Choosing Pepper Spray for self Defense

As a state licensed Bail Bond Recovery Agent I get questions all the time on equipment. People like to know what they could use to defend themselves. Here’s my take on one very dependable product: Pepper Spray. Pepper spray is one of the most effective products available to civilians, but it is also one of the most misunderstood. Let’s clear up the mysteries.

I use a number of products which include some mentioned below (note: no company mentioned here has compensated me for the endorsement of their product. I talk about what works).

Pepper Spray is not Mace. Mace is basically refined teargas (but it’s also a brand name), with its chemical names either CS or CN. Law enforcement SWAT teams still use teargas (in huge doses), but the hand-held spray canisters have fallen out of use. The reason is simple: in small amounts, it may not work very well. CS and CN are irritants and people have been known to be able to build up resistance to them.

Pepper spray is known as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC). It is a food product with tremendous self-defense properties. Unlike CS or CN, it is an inflammatory, and very few individuals can resist its influence. As soon as it comes into contact with the skin or soft tissues of the body (eye sockets, mouth, throat), it inflames them to the point that the victim becomes incapacitated.

NOTE: Dubious marketers have capitalized on people’s ignorance and sold many products that are under dosed and actually dangerous to use, because they do not work. Many of these bad products have been sold in convenience stores or in the back of magazines. If you are not familiar with the brand or the source of the product, stay away!

There are many good places to get quality pepper spray at a good price. Look for the following things:

*Is it easy to determine the manufacturer of the spray? If not, someone may be hiding something. Go with manufacturers who are easy to identify and look up in the phone book or on the Internet. Some very good ones are TOP COP, FOX, MACE, SABRE, ELIMINATOR (from PSP) and STREET WISE.

*Do they list the SHU (Scoville Heat Units rating) on the can? The hotter the better. 2 million scoville is a good number. Will the company provide you with an MSDS on the product (listing the percentage of pepper in the can)? Or the canister may also list a percentage (10% or 15%) on the label, which is a rating of how much pepper is in the can relating to the other ingredients. Some people don’t like this rating, but I do and here’s why: Recovery Agents have to clean up the skips if we spray them with pepper while apprehending them. The jails usually won’t take them otherwise. Agents look for sprays with low concentration of solids (but high SHU) so it makes the fugitives easier to clean up. You will see a lot of literature telling you to get a low % product with a high SHU. I agree with this, but since average citizens have no such consideration, a high % rating is also an indicator of the strength of the product if an SHU cannot be determined. Streetwise brand is 17%, and while some agents won’t use it, I assure you if a bad guy gets hit with it, he will be worse for the wear.

*Will the person selling the spray guarantee the return of the product if you don’t like it? If you don’t want to use the Internet, there are security supply companies in cities that can sell it, or check the local gun shops, even pawn shops, but look for brands.

Now, what kind of dispenser? Good question. There are flip top, twist lock, thumb trigger, gun grip canisters. The units spray in stream, cone, fog or foam patterns. So many choices. Let’s break it down.

Law Enforcement Officers and BEAs (Bail Enforcement Agents) use flip top canisters. They have a trap door guard over the activation button and are protected against accidental fire… if you have a duty belt. Not really the first choice for a girl’s purse, if it is not in a case of some kind. Twist lock works well in a coat pocket, if the twist lock is designed well. Thumb trigger and gun grip must be carried in a holster on the belt. They are generally larger cans (great for hiking) but not easy to conceal. Hard case canisters are good if the SHU is good. Look at the different products. Decide ahead of time HOW you are going to carry it, then find a product to fit your carry method. There’s nothing worse than having a canister go off in your pocket (like mine did when I was delivering pizzas, before I got trained) because it’s being carried wrong. Twist locks are becoming harder to find, but SABRE and ELIMINATOR still make them.

STREAM, FOG, CONE, FOAM? What are you talking about?

*STREAM – the contents comes out like the stream of a squirt gun. Good against a single attacker, and the best “in a breeze” (more later) situation. Requires aiming, but it is easy to aim.

*CONE- the contents comes out like the stream of a can of bathroom disinfecting spray. Wider than a stream, and can work against more than one attacker, but lighter in weight than a stream and more susceptible to wind. Not really necessary to aim it well.

*FOG – Lighter still, like bug spray, and able to defend against multiple attackers. If the wind is blowing, it may take you down too.

*FOAM – Cops and BEAs do not like this option, because it is hard to clean up. You don’t have to worry about this. Spray and get away. The foam comes out like whipped cream, with a splat. This is the best option for civilian carry since, again, you don’t have to clean up the perp. But then again, it all comes down to personal preference, I like stream, my wife likes the cone version.

I have every type (except fogger) and have them for a variety of circumstances. I have 4oz ELIMINATOR with a twist lock, TOP COP stream and cone, 9oz STREET WISE (yep, sure do), MACE foam, ELIMINATOR 2oz flip top, SABRE OC/CN mix in a 3oz twist lock, and so on. Each one has a specific use depending if I am in my full duty gear, or in my undercover clothes. I like them all. This is really the best general self-defense option, because it works and is easy to use, but please follow my DOs and DO NOTs:

DO NOT GO OUT WITH LESS THAN 2 OUNCES. Stay away from the lipstick size cans, unless you have no place to put a bigger can and cannot make another choice. These are the cans that are sold at convenience stores (for way too much money). It’s not that the pepper in these is bad, it’s that there is so little propellant in them. If you ever have one that you have to use, use it for that ONE situation, and then immediately replace it.

DO NOT test fire your unit. Some units will not reseal completely after, and your propellant can slowly leak away. What happens when you need it later? Ouch. A good company will warranty that your unit will fire without testing it. If your owner’s instructions tell you to test fire it, get a different brand next time.

DO CHECK EXPIRATION DATES. There is absolutely NO REASON for a company selling you a spray that has less than 3 years from the expiration date. If you get one, return it, and don’t do business with them again.

DO GET TRAINED. It’s only $50 to $100 for a 4 hour OC class. I thought I knew a lot going in. I didn’t. Pay the money and be safe. They will cover things like OC general info, when to use it, how to use it and how to keep yourself out of legal trouble by using it properly. That last item is worth the cost of the class by itself

KNOW YOUR STATE LAWS! There are so many oppressive and intrusive restrictions on the citizens’ rights to defend themselves, you could be breaking the law and not even know it. Some states require permitting or licensing to carry OC, and some cities will not allow it at all. Read, read, read and be an informed citizen. Know your states USE OF FORCE CONTINUUM. It usually applies to law enforcement, but knowing it will help keep you out of legal trouble. This excerpt is from the Department of Justice, and while not applicable to all states, does offer an overview of how courts might rule in a self-defense case:

Continuum of Force – When the use of force is reasonable and necessary, officers should, to the extent possible, use an escalating scale of options and not employ more forceful means unless it is determined that a lower level of force would not be, or has not been, adequate. The levels of force that generally should be included in the agency’s continuum of force include: verbal commands, use of hands, chemical agents, baton or other impact weapon, canine, less-than-lethal projectiles, and deadly force.

Now you are NOT going to take the time to warn someone, assess their reaction, engage in hand to hand combat and then break out the spray… that’s silly. Just be sure that your safety is in question, then spray away! Until next time, take care.