Thinking BEYOND the Gun: The Life-Saving Importance of Improvised Weapons

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Author of Be Ready for Anything and Build a Better Pantry on a Budget online course

Last week in London, civilians used improvised weapons to stop an attacker on London Bridge who killed two and injured three people.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack (but then again, they often do this falsely). However, the attacker, Usman Khan, had recently been released from prison for his part in a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange in 2012. He was certainly not rehabilitated, but ironically, he was at the site of the attack to help rehabilitate other terrorists.

The knife attack was stopped by civilians who used a remarkable array of improvised weapons, ranging from a Narwhal tusk (really!) to a fire extinguisher.

But nearly every article I’ve seen shared about this topic inevitably has comments like:

“A Glock would have stopped the whole thing faster.”

“Too bad they had to use a Narwhal tusk to fight a terrorist. I carry a gun and a knife both.”

“In the US someone would have just shot that guy.”

This is both dismissive and somewhat unrealistic. Here’s more information about how to survive a knife attack from a US Army combat veteran and he confirms that a gun is often not the best option.

Don’t discount what these people did.

You know those people who make everything about their political agenda?  The ones who either blame President Trump for everything from wildfires in a state he hasn’t been to in ages to hurricanes? Or the ones who blame guns for every problem in the United States? Or the ones who talk about “toxic masculinity” or “capitalism” being the root of our nation’s problems?

When you discount a truly heroic act of defense because the people who committed that act weren’t packing a firearm or a dagger, then you are making this about your agenda. You may not even realize that you’re acting just like the people you deem “crazy” in the way they tie everything to their own agendas.

I love guns and knives as much as the rest of you. When I’m in the US, I carry a Glock 19 everywhere. I’m the gal who always has a nice sharp knife in her pocket to open packages (or whatever.) I am adamantly pro-self-defense and pro-Second Amendment.

But this discussion is not about gun control or knife control.

And a gun or a knife may not even have been the best way to resolve the issue. This was an extremely tense and volatile situation with many factors that could cause challenges.

  • What if you pulled out your gun but people are running hysterically in between you and the terrorist? Are you going to risk taking a shot that isn’t clear just because you have a gun?
  • What if you pulled out your gun but there are people behind the terrorist? What if your bullet goes through the target and hits an innocent bystander? What if you miss the moving target and hit that bystander on your own?
  • Are you going to pull the 5-inch folding knife out of your pocket and go head to head with a dude who had two large chef’s knives, one of which was duct-taped to his hand? Good luck. Especially if you are completely untrained. If you don’t have the training to fight with a knife, the chances are high you’ll be stabbed with your own knife that you pulled to take out the bad guy. (hat tip to Greg Ellifritz)

If you look deep down in your heart, you know that these solutions may or may not be realistic ones for you. If you have extensive advanced training, you might be able to make that headshot and neutralize the attacker without harming any bystanders. Heck, you might just get lucky and make that shot.

But these solutions definitely wouldn’t be realistic for most people. We’ve all been to the range and seen the loud person who sweeps the room with his gun and is quite frankly a terrible shot. The last time I updated my concealed carry permit, I was in a room with a guy like that who – guess what – got his permit. I sure wouldn’t want to see him open fire on a terrorist in a crowd of tourists. In many states, you don’t even have to prove you can shoot accurately to get a CCW permit. You just have to prove you understand the laws surrounding carrying a firearm.

These improvised weapons were excellent choices for this particular attack.

This attacker was taken down by a 5-foot long Narwhal tusk and a fire extinguisher before a group of civilians jumped on him to disarm him.

Why were these good choices? Because they bought the defenders some distance. The fire extinguisher blinded the attacker and the Narwhal tusk kept him a distance safe enough that the user didn’t get hurt too badly. (From what I read, he still got slashed but his wounds were minor.) This allowed another guy to tackle the attacker and take him down completely.

From there, a man (who was actually a convicted murderer) stopped his car and got out to help. He stomped on the attacker’s hand until he released the knife. Another civilian picked up the knife and took it out of play. However, the attacker still had another knife taped to his non-dominant hand and wore a fake suicide vest (which of course no one knew was fake until after the fight was over.)

Here’s a video of the takedown. Police shot the attacker once the civilians were out of the way.

(Video contains violence)

Here’s another view of the altercation once the attacker is down.

(Video contains violence)

We can armchair-quarterback this whole event, but the fact is, quick, unconventional thinking and the courage to take action saved lives.

The ability to improvise weapons could save your life.

A dependence on guns and only guns to defend yourself in others is short-sighted and could leave you defenseless in a variety of scenarios.

There are more and more places we can’t be armed these days. In the United States, you can’t take your gun into a federal building. If you go into a courthouse, you have to go through a metal detector. You can’t go to a concert or a sporting event armed because you’re going to be searched before you go in. “Gun Free Zones” (also known as target-rich environments) abound and you can be charged with anything from a misdemeanor to a felony if you ignore a gun-free zone sign (and get caught.) Second Amendment sanctuaries are popping up all over the nation to battle unconstitutional laws, but meanwhile, many of us have to live with the constant risk of felony gun charges.

In most of the rest of the world, your access to weapons is also extremely restricted. Learning how to improvise weapons could be a skill that saves your life. (Selco has a great article about improvised weapons.)

As well, when I took Selco’s Urban Survival Course in Croatia last year, we spent half a day on “weaponizing our environments.”  We had to go into different rooms and find everything we could to bash, slash, stab, or block an attacker. Then we sat with the guys and went over our choices. They provided valuable feedback about whether our potential weapons would work as we’d hoped or not. (If you want to learn this kind of stuff too, (registration is open for the 2020 course right now and on sale through Cyber Monday for $875.)

Every time I relocate to a new Airbnb, I go through the entire apartment and choose my “arsenal.” I find everything I could possibly use as a weapon should someone break into my temporary home. This has really gotten me to think far outside the box when it comes to ways to defend myself. (If you’d like, I could do an article with photographs of the potential weapons I find in my next apartment. Let me know in the comments if that is something you’d find interesting. Keep in mind that I’m no expert. I’m a student, just like most folks.)

Looking at a room and finding the potential weapons is a great habit to develop. Just like locating all the exits and sitting facing the main entrance, it’s another piece of essential situational awareness. Guns are wonderful tools, but don’t limit your thinking to only conventional weapons. If you do, you’ve handicapped yourself when a situation goes down and you don’t have a gun on your hip.

What do you think?

What are some improvised weapons you’ve considered using? Are you strictly #TeamGun? What are your thoughts on the London Bridge civilians? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, survival, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • I’m one of those who appreciates this article. While I am also pro-Second Amendment, I choose at this time not to own a firearm because I also deal with depression, and I don’t want a firearm in the house that I might use on myself at the wrong moment. (I am on medication and see a counselor regularly, and the depression is under control.)

  • Oatmeal (or grits, if you’re from the South) hot off the stove is napalm-like, when thrown in someone’s face. So I was told this by someone who had to employ this improvised weapon once..

  • I agree with your article and appreciate its thoroughness. I would like to see more articles about alternative weapons and your air bnb experiences. It is important to remember that many people are unable or unwilling to purchase guns and knives. Those people must be able to defend themselves, if needed. Otherwise, protection could be seen as an elitist activity!!

  • In the Marines, the hand-to-hand combat instructor even said, “If you can find, or use something other than hand-to-hand, use it. A rock, a stick, anything!”
    Said the same about knife fighting.
    I have also taken Judo, and Krav-Maga. Both of those instructors also advocated for self-awarness of one’s surroundings, avoidance or de-escalation before resorting to hand-to-hand.
    But when you have some yahoo, hell bent on doing violence, improvise with whatever is handy.

    Good on those civilians who took it upon themselves to stop the attacks.

  • Great article Daisy!
    I just don’t understand the “thinking” of people who so easily dismiss “weapons of ingenuity.” London has had a lot of trouble with terror attacks, and it was incredibly brave of the bystanders to grab whatever came to hand, not knowing if the terrorist had accomplices or a (real) bomb vest. Hat tip and three cheers to these guys for getting the job done!

    I don’t own a gun either, for a variety of reasons, and in addition to making note of the exits, the people in the area, sitting facing the door and being observant, I also take a minute to see what is in the place that could be used defensively or weaponized.

    I’ve been doing this for years as a matter of course, so learning that the London attack was thwarted by two guys with a tusk and a fire extinguisher, my only thought was “Good for them, but where the heck did that guy find a TUSK?!?!?”

  • Anything you can pick up and swing, throw or poke at an attacker is a weapon. A chair, a glass bottle, a substantial tree branch, a dog leash or chain, cans of food, a baseball, baseball bat, even a kitty litter box with litter could be a weapon. I’ve had to learn to think outside the “box” since my hubby is a felon and I can’t own a gun.
    I’ve also figured out how to make “long distance” weapons that I can swing made with a baseball bat and old unwashed can lids either removed with a can opener or the pull tab ones. I have 2- 5 foot lengths of heavier chain with bolts and nuts on each end. They aren’t the best weapons in the world, but they will do in a pinch if I have to use them. If I have to use one of these, I sure won’t be a pansy using it.

  • When one improvises a weapon think along the lines of stab, slash, bash and blind. The whole point is to create distance and do as much damage as possible if you can’t create time and distance for a planned attack with your weapon. Working in a correctional facility I have seen many weapons over the years that were created from the environment around them. Never believe for one minute that improvised weapons can’t do maximum damage in a minimum amount of time. One thing about using improvised weapons is that one also requires the mindset to use them with absolute ruthlessness., and those with a “just shoot them” mentality – a stand off weapon where you don’t get close – may find themselves not being able to respond as quickly as they would like while being attacked. Improvised weapons means its basically life and death so you had better cross that little mental bridge before you come to it so that your body responds and you come out the victor.

    • I bet you have seen all sorts of things. You could write a heck of an improvised weapons article. (hint hint) And you’re very right about the mindset. What do you recommend for crossing the mental bridge?

      • Learn a martial skill – boxing, judo, fencing, anything where there is s resistive opponent. Visualize scenarios and run them through your head. Be HONEST and don’t go down the Hollywood path. Turn predator – face away from the mirror, then quickly turn around in a fighting stance. Now look and figure out exactly how you would attack that person. Visualization only gets you so far. Train with a resistant partner. First learnt he technique, then slowly build upon it and then finally have the person actively resist. The whole idea behind training and practice is so that your brain is used to trauma and will automatically respond in a real scenario instead of going into fight or flight mode. I’m sure there are experts out there that will disagree with my methodology, but so far it has worked for me in numerous events.

  • Every time I get down on the Brits and what they have allowed in their country, along comes an article like this and restores my faith in them. Good for these guys! (and it may take me some time to get over laughing about the guy using a whale tusk!!!) One recommendation for the ladies (or gents) without a gun . Here in Texas we are plagued by wasps and other bugs. A can of wasp spray on the night stand has a 30 reach and is blinding when spayed in the eyes. Also has a broad pattern. Kinda like a chemical shotgun. Should leave the visitor with enough blindness and pain to go get a cup of coffee and plot your next move.

  • I’ve looked for other potential weapons when I’ve been in hospitals and also during my job. I would be interested to see your take on the same subject. And to see if I am in the same area or way off.

  • When I was about 12 I found my dad’s WWII Army instruction book on hand-to-hand self-defense. (It’s probably still here somewhere!) It was a valuable eye-opener–not only improvisation, but where to aim blows to disable (or more) your attacker. Eyes, bridge of the nose, Adam’s-apple, side of the knee. If I can locate it I’ll share (but don’t hold your breath).

  • I tried to post a comment and this popped up. Things like this have been happening regularly in articles and on the blog. I think I have been banned in some way, intentionally or accidentally.

    Access Denied –

    Error Code 5550
    This request has been blocked by WebARX Web Application Firewall .
    If you are a legitimate user, contact the administrator of the site with above error code if this message persists.
    Return To Homepage

    • You definitely haven’t been banned. We had a server glitch last weekend and some things may still be lingering. Try clearing your cache and cookies – that should prevent a recurrence.

  • Improvised weapons have a long history of success and of failure, based entirely how the wielder chooses to make use of them. I would not necessarily think of a museum display piece for first choice, however being the closest thing that the MAN responding to the situation had available I would consider him for a serious award for valor and quick-thinking and timely response to a bad situation. Remember that in Britain gun and to some degree knife ownership is heavily restricted. This means only the proper officials and the really serious criminals have ready access to such things.

  • Even if you can’t find a weapon there is always some way to distract an assailant. If you are going to find a weapon, you also would need to find the fierceness to use it. You have to know that the offender has just as much adrenaline pumping through them as you would need to meet force with force. I understand that a giant can be dropped with a stone right between the eyes. The arrogance of an enemy can be their undoing.

    There are a couple of things that are a part of me when I’m out and about. A baseball bat is kept between the driver’s seat and the door in the truck. This can smash windows in an emergency as well as surprise an attacker coming at my car window. Also take an old shovel handle on my walk. This is for rattlesnakes, coyotes or feral dogs. But it can also serve as a potential weapon along with my dogs.

    • I have a 18inch long by 1/2 inch diameter steel pipe with a 3/4 inch connector on one end next to the driver’s seat in my van. It doubles as an extension on my car jack to remove stuck lugs if I need to change a tire. The thing is really a “mini mace”. Even though it is short it can easily break a bone or crush a skull.

  • I also have a permit but refuse to carry a firearm outside of my home. Especially in urban areas it is too easy to accidentally shoot the wrong person. Then you really have a problem. Cops have immunity to arrest and suit, this, you don’t.

    Never forget that self defense is not about weapons or fighting systems, it’s about not being injured or arrested.

    Actually, the best and most effective weapon for older people is a sturdy wooden cane. They are permissible everywhere and there are numerous courses on YouTube for how to use. a cane for defense. It is best not to swing for the head, the best targets are the shins and forearms, anywhere that there is bone thinly covered by skin and muscle. The pain is excruciating.

    Stay safe !

  • I read this article, and found myself agreeing that, hell yes, a gun would have been super helpful to have in that situation. It would also be super helpful for me and a whole lot of others if my house was totally paid off. Its not though, so we have to keep paying every month, money that we can’t use for preps. You gotta play the cards you’re dealt.

    Likewise, this situation just tells me to remember you gotta go to war with the weapons that are available. My grandfather served in World War Two, and he used to tell this us this entire country was ridiculously unprepared for that conflict. Sure, our factories started running full blast churning out weapons, but it didn’t happen overnight. He and his friends signed up and trained with weapons and equipment that were not always 100% what they WISHED they had. “Wishes don’t win wars, boy.”

    I think its more about your thinking and your mindset, not just the stuff you’re carrying. For a really great example of that, just watch any random Jackie Chan movie. No, seriously: he is NOT a big guy, but he’s super fast AND he can make a weapon out of anything, spur of the moment, on the fly. Hell, I’ve watched him stick his foot in a waste basket and use that to enhance the strength of his kicks. Yeah, I know its choreographed, but be honest: would YOU or I have even thought about that? No way!

    Its that kind of thinking that ensures victory.

    PS Am I the only person here who wants to know where they got a narwhal tusk? I really, Really, REALLY want one now 🙂

    • Great comment, Sammy!

      The guy who used the narwhal tusk was a chef in a seafood restaurant. The narwhal tusk was a decorative item mounted on the wall. He grabbed it and ran outside to help.

  • Good article! I’d be very interested in an article about using common items found around a temporary dwelling. And you are right, hospitals, post offices and other federal buildings and court houses are some of the places CCW is not allowed.

  • Like it or not, the gun, knife, atlatl or narwhal tusk are all tools. You are the weapon.

    And it’s not just what can you find to use, but can you use what you find?

    A baseball bat is different from a hockey stick and again different from a walking cane.
    How would you strike someone with a trash can lid?

    And what are your targets with each weapon? A 5″ knife has different targets than a collapsible baton for example.
    That frying pan you just grabbed, why do you want to use the “edge” rather than the flat bottom?

    How about the scarf you are wearing?

    The possibilities are endless, as are the methods that you mist employ with each.

  • A civilian armed with a gun on London Bridge would have risked shooting a bystander( as already mentioned).That bridge is BUSY with pedestrians. Improvisation in such a situation is key. It happens fast.

  • Years ago I carried a “Ditch Bank Blade” in my pickup [now I carry a 45]. (You can search amazon using “Ditch Bank Blade” or “brush axe” for a photo.) Mine had a 30″ handle and the blade was proportionally smaller than those depicted on amazon. To me one with a 40″ blade would be too unwieldy in a fight. I never had to use it. My thought was to never swing it but to keep it between me an attacker and jab at him, maybe trying for an arm or neck with the hook. You can put a very sharp edge on one of these with a file.

    I ran across 2 of these at a garage sale last year and was I glad because I had searched the stores and not found a small one. I keep these by the back door (the only door we use). I don’t normally carry a gun in the house although I have several strategically placed. Of course, when the SHTF I will be armed at all times.

    I thought about keeping one of these to carry during the “get home” walk. I know carrying a rifle on that trek just makes you a target. I’m not sure if carrying one of these would make you a target or not.

  • My EDC includes several knives, and when in “sketchy” places (which I avoid anyway) a compact Kimber .45. I qualified for a CCL in WV (not honored in MD where my principal residence is located), but now that WV is “constitutional carry”, it doesn’t matter.

    Around the houses garden tools (shovel, steel rake -hold the rake head in your hand and jab with the pole, pruning hook, and pitch fork too), ski poles and baseball bats are always nearby

    Hint: your adversary will expect a slashing move towards the head on your part. Far more effective to jab at the center of mass – repeatedly. If the bad actor is a male, no sooner than the 4th or so jab, (preferably when he is on the ground) hit him where it will really hurt. I frequently walk with a cane (around $25 at drugstores) or a collapsible walking stick (Wal-Mart sporting goods for about $13). These are not needed for my mobility, but real handy for “just in case”.

  • A dry chemical fire extinguisher – especially the 5 to 10 pound versions located in every commercial building – make a great improvised weapon. I would wager that 99% of attackers would stop their rampage once shot full in the face with a stream of higher pressure dry chemical. they would probably turn away and put their hands up in front of their face. Having once accidentally breathed in a very tiny amount of dry chemical powder, it was worse than pepper spray. I suffered uncontrollable coughing for nearly an hour and had to go to the emergency room. The ER Doc said that a full blast in the face would cause serious injury and possibly eventual death. I nearly always try to notice the type, size locations of fire extinguishers in every public building I enter. They are usually near or in the kitchen in an eating establishment and in a hallway or exterior wall in a store. They are required to be marked and you will be surprised how you notice them when you actually look for them. Besides blasting a attacker in the face, they weigh several pounds empty and could be used to bash their head in. If you have to defend yourself there are no rules and you have to act with extreme violence and not stop until the threat is completely neutralized.

  • I’d be cautious about using wasp spray, as it may be illegal to use as a weapon in some states. I know it is here in GA, according to a deputy I know. I keep several of the small garden hand sprayers that can be pressurized handy around the house & vehicle with straight vinegar in them. For those places with a metal detector to go through, a pocket protector with some sharpened #2 pencils would provide a handy weapon. Hardened rubber combs (the plastic ones break too easy) can be used to rake an attacker across wrists, throat, face, eyes, etc. I keep a polypropylene axe handle by the doors. Easy (& usually reasonably priced) to find at flea markets.

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