shotguns (SBS) are also common within law enforcement. The National Firearms Act (NFA) complicates citizen procurement of SBSs. Mossberg Shockwave type weapons (essentially a 14” shoulder stock-less shotgun) can be used and equipped with standard Mossberg accessories (legality may change depending on what you put on). As of this writing, Shockwave type weapons are not NFA regulated and legal in many states.
Ordinary shotguns can be repurposed to less-lethal duties. This would typically involve replacing the furniture with orange furniture or using labels, stenciling, and orange tape to indicate the weapon is to be employed as a less-lethal weapon. Smoothbore single and double barrel break-open shotguns can also be cheaply repurposed to less-lethal. If at all possible, lethal and non-lethal ammunition should not be mixed or used in the same weapon. Less-lethal shells should only be used in less-lethal only shotguns and vise versa.
Less-lethal shotgun ammunition comes in three main forms: rubber or plastic slugs, bean bags, or rubber/plastic shot (or pellets). Some variations exist, such as single or double balls or plastic “stars” that resemble a child’s squishy Koosh ball. Accuracy in decreasing order is rubber/plastic slugs > bean bags > rubber/plastic shot.
Some manufacturers make shells that are intended specifically for use against animals (bears) that are not suitable for use on humans. Civilian marketed ammo is typically intended for wildlife control and not for anti-personnel use. Ammunition for this purpose may have higher velocities to give extra engagement distance and provide more terminal force on thick hides. No one wants to get close to a bear. These differences in “formulation” may prove lethal or extra injurious to a human.
Note: if employing less-lethal ammunition in a shotgun, do not attempt to mix less-lethal and lethal rounds in the same weapon. Keep the two separate and not even on the same person. Shotgun proponents tout their versatility but mixing less-lethal shells with buckshot or slugs is a recipe for a tragic, fatal mistake.
Minimum recommended engagement range is 10 feet, though they can be fired at 5 feet to 45 yards (or more, if the particular shell has the range). Optimal ranges for a balance of safety and terminal effectiveness is 7-25 yards. There is no minimum distance, though very close distances may produce more serious injuries or risk a greater chance of death.
A majority of less-lethal engagements take place within at vary close range, often within 7 yards (during police engagements). Multiple rounds may need to be fired to be effective, as the projectiles may not impact properly or the target may be pain tolerant. Most engagements are resolved with less than three shots fired and a little less than half require just one shot.
Effectiveness of the munition will depend on more than just the type of projectile used. If the target is wearing thick clothing, padding, or body armor the impact will be absorbed by those items. Fit, muscular persons and fat, flabby people will react differently than an average person. Someone who is under the influence may not react as desired. On the other hand, the psychological effect of being “shot” may do wonders to someone who isn’t prepared for a less-lethal hit.
Bean bags are so named because they are a ballistic fiber pouch filled with pellets of (usually) lead. This is the most common 12 gauge less-lethal round used by American law enforcement. Bean bags generally won’t break vehicle windows that have been tinted or windshields, although they may break standard building glass without special laminating films.
Bean bags come in square “pads” or “sock” versions. Most projectiles now are in “sock” configuration and will appear as a round, bulbous tear-drop shape. They may or may not be drag stabilized with a tail of material behind them. Modern “sock” designs do not require a minimum distance to unfold or stabilize.
With traditional bean bags (square or rectangular “flat” profiles) or “pads,” these are coiled into cylinders to fit the shotgun shell. They then are supposed to expand to a bag shape in flight. Yaw in flight is responsible for their profile on impacting the target, meaning that they can fail to hit with the proper square profile for optimal affect. A narrower profile can also increase the chance of penetration, serious injury, and death.
Studies have shown that rifled barrels provided nearly 100% proper deployment of the bag. Smoothbore barrels only had about 20% effectiveness. The centrifugal force spin imparted by the rifling is responsible for the bag opening properly. Accuracy at 40 feet was approximately 7” inch groups. Another test found 3.8" drop and a spread of 5.5" inches.
Manufacturer instructions and warnings should be closely adhered to. Note that many manufacturers of civilian marketed less-lethal shells are often smaller shops that may not have the reliability of large ammo makers or law enforcement oriented manufacturers. Do not mix various types of less-lethal ammunition in a shotgun (or lethal shells either).
Slugs and single hard projectiles
Rubber or plastic slugs are typically in an exaggerated rocket ship shape with a fat front end and a molded tailfin section. Some of these projectiles can have a cavity containing a chemical irritant but civilian rounds most commonly are solid, intended for pain compliance. Cavity rounds are typically not sold to the general public.
Rubber or plastic rounds (slugs or shot) are often made from rubber, PVC, or other plastics. Hardness may vary. Low temperatures can cause the rubber or plastic material to harden. Fiocchi hourglass shaped rubber baton rounds have been reported to work well at below freezing temperatures without causing significant injuries to bears.
Rubber slugs tend to deliver the most terminal energy to targets due to their weight and construction. Such solid rubber or plastic rounds are typically designed not to deform on impact. These stand a greater chance of penetration than other projectile types but will give the most range. Large rubber balls, often singly or doubly loaded into shells, have a more aerodynamic shape than slugs and retain velocity better than other types of projectiles.
Star shaped rounds are low mass and impact at high velocity. Upon impact, the material compresses and transfer its energy into the target. One manufacturer advertises that it imparts its available energy across a larger surface area than other projectile types. They claim that the star causes less injury that other types.
Rubber shot can be employed as lead buckshot would be (preferably aimed away from the face and other vital areas) or fired at the pavement or another surface to skip the pellets into the target’s legs. Shot can be also used against groups as the individual projectiles will disperse in flight. Due to its dispersal characteristics, use against crowds or closely clustered individuals is an ideal usage.
When used against a human, the spread of the projectiles is used to provide more pain over a wider area than a bean bag or slug. However, the impact area size is dependent on the spread of the shot in flight, which is less at close distance and larger at long distance. And while the area that hurts may be larger in size, the overall pain and any associated “stunning” effect may be less due to lesser terminal velocity delivered as a function of the shot’s lower mass.
Anecdotal reports show that less-lethal shot exhibits extreme spread, perhaps up to several feet. At close range, the spread seems to be enough to cause many hits to a torso sized target. Rubber shot should be patterned on a paper target from the intended shotgun prior to contingency usage.
Rock salt and bird shot
Rock salt has a very low mass, so the muzzle velocity will be high, but it will also loose velocity quickly and have little to impart to the target. Videos of firing shows that it often creates a large white cloud. Effective range is believed to be 20-50 feet. Firing at closer ranges may cause serious injury.
Rock salt at close distance will typically penetrate ordinary clothing. Penetration into flesh is likely to occur. Tests have found ¼ inch penetration into ballistic gel of large crystals after going through clothing and up to 1 and ½ inches in bare gelatin. Anecdotal reports indicate that skin typically stops any deep penetration of crystals into subcutaneous tissue.
Close employment (room distance) will cause more serious injuries. Rock salt also comes with more risk that chunks will hit the eyes or other sensitive body part, causing serious injury.
Birdshot should never be used as less-lethal ammunition because it can be quite lethal at near ranges. Should it be employed without an intent to kill, it must only be done as a last resort when there is no rule of law and circumstances dictate that if death were to occur, it would be morally and tactically justifiable. Employment of birdshot in such a role will not be discussed here.
 I personally saw a man, high on meth, shot with a bean bag round die from excited delirium. He was already in an excited state as he refused commands while attempting to hack through a windshield with a metal traffic barricade. This kind of death is not uncommon among drug addicts and is not limited to any one particular less-lethal weapon.
 Charlie Mesloh et al., "Modular 12 Gauge Shotgun Beanbag Accuracy Study," Journal of Testing and Evaluation, Vol. 36, No. 5, 2008.
 Chris Sciba, San Jose Police Department, "Projectile Impact Weapons," (undated).
 LAPD study data from: Doreen Hudson, "A Flexible and Effective Beanbag Platform," LAPD, undated PowerPoint presentation, https://aele.org/lapd-beanbag.pdf.
 Ibid. Mesloh.
 Polar Bear Deterrent - Training Manual, Instructor Guidelines, Module 4, US Fish and Wildlife Service, undated.
 Lightfield Ammunition product advertisements.
 “Seasonings Greeting: Testing Rock Salt Shotgun Shells”, https://www.ammoman.com/blog/rock-salt-shotgun-shells/
Suburban Defense: A cop’s guide to protecting your home and neighborhood during riots, civil war, or SHTF
“Get out of the cities;” you hear the mantra commonly in the prepper community, but what can those who are unable to leave do to help survive urban turmoil? Many prepper and survivalist experts give up suburbia as lost, focusing on rural communities where the idea of “dense” housing is two-acre lots. Not all of us can take the best solution of relocating to a politically friendly rural area and live on a self-sufficient property away from the trouble. Even rural residents might find themselves facing a problem they didn’t anticipate.
2020 was the year that rioters entered neighborhoods. We were fortunate that they were there mainly to annoy people but in SHTF these groups will likely be there to plunder…or worse. For the first time, many of us had to consider “How does a suburbanite with a little bit of tactical interest or experience organize a defense?” A lot of the advice out there seems to over-estimate the reader’s ability and use a one-size fits all strategy of “shoot everyone;” not the kind of thing everyone will find helpful.
You can survive a grid-up situation by relying on yourself and your neighbors in the absence of law and order. Suburban Defense: A cop’s guide to protecting your home and neighborhood during riots, civil war, or SHTF by Don Shift is your guide. Large, hostile groups—from rioters to raiders—don’t need to be a death sentence. This guide is aimed towards those of us trapped in suburbia and provides many less-lethal methods of defense.
This is not a general survival manual. It is not a tactical shooting, room clearing, SWAT team and military tactics for the civilian book. It doesn’t try and teach your how to be a guerilla, sell you on the need for “prepping,” or setting up your bugout bag. No, it gets right into the nitty-gritty of what you need to do, and can do, to keep your slice of civilization safe with the means and tools at your disposal.
And just what does the “nitty-gritty” consist of?
This book puts a lot of military or law enforcement tactics and techniques within reach of the people who haven’t been in uniform. Persons with average tactical awareness can easily adapt and employ the advice in this book. Even those who don’t expect to actively engage in a fight can learn how to better prepare their home and organize the neighbors who can be defenders.
Suburban Defense is for:
Suburban Defense: A cop’s guide to protecting your home and neighborhood during riots, civil war, or SHTF is available on Amazon.
Note: this an adaptation of an except from my non-fiction book Suburban Defense: A cop’s guide to protecting your home and neighborhood during riots, civil war, or SHTF.
A lot of us have given thought to independent operations, small-unit tactics, and guerilla warfare. One area I seem to notice that has been left out of discussion is riot/crowd control. 2020 was the year of the mass riot that made its way into residential neighborhoods. We saw ad hoc groups spring up in defense, but just standing around openly carrying isn’t always going to turn the tide. Bad guys will call your bluff and suburbanites to rural defenders need to consider proper riot/crowd control techniques and equipment.
Goals of your anti-riot/anti-mob efforts
Your goals in any effort to keep riots or mobs from causing havoc in your neighborhood or on your street should be:
Crowd control measures
Crowd control (versus riot suppression) is limiting the growth of the crowd, controlling its geographical spread, and dissolving it. These three means are isolation, show of force, and dispersal. Arrests are not included as you will not be making them since you have no where to “drag” arrestees to (see dispersal). Dealing with the crowd (making the bad people go away) comes before using force (riot suppression) on violent/destructive mobs.
Isolating a crowd will be difficult for a small team to do. The goal is to prevent new additions from joining the group to stop or slow its growth. This can be done by creating physical barriers or having a second team isolate newcomers from the main body. This can be risky for the defenders as rioters may react when boxed into a corner. If possible, leave a route for them to escape from where it is unlikely reinforcements would enter from.
Show of force
A show of force is essentially a warning and a threat that destruction and violence will be met with force (not necessarily kinetic). Crowds may be deterred from their propensity to become rowdy if they are faced with a large number of opponents who may use force. We have seen plenty of instances (discussed elsewhere) where open carry groups have caused rioters, protesters, and looters to pass by simply by standing ready.
Place armed people at your perimeter; this is to intimidate the crowd and ideally deter them from choosing your neighborhood. Hopefully their “protest” continues by or they stand a good way off jeering at you until they are tired or bored.
However, one should never assume a show of force alone will be effective. Individual antagonists and the group itself may be willing to escalate. They may have their own ability to react violently to a use of force, which we have seen to some extent already (particularly in the Portland area). You must be prepared to back up your exhibition with actual and sufficient force to halt any resistance.
In the civilian’s case, a small number of armed defenders and limited barricades may be enough to persuade a gun-shy mob to pass by. They may not be seeking any real trouble. Others may seek undefended targets. Whatever the case, be prepared to react and do not bluff. Much of a show of force for civilians is a gamble. The fallback is not arrests and dispersal like police, it is using force or taking shelter until the attack passes. Nonetheless, in many cases involving less-aggressive groups, a show of force may be entirely effective.
Dispersal (without force) is not the best tool in the toolbox of the civilian defender. Rioters are removed from the scene by police through two methods: drive and drag. Dragging them away means that they are arrested, handed over to the booking team, and transported to jail, thus removing them from the area.
Driving them away involves the suggestion or the actual use of force to get people to leave. This can be physically encroaching on the crowd so they feel uncomfortable and move away, hopefully dispersing entirely. Or it can be by application of force to dispel a crowd to make them run away out of fear of being subjected to the pain of riot control weapons.
Civilians will rarely have the numbers to effectively move rioters away. Leaving one’s defensive perimeter and pushing a crowd away is dangerous. Should you need to use a human formation to push rioters away, attempt to do so by moving your defenses outward. A heavy barricade can be lifted and pushed outward into the crowd, forcing them back, while the defenders stay behind the moving barricade.
Alternatively, vehicles can approach in a line abreast and drive at the crowd, but armed defenders have to be able to stop anyone attacking the cars or trying to sneak through. This is far more dangerous to the driver, the crowd, and for liability reasons (a vehicle vs. pedestrian collision).
Dispersal orders and warnings should be given. Make multiple warnings from as close to the crowd as possible and in multiple locations if necessary. Use a megaphone to ensure everyone hears the order in a noisy environment. Do not bluff. There is no need to read “the riot act” or say something specific, but I would make it clear that this order is to be obeyed immediately and force will be used to disperse the crowd if it is ignored.
Keep your distance from mobs. Never wade into the crowd or let them mingle among you if you can at all help it. Physical barriers help maintain this distance. Don’t let rioters get behind you or your group or between members of your group. We’ve seen too many images of someone trying to plead or negotiate with rioters only to be bushwhacked from behind and killed.
Should a member of your defensive team or a non-defender neighbor be surrounded or attacked by the mob, an immediate rescue has to be mounted to limit the chance the mob has to inflict injury on that person. Depending on the precariousness of the situation, this could be serious injury, death, kidnapping, or rape.
Avoid engaging in verbal altercations. Yelling insults or waving political flags or signs won’t help. Be quiet, be impassive. The only communication with the crowd should be stern, but polite, commands necessary to keep the peace. Remove any loudmouths on your side from contact with the crowd.
Don’t bang on things like cops do with their batons against shields. Ancient people (and remote tribes today) used the rhythm of drums to stir up morale before a battle. It will probably be incendiary rather than intimidating.
Non-kinetic riot control
Many of the characteristics of a riot can be exploited to break them up before they get out of hand by disrupting the growth process. Unfortunately, politics is such now that protests that start as loud and only blocking traffic serve as a catalyst for worse because police can’t intervene (legally or politically) at that point. This is why early intervention is your best policy. If you can break it up early, you will disrupt the catalyst for the protest to turn into a riot.
Suburban defense continuum
For the private citizen, in a non-life threatening situation reasonable self-defense force is that which ends the criminal action. Using the standard of reasonableness, this would mean the least amount of force necessary to get the person to stop is used. Therefore, if you are physically able to grab and escort a vandal off your property, that would be far more reasonable than pepper spraying them in the face. Of course, legal standards and laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
I am making suggestions that would be appropriate for a civilian engaging in suburban defense during a time when police will not or cannot control the situation. Note that “aimed weapon” means not just a gun with sights, but any weapon or device, lethal or not, that is targeted against a specific individual.” “Area weapon” is also not a gun (although it could be) but is something that affects a specific area and multiple individuals in that area, such as tear gas would be.
These aren’t force at all, but things that might keep an interaction from occurring. Such things would be fencing, barricades, and security cameras. The defender doesn’t have to interact with the aggressor at all.
Deterrence and warnings
Threat: none specific, but the possibility trouble could develop.
This includes non-kinetic forms of crowd and riot control, like setting up barricades, openly carrying weapons, making your presence known to the crowd, and issuing warnings. Your goal with this method is to make anyone who does not want trouble to pass by and those who do want trouble to think twice and remain peaceful.
Shows of force will probably be the best tactic in times of a functioning legal system as it is hard to screw up and do something illegal just standing there. A lot of potential troublemakers expecting no resistance will be headed off if they know they will face resistance.
Defensive physical force
Threat: small-scale criminal acts occurring or the threat of escalation to greater crimes.
Physical contact with a mob should be avoided unless no other option exists. Using physical defensive force would be with your body to stop a crowd from crossing your defensive line, entering your yard, etc. In extreme situations physically dispersing the crowd may be called for. Non-contact forms of less-lethal force to stop criminal acts or interrupt things before they get worse could be used like megaphone sirens, bright lights, laser intimidation (not blinding), or stink bombs.
Threat: someone will sustain less-serious injuries or major property damage.
Anything that could potentially cause injury, but not death, should be placed in this category. This would include airsoft “sting” grenades, paintballs, flashbangs, pyrotechnics, Tasers, fire hoses, etc. In non-WROL situations, this would be to immediately overcome physical force to prevent injury or damage to property in-line with your state’s self-defense laws.
In a WROL situation, less-lethal force could be used to disperse a crowd before it reaches critical mass or to break up an attack.
Threat: someone will be killed or seriously wounded if you do not neutralize the aggressor immediately.
Use of firearms will be the most likely threat and the reciprocal use of force in this category. Remember, lethal force is typically permitted in most places to stop an imminent fatal or serious injury, something horrific like rape or kidnapping, or forced entry to a home. This may apply from a lone shooter in a mob to an armed bandit attack on the neighborhood.
Lethal and non-lethal force
When do you use force on members of a mob (lethal or non-lethal)?
Before using force, consider the following:
Self-defense and justifiable homicide laws should be obeyed as much as possible.
Buy the book: Suburban Defense
Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Suburban Defense: A cop’s guide to protecting your home and neighborhood during riots, civil war, or SHTF.
A lot of us have given thought to independent operations, small-unit tactics, and guerilla warfare. One area I seem to notice that has been left out of discussion is riot/crowd control. 2020 was the year of the mass riot that made its way into residential neighborhoods. Sure, guns are cool and all but tactics consisting a two-position switch of “open carry” and “kill everybody” will not work for every situation.
You may need to face off with a riot or mob in a situation where lethal for is not permissible or advisable. Here are some considerations regarding riot/crowd control, some devices commercially available to the general public, and how they might be employed.
Goals of your anti-riot/anti-mob efforts
Your goals in any effort to keep riots or mobs from causing havoc in your neighborhood or on your street should be:
Before using force, consider the following:
Employment of riot control devices
Here we’re discussing civilian legal (and easy to purchase for non-law enforcement people) grenades, mainly from the airsoft world. Odds are you won’t have fragmentation grenades (I pray we never get that far) or military/SWAT grade flashbangs.
Smoke grenades are available to civilians, but sourcing can be difficult. Military issue or civilian versions of military smoke grenades are hard to come by, but not impossible. The easiest sources are airsoft supply stores. Models that have about the same burn time and create a large smoke cloud, like military models, exist. For concealment usage, several grenades might need to be deployed due to small dispersal patterns or wind.
You aren’t going to get tear gas. Smoke grenades will work better if the crowd is stupid, panicky, and it helps if you yell “gas, gas, gas” before lobbing a white smoke (while you wear gas masks for psychological effect) and deploy pepper spray to dupe the unwary.
Flashbangs and pyrotechnics
Also from the airsoft world are flashbangs. Flashbangs, also known as stun grenades or distraction devices, basically make a deafening boom and a bright flash of light to disorient and distract bad guys. Military/law enforcement models will not be sold to you, even if they are legal to possess.
Airsoft versions come in two models; CO2 and pyrotechnic. The CO2 models are basically a small BB gun CO2 cylinder in a grenade body. The gas expands a plastic “balloon” that pops very loudly. The pyrotechnic versions are basically firecrackers in a grenade shaped cardboard carton. These are louder and do produce something of a flash (nowhere near the brightness of a real one) and also blow apart the carboard container. I would highly recommend this latter version.
Yes, you can use firecrackers and other fireworks based items, including smoke. I would advise against those as they need to be lit with a match or lighter versus most of the airsoft models that work like a regular grenade. Just pull the pin and toss.
37mm flare launchers and specialty 12 gauge ammo
37mm flare launchers resemble the slightly larger 40mm M203 grenade launcher (which is why California and other states ban them; they look scary). These launchers are not capable of firing grenades. Instead, they fire large marine flares or other ammunition.
One common type of cartridge is a pyrotechnic round under various names that is essentially a firework; a loud bang and lots of “stars.” A variation is a flashbang type that bangs and flashes, but without the star effect. Some just make noise. Smoke rockets are also available, allowing you to deploy smoke out to 50 yards, further than you can throw. Tear gas and baton rounds are not commonly available to the public (law enforcement only).
Pepper spray, also called oleoresin capsicum (OC in police parlance), is everyone’s favorite spicy spray. It burns when on your skin or in your eyes as if you splashed yourself with hot sauce or rubbed a very hot pepper on your face. When inhaled, it causes a burning sensation in the lungs, coughing, copious snot, and occasionally respiratory distress. Older chemical formulations that act in a similar fashion are “Mace” and CN sprays.
Your typical discount store “impulse shelf” purchase of a pocket or purse sized canister is worthless. Get a Mark III 1.5oz canister belt-sized can. Larger models exist up to the Mark IX “riot size” ones that come with a pistol grip, which you will recall from “bear Mace” products.
Always buy OC that is formulated for humans, not bears. The 10% law enforcement formulas are MUCH more effective than the normal 2% civilian sprays. I would carry a Mark III or Mark IV canister on my body for limited use. For riot control, I would have several Mark IX canisters ready to douse the crowd.
Pepper spray grenades are basically aerosol cans like the handheld stuff, but with a valve that continuously sprays until the pressure supply is exhausted. These are unidirectional cone sprays. Once you press that button, it starts spraying until empty, usually for about 10-15 seconds. Though pepper spray grenades are often sold only to law enforcement, some suppliers are willing to sell them to the general public.
Paintball, airsoft, and airguns
Paintball guns can be a good crowd control weapon. The balls not only hurt to get struck with, but I have been unable to find any instance of anyone dying or having lasting damage done. The worst I can imagine is hitting an eye directly and causing major trauma to it. Paint can be used to “mark” certain individuals. Frozen paintballs have been known to cause a lot more pain. Even pepper [spray] ball products are sold, though bulk pepper balls may only be sold to law enforcement.
Firing paintballs into a crowd could be a good way to cause pain to a crowd and startle them enough to leave the area without causing serious injury. Hoppers of paintball guns can hold hundreds of balls. Specific individuals can be targeted and repeatedly shot until they leave or stop doing whatever bad thing they are doing. Fire could be kept up for a long time with trigger discipline.
Lights and lasers
Bright lights work as non-lethal weapons by disorienting someone through temporarily blinding them and producing that deep sense of discomfort one gets when staring at the sun. Lights also have the advantage of aiding identification and denying the cover of darkness.
When I say blinding lights, I mean super bright spotlights at close range, like millions of candlepower. The handheld spotlights that can produce truly blinding levels of light usually have to be connected to power, like a 12 volt socket. Of course, as a counter measure all someone has to do is close their eyes and turn their head, but the light can disorient someone.
Strobe flashlights can also be used to disorient people. You need to be close and it needs to be very dark for these things to have maximum effect.
Lasers are another good tool. The little red dot of a weapon laser can be a persuasive tool when you can shoot but don’t want to. To someone who sees the laser and doesn’t have a death wish, it is a picture in a thousand words moment warning them “back off or die.”
Shields and protective equipment
Wear a helmet of some sort to protect from thrown objects. A hard hat or bike helmet will do, but if it doesn’t have a chinstrap, it can be knocked off. Don’t forget ballistic rated eye protection. Consider that your enemy may be well-prepared with helmets, goggles, masks, face and handheld shields.
Shields can be used to protect from blows or flying objects when rescuing someone from the mob or when defensive activities require you to be in within range of thrown objects. You will not be using them to shove rioters except in an emergency, such as a rescue. The shields should be used by dedicated bearers to shelter a downed person or provide cover for weapon bearers against crowd-thrown objects. Not every man is going to, or should, have one. In the event you really need a shield, you should be taking shelter inside or returning fire (lethally or otherwise).
Makeshift riot shields can be made of plywood or OSB with the corners rounded down and a bin pull or other handle added. Sections of 55 gallon plastic barrels are also popular choices. Plexiglass is also sold by the sheet which can be made into a homemade shield. Proper use of shields should be learned and practiced; tutorials are available online.
Batons and melee weapons?
Going hand-to-hand with anyone should be a last resort. Batons can be easily snatched away and used on you. Using clubs or other melee weapons are suited for physically fit, trained fighters. Hand-to-hand combat is essentially individual combat, but in numbers, and your side will probably be outnumbered. Also using melee type weapons will likely cause serious or fatal injuries.
 See SINCC under the section regarding flashlights, described in the “Firearms.”
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.