“Less Lethal” Gun Attachment Aims for a Spot on Police Officers’ Belts

   02.18.15

The issue of police use of force has always been a contentious subject in America, but tensions are at new highs after a number of police-related incidents late last year. Perhaps no other police department is under more scrutiny than that of Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot during a confrontation with local police officer Darren Wilson last August.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the city’s police department found itself under the lens of both press and advocates against police abuse, including those who called for officers to begin wearing video cameras and to be equipped with less-than-lethal weapons. One of those is a handgun attachment named simply “The Alternative.”

Produced by California-based Alternative Ballistics, its creators say that the attachment offers a safe and reliable method for police officers to incapacitate threats, while still providing them with a lethal follow-up shot if needed. The Ferguson Police Department announced earlier this month that it was reviewing the device for possible deployment.

“We agreed to take a look at it without committing to use it or deploy it,” Police Chief Thomas Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We have to make sure the product is capable of doing what it says and that it’s going to be a good fit for Ferguson PD. It’s not a done deal; we’re just looking at it like we would anything else, and it doesn’t cost us anything to look.”

Will the device find itself on the radar of other police departments around the country? That is exactly what the makers of The Alternative are hoping for.

“Concerned with the number of deaths of officers and citizens resulting when confrontations occur, where a new lethal force option would have been preferred but not readily available, we developed The Alternative,” stated Alternative Ballistic’s website.

The premise behind the attachment is relatively simple. Normally kept in a separate pouch, The Alternative can be slipped over a pistol’s muzzle. The first round fired from that gun will embed itself in a spherical alloy sheath, decreasing the velocity of the bullet and essentially turning it into a very hard rubber bullet. The attachment then automatically detaches from the pistol and the gun returns to its normal operation.

A video showing the intended use of The Alternative can be seen below.

The Alternative does have its supporters, and a team from Alternative Ballistics recently traveled to Ferguson to help train officers in how to employ the device. Yet there are critics of the attachment, both from law enforcement and gun enthusiasts. Some, such as BearingArms.com editor Bob Owens, wrote that the attachment has the potential to be the “worst ‘less lethal’ force idea, ever.” Some officers say that taking the time to affix the device to their service pistols would expose them to even greater risk, and are concerned with the general reliability of the attachment.

“I am all about less lethal,” Steve Ijames, a training expert and former police officer, told The Washington Post. “What bothers me is we will allow an officer to face immediate deadly jeopardy with a less-lethal round. Deadly force is the most likely thing to repel deadly force.”

Other critics added that police already have weapons, such as TASERs, to incapacitate a person without having to aim and fire their guns. Furthermore, there are worries that the metallic sphere would fail to encapsulate the bullet or that in the heat of the moment, an officer would fire more than one round—delivering a fatal shot. Still, Alternative Ballistics CEO Christian Ellis said that the device gives police one more option than they previously had.

“Every situation is different. But it gives an officer, if time allows—and that’s important, if time allows—a chance to save a life instead of taking a life,” Ellis told the Post.

You can see The Alternative in use at a range below:

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