Pepper spray (also known as mace spray) is a projectile-based weapon used for self-defense, policing, and crowd control. Though originally designed to defend against predators, like bears and wolves, pepper spray has become a favored tool for college students and city dwellers. Pepper spray causes inflammation in the eyes, leading to temporary blindness, as well as general discomfort and burning in the lungs. The active agent that causes these symptoms is called capsaicin, which is a component that can be also found in chili.
Pepper spray may come in different forms (spray, foam, gel, foggers), but is typically found in canisters that are small enough to be carried in a pocket or a purse. Some also come in concealed items like rings. Pepper spray has now been used for years against aggressive animals and during riots and demonstrations. Due to its convenient size and the fact that it is not lethal, pepper spray has recently become a common weapon for self-defense, especially among women.
|State||Pepper Spray Laws||Brass Knuckles Legal Status|
|New Mexico||Legal||With Permit|
|North Dakota||Legal||With Permit|
|West Virginia||Legal||With Permit|
|Arizona||Legal with Restrictions||Legal|
|Arkansas||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|California||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|Delaware||Legal with Restrictions||With Permit|
|Hawaii||Legal with Restrictions||Legal|
|Illinois||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|Massachusetts||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|Michigan||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|Nevada||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|New Jersey||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|New York||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|North Carolina||Legal with Restrictions||With Permit|
|Rhode Island||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|South Carolina||Legal with Restrictions||Legal|
|Washington||Legal with Restrictions||Illegal|
|Wisconsin||Legal with Restrictions||With Permit|
Pepper Spray as a Self-Defense Weapon
The right to self-defense – or the right to use defensive or reasonable force to protect oneself or others from imminent, unlawful physical harm – is granted by American law. Self-defense encompasses different methods, from martial arts and other combat sports to the use of weapons. Some weapons are specifically used for self-defense purposes such as knives, batons, stun guns, or personal defense weapons (PDWs) which are firearms intended for self-defense and security. Pepper spray falls under this category. Everyday objects, including baseball lights, flashlights, and kitchen utensils, can also be used as improvised weapons for self-defense.
Since the beginning of the 20th century and the start of the women’s rights movement and emancipation, women’s self-defense has become a common practice, and pepper spray has become a self-defense weapon that is widely used by women to protect themselves.
Is Pepper Spray Legal?
The legality of pepper spray or other self-defense weapons is a controversial debate. Proponents argue that people, and especially vulnerable people, that are subjected to violence and harassment should be able to protect and defend themselves. They also stress that in a society where carrying a gun for self-protection is allowed, pepper spray should also be legal.
Finally, they say that in most cases, assailants already have a weapon or some form of advantage over the victim. Self-defense tools like pepper spray will give the victim a chance to fight back, without harming the attacker permanently. On the other side of the debate, opponents argue that legalizing pepper spray will only fuel violence. Moreover, it will blur the lines between what is considered to be a self-defense weapon, and what is not. Pepper spray and other self-defense devices could therefore land in the hands of ill-intentioned people or be used in abusive ways.
Pepper Spray Laws by State
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have authorized the use of pepper spray for self-defense in some form or another. Around half of the states have enacted restrictions on the use and possession of pepper spray. Some states restrict the use of pepper spray to self-defense purposes only. Other states have limits on the quantity a can may hold. And in Massachusetts and New York, it is unlawful to purchase pepper spray on the internet.
The states where pepper spray is fully legal are:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The states that have restrictions on pepper spray are:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina