Tag Archives: less than lethal

In a webcomic I work on, a suit of power armor is equipped with studs on the knuckles that function as tasers. Assuming they can be turned on and off basically by thought, and they could be used as a standard taser and in a punch, would they be effective, or is this overkill?

It’s not so much overkill as a little odd.

Electrical stun weapons require ongoing contact to function properly. So, your character would need to punch someone, and then… just, keep, standing there holding their knuckles against the intended victim, to get the full effect. It’s not a deal breaker, but mounting them on the knuckles is less than ideal.

The second thing is that you need direct contact with the victim. Most stun guns can be subverted by wearing heavy clothing. If the prongs don’t fully penetrate, then you’re not shocking the victim, and the weapon isn’t doing anything. Because of how punches work, connecting with sharpened studs to produce general tissue damage would probably be more effective than electrifying them.

Also, it’s possible to incapacitate yourself with a stun gun, if you come into direct contact with the victim’s skin. Generally speaking, this isn’t much of an issue, but if you’re using your knuckles as the point of contact, there’s going to be more contact with the victim. Given the character’s in powered armor it would be reasonable to assume there’s some mechanics to protect against unwanted electrical conduction across the armor’s shell. But, if there isn’t, then the knuckle becomes a very poor point of contact.

Depending on the design, it would probably be smarter to mount a retractable stun prod into the armor’s wrist. Worst case, this could probably be affixed with nylon straps and Velcro or even just duct tape, depending on their level of technical sophistication.


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I have an idea of a character, but I am not sure of its medical/combat plausibility. Through some happening to be determined later, they are given the power to never miss their target with any projectile. From a thrown rock to handgun to howitzer, it doesn’t matter what they’re using, so long as the target is in range. The rub is that if this character ever kills anybody, they lose this gift for good. Aside from shooting extremities, where can they shoot without risk of lethal injury?

Yeah… so I’ve actually got bad news for you. Shooting to wound isn’t a real thing. It’s a fiction, like the silencers that make gunshots sound like something other than a gun being fired in a tin can.

Getting shot in the arm or leg, with an arrow, bolt, or bullet, is a very dangerous injury. The biggest risk damaging an artery, in which case, they will bleed to death in a matter of minutes. Even without that, you’re still tearing open a lot of tissue, and letting them leak all over the place.

There’s also the issue of hydrostatic shock. So, there’s some debate over whether this is a real phenomena or not, but there’s some evidence to support it. The basic idea is that your body is mostly water and other fluids. Striking that (with a gunshot) creates a shock wave, which can result in the rupture of internal organs elsewhere in the body. So, you can shoot someone in the arm, and cause them to start hemorrhaging elsewhere, with fatal results. Though, it might take awhile. This creates a situation where, if your character is unlucky, a gunshot to the hand could actually kill the victim.

Also, there’s basically no such thing as non-lethal artillery techniques, you know, while we’re talking about howitzers. Smoke shells for things like mortars work by not hitting the target, so it kind of exactly what your character’s superpower is not.

While we’re on that subject, flashbangs have a nasty habit of starting fires on contact, and there have been quite a few deaths over the years attributed to them. So, that’s out.

Beanbag rounds, and other less than lethal ordinance also have a fairly hefty body count.

Safety slugs aren’t a non-lethal round for firearms. They’re more akin to a mini shotgun shell that detonates on contact. They’re “safe” in that they tend to do less damage to hard surfaces (like steel or concrete) and are less prone to over-penetration), but they’ll still kill you.

Throwing rocks at people is still a horrific way to kill them. It’s probably the oldest method in human history of saying, “there’s a person over there I want to kill, but I’m to lazy to walk.”

Granted, chucking stones at someone could just be to annoy them. But, when we’re talking about ranged combat, the line between incapacitating and killing your opponents is very fine. Now, if your character’s entire schtick is to throw pebbles at coworkers to irritate them… that works.

At the end of the day, combat is about killing other people. There’s no moral high ground for saying, “oh, but my character doesn’t actually murder people, they only maim them.”


A lot of the questions here pertain to nonlethal takedowns, and it makes me curious: what sort of weapons exist specifically for restraining opponents? Nets, lassos, and bolas are frequently used on animals, but are they actually viable against humans? Have adhesives (e.g. Spiderman’s webbing) or any other kind of “high tech” restraint ever been seriously used in weaponry?

They’ve been seriously attempted. DARPA’s been funding research into less than lethal weapons for decades. I’ve seen video of prototype net guns and glue guns that first got released in the 90s. I assume there were serious issues with both, as neither moved into production since then.

Tazer shogtun shells are commercially available, but they’re expensive, and won’t work against someone wearing heavy clothing.

Of course Tazers and stunguns are a real option for putting someone on the ground. Zap someone with a heart condition and you’ll probably outright kill them, but otherwise, unless you don’t keep zapping them for over thirty minutes, you should be able to handcuff them.

DARPA’s other dream is sonic weapons. Initially they were looking at battlefield application, but it sounds like what they had started trending more for riot control.

Anyway, shotguns have a lot of exotic shell loadouts designed to not kill the victim. Beanbag rounds are a standard as are rubber bullets. There’s also grenade variants.

Beanbags distribute the force and will usually put someone on the ground at medium range with acceptable risk. Fatalities from these things run around 2%. The also fail to incapacitate the target with a single shot most of the time. Which can actually lead to needing to kill the target, because, we’ll, now you’ve shot at them.

Rubber bullets or riot slugs are in basically the same category. These are low powder load shotgun shells with either plastic or fabric slugs or shot. They’re used for riot control, and can still leave some nasty injuries or outright kill their victims. As with beanbags one shot isn’t likely to be enough.

Gas shells come in a couple varieties. They can be tear or pepper gas, and spray a cone of the gas or launch a miniature grenade. Both grenade variants also exist as 40mm variants, and in handheld form. Incidentally, there’s a 12 gauge fragmentation grenade in development.

Bolo shells do exist, but they’re advertized as being capable of decapitating whatever you’re hunting… so, not exactly the definition of non-lethal I was looking for.

Moving away from shotguns, there’s a lot of grenade ordinance that ends up in the less than lethal category.

Concussion Grenades, or flashbangs, are designed to emit enough light and noise to disorient someone for a few seconds. It should be enough time to get handcuffs on someone. While actual deaths from flashbangs are fairly rare, they’re still a live grenade detonation, and they do generate enough heat to cause severe burns and start fires.

There’s also of course, pepper spray in all it’s variations. This stuff isn’t 100%, and can get into trouble when dealing with people who aren’t affected, or have been exposed to it previously. Unsurprisingly it can also cause a lethal reaction in some cases.

So, yes, less than lethal weapons do exist. None of them are 100%, and most of them can accidentally kill the target. The entire point is to have an option that will briefly incapacitate, without having to go directly to lethal force.


How much damage would wooden bullets and rubber bullets cause?

Wooden bullets, probably not much. I’d have mocked the concept entirely, but apparently, wooden rounds used to be common for blanks, particularly as training rounds. Generally speaking, the powder detonation would reduce the bullet to sawdust when fired. Individually the fragments could be nasty, but not life threatening outside of a freak occurance.

There’s a persistent myth floating around that the Germans and Japanese issued them late in World War II. It holds that the rounds would splinter on impact and result in wooden shards that wouldn’t show up under x-ray. But, it’s the actual gunshot that shatters the bullet, which makes this whole myth a little suspect.

It looks like the Germans actually used them to launch rifle grenades, (a forerunner to modern under-barrel grenade launchers.) So they would have seen some use in the field. It also stands to reason most of the countries involved in World War II would have done the same.

Now, if you’re a soldier in the field, and your side is loosing, you’re ill equipped, running out of munitions, anything you can fire will look like a valid choice, eventually. So some people probably did get shot with these, but, I’m not finding any credible information that they’ll do anything.

If I was going out on a limb, I’d guess these could be lethal up to a few feet if you placed your shot correctly, but really these are blanks.

If you’re looking at a setting that actually requires wooden bullets (to deal with vampires, for instance), then you could make wooden bullets from a hardwood with a metal jacket to protect them from the worst of the powder charge, but I’ve got no idea how those would work in the real world.

Rubber bullets can kill. They’ve been kicking around at least since the mid-70s as a riot round. To their credit, they are less lethal than a gunshot, but they’re still pretty nasty. Rubber bullets are usually chambered for shotguns or riot guns (basically re-purposed grenade launchers), though there are a lot of different variants. This means you’re dealing with a very large, slow, projectile. And they still kill people.

If you really want to see what these will do you can just Google image search “rubber bullet injuries.” Just be ready for some really graphic content.

Rubber rounds for shotguns come as both slugs, and buckshot. The slugs are slightly more common, and alternately referred to as riot slugs.

Supposedly, rubber rounds exist for handguns. These are primer only cartridges (meaning no powder), and have muzzle velocities on par with airsoft. They’re intended for target shooting, though, I’ve never actually seen these personally, so I’m going by “things people wrote on the internet.” If the published muzzle velocities are trusted, these should be easily survivable.