Local women learn how to protect themselves without using guns

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We all want to keep ourselves and our families safe, but carrying a gun isn't for everyone.

More and more women are turning to self-defense classes to learn how to protect themselves.

There are also dozens of inexpensive tools that can fit into a purse and be shipped right to your door.

But are they practical?

One group of women, who know a thing or two about self-defense, gives WREG their thoughts.

They take Jiu-Jitzu self-defense courses at Chillcutt's Memphis Mixed Martial Arts in Bartlett. There, women of all ages are learning how to protect themselves by using their bodies and minds.

With three small kids at home, Melanie Vandevender wanted to keep her family safe without a gun.

"It does give you kind of an empowerment and some confidence knowing that I have some knowledge," she said.

But the moves take practice to master.

"Just like anything, the more you keep doing it then you'll retain it," said owner Chad Chilcutt. "It'll become muscle memory, so you don't have to think about it all the time."

For those who feel more comfortable with a weapon, the internet offers dozens of inexpensive tools that promise to help ward off an attacker.

WREG gave the women some top pics – a pocket knife, tactical pen, tactical flashlight, pepper spray and a stun gun. We asked them to carry it around for a week so that we could find out how easy it would be for them to use it if they had to.

"Oh, I've never owned a knife before, so it'll be interesting for me to have this," Willyn Jenkins said.

Right away, the women had some concerns.

"I really don't want my children to get a hold of it," Vandevender said. "They're small and they're curious. They would grab stuff, and they know how to turn things on."

There are a few drawbacks. For instance, none of the weapons will work unless you're close to your attacker, you still need some sort of training to use it and the stun gun has to be charged in order to work.

"If you're messing with the flashlight too much, you're going to drain the battery," Vandevender said.

A week later, we check in with the women. Could they actually see themselves using any of the devices? Or would they rather rely on the skills they've already learned?

We start with the pocket knife, which is small, inconspicuous and less than $7.

"Knowing that I had a weapon made a difference," Jenkins said.

With a job that has her working late nights, she liked knowing that she had it. But admits, she'd need practice to feel comfortable using it.

"You have to be able to take it out of the pocket and open it for it to be useful to you," she said.

Next is the tactical pen. It's a working pen with a potentially deadly aluminum point, and costs about $25.

"This end is super strong, so if I have to jab somebody they're going to feel it," Stephanie Peterson said.

One perk is being able to carry it places you couldn't take a knife or gun.

"I think it was pretty convenient that I could clip it on. If I needed to get to it, I could get to it fast. I didn't need to dig in my purse or something, so I liked it," she said.

But she didn't feel like she could rely on it to save her life.

With a high-powered beam, the tactical flashlight is bright enough to temporarily blind your attacker.

"You know what? I liked it," Melanie Reininger said. "It's a bright light. It's got the sharp edges if I need to get someone from me. I kept it in the pocket of my coat."

What's the verdict on this one?

"I would use it," she said. "I have a lot of kids, so it's not something I worry that my kids are going to hurt themselves with. If I needed to use it in real life, it's not something I worry that someone bigger than me is going to overpower and use against me."

Another popular pick, pepper spray, costs about $20. But again, it's not the best choice to have around curious kids, and it's not always practical.

"If you're in an enclosed space or a room, you're going to get it in your eyes," Vandevender said. "You're going to feel the effects as well."

And finally, we check in to see what the mom of three thought of the stun gun.

WREG paid more than $100 for it, but it's now on sale online for less than $25.

Vandevender found it to be bulky and inconvenient. She even tried it out for herself while wearing a thick coat, and said it didn't work.

Another complaint she had: "You have to hold it for five seconds" Vandevender said. "That's a long time."

Overall, the women felt that with the right training, some of the tools could potentially be life-saving.

But in this day and age, street smarts and awareness seemed to win.

"I might have a tool to help me, but I'd like to be able to depend on myself and not on something else," Reininger said.

The idea is to try out different things and see what works for you.

If you're interested in learning self-defense, Chilcutt says most women get pretty comfortable with the moves in as few as two classes a week.