State and local governments restrict the use of specific types of weapons, even those designed or intended for self-defense purposes. The question of whether or not a weapon is intended for self-defense is moot when it comes to the question of legality, as a law can restrict the possession of almost any weapon. Conversely, all weapons, and anything used as a weapon, can be used illegally. Even if the weapon is designed or intended solely for self-defense purposes, and the law allows individuals to possess the weapon, the manner in which it is used determines the lawfulness of it. These laws differ between areas, so research your own state and local laws for any weapons restrictions and laws pertaining to their use.
Firearms and Deadly Weapons
The use of firearms and other deadly weapons is allowed in every state, though all states have laws restricting the use of these weapons. For example, the state of Florida allows people to carry concealed handguns and other weapons, according to the Florida Division of Agriculture and Consumer Services. However, anyone wishing to do so must have a concealed-carry permit. Further, anyone licensed to carry a concealed handgun or other concealed weapon can only use it for self-defense in very limited circumstances.
Less Than Lethal Weapons
States also govern the use of non-lethal or "less-than-lethal" weapons, such as Taser guns, pepper spray and other devices. For example, the state of California has specific laws governing the use of less-than-lethal weapons, according to the California Office of the Attorney General. The state defines these weapons broadly, and includes weapons like slingshots, bows and arrows, tear gas and even devices used for signaling or illumination. While law enforcement or security officers can carry these weapons in the course of employment, California restricts their use in other situations. For example, it is illegal to bring any weapon, including less-than-lethal weapons, into public meetings or buildings in the state, according to California Penal Code section 171b.
How a self-defense weapon is used is key to the weapon's legality. Even if the law permits a person to own or carry the weapon, the weapon can still be used illegally. A person cannot, for example, use a self-defense weapon to intimidate or threaten someone else, nor can it be used as a response to verbal threats or in situations where there is no overt act of aggression.
A person can use a self-defense weapon when he reasonably believes he or another is in imminent danger or will suffer harm if he does not use the weapon. A person can only use deadly force when he believes his life is in danger or to try to prevent forcible felonies such as rape or kidnapping. Some states impose a duty to retreat, meaning a person cannot use force without making every effort to get away first and there is no other option, while other states have "castle doctrines" or "stand your ground" laws that allow a person to defend himself without having to retreat. The castle doctrine usually applies to self-defense in one's own home.