Are Self Defense Stun Guns and Pepper Sprays Safe and Legal

There is a variety of personal defense sprays on the market. There are pepper sprays to use as a defense against human attackers, as well as a dog pepper spray for defense against an attacking, vicious canine. However, how well do we understand the effects of this inflammatory chemical agent? Pepper sprays work by causing a painful burning sensation in an assailant's eyes, nose, throat and skin. Many people are concerned that this can have serious long-term effects, and even cause death. There is much controversy surrounding the use of self defense stun guns and pepper sprays.

The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, which is a chemical derived from the fruit of plants in the capsicum genus, including chiles. The effect of pepper sprays is immediate and can last for several hours, even when treated with soap and water. There really is no way to neutralize pepper spray. The spray typically comes in canisters, which are often small enough to be carried or concealed in a pocket or purse. There are also pepper spray balls and pellets available, which can be fired from a paintball gun; however, these are police products and are used by law enforcement officers for riot control.

Many people are concerned that the long-term effect of pepper sprays and believe they have not been effectively researched. The Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science published a study, which concluded that single exposure of the eye to OC is harmless, but repeated exposure can result in long-lasting changes in corneal sensitivity. The European Parliament Scientific and Technological Options Assessment published a report in 1998 claiming that these sprays can cause death in individuals with asthma because the product restricts breathing passages. Like taser stun guns, the use of pepper spray is controversial because it has been attributed to asphyxiation deaths of individuals in police custody. However, a spray has not been attributed as the direct cause of death in any of these cases.

The law, as it pertains to pepper sprays, varies by region. In Canada, all products with a label containing the words "pepper spray" or "mace" for use on humans are classified as a restricted weapon that can only be used by police officers or those carrying a special permit. However, dog pepper spray can be carried by anyone.

Laws on pepper spray in the United States differ between states. In Washington, D.C., possession of pepper spray must be registered with the DC Metropolitan Police. Massachusetts residents may only buy pepper spray from licensed Firearms Dealers in that state, and must hold a valid Firearms Identification Card. In Wisconsin, teargas is not permissible. In many other states, pepper spray can be purchased at various stores and carried legally by anyone over the age of eighteen.

As helpful as pepper sprays have been to law enforcement agencies, many have traded the chemical for police products like taser stun guns. The medical community and civil rights organizations continue to express concern over the use of sprays, but it remains a popular consumer product. While the deaths are few, many believe that even one is too many.

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