With the holidays upon us and crowds increasing in parking lots and other public gathering places, I've been receiving many questions about the use of pepper spray, so let me shed some light on this popular self-defense tool.
Most modern pepper spray (aka self-defense spray or mace) is no long "tear gas," the CS and CN gas common twenty years ago in military and police circles. The majority of pepper spray today is just that, peppers. Technically known as oleoresin capsicum, or OC spray, the active ingredient is capsaicin, a chemical derived from the fruit of plants in the Capsicum genus, which includes chili peppers.
OC spray is designed to temporarily incapacitate a subject by immediately inflaming the sinus tissue and irritating the eyes.
Is it a good defensive tool? While I carry OC spray myself, there are a variety of limitations to its use.
First, understand that OC spray should only be utilized to protect yourself or others from potential harm. If you utilize OC spray, the stream of liquid chemical should be focused toward the face of the subject and dispersed side-to-side.
One great variable in the use of OC spray is the wind condition when outside. Not only do strong winds have the affect of diminishing the volume of chemical contacting the subject, it can also drastically redirect the spray toward bystanders, thereby affecting them more than the subject. It is also important to pay continuous attention to your distance from the subject.
While exposure to OC spray makes it very uncomfortable to perform even the most basic tasks, it still will only incapacitate a subject to the extent that that person can endure its affects. The more a person is exposed to OC spray, the more capable they can become to function while being exposed. Even if that functionality is to a limited degree, the subject may still present a significant danger, which leads me to my next point, don't hang around to see if your OC spray is working. If you must employ OC spray for your protection, do so and immediately exit the scene to a location of safety while calling 911.
There are many brands and sizes of OC spray on the market. I recommend a stream-dispersal and not a spray or foam. In my experience, the spray can disperse quickly in the wind and the foam can have limited affect against experienced offenders. I also recommend the type of OC spray that contains a permanent colored dye which must wear out of the offenders skin, making for easy recognition by police.
OC spray, while effective, is like any other less-than-lethal self-defense tool. It is not designed to be a final option to mitigating a violent act, but to merely disrupt the attacker long enough to allow you to safely escape the area.
There are many locations around Charlotte that offer self-defense training with OC spray. For your own protection, learn to use it in training before you have to use it for the first time in a violent confrontation.
Whatever you do, don't let the bad guys win!