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Know the Law: Non-Lethal Self-Defense | Virginia


I’m Gilbert Ambler, Independent Program Attorney for U.S. LawShield in Virginia. Today we’re going to discuss three non-lethal weapons that are legal options for self-defense in Virginia. While many of us train and practice using firearms for self-defense, it is important to consider carrying some non-lethal defense weapons.

Non-Lethal weapon #1: Pepper Spray

One option, recommended by many instructors, is to add some sort of pepper spray or OC spray to an everyday carry kit. In general, pepper spray and other similar products, when used reasonably, are not considered deadly force. This is an important consideration because there may be times when you begin to feel threatened, but deadly force is not justified under the circumstances.

Any analysis of self-defense in Virginia is going to focus on the word “reasonable.” Virginia allows you to use reasonable force to defend yourself against unlawful force.

Notice that here we are not talking about deadly force, but some lesser degree of unlawful force. For example, think of someone unprovoked, readying themselves to punch you. In this scenario, deadly force may not be reasonable depending on the facts, but using non-deadly force to repel the attack may be appropriate.

Law on Chemical Sprays and Weapons

Virginia Code 18.2-312 addresses the use of pepper spray. This statute makes it a crime to release mixtures of chemicals designed to and capable of producing vile, injurious, or nauseating odors or gases. However, the statute goes on to specifically note that it shall not prevent the use of tear gas or other gases in self-defense.

The lesson here is that you should be okay when using pepper spray in Virginia as long as you do so reasonably. A final note about pepper spray—be careful to check policies when carrying pepper spray. Many places that prohibit the carrying of a firearm will also prohibit the carrying of pepper spray.

Non-lethal weapon #2: Tasers or stun guns

Another great option for self-defense that generally amounts to less than deadly force is carrying a taser or stun gun. Tasers and stun guns work by producing a high voltage shock to temporarily incapacitate an attacker. They are generally legal to carry in Virginia, unless you are a felon who is carrying outside of your home.

Once again, the use of a taser or stun gun must be reasonable to repel the immediate unlawful application of force to you or a third person. We focus on the word reasonable again, because a taser may be a reasonable use of force to stop a fistfight. Conversely, someone patting you on the back, absent your consent, may still be unlawful force. Even if that were to be considered unlawful force, it would be difficult to convince a jury that tasing somebody was a reasonable response.

Non-lethal weapon #3: Batons

A final option for non-lethal self-defense that we hear questions about is a baton. A baton is somewhat of a hybrid category because depending on how it is used, it can easily be considered a deadly weapon. We are cautious about recommending the use of batons in Virginia.

Spring sticks, which expand by action of a spring when a button is pushed, are illegal to carry concealed in Virginia. Because the code governing spring sticks also covers weapons of like kind, we would advise against carrying a concealed baton absent a change in statute or clear case law indicating otherwise.

Creating Distance

All of these weapons give you space from an attacker. Generally, when you deploy something like pepper spray, you then run away to distance yourself from the attacker. Using these weapons may result in you fleeing from, what may potentially be a crime scene. It is for this reason that we encourage you as a LawShield member to promptly get in touch with your Independent Program Attorney if you are ever in a situation that necessitates using a weapon of these types of self-defense.

For any further questions regarding the use of non-lethal weapons in the state of Virginia, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

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