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Legality and Lethality

Weapon Types and Laws

Male lawyer or judge working with contract papers
An article in the series Weapons Training, Qualification, and Certification based on the Sheepdog Church Security training course Basic Use of Force Laws v4.[1]

From the Bible

The Bible names several weapons: spears, javelins, darts, bows and arrows, slings, clubs (rods), swords, daggers, and an oxgoad. It alludes to others, such as battle-axes and perhaps pikes. These include both melee and ranged weapons. The Bible also names persons who are especially skilled in certain weapons.

Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!” (Psalm 35:3)

And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword (Exodus 17:13).

After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel (Judges 3:31).

So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out (Nehemiah 4:21).

They were bowmen and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand; they were Benjaminites, Saul's kinsmen (1 Chronicles 12:2).

And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly (Judges 3:21 KJV).

Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail, nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin (Job 41:26)

A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club ... (Proverbs 25:18).

And Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging (2 Chronicles 26:14).

The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod (Isaiah 30:31).


Weapons vary in the damage done to target persons. They also vary in the ways they work and how they are used. In church safety and security, weapons are considered control devices, because the overall motivation is not injury, but maintaining control and preventing or stopping violence. One thing almost all of these devices have in common is laws regulating their use. Another is that many require training, qualification, and certification.

In the News

The incidents here were not church-related, but they illustrate the liability of misusing "less-than-lethal" weapons which may be carried by safety & security volunteers in some churches.

Louisville, Kentucky, May 31, 2020 - A Louisville police officer allegedly hit a kneeling protestor in the head with a baton. The protestor had her hands in the air. A little over a year later, the officer was indicted by a federal grand jury of "deprivation of rights under color of law."[2]

Birmingham, Alabama, 2006-2011 - School Resource Officers in Birmingham public schools had been using pepper spray (which included some tear gas) for discipline of minor infractions. A civil rights lawsuit was brought on behalf of the students. In 2015, a federal judge ruled that the SROs had violated the civil rights of the students. The key argument was that the spray was not used for self-defense, but as punishment.[3]

St. Louis County, Missouri, 2018-2019 - Pepper spray has been carried by students and security guards for self-defense in some St. Louis County school districts. Some also carried stored-charge devices (stun guns and Tasers). One incident resulted in hospitalization for some students. This was in spite of a St. Louis County ordinance allowing only law enforcement officers to carry defensive devices of any kind (even non-lethal ones) in schools.[4][5]

A well-known British entertainer was found guilty of carrying an offensive weapon. Police found a kubotan keyring on him when he was detained for DUI. Vague laws were left open to interpretation.[6]

Wilson, Oklahoma, July 4, 2019 - Two police officers allegedly Tased a man more than fifty times. This resulted in the man's death. A year later, the officers were charged with second-degree murder due to their reckless misuse of a "non-lethal" weapon.[7]

Phoenix, Arizona, April 1, 2018 - A woman allegedly contact-used a Taser to awaken her teen son in time to go to church for Easter. The device left a pair of marks on his leg. She spent Easter in jail and was charged with child abuse. This was not defense of any kind.[8]

Special Resource

The news stories above show the need for Church Safety Team members to be trained in the proper and safe use of all protective devices they might carry and the laws governing them. Our special free download for this month is the Use of Force Training Record. Following a one-page coverage of Use-of-Force training is a training record for Firearm Qualification, Tactical Shoot, Drills and Exercise, Unarmed Control, Use of Force Laws, and Verbal De-escalation.[9] Click *HERE* to get it, as well as our monthly newsletter, The Church Guardian, and the weekly email update.

The featured Sheepdog Church Security training course for this month is Basic Use of Force Laws v4.[1] Also featured is the Certified Onsite Instructors program.[10]

Lethality of Weapons

Weapons are usually classified as lethal or non-lethal, but this classification is not as simple as it sounds. Some are more lethal (or likely to be lethal) than others. For now we'll consider weapons that a Church Safety Team member might carry.

Lethal Weapons

We generally consider firearms as the most lethal. They are ranged weapons with a long effective distance and can kill with one shot. Small or medium caliber handguns (.22/7mm to .38/9mm) are the firearms most used by church security volunteers. They are lighter and smaller than heavy caliber guns and can be more easily concealed (providing the carrier has a permit). Since they are ranged weapons, they are effective at distances up to a hundred feet or more (depending on the gun, the ammunition, and the user's skill).

Next on the list are edged and piercing weapons, with longer blades or shafts being the deadliest. Unless thrown, these are melee weapons, used when within reach of the attacker. Knives are the edged weapons most likely to be carried by members of a Church Security Team. However, the kinds of knives carried are more likely used for utility than for defense - a pocket knife or multi-tool instead of a bowie knife or dagger. An example of this is the Schrade SCHA3BS in the Sheepdog Church Security store on Amazon. The blade is only 2.9" long, suitable for opening boxes and cutting rope or straps. The butt of the handle can be used as an emergency window breaker.[11]

Piercing weapons are not usual items for a Church Safety Team (imagine walking around the church with a javelin or a bow & quiver), but someone somewhere might carry an ice pick (your great-grandmother's defensive weapon).

Less Lethal Weapons

Also called "non-lethal" or "less-lethal" weapons, these are the popular alternatives to guns and knives for self-defense. The best-known at this time are defensive sprays and stored-charge devices. Also carried by some church safety volunteers are kubotans and expandable batons. Another less-than-lethal defensive device is the fire escape club (a window-breaker shaped like a small baseball bat), which we'll treat like a wood baton. Not yet available for Church Safety Teams is a new non-lethal restraining device, the Bola Wrap.

Defensive Sprays

Defensive sprays are irritants which cause tears, blurred vision, sneezing, etc. in the person sprayed. They usually contain one or both of two substances: CS (tear gas) and OC (oleoresin capsicum, also known as pepper oil). Tear gas, as the name implies, causes eyes to weep (think of cutting up a bushel of strong onions). It is commonly used as a riot-control agent. Pepper oil actually causes a burning sensation, not only in the eyes, but in the nasal passages and the throat, even on the skin. It's like rubbing your eyes after handling hot peppers.

Although most people consider pepper spray as safe, it can cause problems. For instance, in St. Louis County, the use (or misuse) of the spray resulted in the hospitalization of some students.[4,5] According to the Poison Control Center, it can cause corneal abrasions, and cause severe breathing problems for those who have asthma, COPD, emphysema, and other lung disorders.[12]

A relatively new defensive spray is Reflex Protect.[13] The spray head is designed to shoot out a narrow stream which can be specifically aimed at the subject without affecting nearby persons. It uses Presidia Gel, a new substance without pepper oil, which will cling to the person until removed. The effects are claimed to be not as severe as pepper spray. A decontaminant, Reflex Remove, is available which removes the Presidia Gel as well as any pepper spray which may have also been used.


Batons are the modern form of the biblical rod. They have been used by police for a long time as a pain control device. Originally made of wood, many are now metal rods or tubes. Extendable batons are telescoping metal tubes. Short enough to carry without getting in the way, they can be deployed to their maximum length by releasing a spring or by flipping them out.

Excessive force with a baton, especially when aimed at the head or throat, can cause serious injury, even death, which is why use of the baton on the head of a kneeling protester was considered criminal in Louisville.[2]

Stored-Charge Devices

Stun guns and Tasers are stored-charge devices. When contact is made with a person, an electric charge is released from the device's capacitors. A stun gun has to make direct contact to deliver the charge. A Taser fires two pointed electrodes trailing wires connected to the stored charge. The electric shock disturbs the person's nervous system, causing loss of balance and coordination, cramps and spasms, and pain.

We tend to think of stun guns and Tasers as safe, but there are safety limits to their use. When officers in Wilson, OK, Tased a suspect 50 times, it resulted in death.[7]


A kubotan is a weighted key ring pendant that is short enough to be enclosed by one's fist. Invented by Takayuki Kubota, a martial arts master and instructor (and named after him), it adds weight to the user's fist. It can also be used as a strike weapon. Originally a short rod, it is now made in several shapes, many pointed.

Generally safe (causing only pain and minor injury), serious injury - possibly death - can result from hitting an eye, the temple, or the throat with the tip of a kubotan, especially one which is pointed.

Bola Wrap

The bola was used by indigenous people of Argentina to hunt game and lasso livestock. It is a cord with a weight at each end and a hand-hold in the middle, which may be a tab or another cord with its own weight. Swung like a sling and thrown, the weights wrap the cord around the legs of the animal. It was also used to capture people.[14]

The recently-invented Bola Wrap is a gun that fires two tiny weights with a long line between them. It is now being used by several law enforcement agencies and won't be available for civilian use (such as in church safety & security) for some time. So far, it has captured several suspects without inflicting injuries. More use will show how safe it actually is.

Legality of Weapons

Most of the laws we have to consider concerning weapons we might use in a Church Safety Ministry are at the state and local levels. These laws address

  1. whether the weapon itself is legal within that jurisdiction,
  2. conditions for concealed and open carrying,
  3. where it may be carried, and
  4. penalties for unlawful use (such as in the commission of a crime).

We have come to expect these conditions to be applied to firearms, but in most states and localities they are applied to almost anything considered a weapon, even those that are less-than-lethal. These include all those which may be carried by members of Church Safety Teams: firearms, knives, defensive sprays, stored-charge devices, kubotans, and batons.

Laws change. For instance, a revision of Ohio's weapons regulations went into effect April 2021.[15] It pays to be up-to-date on weapons laws, both lethal and less lethal.


Almost all of the news we hear about weapons laws concerns firearms. This is natural since firearms are the most deadly in terms of how many people can be killed in one incident. The only rivals for this level of mass lethality are explosives, arson, and vehicles.

Courts have upheld the Second Amendment rights of citizens in general to own and carry firearms. However, laws may restrict exercise of this right by denying it to convicted felons and persons with certain kinds of mental illness. Domestic violence can also result in the loss of this right. These are the trigger conditions looked for in background checks for firearm purchases. Firearm use is an enhancement for felony charges, such as assault, robbery, and murder. In most states, knowingly selling a firearm to a felon is a crime.

In recent years most changes in firearm laws deal with concealed carrying of weapons (CCW) and where firearms may be carried and used. Some states ban open carry where it might cause panic. In many states, guns are not allowed in schools, healthcare facilities, courts, and government offices unless carried by on-duty law enforcement officers and (in some places) licensed security guards. Some jurisdictions allow CCW in places where open carry is not allowed, while some restrict CCW and allow open carry.

Many states require applicants for CCW permits or registration to take and pass a course on gun safety and regulations.

With this patchwork quilt of firearms regulations, it pays to check the laws in your own state and local jurisdiction before bringing a handgun to church. Also check with the governing board of your church for their weapons policy.

Check with your Church Safety Director, who has a say in which team members will carry firearms, open and CCW. Do the same for any other weapons you would bring to church. More than just following policy, this lets the Director know who has what.


Laws on carrying and using knives varies greatly by locality except where state weapons law pre-empts local law. Especially concerning since they are often overlooked are the definitions of knives which can be carried concealed. A good source for state laws on knives is KnifeUp. Click on your state's abbreviation on the list and it will bring up Peter Stec's summary of its knife laws. However, not all summaries are up-to-date. Each state's summary has the date last updated at the top. For instance, Minnesota's was last updated Jan. 21, 2020, Ohio's on March 10, 2021, and Rhode Island's on June 10, 2013.[16]

Of concern to a Church Safety Team is which knives can be legally carried concealed, such as in one's pocket. The question is, "When is a knife a weapon or a lethal weapon?" Some states' laws were so vague that a small pocket knife or pen knife could have been banned, depending on who was determining it (such as a LEO who thinks you look suspicious). Most determine whether a knife is a weapon by the length of the blade, usually from 3 to 6 inches. In those states, the Schrade knife's 2.9" blade would pass as not a weapon. Other considerations come into play, especially the obvious intent of the knife. In most cases, daggers and stilettos are weapons, along with bowie knives.

Many regulations also have age restrictions and the circumstances in which a certain knife and how it's carried are legal.

As with anything else, including a chair leg or a brick, how it is used determines whether a knife is a weapon. A knife that's too short to pierce the heart or lung can cut a jugular, pierce a temple, or slash a wrist.

Defensive Sprays

It seems that most people are unaware of regulations for defensive sprays with pepper oil or tear gas. Of concern is careless or intentional misuse. Many states have age limitations for owning and carrying these sprays. They may be restricted from persons convicted of violent crimes. Some limit the size which may be carried. World Population Review has a state-by-state listing of pepper spray laws.[17]

Stored-Charge Devices

Like firearms, electric-discharge weapons face a patchwork quilt of regulations. A number of websites have state-by-state summaries, but present the topic in different formats. Outdoor Magazine follows the listings with information about stun guns and Tasers.[18] Another site, Department Of Self Defense, has two lists of stun gun restrictions: "States That Stunning Devices Are Restricted" and "Cities Where Stunning Devices Are Restricted." This is followed by a listing of Taser restrictions (5 states).[19]


The kubotan is rarely named in weapons legislation and regulations, but may be included generally in categories or just simply not be an issue. However, as in Scotland, it may be considered an "offensive weapon" by interpretation of a vaguely-phrased statute.[6] Ask local law enforcement or the county prosecutor's office about carrying a kubotan.


A baton is also called a nightstick, billy club, or bludgeon. A baseball bat, which is heavier, is a potentially deadly weapon if used as a club on someone's head. The baton, which is lighter, is not as deadly, but can be misused. It is a dangerous device, because it can cause serious damage if used on someone's head or neck. Therefore, batons are generally regulated. It is illegal in eight states, but legal in the other 42 states and D.C.

In many of the states where batons are legal, their use is limited to law enforcement officers. In some of the states where ordinary citizens can legally have one, they need to take classes on its use and be registered.

Expandable batons receive special attention for two reasons. First, they are made of metal. Second, they can extend up to 36 inches, depending on the make and model.

Common to all state laws concerning batons, they are to be used only for defense, not as an offensive weapon or an instrument of punishment.[20]

What if You Need Legal Help?

If you have used any weapon in a use-of-force incident, you may need legal counsel. This is certainly so if a lethal weapon was used, and might even be so if it was a less-than-lethal defensive device. If you are a member of U.S. LawShield, then a phone call will get you in touch with an attorney. If you are a member, then all your legal costs from the incident are covered. Sheepdog Church Security has an affiliate relationship with U.S. LawShield, so you can join them as an affiliate member.[21]


When you want something in your hand for self-defense, ask a few questions: How lethal is it? Is it legal? What are the rules for using it?

There Is More

There are three other articles for this month: "When You Need Cover" (Legal Defense for Self-Defense), "Qualified User" (Training and Certification), and "2006 Zion Hope Missionary Baptist Shooting" (Lesson Learned).


  1. Kris Moloney, "Basic Use of Force Laws v4," Sheepdog Church Security, Copyright © 2019: Individual Training (Online) []; Instructor Bundles (Classroom) [].
  2. Antonio Planas, "Feds charge Louisville police officer accused of striking kneeling protester with riot baton," NBC News, June 10, 2021 [].
  3. Jamiles Lartey, "Police use of chemical spray on Alabama school children violated civil rights," The Guardian, October 1, 2015 [].
  4. Grace Chen, "Pepper Spray at School: From Lawsuits to Hospitalizations," Public School Review, Updated December 09, 2020 [].
  5. Kristen Taketa, "Security officers carried unauthorized weapons in Normandy schools," St. Louis Today (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), May 10, 2018 [].
  6. Anon, "Actor Darren Day guilty of offensive weapon charge," BBC News, Last updated April 7, 2010 [].
  7. Morgan Gstalter, "Oklahoma officers charged with second-degree murder after allegedly using Tasers more than 50 times on man," The Hill, July 3, 2020 [].
  8. Mark Osborne, "Mother allegedly used stun gun to wake son for Easter church service," ABC 13 Eyewitness News, April 3, 2018 [].
  9. Kris Moloney, "Use of Force Training Record," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2019 [].
  10. "Certified Onsite Instructors," Sheepdog Church Security [].
  11. "Schrade SCHA3BS 7.3in High Carbon S.S. Assisted Opening Folding Knife," Recommended Equipment for Safety Ministries, Sheepdog Church Security, Amazon [].
  12. Karen D. Dominguez, "How Dangerous is Pepper Spray?" Poison Control (National Capital Poison Center), © 2012-2021 [].
  13. "Reflex Protect Pocket 1.9 oz Personal Defense Spray," Amazon [].
  14. "Bolas," Wikipedia, n/d [].
  15. WLWT Digital Staff, "Ohio law legalizing concealed knife carry takes effect; also allows manufacturing of brass knuckles," WLWT, Updated April 14, 2021 [].
  16. Peter Stec, "US Knife Laws," KnifeUp, various dates [].
  17. Staff, "Pepper Spray Laws by State," World Population Review, 2021 [].
  18. Staff, "Do You Know the Stun Gun Laws in Your State?" Outdoors Magazine, January 2020 [].
  19. Staff, "Stun Gun Laws and Restrictions by State," Department Of Self Defense, n/d [].
  20. Staff, "Is Carrying a Baton Legal? The Laws and Regulations in Each State," What Lawyers Know, September 23, 2017 [].
  21. U.S. LawShield, Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link [].