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Seems like everyone these days is hawking self-defense products, and not all of these salesmen are friendly toward gun rights. The sad reality is that many of these purveyors of pepper spray are pacifist-aggressive, anti-gun activists, intent on spreading propaganda disguised by a thin veneer of concern for victims. Vulnerable women are convinced they can defend themselves adequately without a gun, simply with pepper spray or a swift kick to the groin, as these charlatans laugh all the way to the bank. In self-defense, as with estate planning, you have to watch out for those who will try to sell you a bill of goods, over-promising on what their cheap product can deliver. When it comes to protecting yourself and your family, there is no substitute for training.

Vulnerable women are convinced they can defend themselves adequately without a gun, with pepper spray Click To Tweet

Facts are stubborn things, and the facts (from a study commissioned by Obama’s own CDC) say: “Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”1)See pp. 15-16 of the CDC study, entitled “Priorities For Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

Obama's own CDC concluded: Crime victims suffer less injury when using guns vs. other self-defense Click To Tweet

That’s not to say pepper spray has no value, but its value must be objectively assessed and the limits of pepper spray must be fully understood by anyone considering it as a self-defense option. Too many pepper spray purchasers are not willing to look at the subject objectively. They may not be willing to even consider using guns, and may even proudly proclaim they could “never” take a human life. [Really? They would never use lethal force to protect their own child? Moreover, private citizens training with guns do not train to take life — they shoot to STOP, not to kill. And guns are not as lethal2)Id., at p. 13: “In 2010, there were twice as many nonfatal firearm-related injuries (73,505) as deaths.” as many suppose based on what they see on TV.] Pepper spray in a way has become a political statement for them, as guns are for some of us who believe in personal freedom. These people are as irresponsible with their pepper spray as the gun owner who never trains, sticks the gun in a nightstand and expects it to protect him like a magical talisman.

OC is PC: pepper spray is the polite weapon for those who think all guns are assault weapons. Click To Tweet

For some (teenage girls, for example), pepper spray may be all they can legally carry. In California, kids can’t even carry pepper spray prior to age 16.3)This foolish law disregards the many examples of kids using actual firearms to defend themselves and their families.

Teenage girls can only carry pepper spray, and not even that until they are 16 Click To Tweet

And there are certain people out there who will never get the training necessary to responsibly use a gun for self-defense. This type of person often has a bad driving record, which is one of the things agencies look at in issuing concealed carry licenses. Some people should have neither guns nor cars.

Some people should have neither guns nor cars. Click To Tweet

For the 16.3 million Americans with a concealed handgun permit, pepper spray can be a valuable backup weapon. Gun trainers like to say: “If you are not sure whether you should shoot, you probably should not shoot.” Pepper spray can be a useful option in a situation where you cannot be certain of escaping, yet you cannot be certain that shooting is necessary.  I was in such a situation without pepper spray back in 2009, when I drew on someone at my office building; but everything turned out ok. I was lucky — while in the vast majority of defensive gun use cases4)Estimates range from 70% to 98%. simply presenting the gun is sufficient to stop an attack, it wasn’t in my case. The crazy Muslim (I didn’t know he was Muslim at the time) kept coming toward me until I improved my own demeanor in order to be taken more seriously.5)Most instructors and cops I know tell me I acted properly, drawing to a defensive ready position. At that time, I had no training in “sul” position and though that might have helped avoid some confusion with local cops, who were never routed my 911 call which went to CHP but were instead arriving in response to other calls from the building about my gun, I was only able to stop my opponent from advancing toward me by improving my own aggressive demeanor, actually halting my withdrawal as I shouted that I was withdrawing, and improving my ready position — for example, by dropping the phone and useless 911 — to make it clear that I really, really was ready and close to firing (and I was). Yes, it is nice to have options and with pepper spray I might have turned and run sooner (though I believe I also would have drawn to ready with both gun and pepper spray, in Harries position).

Pepper spray can be a valuable backup weapon. Click To Tweet

There are drawbacks to carrying pepper spray and limitations to its effectiveness that must be kept in mind. To begin with, it’s added equipment that takes up limited space and when you are carrying a concealed gun you have to be concerned about limited real estate. (Make sure you carry the pepper spray on your support side, to leave firing side free for handling firearm if needed.) Next, you have to train well to know when you are going to draw only pepper spray, knowing all of its limitations, instead of the much more effective handgun. Perhaps you will train to present both together with a Harries-like technique. (Harries was developed for drawing a flashlight together with a handgun.)

Make sure you carry pepper spray on your support side, not firing side. Click To Tweet

What are the limitations of pepper spray?

  • Not effective against dedicated and determined aggressor, whether hyped out on drugs or simply one that wants what you’ve got really bad
  • Glasses and clothing may protect aggressor, limiting effectiveness
  • Not effective in windy conditions
  • It will get on you, too! (A cop who teaches self-defense to realtors admitted in class that EVERY time he used pepper spray it also got on him.)
  • Even if it does not get “on” you, you may inhale OC mist; consider this risk, especially if you have asthma and/or are highly allergic.
  • May not work at temperatures below freezing.
  • Limited range (especially foam which requires close contact, also sprays have limited range even when conditions are not windy); one of the fundamental maxims of self-defense is: “Distance is your friend!”
  • Reactions vary: the aggressor may be immune, or the effect may be delayed 3-5 minutes giving the aggressor plenty of time to get really angry at you for peppering him, and therefore much more violent!

That last point is very concerning. Use of pepper spray could actually escalate a non-lethal encounter into something much worse, depending on a number of factors.

Pepper spray could actually escalate a non-lethal encounter into something much worse. Click To Tweet

So to recapitulate — when choosing NOT to capitulate:

  • You may have need to present some sort of weapon, in order to stop an attack and/or gain or maintain distance from a threat.
  • Assuming you have the requisite training, you will want to present the type of weapon that most effectively stops an attack — a firearm — which may be lethal but usually is NOT lethal (and likely should not be lethal unless you are intending to kill rather than stop the attack).
  • You may also want other options available (like pepper spray) which, though less effective, have the benefit of being less lethal; you will want to deploy the less effective weapon only in a way that does not diminish the effectiveness of your firearm (and perhaps backup firearm).
  • If you should shoot, you will probably know that based on all those training and visualization exercises (designed to help you evaluate, with alacrity and celerity, the beheading taking place in front of you), and will draw and fire using the standard 5-point draw or something similar.
  • If you know you should NOT shoot, you will NOT draw, and will probably get the pepper spray out.
  • Many situations are unclear and if you think, in the split second you have to think, that you can articulate a reasonable basis for drawing to the ready position, in order to have it out and available to counter an imminent threat of serious injury which you perceive based on an aggressor’s apparent Ability, Opportunity and Intent, then by all means draw the firearm but consider drawing pepper spray at the same time (via Harries position) because while the vast majority of aggressors will run, some won’t and if they come toward you, you can still decide to try the less lethal option. Just remember if an unarmed aggressor makes contact with you, he will no longer be unarmed.

Photo art by Oleg Volk.

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References   [ + ]

1. See pp. 15-16 of the CDC study, entitled “Priorities For Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
2. Id., at p. 13: “In 2010, there were twice as many nonfatal firearm-related injuries (73,505) as deaths.”
3. This foolish law disregards the many examples of kids using actual firearms to defend themselves and their families.
4. Estimates range from 70% to 98%.
5. Most instructors and cops I know tell me I acted properly, drawing to a defensive ready position. At that time, I had no training in “sul” position and though that might have helped avoid some confusion with local cops, who were never routed my 911 call which went to CHP but were instead arriving in response to other calls from the building about my gun, I was only able to stop my opponent from advancing toward me by improving my own aggressive demeanor, actually halting my withdrawal as I shouted that I was withdrawing, and improving my ready position — for example, by dropping the phone and useless 911 — to make it clear that I really, really was ready and close to firing (and I was). Yes, it is nice to have options and with pepper spray I might have turned and run sooner (though I believe I also would have drawn to ready with both gun and pepper spray, in Harries position).

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