Pepper sprays come in all sorts of brands, sizes and styles.

By John Boch
Pepper spray has gained a reputation among many who don’t know any better as a “magic” non-lethal weapon for personal defense.  Many people believe that a can of spray will repel the most violent of attackers.  In reality though, real world civilian use performance of these sprays leaves a great deal to be desired.

Pepper spray is often referred to as “OC” spray as it contains some percentage of Oleoresin Capsicum.  OC is the resin of cayenne pepper – the same spice people use in their kitchens from time to time.

OC sprays can cause coughing, shortness of breath, involuntary closing of the eyelids, extreme tearing and sometimes nausea.  Under ideal circumstances, these effects, after a short period of time, will temporarily subdue or incapacitate someone exposed to the spray.

The real world is seldom perfect, and as such these sprays seldom work as effectively as advertised.  Here are some of the most common challenges OC users face.

Short effective range.
Any personal defense instructor worth their salt will tell you to keep as much distance between you and your attacker as possible.  Outdoors, in even the slightest of winds, keychain OC unit range will be measured in inches – unless you are spraying directly downwind.  Even the palm-sized units will only reliably spray a few feet outdoors.

Given the short effective range of the sprays, how much time will you have when Mongo, the violent felon just released from prison after ten years of body building, is a couple of steps away and closing fast?

Remember, a young, strong bad guy can cover 21 feet in a second or so.

In our NRA Personal Protection classes, we sometimes break up the class time by going outdoors and letting the students get hands-on experience with real and inert OC sprays.  In most cases, the “bad guy” role player is on the OC user before they can even bring the device to bear.

Especially indoors, you will begin to feel the effects of the spray after a short period of time if you linger.  Don’t even think of using one of these devices inside a car or any other small, enclosed area.   You do not want to be substantially impaired (helpless?) in close proximity to a very angry thug!

Pepper spray doesn’t work instantly – particularly if Mongo sees it coming and shields his face and holds his breath.  Many in law-enforcement get sprayed with OC as part of their certification process.  After getting a generous “application” (and they can’t shield their faces or rip the can out of the instructor’s hand), they beat on a punching bag as long as they can.  Even without anger as a motivation, they sometimes beat on that bag for a minute or more.  Do you want an enraged Mongo savagely beating on your face and body for a minute or two before he runs out of energy from shortness of breath?

Is your can old?  Has the propellant escaped?  How do you know?  Have you tested it?

Do you always know which way the wind is blowing?  Use OC outdoors and you’ll find out pretty quickly.

Yes, pepper spray works nicely for police in many instances.  However, civilian uses and police uses have different goals and objectives.

You, as Joe and Jane Sixpack, aren’t trying to take the fight out of a violent thug – you’re trying to flee from one.  You don’t have time to wait for the OC to really work and, for you, there is no such thing as “backup.”   Of course, in Illinois, possessing a loaded firearm as a regular citizen is a felony, so there’s no fallback if the OC fails.

If you carry OC spray, understand its limits and act accordingly.  Remember, no single device or tool is a “magic” weapon for personal defense.

Rest assured anyone who overconfidently relies on OC as their primary self-defense tool will probably be quite disappointed if and when they ever need it.

4 thoughts on “PEPPER SPRAY: Don’t bet your life on a can of spice”
  1. Ask any law enforcement officer, many times this spray has no affect on a person on drugs. A bullet doesn’t have this problem.

  2. I don’t even carry that crap, even though there’s several cans of it around the house. I’m NOT taking a chance on aerisol failure, or the wind blowing it back in my face, nor some drug addeled thug being “immune” to it! The correct “spice” for evil intentioned predators comes in bore diameters of 9mm & larger.

  3. If you have one and test it ,it will not work.But if it does,the valve will not reseal and it looses its pressure.I use to sell them. A 22 cal LR or a 25 auto is 10 times a better defence weapon. More people are killed with a 22 than any other weapon. I carry a 1911 45 auto and a 380 auto back up.But let me tell you, I don’t want to be shot with a 22 or 25 cal.

  4. I completely agree, John.

    …and I still carry it. It’s been of great use 6 times in my life, 3 times on humans, 3 times on dogs. There was a 7th, however, that required a bit more than OC could give me.

    The Scovil heat unit rating of the spray itself will make a difference in the effectiveness, as well. The higher the better!

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