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Improvised Weapon / Real Life

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As shown in the trope, just about anything can be used as a weapon.

  • Many melee weapons can be roughly categorized and directly traced to early hunting or farming implements. Before standing armies were prevalent, only warrior castes were properly trained or armed, and peasants often had to fight with whatever hatchets, hoes, slings and scythes they had around the homestead.
    • Notably, the standard English infantry polearm, in the late medieval period when pretty much every European army had infantry with some kind of polearm, was the "bill", which was derived from the agricultural billhook but evolved into a formidable weapon. Though for that matter, halberds, poleaxes, and so on — the common polearm types elsewhere — presumably started out as woodsmen's axes with longer shafts and added details.
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    • Most of the weapons traditionally associated with Ninja started out as farming implements and underwent little transformation. The reasons for this were twofold: firstly, because ninja were not members of the samurai class and so did not have the legal right to own proper weapons; and secondly, because real ninja were not the highly visible sort and carrying something that could do legitimate work was a lot less conspicuous. Examples include the kunai (originally a trowel), shuriken (the most common form, the bo shuriken, is basically a stake), sai (prying tool), and kusarigama (lawnmower).
    • For that matter, original weapon concepts were likely mostly derived from whatever debris proved effective for killing. Dagger? Sharp rock. Spear? Pointy branch. Club? Animal bone...
  • The most famous swordmaster in all of history, Miyamoto Musashi, occasionally chose to fight with a bokken (wooden sword) and consistently won with them. In his fight with Sasaki Kojiro (his most famous fight), he wielded a bokken carved from the oar he used to row himself there.
    • And he in turn allegedly lost only once - to an elderly monk wielding a hoe.
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    • Supposedly at some point the famed swordsman came to eschew steel swords in favor of wooden ones after becoming sickened by the number of promising swordsmen he killed in duels, and no matter whether he used a steel or wooden sword, still only suffered the one defeat.
    • According to one legend, Musashi's sole defeat was at the hands of Muso Gonnosuke, the founder of Shinto Muso Ryu. One version of the story goes that, Muso, using a bo, dueled Musashi, and was defeated when the sword master broke his staff. Distraught, Muso carried the broken staff with him and meditated until he received divine inspiration on how to use it to overcome Musashi's two-sword technique. They dueled again, this time with Muso as the victor. The shorter stick, the jo, was preserved in Muso's system. If true, this is an oddly recursive case of a seemingly-useless broken weapon being used as an improvised weapon. It was also, of course, just a stick: one of the original improvised weapons in Real Life.
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    • In the late Middle Ages, and probably before and after it was not uncommon for peasant militias to make their own battle maces: Simply take thick stick and hammer some large nails in it.
  • Members of any country's armed forces are pretty much taught that anything you can get your hands on can be used as a weapon.
  • Perhaps one of the most infamous and iconic improvised weapons in the real world is the Molotov Cocktail, a weapon which has such ordinary components as gasoline/petrol, a glass bottle, and some sort of wick or fuse (often a cloth rag). It was first used in the Spanish Civil War by Nationalist troops to repel T-26 tanks under General Franco's orders, as well as variations of petrol bombs and petrol-soaked blankets, and their success led to the Republicans quickly making them from glass jars and baby bottles. Molotov cocktails were also successfully used by the Finnish against intruding Russians in the Winter War of 1939.
    • The original recipe was a cocktail, in that components were mixed and shaken up, particularly, a small amount of tar was added to the gasoline to make it stick to the target. Leslie Thomas gives the full recipe in one of his stories where a Spanish Civil War veteran is teaching British Home Guards in World War II how to make them and disable tanks with them.
    • In fact, it was so effective that it was later mass-produced specifically for tank-killing purposes.
      • There's a story about King George VI being given a demonstration of the new weapon. When asked if he would like to try one, he is reputed to have said: "Save them for the Germans."
    • One of the other methods of disabling tanks in the absence of a proper anti-tank weapon was to simply cram a log in the tread assembly, which caused the tank to throw a tread and become immobilized.
    • In Yugoslavia, German soldiers once threw a blanket over a partisan tank to effectively blind it. note 
    • Another World War II improvised antitank weapon was the "sticky bomb", a sock filled with TNT, rigged with a simple fuse and dipped in Kerosene to make it sticky. Soldiers would run up alongside an enemy tank, attach the bomb to the tread, light the fuse, then run like hell.
    • The sticky bomb wasn't a very effective "improvised" anti-tank weapon. Although it was made with simple materials, the British soon issued sticky bombs to their troops, with adhesive to make it stick better. It was ineffective because it had a tendency of going off prematurely or sticking to the user when lighted.
      • Prime example was in Saving Private Ryan: in this case, it falls in line with holding a grenade for too long...
  • Pipebombs. As their name suggests, made from a short length of metal or PVC pipe packed with explosive material. The Unabomber was famous for making ones with nails. One person killed himself with a pipe bomb stuffed with shredded playing cards.
  • Back when cars had antennas (which was roughly about the early 1950s to the late 1980s) gang members and experienced street fighters who needed a weapon in a hurry would simply rip an antenna off the nearest car. It made for a vicious slashing weapon, especially when used on an attacker's face, and it gave you room because it made people back up from you in a hurry.
  • Potato guns.
  • Baseball bats. Besides being sold in every sporting goods store (and thus extremely common), a baseball bat just so happens to be a very well-balanced wooden club. The same could also be said for cricket bats, golf clubs, or oars used in whitewater rafting. An aluminum baseball bat is even less prone to breaking than its common wooden counterpart, and a few good hits could easily break bones.
    • They're lightweight, very sturdy, and it hurts like hell when you're accidentally hit by one even when you're wearing protective gear.
    • The very first weapon we as a species had was the primitive club (basically a tree branch). A baseball bat is a highly refined version of that meant for hitting very small and fast moving things for which you have less than 4/10 of a second to locate.
  • Another funny example with potatoes-In April 1943, the destroyer USS O'Bannon came across Japanese submarine Ro-34 and nearly rammed it (jerked at the last moment thinking the sub was laying mines). When the destroyer stopped, it was too close to depress its main guns. And the Japanese sailors actually just stared at the reckless Americans, who hadn't any sidearms handy while staring back. By the time the Japanese remembered to use the submarine's 76.2 mm deck gun and scrambled to it, the American sailors lobbed potatoes at them. The Japanese, thinking the potatoes were grenades, panicked and started tossing the spuds overboard or back at the O'Bannon, hitting a few of the O'Bannon's crewmen and escalating the food fight. The fight ended when the O'Bannon backed off a bit and shot Ro-34 with its main guns and then dropped depth charges on the sub when it submerged.
  • Shivs, MacGyver-like knives typically made by prison inmates out of ordinary things such as sharpened toothbrushes, spoons, styrofoam, pieces of paper, and chicken bones.
    • Prisoners occasionally show remarkable ingenuity when it comes to designing makeshift weapons. An episode of MythBusters successfully demonstrated the potential of a crossbow made from rolled newspaper and an elastic waistband.
      • Prisoners have been known to shit and piss into a bucket and keep it in their cell for days or more, allowing it to fester and become truly disgusting. Just so they can throw it at the guards.
  • The Pen Gun, a testament to Norwegian ingenuity, is made from standard office supplies and can launch a pencil through a soda can. More than enough to penetrate the trachea or temple.
  • Roman senator Tiberius Gracchus was killed with a bench. A little later, the tribune Saturninus and his followers were murdered while being held in the Senate house—some impetuous aristocrats climbed onto the roof and threw clay roof tiles down on them.
    • Pyrrhus of Epirus (or more likely to be known to people as Pyrrhus of the Pyrrhic Victory) was similarly said to have been killed in the Siege of Sparta after an old woman civilian threw a roof tile down onto his head. If that didn't kill him, another soldier proceeding to behead him while he was on the ground definitely did.
  • In WWI, soldiers in the trenches would sharpen their entrenchment tools (small shovels) and use them in hand-to-hand combat.
    • An American knife company makes a reproduction of the Soviet MPL-50 entrenching tool, with particular emphasis on the fighting and generally offensive applications of it.
    • On Deadliest Warrior, the Green Berets were shown to use entrenchment tools. These were pre-sharpened, and they were trained in their effective use as weapons.
  • The British Army has achieved respectable results when called upon to perform crowd-control duty by issuing its soldiers with pickaxe handles. The practice apparently began when security was needed for the officer detailed to collect the garrison payroll from a bank, as rifles would tend to over-penetrate.
  • Trench Knives:
    • The French Army was one of the leaders in the development of trench knife designs and concepts. Besides shortening long sword-like bayonets and commissioning the development of new designs, unit blacksmiths fashioned field expedient weapons such as the French Nail, made from stolen barb wire stakes. Supposedly the Nail was so successful the Germans stole the design and concept after they encountered them firsthand.
    • As they were manufactured on the field and with no set blueprints, some trench knives/french nails had "knuckle dusters" built into them, allowing the user to punch the enemy in the face and stunning his opponent before plunging the sharp end of the nail into the poor sod's helmet. Rumor has it that some nails were strong enough to go straight through the steel helmets of the Germans in one stroke, making them terrifyingly deadly in the cramped trenches.
  • The Millwall Brick, a testament to human ingenuity in coming up with a way to kill each other with newspapers snuck into football events.
    • Robert Rankin has a scene in one of his novels where a SAS veteran folds a newspaper into a dagger and uses it to stab a hole in a bar counter. This was probably based on the Millwall Brick (or the Chelsea Brick popularized by W.E. Fairbairn while he was training the S.O.E.).
    • For more improvised weaponry, consider the first two sentences of the history article of that page:
    "In the late 1960s — in response to football hooliganism at matches in England — police began confiscating any objects that could be used as weapons. These items included steel combs, pens, beermats, Horse Brasses, Polo mints, shoelaces and boots."
  • 'Chechnyan Firecrackers'- otherwise known as home-made guns. If you have something explosive, materials and tools to work with and maybe even bits of actual guns. With the right know-how, any enterprising rebel, terrorist, gang member or ordinary person can build a usable firearm of some sort, though safety is not a guarantee. As the nickname suggested, Chechnyan rebels are well-known for creating and using guides to build these. The Other Wiki has an article about this.
    • Britain's heavy restrictions on firearms (handguns are illegal and the police make spot-checks to ensure owners haven't got careless about storing their weapons under lock and key) severely limit the black market supply of proper firearms, so the next best thing for your average would-be armed robber are crude derringers kludged together from starting pistols and replicas. Firing one is either an act of great courage, great foolhardiness or both.
  • Leon Trotsky was eliminated with the use of an ice ax.
    • On another occasion, Indian soldier Yogender Singh Yadav used his ice axe to hack down opponents in an assault on an enemy position during one of the Kashmir wars.
  • Don't Try This at Home: There's a YouTube video floating around of a person who filled a Super-Soaker tank with WD-40, attached a flaming rag in front of the nozzle, and made a pretty effective flamethrower.
    • Somewhere around 2003, a kid built a functional flamethrower out of PVC pipe (for the tank), hose, copper tube (handle), a gas line tap (valve), able to shoot a 12 yard jet of flame, and a lot of people imitated the design. Subversion: it still needs a (relatively high-tech) tire inflating compressor to load and pressurize it before it fires.
    • Inverted by a guy who built what he planned as a flamethrower and decided to test it with water. The performance was seriously impressive and he went on to use it to for water fights.
  • Low-quality softair guns powered by a small gas tank are known for discharging their tank in a few shots if fired upside-down; instead of the small puff of gas that is normally used to propel the pellet, they dump a third or so of the tank, emitting a jet of ice-cold gas. The nozzle for refilling the gas tank has the same size as the one for refilling butane lighters.
  • The term "paltik" in the Philippines refers to both improvised firearms created in back-alley workshops and homemade guns. According to The Other Wiki, the term originated late in the Philippine-American War when guns and ammunition had become scarce. The most common form of the weapon was a gas pipe attached to a rifle stock. Wire was usually wrapped around the barrel to keep the pipe from expanding when the gun is fired. It was muzzle-loaded and fired a medium sized bullet or musket ball. A small hole at the breach end of the barrel accommodated a cigarette or match that was used to ignite the primer, making aiming difficult. This also gave rise to the nickname, "Cigarette Gun". Modern paltik guns can range from crude constructs of pipe and metal to functional copies of real guns. The construction of such weapons was so common in the Danao city area that the government just decided to legalize the clandestine gun-makers rather than go through the headache of trying to clear out all of them.
  • Irregular Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam war used a vast array of homemade and converted weapons, some as simple as a length of pipe fitted with a crude breech and a rubber band and nail to act as the firing pin, firing shotgun cartridges. They would then set up a trap designed to ensnare or otherwise disable an enemy soldier, lie in wait near the trap, and once the trap is sprung they would just walk up to the poor guy and execute him, "liberating" him of his weapon. They'd then hand off the improvised weapon to the next poor guy who has to make do with it.
  • Home-made guns in the USA were called "zip guns" they were very unsafe, and as handguns have become more readily available they are mostly forgotten.
  • Fire extinguishers. Besides being a rather heavy club, the spray is a good way to blind someone if it gets in their eyes. There's a CCTV recording showing a hotel clerk successfully fighting off robbers with a fire extinguisher when they think they have everyone under control, and this video shows a bus driver putting one to good use on another road-raging, knife-wielding driver.
  • Technicals, which are usually nothing more than civilian pickup trucks with salvaged guns or rocket tubes welded on, have proven to be effective in combat in the Middle East and North Africa whenever proper fighting vehicles are hard to come by. What technicals lack in armor, they make up for with speed and maneuverability, and are much less costly to produce, allowing belligerents to deploy them in large numbers to compensate for their fragility. Although as some such forces have learned from time to time, even a large number of such technicals are no match for proper armored vehicles in a force-on-force battle. Most machine guns will do little more than getting the attention of a tank, and many of the rocket launchers will lack the penetration required if fighting armored vehicles head-onnote .
  • Many of the classic weapons of martial arts were improvised, as their origins dated from a time when swords were forbidden to anyone outside the samurai class. The bo staff was a wooden pole used to carry buckets of water; the sai was a piece of metal that kept wagon carts attached to the wagons. Tonfa were handles taken from wells. Nunchaku were implements used to whip horses (or to thresh grains; history is a little unclear on this one). Kamas and sickles were for cutting crops or grass.
  • The self defence manual Street Ninja, by one Dirk Skinner, uses the term TOYS (Tools Of Your Surroundings) to mean a bunch of sand or coins slung in an assailant's face, a bottle snatched from a bar, a key between your knuckles etc.
    • On a side note, NEVER hold a key between your knuckles and try to hit someone. The key will twist and at best go down, and at worst, go up and slice into the webbing between your fingers. Hold the key between your thumb and index finger, much better for stabbing.
      • Israeli author Eugene Sokut recounts a tale where an old man uses keys between the fingers to open the face of a young troublemaker. The old man was a former commando with enough expertise that the keys were likely unnecessary as a weapon, to begin with, though. Ultimately, the author used the tale to underscore the point that using keys between the fingers was not a favourite tactic for a novice.
      • When it comes to keys, your best bet is throwing them into the face of your opponent. Try it on soda cans, milk cartons, something similar and you'll see the kind of damage it does. Keys can also be used in a fight not to stab, but held between the knuckles and raked across the opponents face like claws.
  • Tyre irons. The lever-type can be used as a cosh and the cross-type can be used as a giant shuriken (or vampire repellent), in addition to having hand-guards. It's also great to parry with, what with all the angles.
  • With knowledge in human anatomy and physiology (particularly concerning arteries), any rigid pen or pencil can become a lethal weapon. It is for this reason that the pens issued in prisons are the bendable kind.
  • Probably half of the hand weapons in any book of medieval military technology first started out as this trope, when farmers who didn't own any decent weapons adapted their agricultural implements as polearms, nunchaku, caltrops, etc.
    • A very good example might be the polish Kosynierzy (scythe men). Impromptu peasant infantry made up from men armed with scythes with blades pointing straight, which turned it into a frightening weapon.
    • Additionally, there's actually a significant difference between axes specifically designed for war, and the sort of axe a peasant farmer would have around his home. The latter has a deep, wedge-shaped edge ideally suited for cutting or splitting wood, and were not actually intended for use in warfare. While it certainly can be pressed into service as a functional weapon, a true military axe has a thin and almost sword-like edge and is much better at cutting and hacking flesh. This makes the use of common wood axes a case of this trope, as well.
  • Even honest-to-goodness guns can be used this way if circumstances arise that prevent you from using them for their designed purpose (out of ammo, weapon malfunction, the bad guy inside the effective range, etc.). Members of the armed forces are trained to use their firearms as melee weapons, including a fluid set of four melee attacks for use with a rifle note 
    • In another gun-related example, during the colonial days, Portuguese soldiers were cooped up in a tower, trying to defend themselves against the enemy, until they ran out of bullets. Out of regular ammo, they used the only thing they had available, THEIR OWN FREAKING TEETH. The others were so freaked out by the guys who shot their own teeth, they gave up as soon as one of them was shot in the head with the tooth.
    • Part of the reason why the butt/stock of most guns is preferably made out of hardwood or hard material is that it makes for a very good improvised club. The legendary AK-47 is notable in this regard in that it uses a solid wooden stock, which can crack skulls when combined with its infamously durable frame.
  • In September of 2010, Sergeant Dipprasad Pun of the Royal Gurkha Rifles apparently beat a Taliban attacker off a rooftop with the tripod of a heavy machinegun. The thing weighs about sixteen pounds and is made of solid steel, so smacking somebody with it is probably a lot like walloping them with a warhammer.
  • The Dutch were infamous throughout their history for using their own country as a weapon. Because most of the populous west lies below sea level, more than one war has been won by breaching the right dike at the right time and flooding or cutting off enemy troops. Once, they even sailed their own fleet inland to liberate a besieged city.
    • In a similar vein, the Russians have repeatedly used their merciless winters (promoted to General) against invaders. Both Napoleon's and Hitler's armies have been savaged by them. One of the few nations to use this successfully against Russian troops were the Finns during the Winter War when they would (among other things) systematically destroy field kitchens of Red Army detachments. Having no hot food in -40C conditions is very bad for you.
    • Inverted by king Karl X Gustav of Sweden in 1658, when he used an unusually cold winter to march the entire Swedish army across the normally open sea and invade Denmark. (This had evidently been done before on a smaller scale; an old Danish law says that any Swede who walks across the ice to Denmark may be beaten with sticks.)
  • Older Than Dirt, unsurprisingly. The oldest unequivocal weapons known to archaeology are the Schöningen spears, approximately 400-375 millennia old. They were simply carved from wooden poles, and don't have any points hafted on them.
  • This story shows a machete-wielding masked thug attempting to raid a shop, and getting fended off by a man in his fifties using a mop, who is joined shortly by his son with a hockey stick. This clip also shows an admirable amount of Combat Pragmatism, as he manages to keep the door between him and the machete, rather than letting the thug get an advantage.
  • The 1933 "Battle of Stockton", a clash between fascist Blackshirts and pissed off locals, involved a great deal of improvised weaponry, ranging from sticks, pickaxe handles, and stones, to at least one potato studded with razor blades. The latter actually managed to take one fascist's eye out.
  • During the assassination of King Carlos I of Portugal, Queen Amélie struck back at the assassins with the only object at her reach: a flower bouquet.
  • ANFO, fertilizer, and diesel, mix and voila, instant bomb. You can also make a gun with a door bolt for the firing mechanism and a bullet with a bamboo section full of match heads and a nail. Put it all in a pipe and add a pebble in front of it, you got a gun now. MacGyvering for all!
    • If you have a shortage of diesel/gasoline/ other fuel oil; you can make urea nitrate out of nitrate fertilizer and human or animal urine. Humans are very ... creative ... when inventing ways to blow things up.
  • One of the hazards of being a teacher trying to break up a fight between students in schools (especially those with severe disciplinary problems) is the fact that sometimes said students use school supplies—pens, pencils, scissors, etc.—as weapons.
  • During his time as Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien once had an intruder get into 24 Sussex, the Official Residence of the Prime Minister, while he and his wife were home. He grabbed a smallish Inuit soapstone carving as an improvised weapon. Doesn't count as any sort of badass, though. He was hiding in the next room while his wife was talking to the intruder, keeping him busy until the security detail was able to get inside and deal with the problem. This doesn't say much about the security detail being all that badass either. (The time he broke away from his security escort, proceeded to wade through a crowd, and started to strangle some poor schmuck who didn't get out of the way fast enough doesn't say much about the quality of the security detail or his suitability as a person at large, either.)
  • The Browning Automatic Rifle was designed as a light machine gun for the US Army during World War One and was used heavily in World War II and The Korean War. It was not unknown for soldiers to cut off the bipod, which both reduced the weight and practically turned it into an assault rifle (which was what it pretty much was anyway).
  • It is a general rule that any weapon will be used for a mission it is not intended for once it is discovered it is useful for that. Examples are the German 88 which could fulfill both anti-aircraft and anti-tank, the bazooka which was found to be useful for destroying fortifications, and the B-52 which was originally for dropping nukes but turned out to be extremely useful in raining Death from Above on conventional troops.
    • Another good example: Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns. Most of these, such as the ZSU-23-4 have multiple rapid-firing machine cannons or rotary cannons. While initially designed to defeat helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, they have proven themselves equally good at fighting infantry in mountains and urban areas. This is equal parts due to their higher rate of fire compared to conventional tanks and their higher range of elevation on their guns, meaning that they can rake even the tallest buildings or steepest cliffs with high-explosive cannon fire.
      • The M45 Quadmount during WWII is perhaps the first example of this. An electrically-powered turret mounting four M2 .50 machine guns, intended to be a highly-portable anti-aircraft weapon (easily mounted on the back of a truck), but it was quickly adapted to anti-infantry use and given the nickname "Krautmower". (Due, in part, to the fact that by the time it was deployed in combat there weren't very many German aircraft left for it to shoot at, but still lots of ground troops.)
  • There have been stories of people using a Nintendo GameCube & a controller to defend themselves from knife-wielding muggers...without any permanent damage being done to either object.
    • Not surprising, as anyone who has tried to chop open a plastic bottle knows, those plastic bottles are hard to chop apart!
  • Barrel Bombs are exactly what they are: A 200-litre drum filled with high explosive (and shrapnel, oil, or hazardous chemicals for additional effect) that is air-dropped from a helicopter or transport plane. They're a very dirt-cheap alternative to sending out dedicated combat aircraft with proper bombs but your approval rating will plummet if they cause massive collateral damage.
  • Students sailing from naval schools aren't always allowed to carry lethal weaponry onboard. Their defense against pirates, however, is a simple one: Souped-up firehoses. Because when you're raiding a big ship with a little boat, water is the last thing you need. The fact that the hose has enough force to push back most people generally helps.
  • Motorcycle crash helmets are frequently used by Malaysian motorcycle street racers and gangsters in fights due to their easy availability and durability.
  • One would be justified to postulate this relationship: the brutality of a weapon's usage is inversely proportional to the weapon's retail price.
  • Fruitcake is largely hated as an inedible dessert that tastes terrible and is hard as bricks. So much so that a popular fact regarding Fruitcake dates back to the American War of Independence where an Officer asked George Washington what he was supposed to do with no more ammunition. The reply that he got was "You have plenty of Fruitcakes, don't you? Use those instead!"
  • Microwaves stuffed with tin foil and oil can potentially become an improvised explosive device.
  • Maglites (big, heavy metal flashlights) are so well-known for their use as improvised truncheons that the "Maglite stance" (holding the Maglite overhand at head height, so that it can easily be used to put the thump on somebody) has almost become a Stock Pose for security guards and policemen.
  • You're likely sitting in a chair, maybe a bar-stool. Pick it up, you now have a weapon with both power and reach. You probably won't need it but just in case, remember this. It could save your life, or at least a hospital trip.
  • Man kills his attacker with a skateboard.
  • An unopened can of soda. A cylindrical, metallic object that can exert a lot of force on impact. Your opponent will probably be picking up his teeth off the sidewalk after getting hit with one.
  • A keychain has been used very successfully. Not just any keychain though, but one carried by a cleaning lady who worked for multiple restaurants, and carried ALL of the keys she needed on a single, roughly yard-long mass of keyrings and keys.
  • One argument for gun control in the United States is that it will force mass murderers to get creative and use this trope. That said, this is just as often cited as an argument against gun control, as that same restriction applies to their potential victims.
  • General Desaix rarely carried weapons when he was out inspecting his troops, so when a party of Austrian infantrymen ambushed him as he was crossing a vineyard near Mainz, he tore a stake from the ground and "kept fighting as if he were wielding Roland's sword".
  • In November 2019 knife wielding terrorist in London was stopped by a man using a Narwhal tusk.
  • The military has warned about the use of industrial chemicals as ad hoc chemical weapons.


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