Pepper Spray: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

One of the frequently asked questions in the ACT Self-Defense classes is whether pepper spray is a good self-defense tool. The answer is yes and no. There are regular news stories about how a woman got away by using pepper spray, which gives the perception that pepper spray will always work so you can get away. Is it true?

Pepper Spray: The Good

On June 19, 2018, a news story detailed how a New Hampshire woman was able to end a home invasion with pepper spray. On a Monday morning, she heard her boyfriend screaming for help in their Manchester apartment. She found him being beaten by an intruder who had barged through the back door. She sprayed the intruder using the pepper spray she carried on her key chain, and he ran away. The intruder was later arrested, so this story ended well.

On July 5, a news story detailed how a woman in Florida found a man hiding in her closet. She used pepper spray on him, they got into a struggle, and then he ran off. Whether he ran off because of the pepper spray or because she fought back is not known. Police are still searching for the intruder. Regardless, this story ended well too.

It’s not uncommon for those speaking about self-defense to recommend pepper spray. It can be an effective self-defense tool. It can also be an ineffective self-defense tool that gives a false sense of security.

Pepper Spray Good Bad Ugly ACT Self-Defense

Pepper Spray: The Bad and the Ugly

Pepper spray does not work on everyone. Statistics are not available, however in police circles there is an informal estimate of about 30% of the population is not affected by it. In addition to those who are not affected, there are perpetrators who are on drugs and just won’t feel the effects. If someone is what is called “goal oriented”, meaning determined to assault and/or rob and/or kill you, he/she is still going to come after you.

The police never depend on pepper spray. They use it as a tool but never put all their faith into it. In high quality police training, officers are taught to have an immediate backup plan in mind in case the pepper spray doesn’t work. And if you are carrying pepper spray, so should you.

Using pepper spray to escape requires that you have it in your hands. It won’t do you any good if you have to dig through your purse or it’s in your purse on the other side of the room. This means it is critical to have more than pepper spray in your self-defense arsenal.

In addition to not working at all, there are other inherent risks to using pepper spray. If the wind is blowing towards you and you spray, you’ll be spraying yourself. The perpetrator could also take it away, and potentially take it away and use it on you.

The biggest risk with pepper spray is a false sense of security. A false sense of security can lull you into being less attentive to your surroundings and therefore less aware of risks. The number one self-defense technique is situational awareness and preparedness, which includes:

  • Awareness of your surroundings.
  • The ability to quickly identify predator behavior in people you know and people you don’t.
  • Being prepared to mitigate threats before you have to resort to physical self-defense.

That is exactly why the ACT Self-Defense classes emphasize both situational self-defense and physical self-defense. The objective is to mitigate a perpetrator’s the opportunity, and when you can’t, to have effective physical self-defense skills to get away. Weapons such as pepper spray can be effective, but knowing the downside can save your life.

About ACT Self-Defense

We believe the world would be a less violent place if everyone had the benefit of a quality education in risk awareness, verbal self-defense, and basic physical self-defense. That’s why we’re here. Our self-defense classes provide a holistic education in the dynamics of violence, how to reduce the likelihood you will be a victim, and how to effectively physically defend yourself if required.