Improvised Defenses in Gun-Free Zones

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Improvised Defenses in Gun-Free Zones

June 29th, 2023

5 minute read

Editor’s Note: This article is strictly the opinion of the author and does not represent the position of The Armory Life. Please do not consider this as legal advice, and be sure to check all state and local laws how they might pertain to your situation.

I don’t know about you guys, but little brings me more solace than those “Gun-Free Zone” signs. When combined with the “The Carrying of a Handgun on These Premises Is Prohibited” placards at the movie theater, this signage is tangible proof that the space I am entering is safe, secure, comfortable and protected. Without those signs I might otherwise worry that something bad could happen to me or my family.

defeating a gun free zone
Gun-free zones offer a false sense of security as they are only adhered to by law-abiding citizens and do not prevent criminal behavior. Image: Adobe Stock/MATTHEW

Of course, I’m kidding. Those signs are the stupidest human contrivance since the European pay toilet. They are the New Coke of the policy world. In a society gone mad, it just seems a bit nonsensical to make sure that the only folks who choose to obey the rules might be the only ones deprived of the means to defend themselves. However, I’m just a normal guy. I’m sure the rocket scientists behind those signs are way more insightful than am I.


Every time I am not asleep or in the shower, I’m armed wherever it’s legal. Nobody around me knows it, but I just like the peace of mind that comes from packing a weapon. I’m kind of a skinny guy. The addition of a firearm gives me a chance to defend myself against a range of dangerous threats.

delta plane gun free zone
Just because you are on one of these doesn’t mean you must be completely defenseless. Image: Isaac Struna

As a result, those times when I go someplace where I am prevented from exercising my innate rights of self-defense, I feel just a little bit naked.

Whether it’s traveling abroad, boarding a commercial airliner, visiting a government building or just taking in a movie at the local restrictive cineplex, there are things you can do to keep yourself prickly, even behind those stupid signs.

Part of it is mindset. Convincing yourself you’re not a victim goes a long way toward insulating against victimization. The other piece is to be mindful of your surroundings. The most capable survival tool ever imagined is perched atop your shoulders. We need only exercise that tool to help keep ourselves and our families safe come what may.

The Details

The martial arts have their place, and every able-bodied person should at least get a taste at some point. Such formalized pursuits promote physical fitness and inculcate a sense of mechanical discipline that has positive benefits in other aspects of your life.

various tools that could be used as weapons
Each of these common everyday objects can be effectively weaponized in a crisis. Take a look at your surroundings and see what you might be able to use.

I haven’t seen the inside of a dojo in three decades, but I still open doors with my fingertips without conscious thought. However, maintaining real proficiency at unarmed combat requires time and effort beyond that which most folks are willing to invest.

Lots of readily available benign stuff can be transformed into weapons if you know where to look. Simply appreciate the rules when in restrictive environments, and make unconventional applications of conventional objects. Most of it turns on physics.

using a pen as a weapon
A sturdy writing pen (below) can be as effective as a specially designed defensive tool (top). In addition to stabbing, they can be used for joint locks and pressure point manipulation like a Kubotan.

Pressure equals force per unit area. That’s not just a good idea; that’s the law. Your typical frail grandmother might not be able to strike very hard. However, put a knitting needle in her hand and even a modest blow is adequate to give one pause. In non-permissive environments, the key is usually to focus your efforts down as small as possible.

Every college co-ed knows you can orient your car keys between your fingers and transform a good punch into a great punch. Go for the eyes. I have seen folks in the ER who were on the receiving end of stuff like that, and it’s nasty. Likewise, a writing pen or similar skinny implement when deftly wielded makes a fine stabbing tool. There are even robust dual-use writing instruments designed with these applications in mind.

These weapons might not be capable of killing, but taking life is never the point. The mission is to dissuade bad behavior.

No matter where you’re traveling, you’ll always need money. Even in the most restrictive environments, it is the rare draconian border guard who will fault you for carrying a roll of quarters or English pound coins. However, slip these rascals into a pouch, and you have a handy, readily-accessible weapon.

coke can as a weapon
If you’re on an airplane, you can ask for the can when the flight attendant brings you a soda. You get more to drink, and the empty can makes a serviceable weapon in a pinch.

This nifty device, designed to carry coins, is designed to snap over your belt and remain both secure and obscure. When you need it just grab and go. If you must, take hold of the skinny end and whap your opponent vigorously about the nugget with the fat bit to prove that he should look elsewhere for a victim. My favorite is the Barranti Life Changer. It even has an awesome name. But as always, make sure of the legality of something like this where you are (or plan on going).

Commercial airplanes provide their own unique challenges. By definition, everybody on board has gone through security, but we all know how that goes. Should you be called upon to fight on an airplane, there are better weapons than those flimsy plastic forks and disposable pillows.

barranti life changer
The Barranti Life Changer is a sturdy leather coin holder that snaps over your belt. It packs ten bucks’ worth of quarters.

An aluminum beverage can makes a decent cutting weapon. Pinch the can into a crease amidships, fold the top onto the bottom, and grasp the fat bit with the crease held outward. The corners are simply brutal. As weapons go it’s not much, but you’re still scarier than you might otherwise be with nothing but empty hands, long-forgotten martial arts skills and foul language. Shoelaces, neckties, belts with metal buckles, and cell phones can all be combat multipliers in the improvised close fight as well.


The best fight is always the one you don’t have. Keep your head on a swivel, mind your temper, fastidiously avoid trouble and live defensively. Criminals are most often bottom-feeding scavengers. Keep yourself scarier, and they will usually seek easier pickings elsewhere.

However, to quote one of my favorite t-shirts, “If you’re gonna fight, fight like you’re the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s Ark…and brother, it’s starting to rain.”

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Will Dabbs, MD

Will Dabbs, MD

Will was raised in the Mississippi Delta and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After eight years flying Army helicopters, he left the military as a Major to attend medical school. Will operates an Urgent Care clinic in his small Southern town and works as the plant physician for the local Winchester ammunition plant. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three adult children, and has written for the gun press for a quarter century.

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