It’s made with glass-infused plastic, and “with a little force behind it,” Jodi Fisher, the brain behind the product, says the device could help runners stave off an attack. The $19.95 gizmo only hit the market a month ago, but already has made waves in the running community– especially among women. One Web site said it “gives runners safety claws like X-Men.”
Similar products have come on the market recently, amid heightened awareness of campus sexual assault and initiatives such as the White House’s “It’s on Us” campaign, taking aim at violence against women.
Fisher’s customers span at least 18 states and include a running coach in Illinois who bought a set of 15 for his team, and a self-defense teacher in Tennessee, who ordered 50. Fisher, a Tucson resident who works in criminal justice, says she thought of the idea after going on an evening run in her hometown and making a wrong turn.
“I was new to this park and accidentally took a wrong path that put me into a dark and shaded area, and I felt very vulnerable,” she said. “I was just thinking, ‘what’s my plan?’ And I had no plan. I had nothing other than a cell phone, which is great after the fact to call for help. But God forbid something did happen, there was nobody around.”
As the device is marketed, you simply slip on the ring before going out on a run, arming yourself with a disguised blade. It’s intended to overcome the disadvantages of devices such as pepper spray and mace, which have to be retrieved, and can impact users as well as their attackers.
Some question whether it’s wise to encourage runners, pedestrians — or anyone — to arm themselves and whether such devices give them a false sense of security.
Self-defense experts say there is no foolproof device a person under duress can use to defend themselves, but that mental acuity and situational awareness are key when it comes to staying safe.
“The most important thing always is your brain,” said Sgt. Guy Antinozzi, a defensive tactics police instructor and crime suppression team supervisor in Georgia. Antinozzi has taught and written extensively about self-defense and co-authored the “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Campus Safety.”
He recognizes the benefits of carrying self-defense devices, whether they be mace and pepper spray or sharp objects, but he says wearers should know the risks. To minimize potential harm, users should get to know and understand their weapons so they can control them when action is needed.
“You act confidently, you walk more confidently, you have a better gait that doesn’t attract negative attention,” he said, of wearing the devices. “But then it comes down to it … sometimes you might actually have to use the weapon. Whether it’s a cat claw or some bladed knife or a more lethal weapon, you have to have the willingness to use it and weapon retention so that weapon’s not used against you.”
Regardless of the device, Antinozzi says, wearers should know “it could be used on you or used to threaten you.”
Antinozzi recommends testing out products in a familiar environment before wearing them for self-defense.
“I would actually find a way to hit something that could take the blows and find out what this thing does and just doesn’t cut up my fingers,” he said. “I would want to know how this is going to react in my hand.”
He also emphasized wearers’ responsibility in knowing whether their devices comply with local laws.
“It’s not a novelty. It’s not a toy. You’re carrying it as a weapon and I think that’s a mindset that people need to accept,” he said. “They’re weapons. They’re clearly weapons. So you would have to be sure for the jurisdiction that you’re in that you can carry them. It might be fine to carry them from your house to your car, [but] maybe not into a school,” for example.
In the District, for example, a D.C. Police spokeswoman referred a reporter to the D.C. Code for questions on whether a Go Guarded would be legal. District law bans switchblades and brass knuckles, but other knives with blades up to three inches are legal. That same isn’t true in schools or other places that have special rules regarding weapons — such as museums and government property. The Smithsonian bans any sharp items, including pocket knives and scissors. Pepper spray and mace also are prohibited in the museums.
Fisher’s isn’t the first product of its kind. Another device, the TigerLady, has cat-like claws. It’s the size of a cellphone and can be held in the palm or worn around the wrist. With a slight tug, a set of three plastic claws is exposed, with channels on their underside designed to capture DNA of assailants. Company co-founder Josh Levine says it’s a legal self-defense product, as it doesn’t cover the fingers like brass knuckles — which are illegal in many places. (A 2013 D.C. Court of Appeals ruling includes a definition of “Knuckles” that says they cover the fingers on a hand, unlike Levine’s claws.)
Levine says the idea spawns from a metaphor.
“Cats are able to hunt and protect themselves extremely efficiently with their claws,” he said. “They’re perfectly harmless until you back them into a corner or try to pick them up when they don’t want to be touched.”
He, too, says increased awareness about sexual assault prompted him to launch his product. The design was originally patented by Alfred Levine in 1978, according to the company Web site, but the prototype remained in family possession until about a year ago, when the $29 product was launched.
Fisher says her product is designed to maximize self-defense while minimizing the potential for self-harm. Still, she acknowledged that accidents can happen.
“Obviously anything’s possible,” she said. “Initially this was going to be a metal, razor-like blade. I could see in a situation where it was razor-sharp, you wouldn’t have to have any impact, you could just be casually running next to your friend, accidentally pat her on the back and end up causing damage to her.”
Instead, she says, the plastic blade is disguised and protected under a thin rubber strip. Fisher says when it’s used, the attacker won’t know what hit him.
She’s sold more than 100 so far, but has yet to hear stories of anyone having to use it. She hopes it stays that way.
“That’s the whole idea,” she said. “You hope these things never happen, but if they do you know that you have a tool.”