by Anthony Yeary
Many people would regard the handgun as the best defensive option. However, there are many reasons why you may decide not to carry one in case of emergency whether it is for legal or personal reasons. When firearms are not an option, chemical sprays can be a suitable alternative. If you do carry a handgun, chemical sprays can be a good complement to your firearm because they are a great force multiplier. To those out there who have considered carrying chemical sprays for defense, here is a brief guide to get you started.
Over the last few decades, three types of chemical sprays have been developed: CN Tear Gas, CS Tear Gas and OC Pepper Sprays. CN (ω-chloroacetophenone) Tear Gas (better known as Mace) was only marginally effective. It is an irritant that causes tearing of the eyes and irritation to the skin. It is not very effective on people who are under the influence of alcohol and narcotics and lost popularity with users in the 1960s. CS (o-chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile) Tear Gas succeeded CN Tear Gas because it was a more potent irritant, while being less toxic. It works faster than CN Tear Gas, has a more intense burning and causes tightness in the chest. It lost popularity in the early 1990s as OC Pepper Sprays were introduced.
OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) Pepper Sprays were found to be more effective because they do not rely on pain to stop the actions of an assailant. This is because they are an inflammatory agent and not an irritant. Pepper sprays cause various membranes to swell, causing eyes to shut involuntarily, while causing tightness in the chest, inducing a difficulty to breath. Pepper sprays are more effective on people who are under the influence, unlike earlier chemical defense sprays. Pepper sprays are made from peppers generally harvested from India and are shipped in large drums. The chemical, in its raw form, looks like thick syrup. It should be noted that there are also chemical defense sprays that are a blend of peppers and CS Tear Gas, that combine the properties of both.
Delivery Methods (Spray Patterns)
Pepper spray devices deliver the chemical into the face of an assailant in one of four ways: stream delivery, cone delivery, fog delivery and foam delivery.
Stream delivery is the most popular among purchasers. When dispensed, a thick stream of chemical is released that shoots reliably between 8 to 10 feet. The positives of stream delivery include helping to prevent wind blowback, while offering the best distance. However, it does require a bit of accuracy on the user’s behalf. To make sure that you properly immobilize your attacker, you need to thoroughly saturate their eyes. You do this by spraying across their eyes in a back-and-forth movement.
Cone delivery is the second most popular choice among purchasers. Cone delivery devices dispense their payload in an aerosol form, and are far less dependent on your accuracy. Depending on the wind’s strength, cone delivery devices can hit someone from 8 to 12 feet away. You have to be extra careful of cross-contamination though- NEVER release pepper spray if you are downwind! Besides needing less accuracy to hit your target, cone delivery devices are also more quickly effective than other delivery methods as they are more easily breathed in.
Fog and Foam delivery
There are also fog delivery devices. These operate exactly like cone delivery devices, except they have a greater effective distance. This is generally between 16 and 24 feet, with a larger diameter spray radius. Foam delivery devices dispense the product in a heavy foam form and because of this, are best suited for indoor use. This is because the foam is easier to clean up and there is less chance of cross-contamination. Foam chemical devices generally have an effective range of 6 to 8 feet.
Canister Options for Chemical Agents
Chemical defense sprays are packaged in three sizes of canisters: keychain, standard and large/high volume. Keychain canisters are the smallest and easiest to carry. They are available in various appearances to look more attractive. Also, like pink or camouflage, keychain-sized devices have the obvious weakness of not being able to carry much chemical agent, generally about 14 shots or 14 seconds-worth.
Standard sizes are a little larger than your fist and hold about three times as much product. They are better suited for in the home, or temporary storage in an automobile. (Don’t leave them in your car if the temperature will get too high, you don’t want one to explode in your car!) Large, high-volume canisters can get as big as a small fire extinguisher and are best kept in the home or your office. These canisters carry a large amount of chemical agent. Make sure that whatever size canister you choose, it will be a size and type that you will actually carry all of the time.
Judging the Strength of OC Pepper Sprays
The strength of pepper sprays are not well regulated. You will often see that their strength is rated in Scoville Heat Units. (For example, the packaging may say “2,000,000 Scoville Heat Units of strength.”) As the consumer, you must understand that the pepper chemical component is diluted by the inactive agents added with it. Generally, the pepper is diluted upwards of 90%, so these Scoville rated numbers are not very accurate. The measurement of major capsaicinoids is a better indicator of a spray’s strength. These are rarely printed on the packaging, but are often found on the manufacturer’s website. A device’s major capsaicinoids range will fall between 0.18% to 1.33% if it’s designed for law enforcement use. If the device was designed to defeat dogs, the deterrent rating is between .50% and 1.0%. For bear, it is rated between 1.0% to 2.0%. If a device is labeled as “Legal in all 50 States,” it has a rating of .66% at the most. This is the weaker product that is legal in places like New York state, so if you can avoid them and buy something better, do so if possible.Some Final Advice
Pepper sprays can be a good complement to a firearm and will give you less-than-lethal defense options. Another positive factor is they give you defense options where a gun cannot be carried. But remember that they are not infallible. Pepper sprays are susceptible to the movement of the wind and have an expiration date: their shelf life is between 18 months to 4 years. Plus, according to a University of Utah four year study, pepper sprays are not effective about 30% of the time due to inconsistent, weak batches from the factory. Remember all of this when deciding if this form of defense is right for you.
If it is, remember to train regularly so you will actually perform well under stress. To aid your training, purchase inert training models and enlist the help of a friend or family member to train with you. When you utilize pepper spray, hold the device in a strong “fist” grip, disable the safety, punch it out straight ahead of your body and deploy with your thumb. When you aim, aim for the attacker’s head and cover his/her face completely, getting their eyes, nose and mouth. Bear in mind that this article is simply an introduction. I urge those who go down this road to do their research thoroughly, both for pepper spray knowledge and alternative defense methods that may suit your lifestyle more appropriately.