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18.9.2021 : 9:43 : +0200

Less-lethal Weapons

Specialized literature usually refers to these weapons as 'non-lethal' in a military context and as 'less-lethal' in a domestic security—or police—context. Generally speaking, the Small Arms Survey considers less-lethal means to be intermediary weapons designed to incapacitate people without causing death or permanent, irreversible injury. The traditional club, or baton, are the oldest non-lethal weapons known to man. All less-lethal weapons can be lethal if they are used indiscriminately and without proportionate use of force.

Some less-lethal weapons were developed simultaneously, and often discreetly, by military and law-enforcement agencies. Yet most of today's mass-produced less-lethal technologies were developed by private companies with strong marketing skills and support from government funds. The modern, commercial concept of less-lethal weapons encompasses the following categories: kinetic energy launchers and ammunition, barriers and entanglements, electrical or ‘conducted-energy weapons’, acoustic weapons, directed energy weapons, riot control agents and malodorants, and biochemical and incapacitating agents. Less-lethal systems are either stand-alone weapons or are integrated with firearms to provide the user with alternatives for graduated response. Their use, or misuse, is inherently tied to the concept of a use-of-force continuum.


Small Arms Survey Publications

  • From Replica to Real: An Introduction to Firearms Conversions, February 2015. Issue Brief No. 10.

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  • Less-lethal Weapons, July 2011. Research Note No. 8, Weapons and Markets. 

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Other Publications

  • Davison, Neil. 2009. 'Non-Lethal' Weapons. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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  • Kroll, Mark and Jeffrey Ho (eds). 2009. Taser Conducted Electrical Weapons: Physiology, Pathology, and Law. New York: Springer.

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  • Croft, S. et al. 2008. Less Lethal Technologies - Review of Commercially Available and Near-Market Products for the Association of Chief Police Officers. St Albans: Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

  • Davison, Neil. 2007. The Contemporary Development of “Non-Lethal” Weapons. Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project (BNLWRP), Occasional Paper No. 3. May. Bradford: University of Bradford.

  • Lewer, Nick and Neil Davison. 2005. Non-Lethal Weapons - Areas of Concern. Prepared for the 3rd Symposium on Non-Lethal Weapons, 10-12 May 2005, Ettlingen, Germany.

  • Lewer, Nick and Neil Davison. 2005. Non-Lethal Technologies: An Overview. Disarmament Forum. Issue 1, pp. 36-51. Geneva: UNIDIR.

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  • Allison, Graham, Richard Garwin and Paul Kelley. 2004. Nonlethal Weapons and Capabilities. Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.

  • Nutley, Erik L. 2003. Non-Lethal Weapons: Setting our Phasers on Stun? Potential Strategic Blessings and Curses of Non-Lethal Weapons on the Battlefield. Occasional Paper 34. Alabama: Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College.

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