I believe, wholeheartedly, that the importance of the right to bear firearms for personal protection cannot be overstated. That being said, guns provide us with certain defensive options but not an all-purpose solution. Even in the most gun-friendly states with shall-issue permits or constitutional carry, there will always be times and places where it is either impractical or illegal to carry a gun. Those who drive long distances for work or recreation are faced with all kinds of regulatory inconsistencies. Some situations may not justify the use of lethal force. And there are also our friends or family who are either unwilling or unable to use guns for defensive applications.
When firearms are not an option, folks often turn to the “non-lethal” class of defensive tools, which includes pepper sprays. These aerosol sprays contain oleoresin capsicum (OC), a pepper derivative. They can engage threats at greater distances of 8 to 12 feet instead of the close contact distances required when using blunt force or electro shock (stun guns) devices. When a person is sprayed in the face with a pepper spray, the effects include temporary blindness that lasts around 15 to 30 minutes, burning skin and uncontrollable coughing spasms that make it difficult to breathe and stand up straight.
OC has long been proven to be effective, but the aerosol deliver systems have their limitations. The canisters lose pressure over time requiring them to be replaced every so often, much like disposable fire extinguishers. Effective distances of 12" or less do not provide much room to maneuver for self defenders. And if the spray should happen to miss by being deployed past the assailant's face or low on the body (chest, arm or leg), it is going to be far less or wholly ineffective.
PepperBall has developed an innovative, flexible OC pepper delivery system inspired by recreational paintball guns. Although PepperBall's pistol and rifle-shaped launchers have been available for military and law enforcement applications for years, the company has just started shipping the LifeLite personal-defense launcher designed specifically for civilian use. I received a LifeLite a few weeks ago for evaluation, and I have to say I'm impressed by what this outside-the-box defensive option has to offer.
Instead of spraying a liquefied pepper stream, PepperBall systems use compressed gas to launch 0.70" diameter ball-shaped capsules packed with a fine OC pepper-treated powder. Upon impact, the balls break apart to instantaneously create debilitating dust clouds around 3 to 5 feet in size.
In place of a noticeable firearm layout, the LifeLite has the form and function of a wholly unobtrusive handheld flashlight. A closer look at the business end of the device reveals a 350 lumen light (left), the brass housing for an adjustable red laser diode (top), the removable puncture ram for 12-gram CO2 gas canisters (right) and the opening of the launch tube (bottom). The battery compartment is found on the right side of the LifeLite's grip. The flashlight and laser sight are powered by a pair of CR123A batteries or an optional rechargeable battery pack (shown).
Located at the rear of the textured grip is what the company calls the Projectile Cartridge, which gun geeks like me would call a removable tubular five-round magazine. The electrical and gas-powered systems operate independently of each other. Should the batteries run out of power, the light and laser will wink out but the launcher will still fire. The LifeLite is 11.25" long with a 2" wide grip and weighs in at 1 lb. 15.2 oz. when loaded with an un-punctured gas canister and five projectiles.
The company's designers have carefully separated the LifeLite's ambidextrous external control for the light and the launcher. There's no chance of unintentionally activating one while reaching for the other. The light has a simple rubberized on/off button along the bottom of the polymer housing, which is operated by an index finger.
The launcher controls are on the top of the housing. A removable safety pin, with lanyard, and a sliding cover plate protect the red polymer push-button trigger. Removing the pin allows the cover plate to be pressed forward toward the business end of the device. As the slider moves forward, the red laser sight is activated and the trigger button is ready to use. The LifeLite is then aimed with the aid of the height and windage adjustable red laser sight.
The PepperBall system has two distinct advantages that set it apart from other devices in this class. First is its range. The LifeLite is listed as having an effective range of 60 feet, which is impressive when compared to aerosol sprays' effective range of 12 feet or less. Based on what I saw in the course of testing, this launcher can certainly lob a ball that far. It should be noted that the CO2 gas canister is not punctured until the first shot is fired. This means it will not drain out or lose pressure when placed in storage. After being fired, the punctured CO2 canister should be replaced.
The other advantage is that PepperBalls do not have to impact an assailant’s body in order to be effective. Those who have been treated to the “educational opportunity” of being shot by a paintball gun without the benefit of protective gear (like I have), already know that the pain from the impact is immediate and the welts will keep you company for several days. So a strike to the chest, legs or arms has its advantages.
However, if an assailant ducks behind a barrier or cover, such as a door, dumpster or shrub, the Pepperballs can be fired against the ground or a wall near the hiding place to release the dust around them with the same debilitating pepper effects as a direct impact.
Based on the ergonomics and purpose of the device, I opted to test the LifeLite at 21 feet from a standing position. The device is easy to operate, the laser sight dot was clearly visible at this distance and it ran reliably for several five-round sets for sighting in and function testing. Finding a stable grasp and stance took a bit of doing since this device is unique. But in the end, I got it down to 3" five-shot groups at this distance by tucking the Lifelite up against my ribs with my shooting hand, much like a pistol-grip shotgun. This grip worked right- or left-handed while leaving the other hand free to manage other tasks.
The new PepperBall LifeLite launcher has a distinctive set of advantages that sets it apart from the non-lethal defensive tool crowd. It looks and operates just like any other handheld flashlight. It can be carried in plain sight or transferred from point A to point B without drawing suspicious glances. When out walking a dog or a campground in the evening, the device is already in your hand, ready to deploy in a moment’s notice. Best of all, the LifeLite is not an either/or defensive proposition. Because it is a bright flashlight, it can be carried along with a concealed handgun or staged for home defense. The LifeLite starter kit, which includes three CO2 canisters, 10 inert practice balls and 5 PepperBalls, is now available for a suggested retail price of $299.
Be sure to check your local regulations regarding OC pepper delivery systems before ordering.