What would be a viable alternative self defense ranged weapon that is not a firearm and also that are not primitive like a crossbow or a spear?

What is a ranged weapon that can be used for self defense that does not use exploding propellant (firearm) or that is not primitively connected to any device before the firearm.

Weapon Characteristics:

  • It must be a ranged weapon
  • The damage must be inflicted from a consumable part/component
  • The consumable part/component must not be permanently attached to the weapon before used upon the attacker
  • The consumable part/component must not be attached at all after used upon the attacker
  • Its range must be effective from 1 meter to 25 meters or more
  • It must effectively inert an attacker unconscious for self defence purposes, preferably not kill someone, but if not otherwise unavoidable, kill an attacker (maybe 2 settings, stun and kill?).
  • It must not be defined as a firearm (thus use burning propellant by means of ignition to create an explosion to propel a projectile)
  • It must be easy to operate, not more complicated than a pistol for instance
  • A person with same ability to use a pistol must be able to operate the weapon
  • It must be safe to use for the person using it
  • The resources to use it must be easily obtainable
  • The consumables to use it must be easily obtainable
  • It must not be expensive to use
  • It must not be far more expensive than a regular firearm used for self defence
  • Only the targeted attacker must experience the effect of using the weapon, i.e. no environmental damages
  • The weapon must be at least 80 to 90% effective in all aspects regarding a weapon for self defence

I have thought about the following:

  • Death ray - but where and how will the energy and ray be created.
  • Ionization gun - same as above, not powerful enough.
  • Ultrasonic gun - will hit more than just the target/attacker.
  • EMP Pulse gun - where to get energy and how to get it to be powerful and how to only hit target.
  • Projectile gun using magnetized acceleration - how to get powerful enough to be effective.

  • $\begingroup$ The main issue to me is the requirements about consumable component. I confess I do not really understand the rationale there. Could you expand a bit on why exactly those requirements exist, in case they might be stretched a bit? As it is some sort of chemical weapon seems the only one that would fill the consumable criteria. Injecting or spraying people with any number of common spices (salt for example) is AFAIK legal and quite distracting. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 6 '15 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ What I mean with "consumable component" is that the weapon must not be reliant on the re-use of the "consumable component" or active component, like a bullet in a firearm or an arrow. I wanted to use a term that would be similar to a bullet but different in principle of operation. I also wanted to exclude the use of an electrical taser. Does this make sense? $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ This part is going to be tricky: "It must not fall under any law in any country in any way under the definition of a firearm ". Laws are fairly general and are explicitly written to include unknown devices. In Germany, for example, any device that "could cause injury by using any other form of energy than mechanical energy (for example electro-impulse devices)" is forbidden, unless it is specifically allowed. Additionally, any device that is supposed to work like a firearm is considered a firearm. $\endgroup$ – user15078 Nov 6 '15 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ o okay, I changed the requirement slightly. Seems that the laws differ quite a lot across different countries. For the purpose of what I require, 1. Ignore Germany for now (they are clever with their laws); 2. Exclude a firearm when using my definition, being: a device that uses a form of ignition to burn propellant that raises the pressure to propel a projectile. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ You should do a search on modern hand crossbows...there is nothing primitive about them. $\endgroup$ – James Nov 6 '15 at 15:10

10 Answers 10


Any gun that propels a projectile with air or a spring should meet the criteria above. Some of these that are available today fire a pellet or slug with a higher kinetic energy than a .22 bullet.

A rail or gauss style gun could meet the criteria to fire some form of projectile.

A gyrojet-style gun that fires self-propelled mini-rockets could meet this criteria and use either a compressed propellant or some form of chemical reaction to propel the rockets.

Some form of air vortex cannon could possibly meet the criteria, although it would probably be bulkier than a modern firearm and wouldn't fire a consumable projectile.

There are tazer-style weapons that fire a self-contained slug instead of keeping the battery in the tazer itself.

There are some knives that can fire a spring-loaded blade (Spetsnaz knives) but they are generally single-use.

A modern compound bow certainly isn't something primitive or basic - they can be fairly compact, accurate, and powerful. Same thing goes for modern crossbows.

A speargun (air propelled or spring / elastic fired) isn't primitive either - although it fires a spear / dart it's more than a pointy stick.

Um, I guess a slingshot (wrist rocket) would probably qualify as well. Maybe a blowgun that fires some sort of round containing poison / tranquilizers?

  • $\begingroup$ This was my thought too, one point which might be important depending what the OP actually wants this for in his world is that in some areas powerful air guns are legally considered to be firearms. In the UK for example, any air pistol with a muzzle energy above 6 ft lb, or 12 for a rifle, is considered a firearm. $\endgroup$ – Joseph Rogers Nov 6 '15 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ gyrojet-style gun: see torgue weapons from Borderlands 2 for more. EXPLOSIONS!! $\endgroup$ – TaylorAllred Jan 12 '16 at 19:48

Airgun shooting "ball bearing" pellets. It can use an electric pump or a gas cyllinder for propellant, autoloader mechanism like in ASG, and generally any typical ASG solutions.

It would pass under most jurisdictions when using plastic pellets for ASG use; the bullet energy would classify it as sports airgun/ASG replica.

The trick would be in making it "overnegineered" - durable enough to withstand pressures much higher than in ASG. You can "dial in" the desired air/gas pressure, use metal balls instead of plastic, and as result you have a good deterrent/stun weapon - a good hit to the head would knock most enemies out; the bullets wouldn't penetrate clothes but they would bruise badly and hurt a lot, and this being automatic gun allows for a fire rate no "tough guy" could withstand.

You can also load it (manually) with a sharp-tipped bolt and use it as a lethal weapon.

Of course it would suffer typical "round bullet" problems of accuracy, but 25 meters would still be within reason.

  • $\begingroup$ Could work, if we like you say over engineer it to take a lot of pressure. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 13:15

The sling meets all your criteria and can be easily obtained and hidden or disguised. and there are small rocks everywhere.

It off course will take some practice to get good at it but it was even used to defeat the Philistines. ;) enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of the sling, actually have one myself. I have used it on cats before and even using ball bearings and lead/tin sling shot, it did not do anything to them. They only returned after a few days sometimes even the next day. I do not think the slingshot would prove effective on a steroid pumped attacker, especially not if it is a small framed woman using it. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @RoanFourie Shepard's used to use them to kill and chase off large predators. The slings were also deadly units in armies, and much easier to resupply than archers. It was a weapon of war for centuries en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sling_(weapon)#Combat $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 6 '15 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ O okay, that sling (not the slingshot) Yes, you could use it, but require space. Inside of a house it might not work that well. I never could get that thing to work accurately. You would have to remain seriously calm under attack to stop a person on short range using a sling, but in some circumstances it could work. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @RoanFourie right it isn't a real good close quarters weapon, but it could still be used like a sock with quarters, you don't fling the projectile, you just beat them with it. But most weapons have a 'most effective' range $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 6 '15 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ This was my idea too. In close quarters you don't use the sling as a weapon. You use the bag holding your sling stones/bullets as a "sap". Anything dense and heavy could serve as an effective close quarter's weapon. I've often thought that my laptop battery or a can of soft drinks would be quite effective if you caught your opponent unprepared. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Nov 6 '15 at 17:39

A slingshot comes to mind, but it's not very futuristic or necessarily as effective as you have specified. I've heard of self-defence style guns that are gas-powered and fire ceramic balls (along with other types of ammo). You also get pump-action air rifles.

How about some sort of hybrid? A weapon that is pump-action to charge, but can fire all sorts of materials on hand, from utensils to stones lying around. Something like a pump-action blunderbuss?

  • $\begingroup$ 1st Paragraph: Slingshot is primitive, it was there before the firearm. 2nd Paragraph: It might be worth considering, the pressured released from this device should be very high. Something like a paintball marker does not have enough energy. The air rifles also does not have enough energy. It should be able to stop an "high-on-pot" attacker from harming you. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ The Austrian army used The Girardoni air rifle issued in 1779, which was also the first standard repeating weapon issued. It needed 1500 strokes of the hand pump to bring it to charge, but it was quite lethal to 125m and fired from a 20 round magazine. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Nov 6 '15 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, did not know that existed. To be considered. thanks. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 13:13

The only device that seems to fit your criteria would be an electrically powered weapon like a railgun or coilgun. The amount of electrical energy can be controlled to vary the speed and impact energy of the projectile (although there would be some sort of "minimum" speed just to allow the forces to act on the projectile in the first place)

Small, hand held devices of this sort have not been demonstrated, but prototype "mass drivers" (a form of coil gun) have been built on table tops to demonstrate the principle, so a rifle sized device is conceivable. Your major issue is the electrical energy. In order to meet your requirements, the user will need a backpack full of charged capacitors, and possibly a small generator as well. One of the reasons that firearms are powered by chemical propellent (or cars powered by hydrocarbon fuels) is the incredible energy density of these materials compared to batteries. The Chevy "Volt" needs a ton of batteries to go @ 40 miles, and a 45l fuel tank to give it a range of almost 400km, which should give a graphic idea of the difference.

While it might be possible to "beam" power to a receiver attached to the weapon, I would not advise that; the US Army is experimenting with using microwave beams as crowd control devices (Active Denial System) which give people the sensation of "being on fire" and forcing them to run away. A person using an electrically charged weapon would have to be well clear of theca power beam or obvious problems will occur. More practically, the user should be in the HUMVEE and using the beam directly.... Active Denial Sysyem

  • $\begingroup$ A portable version would have worked perfectly, I require it to be a bit more portable and mobile. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 13:16

What about some sort of device that contains an electric motor? Turning fast enough, it would be attached to a shaft or something that would launch the projectile.

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe 2 or 3 motors gripping on the item, but it will have one of two problems: 1. either guide it with some sort of "barrel" and then you loose energy making it less effective or 2. have less of a restriction which would make it very inaccurate at say 25 meters. but a good idea though. $\endgroup$ – 9953-div-37 Nov 6 '15 at 15:08

How about a sticky grenade? You pull the pin and throw it. Instead of explosive and shrapnel it ejects a mess of strong fibers and very fast-setting glue. Your assailant will be incapacitated and stuck to the ground, walls, trees. Normally non lethal but could kill if the target fell face down in water or if it covered his mouth and nose.

A spring loaded launcher is obviously possible.

ISTR this thing has actually been prototyped.

Another thing that has been built is a wireless tazer. A high power laser ionizes the air to the target and a high voltage zap travels like lightning down the ionisation track. Problem is if the laser is scattered the stray light could blind the shooter or a bystander.

Finally an oddball idea I just had. Two or more micro-drones 'mosquitos'. What do they do? Fly into the target's ears and make noise above the pain threshold by vibrating on his eardrums. Such devices could also target eyes and nostrils with chemicals of various degrees of nastiness.


How about anti-tank rockets? They use rocket power rather than gun power to accelerate the projectile. For anti-personnel use you could omit the warhead, a hit will still be lethal even if you have no boom.


There are several so called non-lethal weapons that would fit your criteria. One option I would especially suggest is a gun similar to those used for paintball. It is powered by air pressure, is semiautomatic and fires balls not filled with paint but with a mixture of powdered pepper and chilli extract (Capsaicin). When you hit the target it doesn't only hurt from the hit but the ball releases a localized cloud that incapacitates those who breathe it in.


I will go full rebel here and instead of thinking about railguns and gauss rifles and tasers and zat'nik'tels and other complicated stuff, I will give you some examples of what we already have.

Gas pistol. No gunpowder, incapacitates opponents, effective range - 4.5 m.

Grenade launcher with tear gas. Incapacitates opponents, has the range, can use compressed gas instead of gunpowder.

Harpoons and slingshots. Look for the slingshot channel on Youtube. Legal & dangerous.

Air guns. Some air guns could be used for hunting big game. power, range, no gunpowder. With the right ammunition you could make a riot gun.


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