The Leather Sap: Old School, But Is It Legal?

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I recently purchased a leather sap. For you youngsters, a sap is a leather club filled with a metal rod or bar, lead, sand or other material that can deliver a crippling blow in a close-quarters fight. Typically, a sap is flat and looks a bit like a beavertail. It’s made with heavy leather and is surprisingly easy to carry and deploy. Sometimes people call it a “blackjack,” “slapjack” or even a “convoy.” (I don’t know where that name came from, but it sounds cool.)

Back in the Day

Many jurisdictions made carrying a sap illegal decades ago. “Back in the day,” as the kids are fond of saying, many police officers used to carry saps, but they fell out of favor and were banned in most departments because they can cause some serious damage. Specifically, a blow to the head with a sap can cause serious trauma and could be considered deadly force. And, as it happens, most people were hitting folks in the head with their saps. That could very easily fracture a skull, cause bleeding of the brain or other serious problems.

It is, of course, perfectly legal to use deadly force against an imminent deadly threat. But if you pull out a sap and whack a relatively harmless drunk in the head and cause serious injury, you will have some explaining to do.

So, is there a place in the world of modern self-defense for the iconic sap?

Impact in Self-Defense

Here in Wisconsin, I am, with my concealed carry permit, allowed to carry “a handgun, electronic weapon or billy club,” so state officials think there is a place for such a weapon. The question now is how to most effectively use it.

The sap is an impact weapon, meaning you must be very close to your attacker to employ it. Effective target areas with the sap are similar to those areas police officers are taught to strike with their batons. The upper arms and upper legs are great places to start. Deliver a strong blow to one of the large muscle groups and you should interrupt the actions of the attacker long enough to help you escape (or at least regroup to continue your counter-attack). A good blow to the outside of the thigh, which contains a group of nerves called the “IT band,” will usually put a person on the ground.

But those areas can be hard to hit during a dynamic encounter, so you might consider a strategy called “closest weapon, closest target.” The basic elements of this fighting strategy include hitting your attacker hard just about anywhere you can with the first thing you can get your hands on. I say “just about” anywhere because I would still caution you to avoid intentional blows to the head if you are in a situation that does not clearly require deadly force. But certainly, a heavy blow to the rib cage or forearm with a good sap would get someone’s attention.

Intentional Use of a Sap

I used the word “intentional” when talking about a blow to the head. In the police academy, I learned that deadly force is “the intentional use of a firearm or other instrument, the use of which would cause a high probability of death.” That definition is vague, so lawyers have something to argue. But notice that the act must be intentional for someone to declare that you used deadly force. Don’t let that fool you. If you use force and the person you are fighting dies, you can still be charged with a crime if the prosecutor believes the force was not objectively reasonable.

So, if you end up in a fight and circumstances do not give you the right to use deadly force, and you smack the guy’s head in with your sap, you could still be facing charges.

Always remember: Any use of force must be reasonable. And someone other than you will be deciding the reasonableness of your actions well after the threat has stopped. But let’s get back to the sap.

I’ve carried my sap for a couple of weeks now. It fits nicely in my right hip pocket and is easy and quick to deploy. It took me just a couple minutes to “master” both the forehand and backhand strikes. I truly believe that, if needed, a couple blows to the arms or rib cage of my attacker would give me the chance to escape. And that’s all I want to do: Get home safe.

Maybe it is time to consider adding a sap to your defensive arsenal. In the words of one of the greatest self-defense instructors in the universe, “It’s a more elegant weapon from a simpler time.”

About Kevin Michalowski

Executive Editor of Concealed Carry Magazine Kevin Michalowski is a USCCA and NRA Certified Trainer and is a graduate of the Force Science Institute Certification Course. He has participated in training as both an instructor and a student in multiple disciplines. Kevin is also a fully certified law enforcement officer working part time for a small agency in rural Wisconsin.

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