Pepper Spray: Good idea, Bad idea?

Conservative Party leadership-hopeful Kellie Leitch is suggesting that pepper spray should be legal as a measure to prevent violence against women. You can read the article here: John Robson has an interesting take too, at the National Post:

QUICK! How fast can you find and use that pepper spray???!?

QUICK! How fast can you find and use that pepper spray???!?

I applaud the thinking behind this, and the necessity for concrete measures. We can’t rely on the old shibboleth “teach boys not to rape.” That sentiment is both idiotic and insulting: most boys ARE taught to treat girls and women with respect. Some boys, later men, can never be fixed, regardless what they’re taught. They’re simply selfish, dangerous, misogynistic assholes. The same goes for criminal assaults such as home invasions and muggings. Shitheads are never going away.

Unfortunately, arming the everyman is not the solution, as both Ms. Leitch and Mr. Robson suggest. Clearly, these are two people with limited exposure to the reality of weapon conflict.

No, what women need are empowerment, confidence and actionable tools that make them more threatening than their potential attackers. And that’s why I object to the use of deployable weapons for the everyday civilian.

Here’s my reasoning. Weapons – any weapons – have an allure as an effective countermeasure. But there are things you have to remember about their use:

  1. Familiarity and practice: Like any tool, using a weapon, from pepper spray to a fixed-blade knife, requires practice for effective use. Where on your person or in your effects is the weapon stored? How fast and accurately can you deploy it it? Have you practiced this under extreme pressure, perfectly, repeatedly, without screwing it up? Are you preempting or reacting? If you’re reacting, do you have enough time to locate, deploy, acquire the target and employ the weapon? Can you do that in 2.5 seconds?

  2. Retention and consequence: Say it with me, ‘any weapon that you can use can be taken away from you.’ If you do not have total control over the weapon and the attacker, you might lose it. How did you fare the last time you tried to manage multiple moving parts with your whole body, under stress, while your mind was preoccupied? Think chasing two children in different directions through a department store at closing time in a crowd of 400. Combat stress is a little like that.  Moreover, if you’ve even been pepper sprayed, you’re with me on this – you don’t want to give your attacker further advantage. Simply stated, your attacker only needs to get it right for 5 seconds to take you out. You need to be perfect, wall-to-wall, to use pepper spray without consequences to yourself. And then there’s the whole pesky Criminal Code and the line between self-defence and aggravated assault. An argument for another time; but Canada is not entirely friendly to those who defend themselves, as has been proven time and again in our courts.

  3. Blowback: My proclivity and preference for open-hand defensive tactics aside, I hate pepper spray. But that’s because I got it in my eyes. The stuff goes airborne in under 5 seconds, and you’re anywhere near it, you’re going to be sorry. You don’t need a direct blast to suffer. Splash back from an attacker in close quarters, or even a mild breeze or air current where you are is enough. Add in the very real potential that you’re:

    1. Taken by surprise and scrambling to find and use it; or

    2. Getting it out preemptively because you know the attacker is right on you; and,

    3. You’re under stress either way; and,

    4. He might grab your hand or hit you before you can deploy...

...and you have the perfect storm. If you've bought that thing and never trained with it, you're not prepared. But don't take my word for it. Watch the video.

Pepper spray is incredibly effective, but is best left in the hands of trained personnel who have used it in high-stress situations as part of a training program. They have been habituated to its effects and are prepared to deal with them. Are you? How fast and how far can you run with your eyes burning out of your face and your respiratory tract inflamed? How hard can you fight under the same circumstances with that attacker on top of you?

Learn self defence. Learn it under pressure. Do it as a practice of self-empowerment. Treat it with the same consideration as you treat yoga, spinning, gym time, or your social activities. Make it a part of your life and educate the other girls and women in your circle. Violence is not going away. It is not something we can educate out of everyone, and it is not subject to quick fixes. | 613.627.3018