The tactical pen is an idea whose time has come, and now is going. What can replace it?

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As I often remind students (and occasionally other people in my business), keeping yourself safe is not just about the gun. The gun isn’t always available and sometimes isn’t the appropriate, let alone legal, tool.

Along with the gun you need some sort of defensive tool that can be used for those situations in which lethal force isn’t warranted. A high-intensity flashlight is a good choice, as it can be used to illuminate your immediate area (threat avoidance); momentarily distract someone who may or will be a threat; and can be used as an impact weapon should that become necessary. I’ll have more to say about the flashlight in a later article, but for now it’s sufficient to note that because of its multiple uses I believe it to be the most important safety device you can carry.

In similar fashion, it became popular a couple of years ago to carry a ‘tactical’ pen. (If you’ve spent much time over on my other blog, you’re probably already aware of my disdain for the ’t-word’.) These are large objects made from heavy-gauge aluminum or titanium and designed to work as a Kubotan, while giving the carrier ‘plausible deniability’ that it is anything other than a writing utensil. They can be used as a striking weapon (most featuring a tapered end to make them more pointed and better for striking) or as a pain compliance device (using standard Kubotan techniques.)

The Kubotan has long been known to savvy security personnel as a weapon and is not generally allowed in courtrooms or on aircraft. The tactical pen was an attempt to get around such restrictions, because it was a device that just happened to look and work a lot like a Kubotan (though with knurling and “DNA collection” grooves) but could be referred to as a writing instrument with a reasonably straight face.

Well, the authorities are apparently getting wise to this wink-wink situation. A traveler at Palm Beach airport was arrested and charged with attempting to board a flight with a concealed weapon: his tactical pen.

This does not surprise me, as the tactical pen businesses were all about making their not-a-weapon look more and more like a weapon. It was only a matter of time before this happened, and frankly I’m a little shocked it took this long.

There is still a need for an inconspicuous defense tool, one that can be carried in a pocket and look innocuous. It’s often been said that Takayuki Kubota, the inventor of the Kubotan and its associated training, intended his techniques to be used by executives toting the then-common Cross ballpoint pens. While those can certainly be pressed into service, they’re not ideal; they just aren’t made for the strong side-loading forces involved in many of Kubota’s techniques. It would be better if the writing device were a little longer, made of stronger material, and didn’t have a failure-prone joint in the middle. That’s what the tactical pen was meant to be, but we already know how that turned out.

There is such a thing, however, and one I’ve been carrying one on every flight for years: an aluminum pencil. Specifically, the one-piece all-aluminum drafting leadholder:


As you can see it’s a touch longer than the typical Cross pen, but more importantly it’s far more robust. I have no qualms about this failing when used as either an impact weapon or as a compliance tool!

The one I use is made by Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth, model Versatil 5205. (They’re also available in black, if that’s more to your liking. I prefer the yellow one because it looks like a normal pencil, and who’s afraid of the friendly old yellow pencil?) It uses a 2.5mm lead insert, which can be a bit difficult to find, but the same model is available in a far-more-common 2.0mm lead. The body of the latter is exactly the same size and shape of a #2 pencil, while the 5205 I prefer is a little bigger in diameter and thus stronger. Even the thinner version is a whole lot tougher than any regular pen!

The fact that they’re incredibly nice to write with and dirt cheap is just icing on the cake. I use mine every day for taking notes and doodling, knowing that if I have to go someplace where I can’t have my gun or a decent knife it gives me a tool to be able to do something other than cower in a corner. It might not be ‘tactical’ and probably won’t impress anyone, but I’m not going to be the guy with a pending court date, either!

I’m told that these are now discontinued, but you can find NOS examples all over the ‘net.

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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