Do you have a backup plan for personal defense? What about the person who does not want to carry a gun or a knife? What about your teenage daughter or son who is not yet able to carry something more decisive?
Having an alternative type of personal defense that can be carried every day is a better choice than not carrying anything at all.
In looking at other less-lethal forms of personal defense, we need to discuss chemical sprays. In my younger days as I was studying various forms of self-defense, I was introduced to chemical sprays as a form of defense.
Being the stubborn young man that I was, I had to experience this personal-defense device for myself. And that meant volunteering myself to be used as a test subject.
The demonstration was set up for me to portray the role of an attacker to test whether or not the chemical agent would stop me from attacking the guy spraying me.
The “experiment” was designed to proceed with me employing a moderate level of physical violence with my body weapons (meaning hands, elbows, knees, legs, feet and other parts of my body) against another well-trained individual.
During this time, we decided to set up specific objectives or questions that we wanted to answer by the culmination of the scenario:
1. Will the pepper spray stop me from attacking?
2. Can the test victim deploy the pepper spray in time within 12-15 feet?
3. What were the aftereffects of being sprayed?
As this took place many years ago, I don’t recall the brand or type of chemical agent that we used in the training exercise. However, what I do remember was that I took a direct hit in the eyes and face with the spray.
What we determined at that time was that it would likely be an effective agent as a diversionary or distraction type weapon. What I mean is: Its effectiveness depends on several factors, including type and concentration of chemical agent used, the ability of the individual to deploy the device in time and, perhaps most importantly, the level of commitment of the attacker.
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To answer the first question, we had to look at who we were and compare that person to an attacker. All of us at the time involved in this little “test,” were literally living in a sub-culture of personal defense. We trained quite literally every day sometimes for hours. We were mentally as well as physically tough.
So at that time, did the pepper spray stop me from attacking the subject?
No, it did not. I took a direct hit, and though it burned like heck, made me tear up, caused blurry vision and some feeling of constriction of my breathing, I was still able to grab and punch the subject repeatedly.
This also meant that if a committed attacker or hostile individual were also to be sprayed in the eyes, mouth and or face, it did not guarantee the assailant would be stopped or incapacitated.
In testing the second question, I walked toward the subject rather than ran as he deployed the spray and took aim with the device already in-hand.
Had I run at him fast and the device was in his pocket or in a bag, it is questionable and unlikely that he would have been able to deploy the spray in a distance of 15 feet without first defending himself with body weapons.
Finally, the aftereffects of the chemical agent were exacerbated by the increased respiration and sweat. So my skin felt like it was on fire and my vision was limited as the agent did its job on my eyes. Breathing was shallower as my lungs felt like someone was squeezing them with every breath I drew. My nose and throat were extremely irritated. And my body was wracked with all manner of involuntary sensations.
With modern day pepper sprays, the effects can last as long as 45 minutes with 30 minutes of blurry vision or temporary blindness.
To further delve into whether these chemical sprays would be a good personal-defense choice for you, we need to take a quick look at what they are made of.
What is Pepper Spray?
Pepper spray is known as “OC”, short for Oleoresin Capsicum, a substance extracted from chili peppers to be used in the self-defense spray. The active ingredient in Oleoresin Capsicum is capsaicin.
You may be familiar with Mace®, which is a brand name for the first type of self-defense spray, which was invented in 1965. It also falls under the chemical-spray and pepper-spray category.
Chili peppers are spicy and hot. The measure of that spicy heat is called a Scoville heat unit. And although the measurement is somewhat subjective – because it depends upon the capsaicin sensitivity of the person on the receiving end – it is still a good indicator as to the heat produced by any given pepper agent.
Just to give you a baseline index of Scoville units for peppers that you have likely either heard of or ingested previously, consider this: Jalapeno peppers are in the 4,000 to 10,000 Scoville heat unit range; cayenne peppers range from 30,000 to 50,000; Habanero chilies from 100,000 to 350,000; while the Carolina reaper rate 850,000 to 2.2 million Scoville heat units.
Now consider that some modern pepper sprays are as much as 3 million Scoville heat units! That packs a heck of a punch to an attacker.
There are two other chemical sprays worthy of mentioning. The first is CN, which is an abbreviation for Chloroacetophenone. This chemical agent was used in the ’60s and ’70s by the police and military and has since been used much less than the others. More commonly called “tear gas”, this agent has a longer “activation” time to work so it’s less effective against highly committed and or violent-type attackers.
The other chemical agent is CS, which is short for Orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile. By nature, it is a serious irritant to the mucous membranes of the throat, eyes, nose and skin. It is more effective than CN and both can cause vomiting and choking.
Something noteworthy to keep in mind: If you are looking for a chemical agent to use against dogs, you will want OC. That’s because CN and CS will be less effective at stopping aggressive canines since they don’t have lactimal glands. These are the glands located above each eye inside the orbit, which produce tears.
Of the three types of chemical sprays, OC, or pepper spray, is the most widely used for personal defense and is the most effective.
Pepper spray comes in a variety of volumes and delivery methods
When shopping for pepper spray, you will want to take into account the delivery method. That is how the agent is discharged from the device. For some pepper sprays, because of their design, you must consider any wind and your distance from the attacker to avoid getting blowback, when you’re struck with your own spray.
To eliminate these issues, buy the stream-, gel- or foam-type pepper sprays. The stream pepper sprays vary in effective distance, but the activator-stream models can shoot 15-18 feet. There are a number of pepper-spray gels that have effective distances of 18 feet, while the foam units usually have a range from 8-10 feet.
The gel pepper spray sticks to the face better than the others with little chance of it blowing back at you.
Pepper spray also comes in a fogger-type unit that sprays a fine mist from up to 20 feet. It’s a good delivery method when there are multiple attackers. The downside is that there is more potential chance of blowback or that you will have to move through the fog to escape.
Some pepper sprays contain a combination of agents such as OC with CN tear gas and UV marking dye so that it’s not only a powerful personal-defense device to distract an attacker so you can escape, but it also aids law enforcement post-attack in identifying the attacker by marking them with UV dye not visible to the naked eye.
Finally, pepper spray gels are a good deterrent against aggressive dogs. And if you’re in bear country, there is Bear pepper spray such as “Guard Alaska®” as well that is extremely effective.
Is Carrying Pepper Spray Legal?
Yes, pepper spray is legal in all 50 states. However it is governed by laws and regulations, and there are states in which pepper spray is restricted, such as New York and Massachusetts, where you may only purchase defense sprays from licensed firearms dealers or pharmacists.
There are other states that have a variety of restrictions as well such as Michigan and Wisconsin. You must check your state, city or area ordinances and authorities as to restrictions on sizes, strengths, and where you can legally purchase and at what age.
Additionally, pepper sprays or other chemical sprays cannot be carried on airplanes or in certain buildings.
How Do You Carry It?
Pepper spray comes in a variety of packaging that ranges from key-chain dispensers, hand-held models, larger canister models designed for home or industrial use and units that are disguised within common items, such as lipstick, pens, batons and guns.
As with most personal-defense weapons, having it in your hand as you move about is going to give you an edge up on the attackers. If you are planning to purchase pepper spray to keep in the bottom of your backpack or purse, then you are compromising your ability to deploy it in a timely manner and thus ultimately drastically reducing your safety. Keep in mind there is no one way that a threat develops or escalates.
It is very important that you practice using your pepper spray so that when you need it in a crisis, you will have rehearsed. To do this properly I advise you to either purchase two of the same units, so one is for practice and the other is for carrying with you. Also nowadays some companies actually make “practice pepper spray devices”, which serve to help you train in the device as well as eliminate possible self-contamination issues that may come about for first-time users.
Always consider the person who is on drugs or alcohol and understand that the effects of the spray may not be as pronounced on them and thus other types of defense may need to come into play.
The Take away
Pepper spray can be an excellent personal-defense tool in your arsenal if you learn to use it as a surprise to an attacker by keeping it either in your hand while you walk or within quick access in your home or vehicle.
By having it readily accessible you minimize risk and can effectively distract an attacker allowing you time and distance to escape. Make sure you also get some training on a few personal-defense combatives as a backup plan if for any reason the spray is ineffective or if you need to employ physical self-defense techniques before you can deploy the spray.
Never rely on only one form of defense or one tool as your only way to stop an attacker from harming you or your family. To this end, understand that all tools have limitations and that an attacker’s pain tolerance level and commitment to inflict harm and injury may allow them to grab you, hit you, or stab you even after you spray them. So be ready for anything and remember that you must train and rehearse to prepare!
Lastly, keep in mind that not everyone will react in the same manner when sprayed. Drug addicts, people intoxicated and people who are emotionally disturbed or plain crazy may not respond the way another individual would. So it would behoove you to plan your response for that!
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!
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