France brings a new weapon to the less-lethal field

     Flash-Ball is not something from those paintball weekends. It's one of the newest less-lethal firearms to emerge. This one, from France, is used primarily for behavior modification — to neutralize combative individuals or to disperse riot...


     Flash-Ball is not something from those paintball weekends. It's one of the newest less-lethal firearms to emerge. This one, from France, is used primarily for behavior modification — to neutralize combative individuals or to disperse riot crowds.

     Belligerent or combative behavior is quickly modified by the device, which fires 28-gram, soft rubber balls with the stopping power (200 joules at 2.5 meters) equivalent to that of a .38 Special. Company literature claims the punch it delivers equals a Mike Tyson knock-out punch from up to 10 meters. Yet the soft rubber projectile is designed not to penetrate the skin of a normally clothed person.

     The Flash-Ball was developed by French arms manufacturer Verney-Carron and is available in two versions. The super-pro version features vertically stacked barrels and is made from metal alloys, while the compact model is made from lighter composite materials with the twin barrels side by side. Both versions can be used to fire a variety of ammunition. A soft 44mm rubber ball is the most common.

     On impact, the ball crushes and releases its power over an area of approximately 35 cm2, an area more than 50 times greater than the impact surface of a .38 (0.63 cm2).

     A number of French law enforcement agencies, including the Brigades Anti-Criminalité, Groupes d'Intervention de la Police Nationale and Recherche Assistance Intervention Dissuasion, and several police agencies in other counties have adopted the sidearm since 2002.

     The decision to extend France's use of Flash-Ball guns was made by the interior minister after various police officers had come under attack. Proponents say the gun is maneuverable and lightweight (3.4 pounds). Police also are said to enjoy the deterrence afforded by the menacing appearance of the unit's twin 44mm barrels and its firing noise equivalent to a 12-gauge.

Great guns

     Although it has made an appearance in at least one North American police arsenal, no U.S. agency has yet adopted the Flash-Ball.

     The Flash-Ball is similar to other less-lethal weapons already in use by some domestic agencies. The Santa Ana (California) Police Department, for instance, employs a variety of less-lethal firearms, including 12-gauge beanbag rounds, and 37mm and 40mm impact rounds. Additionally, the department uses the FN303 less-lethal launcher, which uses compressed air to fire .68-caliber frangible projectiles.

     The 37mm and 40mm launchers are similar to the Flash-Ball in that they use the same basic types of munitions. The main difference is the 37mm and 40mm launchers are shoulder-fired weapons. The Flash-Ball fires like a pistol.

     "For a number of reasons, shoulder-fired weapons are inherently more accurate than handheld weapons," says John Gabelman, commander of the Santa Ana PD's training division. "A shoulder-fired weapon system increases accurate shot placement and reduces the chance of civil litigation due to an unforeseen injury."

     Less-lethal does not imply never-lethal. Munitions fired from most less-lethal weapons can cause death if vital areas are struck: head, eyes, throat and possibly the upper abdomen. Because of this, Gabelman says Santa Ana would more than likely stay with a shoulder-fired less-lethal weapon system.

     Less-lethal expert Brad Johnson, of the Englewood (Colorado) Police Department, also sees little reason to change equipment.

     "I believe our system of the combination TASER and 40mm is far superior," Johnson says. "The Armor Holdings 40mm multi-launcher and single-shot models we use deploy the eXact iMpact round for general patrol use and many types of riot control munitions that include gas, baton rods and Stinger balls."

     Johnson says the multi-launcher and the single shot are accurate to 25 yards. He also believes, like many firearms experts, the sighting system and handling of the 40mm in the rifle-like configuration is superior. The Flash-Ball comes in pistol design only.

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