Dear PoPville – Self Defense Options?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Crosb

“Dear PoPville,

I’m moving out to Petworth/Georgia Avenue from a “more safe” area, and both my family and I would feel more comfortable if I had the means to protect myself in case anything should happen. What are my options to protect myself beyond self-defense classes? Do people in DC carry around pepper spray and things like that, or is it just not done/illegal?”

First and foremost, the most important thing to remember whether you are moving to Petworth or Logan Circle or H St, NE: Be aware of your surroundings; don’t walk alone at night with earbuds and/or talking on the phone; don’t walk home alone from bars; follow your instincts – if something doesn’t “feel right” to you – don’t walk down that street etc.

As for self defense options – a lot of people have recommended classes like Krav Maga.

We spoke about some other self defense options here, where we learned you can not carry wasp spray for self defense.

98 Comment

  • You can carry pepper spray. If you buy it in DC you have to register it (not sure the point of that.) If you buy outside of DC, you don’t have to register.
    Folding knives with less than a 3 inch blade are legal to carry.
    Worst case scenario, kick ’em in the groin. No groin, no Krav Maga!

    • Could anyone recommend a store in DC that sells pepper spray? I don’t mind having to register, but I haven’t been able to find it for sale here.

      • The only place I’ve ever seen in the DC area that sells it is Ranger Surplus [store in Bethesda & Wheaton MD]. Like most other things it’s just easier to get it online – Amazon & ebay have “FOX Labs” which is supposed to be the best thing out there. I’ve was told by MPD’s registration section official that you only have to register pepper spray/mace if you purchase it from a vendor in DC, but that no registration is required if purchased online or elsewhere and brought into the District.

  • I took Krav Maga and it is seriously Bad a**! If you really want to learn how to fight (to defend yourself) take it, period. (for what its worth I was a 20-something chick in the class, which was mostly filled with dudes).

    • When I trained at Krav Maga DC there were lots of women there – it was probably 40% women, 60% men.

    • Do you mind my asking – did you take it here in DC? I can’t seem to find any affordable options. Everything seems to be $200+/month.

      • I trained at Krav Maga DC, in Chinatown. When I was there it was something like $119/month (if you sign up for an annual contract.) I think it’s gone up since then.

        • I take Krav in Chinatown and love it. It isn’t cheap, but everytime I think I’m going to quit b/c of the $$ ($200/mo if you join on a month-to-month….less is you commit for a year), I quickly change my mind as soon as class begins. You learn great self defense tactics and get a good workout, as well.

  • I have a monkey fist on my keyring. That’s about all I need. If an assailant actually got my keys from me I seriously doubt they’d know what it’s for.
    Plus, I can come and go through security and not have to worry about anything. It also makes it harder to lose the keys.
    All in all, I feel safe in my neighborhood. Getting to know the people around you is more important than any can of mace. They’re going to be your neighbors, not potential robbers.

  • andy

    All this stuff about walking here is bad, walking this way is bad, biking there is scary. If you’re scared enough to get a weapon maybe you should just get a car instead.

    • Most mindless comment ever. And I suppose everyone should just stop getting out of bed, too, for fear of spraining an ankle?

      • Agreed. I don’t even understand what he wrote, but it sounds stupid.

      • andy

        Mine was not a “give up on life” comment.

        If you are afraid for your family’s safety while traveling, which seems to be a common complaint, you might find yourself safer in a car.

        I haven’t read any “I was mugged in my car” stories here but plenty of street mugging stories.

        One solution therefore might be to drive from your house to your destination and back. Many people do it.

        • ?????????

          • andy

            Sorry. I’m not trying to be too deep here.

            The post said a lot about the danger of traveling by foot in neighborhoods where some feel unsafe.

            Be aware of your surroundings; don’t walk alone at night with earbuds and/or talking on the phone; don’t walk home alone from bars; follow your instincts – if something doesn’t “feel right” to you – don’t walk down that street etc.

            It just led me to think that a person who feels unsafe walking the streets of Petworth might reasonably choose to make their travel safer by driving rather than by learning krav maga or buying a gun.

          • Yeah, def. safer driving. Auto accidents don’t happen and neither do carjackings.

        • This makes absolutely no sense

    • Andy, don’t listen to the car-hating trolls that replied to your post – they understand your point and are just messing with you.

      Yes, driving a car is a pretty solid precaution – duly noted. Although it may be unfeasible for a lot of people.

      • Drew, I’d suspect you have never casually walked to your car, started it up and upon driving down Ga. Ave only to discover a f*cking cougar in your back seat. There ain’t nothing more goddamn frightening than driving with a live cougar.

        • Chris, that kind of thing happens more frequently than you would think. The best way I’ve found to deal with cougars in the back seat is a S&W 686, but Krav Maga works in a pinch.

        • Take the cougar home with you! All she wants is sex and she’ll be SO grateful!

        • Hunk of raw meat = peace with most cougars.

      • Park view drew, do not speak for me, especially so arrogantly. You don’t know me. I do not understand his point. I am not messing with him.

        • I’m sorry, this, from the person who said:

          “Most mindless comment ever. And I suppose everyone should just stop getting out of bed, too, for fear of spraining an ankle?”

          I’d say calling a comment “mindless” is pretty arrogant, and using a straw man argument is paramount to speaking for someone else.

          • If you really don’t understand his point, it’s this:

            Suppose it’s 11:00pm and you have 2 options:
            1) Walk 10 blocks alone to your destination
            2) Walk 25 ft to your car, and drive the 10 blocks, walk another 25 ft to your destination.

            I’m sure option 2 is far safer than option 1 in terms of your odds of being assaulted.

          • I had to read Andy’s comment two or three times to piece together the meaning. It wasn’t clear at first. He needs to sharpen his writing skills. That’s what I objected to. I have no problem with cars.

          • but but but car jackings!! and car accidents!!! cars are so dangerous. lets put up speed bumps everywhere.

          • andy

            I certainly could have written it better. That might have helped make what was at best a minor and debatable point.

            But if I did, we never would have had a discussion about the best response to a cougar in your back seat!

  • I’m amazed at the number of (young) people who walk around around day and night, cluelessly jabbering into their phones, texting, or listening to music. Although I feel very safe in Petworth, I don’t make it easy for the bad guys, no matter what neighborhood I’m in. Stay alert, look around, and turn off your damned devices!

    Say hello to people on the street and porches, even the tough-looking kids. Treat everyone with respect, unless they give you reason to believe they don’t deserve it.

    To protect your home, a baseball bat is never a bad idea.

    • +1 on the baseball bat. EVERYBODY should have a bat under their bed or in the front hall.

      A used, early 90s 28 oz aluminum Bombat is a formidable self defense tool.

    • 6-D Cell Mag Lite is even better.

      • Mr Mossberg 500 does a great job as the welcoming committee for unwanted house guests.

        • jim_ed


          you pump it in a silent house and anyone with a shred of sense is running for the door.

        • I keep Sweetness by the bed. She’s a S&W .38 Saturday Night Special, loaded with +P for extra oomph for those unwelcomed house guests. She’s legit now too, thanks to the new DC gun laws. Of course, she’s not allowed outside. Just give it a couple years DC, conceal/carry will be a reality sooner than you think… It’s the natural order of things.

          • I love guns, really. They’re a hobby of mine. And I’m an NRA member. And the Second Amendment. And even some Republicans. But I just can’t understand the point of carry and conceal. This country would be so much better off if anyone who was carrying a firearm was subject to arrest. Keep them at home. Statistics tell us that’s where they’re useful. As soon as you take it out your front door, it’s a recipe for disaster. Almost nothing good can come of it.

          • poeople who have a ccw licence are statistically less likely to commit crimes than police officers.

    • yes, always try to say hello or acknowledge the people you think are scary. they might surprise you with a “hello” back, or even keep an eye out for you at some other point in time. if they do turn out to be muggers/crooks, at least you will have made eye contact and can perhaps give a good description to the cops.

      i’m not in favor of pepper spray (b/c you are more likely to spray yourself), but Pacer’s in clarendon (right at the metro stop) carries it.

  • I feel pretty safe here. I haven’t really had too many incidents other than a couple of racist remarks against me. To be honest the best weapon is just to be aware of your surroundings and dont sport a million bucks around.

    I was in Ybor city once, and I was robbed at gunpoint. I had pepper spray in hand and realized it was the most useless thing to carry and that I was more likely to spray myself or a friend than an assailant. so I tossed it that same night.

  • I’ve lived here 2+ years. Multiple racist remarks ranted from porches as I walked around early on at night, so now I just don’t leave my house at night. Drive if I need to go, or take the 64. Lots of young gunners up on the hilltop, 7th-n-taylor crew seems quieter for some reason, not sure about the Randolph St boys, and certainly down near Park View/Quincy it can still be trouble. When will DC police start the safe routes home program? It’s really too bad so many white people have a fear of young blacks in this city.

    • Huh? Where IS the 7th N Taylor crew anyway? I live right by 7th and Taylor and there’s no crew there (there is a nice lady with a PhD who works for a think tank on that corner though). As for a crew – I know most of my neighbors and there’s no one I’d guess is in a crew, not even any teenagers. I think you’re talking about some Petworth of the past that doesn’t exist anymore.

      This whole post bugs me – I’m a woman who has lived in Petworth for 5 years and I’ve never had a single problem. No mugging, no threatened mugging. No car break-in, no house break-in, not even anything stolen off my porch. Same goes for my husband who has been here 10 years.

      • I understand how it’d be annoying that people think that your neighborhood is dangerous, but there’s no harm in taking precautions. Just because it never happened to you or your husband, doesn’t mean that it won’t happen to anyone.

        • My feeling is, if you’re going to walk the streets terrified, and be scared of every black person you see, and refuse to leave your house at night, then you probably shouldn’t move to Petworth. I’ve been here for a year, and although I’ve had one burglary, it’s just fine. You just need to exercise some common sense, like you would anywhere.

          • Yeah, kind of my feeling when I read the OP’s letter. I don’t know the reason for moving, but honestly, if you move in with a sense that you need something beyond your commonsense to make it home at night, I have to question why you’re moving into the neighborhood in the first place. That said, one year and already burgled?? That’s not really helping a “good fact” for safety in the neighborhood.

          • Taking precaution doesn’t equal being scared of every black person. Exercising common sense is a form of taking precaution, as is finding a method to defend yourself.

    • You have a right to feel afraid, but is it really proportionate to the threat? I don’t know anybody in the neighborhood who feels this way. Maybe they don’t verbalize it, but as far as I know, no one in my neighborhood is afraid to leave their house after dark.

      Where do you live, exactly?

    • what sort of racist things are said to you? i’ve lived here a while, am white, and don’t really understand what you mean. i also wear a chain that says “bad ass motherf*cker”, so maybe that’s why, but otherwise i have never gotten the sense that people are racist against white people in this area. my .02

  • A big dog. It protects my house when I’m out, It poops in my front yard so that loitering kids step in it. I can walk around the block without getting harassed. And its perfectly legal. Adopt one from the DC Humane Society. Highly Recommended.

  • The combination of a dog (any dog will do) and a standard, .45 caliber, 1911 in your end table is more effective than anything else on the planet for home defense. I know there’s a lot of resistance to firearms, but it’s just my two cents.

    • Well I don’t know about “any” dog. To wit, check out Oscar on today’s animal fix.

    • Yeah, my dog is big enough but afraid of loud noises, very stranger friendly, snd sleeps through most things! So yeah, shotgun (home) and a retractable police baton (travel) would be my recommendation. I know it’s nice to think one can politic their way into the hearts of the local thugs, but I would much rather fight back.

      • Fair enough. I just mean a dog that will alert you when someone is trying to break in. Could be a shih tsu, could be a doberman, though I suppose it depends on the personality of the particular dog.

        I took a training course once and the trainer had statistics about how much criminals hate dogs — any dogs. They’d rather just go to the next house.

        • For sure, any dog presents a deterrent because it creates one more unknown factor. And even though she’s a bit of a weenie, she definitely sees and senses more, and sees the creepy coming up the street long before I do. Mine has never barked at anybody, but she will definitely warn me when someone is coming. I do feel safer with her around, even though her utility is fairly limited 🙂

    • You just can’t actually obtain one legally right now.

  • Has anyone gone through the DC firearms purchasing/permitting process?

    • Yes. It’s a pain, and a bit insulting, but if you’re already comfortable with firearms it’s worth being able to possess legally.

      • I have. Walking into police HQ with a shotgun case is a surreal experience everyone should try.

        • Did you transfer from an out of state seller or did you have it already?

          • I brought it in from parents’ house out of state. You have to pass a test and fill out an application, and only after they process and approve it (took quite a while) can you bring the gun into the district. And then you have to register it immediately. I left it at a friend’s house in VA while I was waiting for the approval.

          • It doesn’t matter where you got the gun or how you got it. Just take your weapon in a locked case to MPD HQ and register it. They don’t ask a lot of questions, but you do have to fill out paperwork and pass a 20 question test — it’s real easy. Oh, there’s a fingerprint and background check, plus you have to take a gun safety course from an independent contractor. In all, it takes about 3 weeks and costs around $300 to get legit.

          • You can keep your weapon at your house in DC while you are waiting for the paperwork to clear. No need to take it out of the district. You have to bring the weapon in to MPD HQ for a ballistics test, but you also walk out with the weapon before you are approved to own it in the district. It’s not a process any responsible and law-abiding person should worry about.

    • I’m waiting for sykes to get back in business. He was forced out of his lease and the DC council has zoned him out of business.

  • Ride a bike everywhere you go and you should be fine.

  • What about those extendable batons? Those can do some serious Van Damage, though I confess that I don’t know if they are legal in this city.

    I wish I could own a fire-arm.

  • Ranger Surplus in Bethesda ( carried pepper spray the last time I was there, and they advertise it on their site. Since it’s a MD purchase, I assume you could save yourself the hassle of registering it in DC. I carry a small canister that fits nicely into the cell phone pocket on the front strap of my backpack so it’s readily accessible should I need it. It’s also visible when someone is walking past me, and gives off a “don’t even think about it” kind of vibe.

    If you do end up purchasing a can, a few words of advice that my friends retired policeman father imparted – 1) Don’t threaten someone with it (if you’re in a situation that warrants its use, then use it). 2) If you do have to use it, spray it in the face, and then get the hell out of there (avoiding any injury to yourself, and allowing you a safe distance to seek help).

    Finally, all the other excellent awareness techniques referenced here should be used. A can of pepper spray doesn’t make you invincible – it’s a last resort should you ever need to use it.

  • I don’t want to carry any weapon that can be taken away from me and turned against me. No guns, no bats, no extendable batons. Guess that limits my options to staying home, getting a dog, or becoming a martial arts goddess.

  • gotryit

    As an alternative / addition to Krav Maga, consider Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Also close range, practical combat, but you can actually practice the moves on a sparring partner without permanently injuring them.

  • Honestly, unless you have trained at marshal arts for like 10 years, its not gonna help you against a group of people, or a guy with a gun.

  • I ordered pepper spray online… its the best way to go…just get a few cans and leave one in the car one by the door and one in the nightstand…you should be good to go.

  • bfinpetworth

    I fall in the middle of the spectrum – generally safe just north of Grant Cir. but not so safe that I’ll be out walking after dark alone. Unless I can have my big ole dog that looks like a wolf – The bad guys cross the road when they see her coming.

    Inside the home, I did feel safe until our back yard was broken into and furniture stolen – and I mean HEAVY furniture. And we were inside the house and not ONE of my three dogs barked. Damn! So now we are getting security doors front, back and basement. Already have a security system. It stinks that we have to spend the 5k because of those punks.

    By the way, we’ve noticed lately guys in our alley “changing a tire.” Four times in the last few weeks. Watch out for alley-lurkers!

    • Get the license plate and let the cops know. They know what’s going on. I bet the alley guys will stop right quick, seeing as how they’ll be visited first if anything happens.

  • Walther PPK 380

  • The OP should stay where they are and not move to “scary” Petworth/ Georgia Ave. They’re going to end up pepperspraying themselves.

  • Get some Bear-Spray at REI, that’ll do the trick!

  • As a single female in Petworth, I carry pepper spray and just don’t come home late at night. I also never show my phone when walking down the street. I keep everything tucked away in my purse and only have out my pepper spray and keys. I’m also very nice to the punks that hang out on my street.

    • Oh and I bought the Mace online and although they wouldn’t ship it, I had it shipped to my friends in Virginia.

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