What are the two major less than lethal weapons developed for law enforcement?

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Over the last few decades, there have been several types on non-lethal weapons developed primarily for law enforcement: tear gas, tazers, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and pepper spray to name a few.  But the two most common over the years have been the taser and pepper spray, with tear gas a close third.

The oldest and the most widely used non-lethal law enforcement tool is tear gas, which has been available since the 1950s, and is used both to control individuals and crowds.  Its popularity is based on both its cost effectiveness and its ease of use and, most important, except in rare cases, its non-lethality.  Tear gas is used by almost every law enforcement group in the world and is a staple non-lethal crowd control tool for military units, as well.  Because the distribution of tear gas is uncontrollable once it's used, most uses involve large groups of people in violent crowds.

More recently, the use of tasers has become common when law enforecment officials need to control a violent individual who is either a threat to himself or others.  The taser sends an electrical current  into the body through wires that disrupts certain normal nerve paths, and the person generally loses control of his or her body and can therefore be controlled by law enforcement personnel.  The taser, because it interferes with some neural (brain) functions, can cause permanent injuries, but in most cases, the effects are temporary.  A person who suffers from epilepsy, for example, can be seriously hurt, sometimes killed, by a taser's effects.

Pepper spray (usually a form of capsaicin) is widely used by law enforcement, military units, and private citizens for non-lethal protection.  Although there are several levels of potency in pepper sprays, even the mildest is capable of disorienting a violent person long enough to either control him or escape from him.  The most potent pepper sprays are completely debilitating; several varieties are effective at stopping bear attacks.  The popularity of pepper spray is based on its wide availability, low cost, ease of use, and effectiveness.

Of the available non-lethal law enforcement tools, the two most commonly used are most likely to be the taser and some form of pepper spray.