Expandable batons are a popular self defense tool among security guards and self defense gurus. But are self defense batons a miracle tool for non-lethal defense or they an overhyped billy-club that gets trumped by a gun but overkill for non-lethal scenarios?
Are expandable batons still used for self defense in civilian settings?
Last year I had the enlightening experience of working for a private security company.
No, it was not the kind of security company that hires ex-special forces badasses to go where the military cannot.
This was the kind of company where you get posted up with a flashlight at a seedy apartment complex to keep homeless folks from digging through the dumpster.
The thing was, some of the places were actually dangerous. As in, many officers’ from this company had been assaulted, and two of them shot, in the past two years at a few of the various properties.
As part of preparing us for the job, the company “issued” (as in, forced me to buy) an expandable baton for self defense with the instructions to “retreat at all costs.”
“Just remember… it’s considered lethal force with the baton if you hit him above the neck or in the knee, so be aware of whether or not your life is actually in danger,” noted the portly supervisor as he spat chew into an empty Kirkland bottle while giving the company orientation.
“And by the way… [company name redacted] assumes no liability for any injury that occurs during an excess use of force, to you or the suspect,” he added at the end.
There was no hands on training on how to use the baton, much less how to time a ‘non-lethal’ versus ‘lethal’ strike on a charging attacker.
Oh, and good luck getting it to open.
Side note: they called the supervisor ‘captain’.
Are Expandable Batons Really Useless for Self Defense?
Of course, the problem isn’t lack of training or familiarity the weapon.
The problem is the very idea that the baton serves a purpose in any modern civilian self defense scenario.
Let me explain.
The baton is often billed as a good “less-than-lethal” self defense option versus a gun or knife.
Just take a look at the product description for self defense batons on a prominent online self defense gear site.
This ad would have you believe that self defense batons are a non-lethal alternative to firearms and great for home defense. It also claims that batons are “great for all ages!…”
Baked in to this entire narrative is that it would be wise for someone genuinely concerned about home defense to have an expandable baton as their go-to weapon.
Furthermore, I dare you to find a qualified self-defense expert who would tell you to use ‘less-than-lethal’ force on a perpetrator who has already entered your home!
Also not encouraging – the first description found for the product is “intimidating.”
Is ‘less than lethal’ baton use even possible?
The first big issue with any notion of ‘less than lethal’ use of a baton is that the very idea is based in fantasy.
You honestly think that in a heated situation, someone with minimal to no practical training is going to be able to swing a baton and target the thigh versus the knee cap, or the side of the upper arm versus the neck or head?
First of all, I don’t believe that a ‘non-lethal’ blow to the thigh or even gut with a baton is going to reliably do anything against a determined attacker in the situations where people imagine themselves using an expandable baton for self-defense.
Furthermore, the difference between a killing blow or an annoying bruise is a matter of strike placement when a baton is swung with any force.
If you swing a baton at someone you don’t intend to kill, it’s a sheer roll of the dice whether they are killed, maimed permanently, or now just way more pissed off at you.
In the worst-case scenario, you’re dead and your would be attacker gets off because *you* pulled out a freaking baton and cracked him with it, which can qualify as deadly force under the law (*ahem* sorry ‘Captain’).
The best case scenario would be that you use your baton to bludgeon your attacker’s face into a pulp.
That’s how blunt force weapons are meant to be used.
I’ve never seen or done it in real life, but from what I hear it isn’t pretty.
This brings me to my second point.
In a true self-defense scenario, do you really want a weapon that is ‘less-than-lethal?’
If you accept that self defense is about kill-or-be-killed and you live in an area where it is legal to carry concealed weapons, you can do a LOT better than an expandable baton for self defense.
Sure, an expandable self-defense baton can kill. It’s certainly more dangerous than pepper spray or a rape whistle.
But is it the most reliable or effective option for real-world self defense?
If I told you that someone might want to hurt you and you could pick between an expandable baton and a loaded 9mm handgun, which would you choose?
If you’re serious about defending yourself then chances are you want to go with the best option available, which in America is generally a firearm.
Where I live in the wild west state of Arizona, you can openly and conceal carry in the majority of areas. A reasonably easily obtainable CCW permit allows you the further privilege to carry in certain establishments that would otherwise not allow firearms (bear in mind, any business can refuse to allow firearms on the premises which override any permit or right).
Along that same vein, I can’t fathom too many situations as a civilian where you can legally whack someone with a baton but couldn’t make a case for using a firearm.
Although batons do allow a lower threshold of force to be used compared to a handgun, without an understanding of grappling and position control, it’s going to be hard to do anything other than beat that snot out of a guy if all you have is a baton.
None of this is to say that batons are NEVER useful under any circumstances. An expandable baton definitely gives you a leg up on a similarly trained but lesser armed opponent in a deadly force scenario.
Additionally, there is plenty of great footage of well trained riot police squads dispersing masses of people through coordinated baton work, as well as guards controlling unruly prisoners with plastic shields and riot sticks.
The problem with an expandable baton for personal self defense is that it’s just not the best available tool for the main thing it’s actually designed for – hurting people bad enough that they stop trying to hurt you.
So what should I carry?
There is no perfect self-defense tool, system, or martial art that will answer every conceivable use-of-force scenario. The most important thing is to train something effective.
My primary recommendation if you’ve never trained anything is of course going to be Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And luckily, there are some strains of BJJ that specialize in self-defense. Our partner, Henry Akins, offers an amazing module style course on his Rickson Gracie style “Hidden Jiu-Jitsu” system.
As I discussed in my article on MMA grappling, the fundamentals of BJJ are basis for escaping some of the worst places you can end up in a physical confrontation.
If you are already training BJJ, consider learning some boxing.
Nevertheless you want to be prepared for the more serious end of self defense and live in an area where guns are available, find some courses on basic firearm use and get familiar with the workings of handguns, revolvers, and shotguns.
All that being said, I know this stuff doesn’t mean anything coming from a guy who’s not in the business of violence, so here’s a REAL ex-cop giving the lowdown on expandable batons: