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More on the Pepper Spray Issue

This has been a long running blog conversation, but it’s been a good one.  Brillianter.com follows up with one more post about the importance of pepper spray, and how it fills a role in potential self-defense scenarios.

There isn’t a “non-deadly force niche”, there are several. Pepper spray fills the niche right before we start striking people because if we can solve the problem at that level we will not have any need to escalate further. […]

Keeping in mind that pepper spray is basically a step above strong language, it is not a suitable handgun replacement. Pepper spray fills an entirely different role than firearms do. The perfect role for pepper spray is reinforcing a verbal command. We can pepper spray belligerents for continuing to approach when told to stop, it would be very hard to justify shooting them.

This makes sense to me, because there’s an entire realm of confrontation up until we have to start thinking about deadly force where pepper spray could come in handy.  Think, for instance, about the proverbial asshole who won’t let it go that you took his parking spot.  He may be aggressive, he may be beligerent, he may not leave you alone despite repeated demands that you do not wish to engage in this conversation.  Even if it comes to blows, if you pull out a deadly weapon, and threaten him with it, and God forbid, use it on him, you’re going to find yourself in a police station explaining to them why your use or threat of deadly force was justified, in which case, you better be able to claim a force disparity.

I don’t think Brillianter is claiming you ought to pepper spray someone who is actually presenting a credible threat to life and limb.  Pepper spray isn’t reliable enough for that.  But there’s plenty of room between force and deadly force, that it could come in handy under many situations you might be able to think up.

11 Responses to “More on the Pepper Spray Issue”

  1. Chris says:

    I agree. As a military guy, we’re trained to use an escalation of force continuum. You start with very low level, non-invasive, non-lethal measures and escalate to lethal force (Shout, Show, Shove, Shoot, Shoot).

    You typically start with a signal to back off; often an audible shout or air horn or something, but sometimes a hand signal. This translates perfectly well to the civilian world: “Get away!”

    Show means to show your weapon. In the civilian world this is probably not a good diea with a firearm, but showing that you have a can of pepper spray may be effective and legal.

    Shove can mean to use non-lethal physical force — actually pushing someone back to create space. Or, it can mean showing your intent to use the weapon by bringing it up and taking aim. Again, have to be careful in the civilian world — you don’t want to throw the first punch or draw a deadly weapon unnecessarily. But the concept of gradually escalating your level of force along with the situation is legitimate. Uncapping your pepper spray and taking aim while calling for the aggressor again to back off would be a good “shove.”

    Finally, you get to shoot. In the military we shoot warning shots but I think that’s a bad idea in most of the civilian world.

    Many of the options that are legit for soldiers and LEOs are not for civilians. So, that often reduces the civilian’s EOF options to “Shout — Shoot.” There’s nothing in the middle. Pepper spray allows you to fill in those middle options again.

  2. Tam says:

    I’ve carried pepper spray before, and likely will again. (For the record, the one time I’ve OC’ed somebody, it was a miserable failure to stop, but the dude was bugnuts cra… er, an EDP…)

    I’d be more likely to carry it if I was out alone in bars or restaurants, or if I was a dude. As it is, a middle-aged woman with my lifestyle is unlikely to get into the kind of chest-bumping monkey dance where OC might be appropriate and a gun wouldn’t be. In my life as I live it at present, I cannot envision a likely scenario where I’d be justified in OC’ing someone but not justified in throwing down on them.

  3. Chris says:

    Tam,

    I can think of a few cases where it’d be quite handy. Here’s just one off the top of my nugget:

    Dog attacks small child in the neighberhood.

    You’d better be absolutely sure you can hit the animal and not overpenetrate into the child (or miss!). Pepper spray would likely be effective in stopping the attack without risking harm to bystanders or victims.

    Of course I live in AK where we have wolves and bears and moose running around and a big can of bear mace is a handy thing to have, perhaps even better than a handgun according to some studies.

    Chris

  4. JKB says:

    Look at it this way. Guy is coming after you with a bat. He is swinging but is on the other side of a car, you are not in immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm since he is on the other side of a car, pepper spray would be appropriate to end the threat.

    He comes around the car, you are now in immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury, you use your firearm to end the threat.

  5. Kevin says:

    “He is swinging but is on the other side of a car…”

    Umm, have you ever practiced that transition with an actual opponent in training? You are busy spraying the guy when gets really mad and comes around the car. So you need to draw and shoot. But you are kind of focused on the weapon you are using…

    Or even better, the wind shifts and now you have a nice spray of OC in YOUR eyes. How many times have you practiced drawing, moving off the line and shooting after you were pepper sprayed?

    Cops where I live are required to get OCed and then go hand to hand with an aggressor. Have you?

    You are in a DEADLY FORCE situation. Cops have armed backup who can deal with the situation when their intermediate tactic fails. You don’t. Draw you gun and tell him that if comes around the car you’ll shoot him. Then wait for him to decide to get shot, decide to leave or the cops to show up.

    “Tear gas works on cops too, and regardless of wind direction, will always blow back in your face.” Murphy’s law for cops

    “I was so scared that I didn’t even realize I had been sprayed with pepper spray until the cops showed up and were having trouble breathing. About half an hour later, the burning started to hit me. Apparently I had been in shock.” http://watchingthewatchers.org/article/26613/why-do-you-want-my-gun

  6. James Nelson says:

    Check your local laws carefully, some states like mine do not allow civilians to carry or use full strength spray. Some jurisdictions see the use of spray as serious escalation of a confrontation, leading assault charges.

  7. Jake says:

    “Umm, have you ever practiced that transition with an actual opponent in training? You are busy spraying the guy when gets really mad and comes around the car. So you need to draw and shoot. But you are kind of focused on the weapon you are using…”

    Reason number one that I don’t bother with pepper spray.

    “Or even better, the wind shifts and now you have a nice spray of OC in YOUR eyes. “

    Reason number two that I don’t bother with pepper spray. My eyes and sinuses are easily irritated under normal circumstances, just being near someone who’s been sprayed would probably cause me problems – getting it blown back at me would most likely leave me totally incapacitated.

    “I was so scared that I didn’t even realize I had been sprayed with pepper spray until the cops showed up and were having trouble breathing. About half an hour later, the burning started to hit me. Apparently I had been in shock.”

    Reason number three that I don’t bother with pepper spray. It’s not always effective, even with a good hit.

    The extra level in your “continuum of force” is good when you have someone to back you up. If you’re alone, and threatened, you likely will not have time to work through the continuum beyond the three basic levels – verbal warning, visual warning (draw and aim), and deadly force.

  8. Dave R. says:

    I’m still having a hard time picturing the scenario where I can’t shoot or even draw a firearm legitimately, can’t walk or run away, can’t fight, but can use pepper spray effectively and legitimately. Now, I’m a civilian with no formal expertise in self-defense and I’ve never yet had to defend myself, so that may well be a blind spot on my behalf, but Brillianter’s posts haven’t switched the light on for me yet.

    I’m also assuming that as a fit male I’d be subjected to higher legal scrutiny than a woman for macing a guy for “advancing on me” after being warned away. Perhaps that’s unfounded.

  9. JKB says:

    I was not saying you should use pepper spray. Using any defensive technique has potential problems if the situation escalates or the technique fails. I was simply pointing out the difference between using force (pepper spray) in self defense and using deadly force (firearm) in self defense. Shooting a guy with a bat on the other side of a large barrier is going to be tough sell for use of deadly force. Hope you can show he was moving around the barrier or the imminent requirement is going to ruin your day.

    Yes, using pepper spray can be assault if it was not used in legitimate self defense (protection from the use of unlawful force) of a degree appropriate to the threat. Punching a guy in the nose has the same risk.

  10. tjbbpgobIII says:

    A guy I know always carries several rounds of rat shot loaded up hoping to prevent esclating to quickly.

  11. Sebastian says:

    Rat shot is still deadly force, and will elevate you to aggravated assault in most states.

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