Originally for Police Officers in Riot situations, non-lethal technology is getting more and more popular for civilian use. The majority of non-Lethal guns that fire projectiles are Air powered and often just heavily modified paintball guns. Some of the most popular are made by companies such as Umarex, Byrna and Pepperball. These devices are often called launchers, markers or guns. They support a variety of different types of projectiles, which we will go into below. The first consideration is the caliber of the non-lethal gun. This is the size of the barrel and the subsequent project and is specific to each gun.
Non-lethal guns that utilize .43 caliber have a limited variety of projectiles. This caliber is too small for pepperballs, and rubber balls, nylon balls and paintballs are the only projectiles available. Umarex makes many guns in .43 caliber, however most are used for training. The round is often seen as too small, and thus not packing enough energy to be taken seriously for self-defense.
This caliber is gaining more popularity and is often used for self-defense. It has a variety of ammunition available and is utilized by many guns including the Umarex HDR Revolver.
Sixty-eight caliber is the most popular size of less lethal round available. Not coincidentally, this is the exact same size as most paintballs. Pepperball and Byrna both utilize this Caliber. Sixty-Eight Caliber can carry the highest payload of PAVA powder and is the heaviest out of the three calibers.
Top Non-Lethal Projectiles
Pepper Rounds are the most popular less lethal projectile for civilian use. They consist of a plastic shell that contains PAVA or Nonivamide. PAVA is the chemical name for Nonivamide, which is a synthetic form of Capsaicin. It is produced commercially and is used in food production and medical creams. When fired at a subject's chest, it explodes on impact, spreading the PAVA Powder in the air and on the subject. The PAVA powder causes coughing and pain in any exposed moist area including the eyes, nose and throat, in addition to the pain of the kinetic impact. They come in .68 and .50 Caliber but are not currently made in .43 Caliber. They can be very expensive costing from $2 to $6 a round and are offered by Pepperball, Umarex and Novice Defense.
2. FSC or VXR Shaped Rounds
These .68 Caliber shaped projectiles are a design owned by Pepperball (marketed as VXR Rounds) and First Strike. They only come in .68 Caliber and only fit some guns with vertical or rotary magazines. (Like the Pepperball TCP) They are shaped for aerodynamics and subsequently have a longer range and better accuracy than roundballs. They usually have a PAVA Powder payload in the front that bursts on impact, however there are some solid rubber versions made by companies like RAP4.
3. Nylon Balls
Nylon Balls are round balls that are hard and heavy. They’re used in self-defense to create a painful “kinetic impact” on aggressors and are sometimes referred to as “kinetic rounds”. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and are usually available in all three calibers. They are often used in California where Pepper Rounds are illegal.
Grimburg Less Lethal has become famous for their manufacture of these less lethal rounds. They are hard nylon with powdered copper for added weight. They are a shaped projectile and show better accuracy as a result. HP68’s is often used in heavily modified home defense guns and can easily be lethal. Extreme caution should be exercised.
5. Rubber Balls
Rubber Balls are cheap rounds that are mostly used for practice. Their lightweight and resilience make them good for target practice, and they can often be used over and over again.
FN 303 rounds are almost exclusively used by Law Enforcement. They are .68 Caliber and designed specifically to be fired out of FN’s 303 less lethal guns. They are shaped projectiles with a “bismuth shot” projectile head. The small beads of bismuth metal provide a lot of weight, but disperse on impact, reducing the chance of penetration. The FN303 rounds can be dangerous, and in 2004 resulted in the fatality of a protester after she was struck in the eye.
7. Glass Breaker Rounds
Glass breakers are often seen on the civilian market in .68 Caliber. They are advertised as being designed to break glass in appropriate situations. They are extremely hard and can be lethal if used on people.
Steel core balls come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are steel ball bearings covered by a rubber or nylon sheath. The steel core provides the heavy weight needed for a high kinetic impact, while the rubber sheath is supposed to mitigate the risk of a steel ball impact. They come in round and shaped projectile versions for greater accuracy. These have a high capability of being lethal and should only be used in circumstances where lethal force is justified.
9. Metal Projectiles
Metal projectiles are firmly within the realm of lethal and are not considered less lethal.
10. Law Enforcement Rounds
Law enforcement has a much wider array of less lethal rounds available to them than civilians. They are deployed in a variety of calibers and launchers including 40mm Grenade Launchers and 12 Gauge Shotguns. The 40mm grenade launchers are considered ‘Destructive Devices’ by the ATF and are not legal for civilians. Some of the rounds available include rubber stinger or buckshot, rubber slugs, Rubber 40mm rubber batons and bean bag rounds. Since they are often fired from firearms, there is a great deal of regulation concerning their carry and deployment. They can be very dangerous unless used correctly by trained individuals.