Always Carry Pepper Spray
It's cheap, effective, and might save your life.
People in prepping circles like to talk about EDC — Everyday Carry — usually accompanied by a picture of what they supposedly carry every day, which always seems to include multiple knives, a laser pointer, a USB thumb drive, multiple watches for some reason, and maybe a gun. I doubt anyone carries that much crap in their pockets every day, but they make for some cool photos.
However, there is one item you should always keep in your pocket or purse: a small can of pepper spray. Here’s why:
Pepper spray can end a violent confrontation quickly thanks to the searing pain caused when you spray pure capsaicin into an assailant’s eyes.
Pepper spray is also useful for deterring threats from animals, especially dogs.
While pepper spray is extremely painful, its effects rarely last for more than a half-hour. It’s weaponized food.
You can often carry pepper spray in places guns aren’t allowed, and it won’t attract the sort of attention a gun does.
If you screw up and get trigger happy with pepper spray, you’re going to be in a lot less trouble than if you get trigger happy with a gun. Assault and battery vs. murder or attempted murder.
It’s your responsibility to understand the laws around pepper spray in your state. Most states have lenient pepper spray laws, but some places like Hawaii and Washington, D.C. have a few restrictions. However, pepper spray is legal in all 50 states.
And of course, you should not use pepper spray on someone unless life and limb are at stake (or you’re filming a Jackass movie). Don’t pepper spray Karen just because she doesn’t approve of your choices about masks or doesn’t like who you vote for.
I recommend POM pepper spray, which I always keep in my pocket, and I’ve given cans as gifts to several loved ones. I like POM because it…
…has the highest concentration of capsicum I’ve found on the market, with a Major Capsaicinoid concentration of 1.4%. Major Capsaicinoid or MC is the number you want to look at when evaluating pepper spray.
…is cheap: less than $13 a can, and you can buy cans in bulk for less.
…fires in a stream (like a water gun), which makes it less likely you spray yourself or an innocent bystander.
…has a flip-top safety recommended by most experts. Just slip your pointer finger under the cap and press the button.
I’ve kept a can in my pocket for over a year and have never had an accidental discharge, and I’ve used it successfully to protect my chickens.
I know some of you are thinking, “I don’t need pepper spray, I carry a gun,” or, “I’m a big tough dude who goes to the gym. I don’t need pepper spray when I have these guns!” *flexes arms*
Let’s address both of those objections because they couldn’t be more wrong.
Gun Problems vs. Pepper Spray Problems
Many who carry guns don’t think they need pepper spray. This is a mistake. When it comes to self-defense, some things are gun problems and some things are pepper spray problems. I carry both because they have different use cases and different ramifications.
Let me give you a personal example. One snowy day, a couple of dogs showed up in our yard. I walked outside with a rifle because I didn’t know what I was up against. I live in the country and feral animals, including wild dogs, aren’t uncommon.
I quickly realized these dogs were someone’s pets and were friendly enough, though I didn’t see tags on their collars so I couldn’t contact the owner. I went back into the house, locked up the rifle, and figured I wouldn’t worry about it as long as they left my dog and chickens alone.
Sure enough, I looked out the window a few minutes later and spotted them next to the chicken tractor. I ran outside and tried to shoo them off, but they ignored me. One of them was busily digging under the tractor while the other was trying to claw through the hardware cloth. Back then, I didn’t have an electric net around my chickens so the mobile pen was their only protection.
I didn’t want to have to shoot the dogs, but they were minutes away from eating my chickens. I rushed back to the house to get the rifle when I had another thought.
I ran back out with my can of POM and sprayed both dogs in the eyes. At first, I didn’t think it worked because there was no reaction. A couple of seconds later, they shook their heads, ran off behind my shop building, and started rolling in the snow. Chickens safe, dogs alive and well. The owner drove by later and was understanding. She found her dogs, got them home, and they’ve never bothered my chickens again.
Those dogs were not a gun problem. They were a pepper spray problem, but if I didn’t have pepper spray at hand, it may have ended up as a gun problem for want of better options. Keep your options open.
SABRE actually makes a pepper spray specifically for dogs. It’s less powerful than the human stuff since dogs have such sensitive noses, but that also makes it less versatile. I only recommend carrying it if you have a specific problem with dogs. The human spray works against most threats you’ll come up against. (If you anticipate bears, you need bear spray.)
However, I had another dog problem that was almost a gun problem. At our old house, the family living across from us had this psychotic dog that hated our guts. It always barked and snarled at us and chased our car every time we came home. It made us nervous to let our son play outside, but the dog had stayed out of our yard.
One day, this dog decided to start charging at me and snarling while I was standing on my porch. As it crossed into our yard, I put my hand on the Glock 19 at my hip and screamed, “Dog, I will end you!” We had just got home and my son was sleeping in the car, so if I had to shoot the dog, I would have had to wait until it was close so as to not risk accidentally hitting my son. Thankfully, the owner burst out of the house, ran into my yard, and wrestled the dog away. I never saw that dog again.
And yes, I totally would have shot that dog. It had crossed onto my property and was charging at me. I wasn’t clued in on pepper spray at the time, but even if I had pepper spray I wouldn’t have risked the seconds it would have taken to kick in.
Let’s talk about gun problems vs. pepper spray problems in regards to humans. If someone comes after me with a gun or a knife, I’m shooting them. In Tennessee, I am allowed to use lethal force to defend myself from a deadly weapon, and I won’t take a chance with pepper spray. But what if someone just wants to kick my ass? It gets a little thornier.
To many people, it’s unconscionable to use a firearm against someone who is unarmed. On the surface, that’s perfectly reasonable. But let’s say the unarmed person in question is WWE Superstar and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. He screams, “I’m going to kill you,” and suddenly a 6′ 3″ 286-pound wall of muscle is charging at you. Are you going to stand there and let WWE Superstar Brock Lesnar tear your head off your body, or are you going to shoot him?
(Mr. Lesnar seems like a perfectly nice guy outside of the ring who enjoys the solitude of the outdoors.)
I had something similar happen to me. It’s the only time I’ve ever considered using my carry pistol against a person, and it was merely weeks after I received my permit. We were at an outdoor festival and getting ready to leave, but it was taking a while to gather everyone together. There were some bounce houses near the exit and my son bolted off and jumped in one. There was no sign or barrier — even a piece of string — around the bounce houses.
Almost immediately, this boy comes up to me and starts asking me to buy a $10 day pass. I told him we were on our way out so there was no reason to buy a day pass, and asked if I could just give him a couple of bucks. Given that they had these things out in the open unguarded like a child magnet, I thought I was being pretty reasonable. He said my kid could play in them for a few minutes free of charge. I thanked him and stood by, waiting for the rest of the party to catch up to us.
It wasn’t two minutes later this burly hulk of a man screamed at me: “MOTHERF*****, YOU NEED TO PAY!” I look up and he’s marching toward me, fists balled up. I tried to reason with the man, but he wasn’t having it. He kept screaming at me, fists still balled up. He had at least a good 100 pounds on me, so I did what my firearm instructor taught me: I put my right hand on my holstered Glock, put my left hand out, and started backing up. This is the human equivalent of a snake rearing its head and hissing before it bites.
Meanwhile, my wife saw what was happening, jumped in the bounce house, and dragged my son out. The idiot owner eventually caught on to what was about to happen to him, stopped, and mumbled an apology.
If this story seems insane to you, it seems insane to me too. Was I really about to shoot an unarmed man over a stupid bounce house? You bet I was because he was completely unhinged, clearly ready to get physical, and was big enough that he could have easily put me in the hospital. He was a threat to my personal safety and possibly my life. But in retrospect, I wish I also had pepper spray.
As my handgun instructor told me, these things are ultimately up to the judge and jury. Every time you draw a firearm on someone, you risk going to prison, even if you think you’re perfectly justified. If your life is truly at stake, a prison term is worth the risk. But even if you’re legally cleared of wrongdoing, your life may never be the same.
A good example of this is George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin. The police chief said he acted in self-defense, he was cleared by a jury, and even Obama’s Department of Justice couldn’t find anything to charge him with. Despite that, that shooting cost him everything. He lost his home and job. Between the shooting and trial, he gained 100 pounds. After the trial, he was shot himself. He will be a pariah for the rest of his life, walking the earth with a target on his back. If he had used pepper spray instead, Trayvon Martin would still be alive and George Zimmerman would be living a normal life.
I’m not saying don’t carry firearms. I’m not saying pepper spray is superior to firearms. What I am saying is that you need to have the right tool for the job. Sometimes the correct tool is a gun. But you don’t want it to be the only tool in your arsenal.
Even if you carry a gun, pepper spray can be a secondary option. What if somebody tackles you on the side you carry your gun? If you keep pepper spray on the other side, you may still be able to reach that.
When deciding whether a situation is a gun problem or a pepper spray problem, keep in mind that pepper spray may take a few seconds to kick in and a determined attacker may fight through it. It’s highly effective, but it’s not a 100% solution.
Pepper Spray vs. Fighting
If you scoff at pepper spray because you think you know how to fight, I gotta ask: have you ever been in a fight? Because most people who know how to fight want to avoid it as much as possible. Even if you win a fight, you’re still going to be pretty roughed up: bloody knuckles, bruises, chipped teeth, etc. I still have a small chip in a molar where a friend and I grappled years ago, and that was friendly!
And let’s say you win the fight and roughed up the other fella pretty good. OK, now he sues you because he has $10,000 in hospital bills after you kicked his ass. You might get sued for pepper-spraying someone, though the only pepper-spray lawsuits I can find have been against police. I’m not a lawyer, but a plaintiff is going to have a much stronger case if they have X-ray photos of broken bones and teeth as opposed to a sob story about how their eyes burned for 30 minutes.
As for me personally, I’m pushing 40 and have high-deductible health insurance. I hurt my neck if I get out of bed too fast and I go to a chiropractor once a month to keep my spine from going askew. I’m too old to get in a street fight. If you come at me swinging fists, I’m either going to pepper spray you or shoot you. To paraphrase Danny Glover from the Lethal Weapon movies: I’m too old for that.
The other thing about being in a fight is you don’t know if the other person will fight dirty. You may be grappling with a guy and suddenly feel a knife slip into your rib cage. Don’t chance it if you don’t have to.
Consider Batman. Despite being a fictional character and thus never being in any real danger, Batman doesn’t immediately start throwing punches when he finds the bad guys. He has an entire utility belt with things like batarangs, smoke grenades, and probably even pepper spray to end a fight before it starts1.
That said, I think hitting the gym and training to fight are both great things to do, and you never know when you’ll have no choice but to fight. But I’m going to avoid it whenever possible, either through kind words and diplomacy or otherwise.
Don’t Use Wasp Spray for Self Defense
There’s an incredibly stupid canard that says you should use wasp spray instead of pepper spray to save a few bucks. Let’s nip that in the bud:
Pepper spray is a field-tested and fast-acting deterrent. Wasp spray is only effective against wasps. An aggressive attacker likely wouldn’t be stopped by wasp spray.
While pepper spray is incredibly painful, it is usually safe with no long-lasting effects. Wasp spray is a literal poison that could cause long-term harm.
Using a pesticide against a human is a federal crime.
Cans of wasp spray are huge. Most pepper spray canisters are small and easy to carry.
Pepper spray isn’t expensive. Spending $3 on a can of wasp spray vs. $11 on a can of POM isn’t going to save you much money.
So not only does it not solve a problem — because pepper spray is readily available and cheap — it’s ineffective and may get you in more trouble than pepper spray would. Using wasp spray in lieu of pepper spray is stupid. Ignore anyone who gives you that “advice,” and if you’re one of the ones spreading that myth: stop it.
Except for the Robert Pattinson Batman who is apparently bulletproof and does nothing to avoid fistfights. He’s a younger, dumber Batman.