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.
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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.
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.