Pepper spray isn’t cool

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Pepper spray has many advantages over a gun, Greg Ellifritz notes — permissibility, versatility, accessibility, (reduced) legal and civil jeopardy, (reduced) expense — but its social acceptability may be its greatest strength — and weakness:

One of the reasons for pepper spray’s lack of popularity (in my opinion) is also one of its big benefits. The lack of popularity (at least among gun guys) is that pepper spray isn’t cool. Pepper spray always “feels” like a second-best, cop-out option for chicks that won’t carry guns. And I’ll be honest: pepper spray isn’t cool. It doesn’t look sexy on Instagram, you can’t order a custom one, there are no photos of SOF guys pepper spraying terrorists. Pepper spray just doesn’t have that cool-guy cachet.

But that’s also a huge benefit. Pepper spray flies completely under the radar. Pepper spray is acceptable af. Your mom probably carries some in a leatherette case on her keys. They literally sell pepper spray (Sabre Red, decent spray in cheesy form-factor) in the checkout line at Lowe’s. There’s no license, no waiting period, usually not even a glass counter between you and a can of pepper spray. No one looks at you askance when you say you have some.

Remember I mentioned carrying O.C. spray on the campus where I’m attending my EMT class? There’s a chick in the class with a can on her key chain that is always laid out, openly displayed on her desk. Do you think I have any qualms whatsoever about having a can in my pocket? Do you think anyone would think twice if they actually noticed it?

If you need an even more discrete option that doesn’t look like pepper spray, there are some good ones out there. My buddy Rich Brown really likes the ASP Palm Defender. It’s a cylindrical aluminum key-chain attachment that takes replaceable pepper spray canisters. It just looks like a Kubaton-style key chain attachment. If you didn’t know better you’d never know it was pepper spray. My only beef with this tool is the very limited spray range of about 3?.


  1. Kirk says:

    Less-than-lethal only works so long as your opponent is willing to play the game with you. Having been the target of CS, CN, various forms of capsaicin in spray form, and a Taser, I can tell you that they’re not enough to really dissuade someone who really, really wants to harm or kill you. All the chemical products are going to do is either dissuade someone who wasn’t really “serious” about things, or really, really piss off someone who was. When you’re in the sort of pain that the chemicals cause, one response is “get it off, get it off…”. The other is “destroy the bastard that did this”, and that’s the one I’d worry about. Tasers can induce a different response, but, again… Once the lightning goes away, so does the dissuasive effect, and here comes the rage.

    It’s about like the effect of booting someone in the ‘nads. Sure, it works about 99 times out of a hundred, and you will have put a clearly punctuated end to the target’s interest in killing you. Monkey number one hundred, though? F**k me, you’ve just booted yourself into an exponentially worse situation, because now you’ve got a really enraged person with a target to work out his pain issues on.

    None of the “less lethal” solutions currently available really work. If you’re in a situation where they’re really legal and moral to use, you’re also in a situation where you are almost certainly legally and morally able to deploy lethal force. As a citizen, you’ve no obligation to preserve the other idiot’s life, so my take is “Go immediately to lethal force”, and don’t ask or answer any questions.

    Less-than-lethal often translates best into “Piss them off enough to kill me”, which is unfortunate. Until they get a science-fiction stunner reliable enough to work 100% of the damn time, forget about this crap if you’re really serious about self-defense. It’s a really bad set of tools to try to use on someone whose real intent and determination you know nothing about.

  2. Neovictorian says:


    “It’s about like the effect of booting someone in the ‘nads. Sure, it works about 99 times out of a hundred, and you will have put a clearly punctuated end to the target’s interest in killing you.”

    You can’t even reach “99 percent” with a handgun. People have taken multiple large-caliber bullets in the chest and fought on long enough to kill the attacker. My choice instead of pepper spray is a knife. Yeah, it’s lethal force but…you can carry it unlicensed in so many jurisdictions.

  3. Kirk says:

    Typically, though… You shoot someone, with a large enough caliber, they’re going to be less able to come after you than that guy whose family jewels you just clobbered will be.

    I guess the main point I’m going for is this: Do actual damage to the bastard, and you’re more likely to survive your encounter with evil. If you start with less-lethal, odds are pretty good that you’ll just be pissing whoever it is off, assuming they’re serious.

    Friend of mine is a part-time Alaskan guide, and his take on bear spray is about the same–It really only works on bears who are doing threat-displays. The ones he’s studied where the bear was really engaged in going after someone who sprayed them in the course of things, it didn’t end well for the guy with the bear spray.

    I’m here to tell you, with enough adrenaline? Many improbable things are possible; I watched a guy stand up on a broken leg and continue to deliver an ass-beating on his opponent, once. He shouldn’t have been able to walk, but he managed to get to his feet, nail his opponent, and then do a very thorough ground-and-pound on him.

    Put enough adrenaline into anything, and you’re going to have to actually break key and essential parts before you’re going to stop it–Which is why I can’t take dissuasive measures like tear gas or pepper spray really seriously. Even the Taser has its issues, and while I’ve been put down by one myself in training, I also have seen people shake that crap off and return right to what they were doing before they rode the lightning.

  4. Neovictorian says:

    “I guess the main point I’m going for is this: Do actual damage to the bastard, and you’re more likely to survive your encounter with evil. If you start with less-lethal, odds are pretty good that you’ll just be pissing whoever it is off, assuming they’re serious.”

    Yes, that the very valid point–one must have a plan for if the weapon doesn’t stop the threat, whether gun, knife or pepper spray. What the the non-lethal things can do almost always is provide a window to either close and incapacitate, or to run. Spraying someone in the eyes gives you like 1-2 seconds of advantage. That’s about all you can count on.

  5. Kirk says:

    It’s a nuanced thing… You spray one guy in the eyes, you run away, it’s all good. You spray a second guy in the eyes, and where he wasn’t really angry enough to pursue you, now he is, and you wind up kicked to death in an alley.

    My theory is simple: Don’t get into confrontations without the capability to end them emphatically. Less-lethal has a role on police work; for an individual citizen, it’s a very iffy thing, indeed. I don’t think there’s anything on the market, including any handguns, that’s a real “100% fight-stopper”. They’re all prone to potential failure, and then where are you?

    If the confrontation is forced on you, and you have no other choice, then it behooves you to end it as quickly and certainly as you can. Less-lethal is just a bad idea–Once the other party has escalated things past the point of no return, you’re not obligated in any way to preserve their life or health. That’s the sticking point, for me–Less-lethal is a tool that is entirely inappropriate for such situations.

    Of course, this presupposes the idea that you’re not at fault in the escalation of it all.

  6. Paul from Canada says:

    I am with Kirk for the most part, but if you are in a non-permissive environment, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    Would I prefer to have a gun? Absolutely! Hell, I would rather have a rifle than a pistol, but carrying a rifle in day to day life would not be socially acceptable. So where permitted, the pistol is the working compromise. But if I can’t, have a firearm, I would prefer to have pepper spray over empty hands, a Kubotan, or harsh words.

    (Of course, being in Kanukistan, I can’t have any of those, so I am stuck with a Kubotan, flashlight, walking cane and harsh words).

  7. Mike-SMO says:

    I agree with Kirk. Nothing comes with a guarantee, but a firearm is more likely to do the trick.

    In the hospital where I worked (in a lab), the new docs got a several mg tablet of the current wonder drug after which they spent a few hours trying to find their foot. That way they better appreciated the patient running around the ceiling after 3X 250-300 mg IM. The sprays can be defeated by wind, a hat, glasses, or “crazy”. Firearms training generally stresses avoid, a double tap and then be ready. He probably has friends nearby. In the big leagues, select “auto”, because the other team’s players may have explosive vests and/or lots of medication. The sprays are convenient but have limits. So do pistols. Plan accordingly. AVOID the situations which may cause you to test those limits.

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