Pepper Spray is Bad for You

To preface this article it should be understood that I am not an attorney. Nothing written here or displayed otherwise should be construed as professional legal advice.


The following video was recently published on the channel and has generated a fair amount of angst about the subject. The video simply shows the ineffective nature of a readily available form of civilian pepper spray.



As you saw, the first “application” was delivered as intended from just outside of arm’s reach. Nearly useless. In the second attempt, the instructor pressed the device up to the subject’s face and dispensed across his cheek bones. The test subject was then able to draw a firearm, from concealment, and acquire a sight picture. The man then proceeded to beat the stuffing out of a heavy bag for several seconds.

I thought the discussion that ensued in the comment section warranted an addendum so I have collected my thoughts on civilian use of pepper spray.


The firearms industry and, to a greater extent, the sub-community of persons certified to carry concealed weapons (CCW) has a very dangerous practice. We often have a very egocentric view of our system and life circumstances. We apply these parameters to the life situations of others and believe that in some way they are objective facts because they work for us. This is wrong. You can see this in training courses around the country where some ex-operator is teaching CCW civilians how to perform an explosive breach on a shoot house. As a CCW civilian, who has been taught how to do those things, there is nothing wrong with learning. There is something wrong with applying those tactics to your day-to-day methods.


Which brings me to the subject of this article: Pepper spray.

Support for use of pepper spray often cites results and practices of the law enforcement (LE) deployment of military grade pepper spray (OC). This data is not applicable to the civilian carry of pepper spray products that are neither of the potency nor capability of OC for multiple reasons.




Police officers have a separate mandate and adhere to different work parameters than your average citizen. They have a right to use force in the enforcement of law or prevention of felonious activity; you, do not. You have a right to use force only when you are under threat of imminent bodily harm or death to yourself or others. This is most often applied to the use of lethal force. In the interest of brevity, let’s shorten this to a statement often offered at the scene of a “good shoot”. In some conjugation, ” I feared for my life.”


It is easy to empathize with a person who felt so compelled by fear that they took lethal action against an individual who threatened their life. Legal precedent supports this. It is less easy to empathize with someone who felt compelled by this fear but didn’t perceive the threat to warrant the use of deadly force. Legal precedent also supports: street fights, use of melee weapons outside of the role of home defense, ect. are instances where both parties usually wind up in jail. If you eliminate the right of self-defense by discrediting the threat as not serious, that is a Battery; a crime, not the fuel source. Depending on the prosecutor, they may even classify this as Assault.




We have already touched on the right to use force; however, in many locales (dare I say most) you have an obligation to flee. In other words, you have obligation to exhaust all means of escape. If you choose to carry pepper spray, does it mean that you have a device that could be considered a means of generating an opportunity to escape? We could imagine a situation where a hostile prosecutor could ask you the question, “Why did you go for your gun when you had other means at your disposal?” When your liberty hangs in the balance, a gap of that nature could make the difference in the eyes of 12 idiots…your peers.


Pepper spray acts by exposing sensitive tissues to an irritant mixture composed mostly of capsaicin. The key word here is irritant, rather, the root word “irritate”. That is exactly what you are doing to the person you hit with this stuff. The question is how do they respond? Do they curl up in the fetal position or do they become irritated. As previously stated, I am no lawyer but irritating a belligerent sounds a great deal like escalation. Most judicial precedent doesn’t look fondly at those who escalate non-lethal force encounters to lethal encounters.


3.) Pepper spray is NOT OC.


Most pepper spray products you can buy off the shelf are not of the same concentration of OC. Some come close, but many animal versions are actually weaker on purpose. Other differences can be found in the application of the product.


Usually you will find OC in two major forms. The most commonly thought of is a spray designed for personal use with a robust spray head, capable of spicing up a target or group of targets with a short burst. The second is most commonly associated with riots: a canister designed to either detonate or leak OC, sometimes fired from a grenade launcher-type device into crowds of hippies.


Civilians, for the most part, have limited access to the latter style. However, the sprayers on traditional pepper spray products that you would care to conceal are usually lacking in big way.


4.) Pepper Spray does not discriminate. 


All chemical munitions are subject to a lot more interference than a firearm. Have you ever heard someone talk about knife fighting and how it’s a really bad idea because, “you are going to get cut?” Same thing with pepper spray, you are most likely also going to dose yourself. There are a few things at play here: medium of delivery and Mother Nature.


Methods of Delivery






I am not going to waste breath discussing the idiosyncrasies of all of these, I think most intelligent people can understand the differences. I was able to find a website that does a decent job, but beware, they also sell the stuff.


Wind is the most obvious issue with pepper spray.  I don’t care how anal you are about ingress and egress into an area, at some point you will be walking into the wind. Obviously, some of the aforementioned products do better in the wind than others. Operative word “better”, but you are still likely to get contaminated if dispensed into the wind.


The second issue, that most do not account for, is the nature of physical altercation. Fights are not like the movies, they are sloppy and primal. You’ve never been in one? Google it. Now imagine doing that slathered in blazing sauce.


5.) Hick’s Law


Without going into extreme theoretical detail, Hick’s Law states that the time it takes for a person to make a decision is a function of how many choices they have. When seconds count, don’t clutter the field.



6.) Pepper Spray does not have the deterrence factor.


Take it from someone who has been sprayed before: it sucks. However, it doesn’t suck as bad as being dead. I am a lot more likely to push my luck with a spray canister full glorified buffalo sauce than with a 147 grain jacket hollow point.


Plain and simple, people understand guns. Pull one out, get an instant response. Point one at someone, get a stronger response. Use one against someone, get a response from everyone in the immediate vicinity. Pepper spray: not so much.



This brings me to a final point. If you want to defend yourself, carry a gun. Just because you have one, doesn’t mean that you have to shoot it. The act of drawing a gun and shooting the gun are two distinct actions with their own separate decision making processes and their own set of real-world consequences. To reiterate, you have to be willing to use it, but you may not have to. This is where training is required and I don’t mean your carry class.


If you must carry another implement with you in your plethora of cargo pockets, it should be a tourniquet. We always emphasize putting holes in bad guys. You are far more likely to need to fix holes in people than you are to put them there. If you must carry a third thing, it should be a knife or flashlight. These items are infinitely more useful than a bottle of hot sauce with a sprayer attached to it.


In closing, as a civilian, anyone worth pepper spraying is worth shooting. First one is $50K, the rest are free. Leave your condiments at home.





an attempt to initiate harmful or offensive contact with a person, or a threat to do so


the use of force against another, resulting in harmful, offensive or sexual contact.


secondary metabolite commonly produced by peppers, as deterrents against certain mammals and fungi


violence, compulsion, or constraint exerted upon or against a person or thing

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