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July 29, 2021

Pepper Spray for Security Officers: The Pros and Cons

Pepper spray is a popular self-defense tool for law enforcement, security officers, and civilians alike for its close and long-range usage and its non-lethality.


Pepper spray is a popular self-defense tool for law enforcement, security officers, and civilians alike for its close and long-range usage and its non-lethality. Despite this, it is still quite possible for it to be used incorrectly, or for a situation to require more than just quick incapacitation of an attacker. This article will help you break down the basic pros and cons of pepper spray before you decide to use it as a tool for your team, including its legality, versatility, and effectiveness.

Pepper spray has been used by law enforcement agencies since the mid-1970s. It is generally lauded for its ability to subdue an offender for around 45 minutes, though when not used correctly it does have the ability to affect the wielder of the spray as well as the one being sprayed. With this in mind, although it is legal in all 50 states, many have special requirements in order to hold a certain amount of pepper spray or to carry it as a self-defense tool:

  • In California, the canister has to be in aerosol form, can’t be bigger than 2.5 ounces, and can only be sold to those over 18.
  • Wisconsin requires you to be 18 years or older and never convicted of a felony. The canister can be no larger than 2oz or stronger than 10% OC or 1.2% MC.
  • Hawaii has special licensing requirements and does not allow canisters larger than 2oz. You must also be 18 years or older.
  • Washington and Rhode Island allow pepper spray to be used as a personal protection tool if you are 18 years or older.
  • In South Carolina, if your pepper spray contains tear gas, the canister cannot be larger than 50 cubic centimeters.
  • In North Carolina, felons cannot use pepper spray, and it cannot be larger than 5oz.
  • New York requires you to be 18 years or older and to purchase from a licensed New York pepper spray dealer. You cannot be a felon.
  • New Jersey does not allow felons and restricts canister size to .75 ounces.
  • In Michigan, canisters cannot be more than 35 grams and cannot contain more than 18% OC or 1.4% MC.
  • In Massachusetts, you must have a firearms ID and purchase your pepper spray from a Massachusetts firearm dealer.
  • Florida does not allow canisters larger than 2oz.
  • In Arkansas, you can only carry pepper spray for self-defense and it cannot exceed 150 cubic centimeters.
  • Alaska only allows you to carry pepper spray if you are older than 18, or over 21 if you are carrying it within a school.

Once you’re sure that you are complying by your state’s laws, there is the more personal matter of assessing you or your team’s specific security needs. Most sprays can reach a maximum of about 12 feet. This is a good amount of distance, but if your job involves you working in packed crowds or smaller spaces, you run the risk of hurting others or even incapacitating yourself. Its compact size makes it easy to carry, but it can also be difficult to deploy in panicked situations. It is also possible that attackers may be wearing masks, or have a genetic trait that makes them less likely to be affected by pepper spray. If this is the case, it could be detrimental to not have another form of defense.

The main takeaways here should be that pepper spray can be very helpful, and is a great non-lethal self-defense tool. However, in untrained hands, it can do more harm than good. The possibility of it not being effective also serves to emphasize how important it is for security guards to have versatile training, like Krav Maga training, to ensure they can defend themselves even if they do not have a weapon.

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