Pepper spray? Nope. Here’s why.

UPDATE 1/15/11 via Jogger fends off attacker with pepper spray by Susan Shroder

As promised in the original post (below), I am submitting the other side of the argument. Pepper spray worked well for a jogger who was the apparent victim of an attempted kidnapping. Here’s Why welcomes your reactions.

UPDATE 4/16/10 via John Albert Gardner III pleads guilty to King, Dubois murders


If you have not yet seen the faces of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, please take a moment to click the links and pay respects to these lovely young women whose bodies were discovered this past week in separate areas of North County San Diego.

There’s been a conflagration of public outrage since the arrest of John Albert Gardner III, a 30-year-old convicted sex offender, in connection with the rape and murder of Miss King. As of this posting date, Gardner remains a person of interest in the death of Amber Dubois, who disappeared on her way to school last February.

In the last few days, there have been increasing numbers of public Internet comments about arming women and children with Tasers and pepper spray to deter attackers. Take a look at this suspect and compare his size to that of the teenage girls in the accompanying photos, or to that of most women or children you may know.

Here’s Why is of the opinion that carrying pepper spray would not have warded off an attack by a guy this size. We are also checking with San Diego Police to find out what they recommend about personal weapons, but the SDPD is overwhelmed at the moment; we will update this post later with their response.

In the meantime, here’s why I personally won’t carry pepper spray, mace or a Taser (don’t mess with me, though; keep reading). Please bear in mind that this is an editorial based on my experience alone.

During my first round of aikido classes, I was the only female and my fellow trainees went very easy on me. One of the most valuable shocks to my system came during my second round, different school. After the second sensei pointed out that the guys were doing the girls no favors by reaching out and tapping us, or tweaking our shirtsleeves instead of holding us in a standard grip, I realized how powerful an attacker can be. About that time, the sensei set the following lessons.

If an attacker is powerful enough to come after you, he is probably powerful enough to disarm you.
What’s your state of mind before and during an attack? If you are walking serenely down a pathway, you are not prepared to use a weapon.
During an assault, especially if you have undergone an initial disabling punch, your weapon may be less than useful – more than likely it will be out of reach or confiscated.

I know from a subsequent experience that an attack happens horrifyingly swiftly. I was disoriented, and it would not sink in that the man who had been speaking to me a few moments before had followed me and tackled me from behind. Pepper spray? Hah – at that point it was 50/50 that I’d have sprayed myself instead. I will say this: Because he did not get that first punch in, my aikido training worked.*

In spite of my training, had he hit me hard, I would not have won that battle. It’s simply, terrifyingly true.

Here’s Why supports the idea of never letting this kind of monster out, and is dizzied by the idea that there has to be a High-Risk Offenders Map. That map should point to a special wing of a high-security prison and nowhere else.

But we are stuck with them. Do we need to give them an extra opportunity to arm themselves at our expense?

To reiterate the main concerns: Apart from not wanting to see 12-year-olds walking around, arms outstretched and ready to spray anyone who approaches them, here’s another thought. Doesn’t anyone remember school bullies? Ugh. Enough said about that. And I repeat, since adult attackers of kids are more likely to be bigger, and to be opportunists to boot, how much good is a weapon going to be?

That takes us back to the fact that any attacker has already planned five or six moves ahead of any victim. If your pepper spray is visible, it’s his. If it isn’t, it’s gone.

We will be posting a statement from the San Diego Police Department as soon as they can get to it and we strongly encourage our readers to comment below.

Please stick to the topic of whether it is a good idea to carry pepper spray etc. Rants on vigilantism and the “correct punishment” will not be published, as it is safe to say that we are all outraged.

* I refuse to accept the phrase, “You were lucky.” No, I was not lucky. That justifies something that should not have happened at all.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 11:58 am  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Don’t carry a pepper spray or taser because it can be used against you???? It is not legal for 12 year olds to carry a pepper spray or taser. Both weapons have been used for decades for self protection, yet you dismiss them. What makes you an expert?

    Any defense depends on a person’s ability to be alert and aware of their surroundings. If you are not thinking about your safety, you will be a victim whether or not you have pepper spray, taser or martial arts training.

    I agree with your vision of a high risk offender map. We should not have to argue about how to protect ourselves against this threat because the threat should be behind bars.

    • Thanks for commenting, Joe. In no way do I claim to be an expert. Just going by my own experience, as stated!

      I would like to hear from others and, as I mentioned, will be posting the SDPD response when it comes in.

      Among the questions I asked them was the legal age for carrying pepper spray, etc., as I was concerned by the number of comments I saw elsewhere about parents wanting to arm their middle-schoolers this way. Not sure if that varies from state to state.

      I must agree with you on the awareness issue.

  2. You should limit yourself on means of self defense as long as you follow the law. Some people don’t feel comfertable carrying a weapon and even know that they can. You don’t need to be law enforcement to carry a taser and the laws differ from state to state. not only sells tasers to the public but they also have a link to where it is legal from the state laws. They even empower women to host their own Zena Self Defense party, where you can sell tasers, pepper spray, and much more home and self defense products.

  3. Incidentally, I have found several Web sites with information on the legal minimum age to carry pepper spray. According to these sites, some states permit anyone 14 or over to carry pepper spray; others restrict it to 18 or over. There are also canister size regulations and in some states, certification requirements.

    My two points remain, however:

    1) The first, concerning people who feel that the law is irrelevant to what they regard as their children’s (under 14) safety, and have supplied pepper spray to them anyway. There are of course hefty fines for this, but that is clearly not what worries the parents.

    2) The second, that a great many kids and smaller-frame women may not find this as useful a deterrent as they hope. And I reiterate that this is not scientific – just based on my experience.

    Please keep the comments coming! All opinions are encouraged.

  4. Good post and important topic. It is true that pepper spray will not always be effective — if the assailant disarms you before you use it, if you drop it, if you don’t have it in your hand when you’re attacked, etc. I’ve also heard stories about criminals so hyped on drugs that they fight through the pain and discomfort of the spray.

    Much the same can be said about other weapons, including guns.

    As for martial arts and unarmed self defense, it’s true that a large, muscular male can fairly easily handle a small, skinny female, especially if she doesn’t know anything about self defense.

    The most important question to ask, however, is not whether a self defense product or physical technique is guaranteed to work. NOTHING is guaranteed to work. The question is whether any given product or technique has the potential to distract the assailant long enough for you to escape. If you’re in a public place, that’s about 1 to 3 seconds, assuming you have full use of your legs and you can run like hell.

    If that’s the question, then any non-lethal device or any damaging self-defense technique has the potential to allow you to escape. Realistically, that’s all you can ask for.

    If you are attacked, let’s face it, you’ve stumbled upon some very bad luck. You need to fight back, with a weapon or with your body, and you need a little good luck to balance the bad.

    My blog includes lots of stories about people who made it work. Everyone from 14-year-olds to senior citizens. They fought back, they had a little luck on their side, and they survived. One youngster threw a handful of dirt in the guy’s face and smacked him with a stick. An old lady bit a guy. In those cases, that’s all it took to deter the attack. Other cases will be different.

    By the way, I don’t think we should be arming small children with weapons. But that’s another story.

  5. I carry pepper spray for a completely different reason. I carry it when I ride my horse or walk my sons dog to ward off attacking dogs.I found pepper spray will stop a pit bull in its tracks when it attacks my horse when I’m out riding.
    I have switched over to a citronella spray when walking my son’s greyhound because the pepper “spray” is more of a stream and is harder to aim than the citronella spray. I also carry a walking stick to ward off dogs that come running up to me and the greyhound. I have used the stick but not the spray so far.
    But this really doesn’t have anything to do with you topic of pepper spray its just the reason I carry it.

    • Vickie, that makes perfect sense to me.

      May I ask how you carry it? Is it attached to your saddle bag, easily accessible in any other way? And my final question – at what range does it work so that you don’t bother the horse?

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. This post is a bit dated for my reply, however, the subject matter unfortunately never expires.

    Since I did not see a follow-up posting regarding your contact with SDPD, I am assuming you were not able to make that contact, or the information you received was not to your liking. No matter really, as a retired California police chief, I can tell you exactly what SDPD would probably say….”exercise good judgement, travel in company, be aware of your surroundings, avoid bad areas (especially at night) have an emergency plan and above all, avoid carrying weapons unless you are properly trained, certified and when applicable…licensed. Helpful, right? Sure, if you have absolutely no common sense and wander the earth with your eyes glued to your feet. The truth of the matter is, most California law enforcement managers will not advocate weapons as a personal means of self defense, particularly firearms. These managers are more concerned with liabilty and political correctness than to admit that the police can do very little to protect us. Yes, you read correctly, as a retired California police chief I am telling you that the police spend the bulk of their time responding to and investigating crime, AFTER the crime is committed. It’s always been that way and given the increase in crime, increase in calls for service and decrease in police staffing, it is only going to get worse.

    So, here is the advice I would give you. No weapon, no matter how skilled one is with it, is going to guarantee your safety or survival. The ugly truth of it is, survival is sometimes a matter of luck. Even the best trained and equipped professionals sometimes do not survive attacks. One need only read the names of the fallen at the Peace Officers memorial wall in D.C. That said, it doesn’t mean that you should trod along like cattle to slaughter. Survival begins in the mind. You truly do need to sharpen and practice your awareness skills. Don’t walk around with your cell phone glued to your ear or your eyes locked in on texting. Look at the people and things around you. Stand tall and LOOK confident(even if you are not) use eye contact with people you pass, particularly if they concern you. And don’t walk around with a nervous smile. You don’t have to scowl at people, just learn to adopt a neutral, but confident look. Criminals are like any other predator in the animal kingdom. They look for the weakest prey. They do that by sizing you up…how you are dressed, how you move, are your hands free? you constantly scan the area around you? do you look like you would put up a fight? Are you someone who they can “take down” quickly and quietly, without detection and without getting hurt themselves.

    I am a firm believer in weapons for personal protection, especially firearms. Pepper spray and stun guns are fine for non-lethal threats. But when an attacker is determined to do great physical harm to you….I want you to put a bullet in their brain and save not only your life, but perhaps another victims life. Killing someone, even in self defense, is an ugly thing. And we have become a society of sheep too offended and politically correct to talk responsibly about the subject. But the reality is, you or a loved one may find themselves in the horrible situation of having to defend your life. And I want you to survive…but neither I, nor the police, can help you do that. YOU must have those mental and physical skills. And if pepper spray and stun guns give you a little bit of extra confidence, then by all means, learn to use and carry the weapon. And if you can get a carry permit from your local law enforcement agency…I encourage you to first learn how to use a firearm with confidence and close quarter skill, and then get a permit to lawfully carry it.

    Whatever it takes to improve your odds of survival is all that matters….martial arts, weapons, big dogs…I don’t care what you choose, as I said, I just want you to SURVIVE! And please…let’s spend less time on “choice of weapons” and more time on encouraging “choice of survival”.

  7. Sorry if this runs long-

    The best defense is to be aware and avoid problem areas then go from there. If someone is on the sidewalk, cross to the other side of the street or avoid the area. The more distance and time you have, the better. You want to have pepper spray ready to go in your hand, not in a backpack or purse. Test it out-you can get inert test units- so you know how to deploy it quickly and know how far it will reach along with wind effects on the spray. You can get cone spray patterns or stream along with gel and foam, but that’s a whole seperate article. Size of assailant doesn’t matter-there are plenty of big dudes taking pepper spray in test exercises and it hurts them just fine-check youtube. The old stuff like Mace I believe were an issue with attackers on drugs, but pepper closes the eyes no matter if drunk or high. You want surprise so their eyes are open when the spray hits, you’ll notice police and military train by having eyes shut then getting sprayed. When you spray, nail them across the eyes then move to the side. A blind man can still charge forward so you want to be out if the way. One second bursts. If you just keep spraying you can actually flush the pepper away with propellant. You always want a backup plan. If the pepper doesn’t work you have something like a kubotan attached to your keys. Pepper first gives you stand off range. I only want to be within arms reach if it’s a last resort.

    My personal situation (I’m a 41 year old male) was walking home from the grocery store. Both arms loaded with bags. Three guys had been following me for sometime (I didn’t know it at the time, police told me later). I didn’t hear them until the last second due to their footsteps crunching the snow giving them away. I turned around and they were already right there. One in front of me asked “what’s in my pockets, where’s my wallet” while the other two circled somewhere to the sides/behind me. All of this surprised me because I wasn’t alert so I wasn’t thinking right, turned around and walked away since they didn’t take any physical action. When I got a bit away one of the guys hit me hard enough from behind that I flew and landed on the ground. When I was getting up I took a boot to the jaw. At that point I threw my wallet off to the side away from me. That got them away from me and as I was recovering a car pulled up and I had the driver call 911. Police got them but only two went to court so I’m following up on that.

    If I was prepared I would have been looking behind me several times each block. I would have had pepper at the ready. I could have easily nailed the one guy in the face with the stuff and got out of the way while targeting the other two guys and then got away while they were dealing with the stuff. I also would have learned the best thing to do is get good descriptions for the police. I could only I.D. the one guy who was right in front of me.

  8. I have found that my first layer of self defense is to maintain good situational awareness. Whether I’m shopping at my local grocery store on a Saturday afternoon or getting gas at a “questionable” gas station at 11:00 at night while traveling. Knowing what’s going on around you at all times, being able to identify potential threats (external) as well as potential vulnerabilities (internal) is very important. The best confrontation is the confrontation that was avoided – you are sure to come out the winner of that. Whether it’s paying attention to the types of cars that surround your car in a parking lot, not wearing headphones when you walk or jog in the park, to not talking on the phone when entering or exiting a vehicle, to immediately closing and locking your doors upon entry into the vehicle, avoid distractions that will only give the B.G. (Bad Guy) an opportunity. There is a myriad of information available on the internet of how to establish and maintain a higher level of situational awareness without going overboard and seeing immaginary bad-guys lurking behind every corner. It does take some effort, it does take some energy, but there are even fun games that you can play to “find the weird thing about a person” that will help you. Simply the act of appearing that you are paying attention to your surroundings (not talking on the phone, actively scanning the area, making eye contact with each person, even scanning hands and waistlines for potential weapons – watch the Secret Service around the President the next time you see him on t.v. in a crowd) are all valuable tools that professionals in the protection field use to deter an attacker – a B.G. wouldn’t be as likely to go after you if you appear alert and aware of the potential attack – you’re not easy prey to them.

    In addition, a second layer of self defense is to consider the idea that any type of training you receive in hand to hand combat (unarmed self defense) has several secondary benefits. 1) It won’t be left in the car or on the kitchen counter – you will carry the knowledge with you 100% of the time. 2) It doesn’t require that you remove it from your purse, unsnap it from a holster, or remove the safety from it – it is immediately available for your use. 3) It does not require a license and is not regulated by laws or licensing – you can carry it with you at all times without restrictions – through metal detectors, in church, at day-care, on an airplane. 4) Your investment will continue to grow in value as you invest more time in your training, experience and application. Like any good investment, it gains value exponentially.

    A 12 year old girl can punch a 6’4″ guy in the groin, stomp his foot with her heel, bring him to his knees and drive a palm into his nose to incapacitate him (sick feeling in the stomach, aching foot, dropped to his knees, eyes watering, and disoriented from a broken nose) in a matter of 3 seconds and the 6’4″ B.G. wasn’t expecting this from a 12 year old girl. Who had the element of surprise in that situation? I do not advocate teaching people to “fight”. I do not advocate teaching my daughter how to hurt someone or to be agressive. I also do not advocate B.G.’s trying to take advantage of her. Unfortunately it is the reality of the world we live in today so instead of leaving her as a helpless victim, she and my wife (who also appears to by physically diminuitive in size/threat – looks can be very deceiving) utilize heightened situational awareness (to avoid the situation) and are trained, practiced, and profficient in unarmed self defense tactics (for the sometimes unavoidable situations).

    And yes, my petite, non-threatening 12 year old daughter can drop and incapacitate a physically fit 6’4″ attacker in less than 3 seconds and effectively escape a surprise and unexpected attack. And I will never hide behind the door and jump out to scare her again.

    • I’m sorry…but no…your petite 12 year old daughter cannot drop a 6’4” tall man likely weighing at least 200+ pounds. There is a reason why there are weight categories in combat sports. If a guy who is just one weight class below this guy cannot do it…..what makes you think your daughter can….oh that’s right…she can’t.

  9. The legal uses of pepper spray and other personal defense items are clearly shown on most websites that sell these products and have to abide by the law in selling them

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