What is a Billy Club?

T. L. Childree

A billy club is a small hand-held stick used primarily by law enforcement personnel as a defensive weapon. It is typically made of wood, plastic, or metal and intended to be non-lethal. It may also be referred to as a baton, nightstick, truncheon, or blackjack and has been in use for over a century. It is believed that this weapon was first called a billy club by the British in the early 19th century. Modern billy clubs include side-handled and collapsible versions as well as lead-weighted blackjacks and electroshock stun batons.

Blackjacks can cause concussion.
Blackjacks can cause concussion.

This club is a blunt force instrument used to strike blows and defend against attacks. It is also utilized for certain restraining maneuvers such as choke holds. This weapon is not intended to be lethal, and most law enforcement organizations provide specific training in the use of it. Police officers are usually instructed to avoid using a billy club for blows to the head or other areas where vital organs are located. Even when reasonable caution is exercised, fatal injuries can sometimes occur.

Police officers are instructed to avoid using a billy club for blows to the head.
Police officers are instructed to avoid using a billy club for blows to the head.

The wooden batons carried by British constables in the early 19th century were partly used to identify them as law enforcement officers. Each baton bore the official seal of the organization and was carried as a badge of legal authority. The baton was frequently referred to as a billy club by British citizens. This weapon was so effective that British law enforcement officers continued to carry the simple wooden version until the late 20th century. Several different versions of this weapon are presently used by law enforcement personnel.

The original version of this club was made of wood and about the length of a person’s arm. Modern billy clubs usually vary only slightly from the original version in length and material. These variations typically include side-handled and collapsible versions.

The side-handled version of this weapon features a short handle attached at a right angle to the main shaft. Side-handled billy clubs are typically constructed of wood, plastic, or aluminum and are available in fixed or collapsible versions. A collapsible billy club usually features two to more telescoping shafts inside of an outer shaft. The inner shafts lock together to form a baton when expanded. A collapsible billy club is often made of steel or aluminum alloy.

Another variation is a small lead-weighted baton known as a blackjack. A blackjack usually consists of a leather-covered lead weight attached to length of coil spring. This weapon is typically very short and intended to render a person unconscious by causing a concussion. Blackjacks are no longer used by many law enforcement personnel due to the possibility of fatal injuries.

An electroshock version of the billy club is widely used. Stun batons are designed to deliver an electric shock to an assailant through the tip. This modern billy club variation is intended to incapacitate a person from a short distance.

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