When it comes to defensive use-of-force encounters, you are only justified with using deadly force if you truly believe your life is in danger. So what happens if you’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to de-escalate a situation, but things haven’t gotten to the point of needing a firearm? This is where pepper spray comes in.
What is Pepper Spray?
Let’s start with the basics. Pepper spray is universally considered an aerosol delivery product where the main component is oleoresin capsicum (ol-e-o-rez-in cap-sik-kum, or OC for short). OC is the oily resin of a capsicum pepper plant. It comes from a pepper being ground and essentially distilled to an extract form.
Pepper spray is a good tool:
- In addition to your carried firearm
- In situations where you can’t have a firearm
- For people who can’t or won’t carry a firearm
How Does Pepper Spray Work?
OC is by nature an inflammatory agent due to the pepper component, making it difficult to open the eyes and hard to breathe if you have been sprayed. OC pepper spray uses three mechanisms of discomfort to work as a self-defense tool:
- Hydrophobia: This means that the OC tends to repel or fail to mix with water. When capsicum gets in the eye, it immediately repels tears and dries your eyes out.
- Affectation of deep lung breathing: When pepper spray comes out in a fog form, it can be inhaled. This results in OC making it to the lungs, which can cause coughing and a sense of suffocation.
- Vanilloid pain: The nervous system has special receptors that are triggered by high temperatures or OC, and when activated they cause a burning sensation. Your skin is essentially firing signals to tell your brain that you ARE on fire.
When you break it down, pepper spray relies on psychological incapacitation. The idea is that the pain is so great, it will distract your attacker long enough for you to escape the situation.
When is it Appropriate to Use Pepper Spray?
Currently, OC is legal in ALL 50 states. However, there are regulations that vary from state to state on type and strength of spray, where you can buy your spray, and where you can carry. Violating these regulations could mean a felony charge for possession of a prohibited weapon, so always be sure you know what the laws are in your area.
Additionally, if you use pepper spray in a situation where that level of force was unnecessary, you can open yourself up to assault or even aggravated assault charges. If there is a possibility to de-escalate a situation before using force, try that first.
How Do I Find the Right OC for Me?
There are a wide variety of brands and styles of pepper spray out there, and at first it may seem overwhelming to find the right type of spray for you.
When it comes to delivery method, you can typically select from three different categories of spray: steam, fog/cone, or gel/foam. Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages that come with it.
There are also different sizes and styles of containers to choose from when shopping for OC. You’ve probably seen a keychain unit, and sprays can also come in handheld or high volume size units. You can even find novelty pepper sprays shaped like fun items such as water guns or lipsticks, but these may not be as effective as your basic spray.
*Pro tip: If you’re planning to carry pepper spray on your keychain or in your purse, our National Training Director Austin Davis likes small flip top units!
Overall, the type of pepper spray you purchase and the situations that may call for pepper spray are as unique as the person using it. Because of this variation, logging training time with your OC of choice is extremely important.
We have an extensive online course on pepper spray that covers this information and more, including a more detailed breakdown of OC styles and brands, demonstrations of how pepper spray works, and drills that can help you become a master of your OC. Click here to access this course with the Concealed Coalition membership today!