Pepper Spray and New York Law

Woman using pepper spray or tear gas for self defence outdoors
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Pepper spray is a practical, nonlethal form of self-defense. Many states have their own laws regarding the purchase and use of pepper spray, and New York State is no different. While it is legal to carry pepper spray in New York, a user must purchase it from a specific place in the state, and the label must have detailed information about its use. State law requires a purchaser to use pepper spray for self-defense purposes only; if used in other ways, they may face criminal charges and penalties.

Defining Pepper Spray

People use pepper spray as a self-defense tool to ward off potential attackers. It ingredients are potent and can debilitate a person for an hour or more, giving the user ample time to escape an assault. Pepper sprays are water- or oil-based; the active ingredient is OC (Oleoresin Capsicum), an oily resin derived from finely ground chili peppers.

Capsaicin creates heat in peppers; the hotter it is, the more irritating it becomes to people and animals. Companies that make pepper sprays measure how hot their products are by using Scoville Units (SHUs). Most pepper sprays are in the 2 million SHU range, which equates to four times hotter than a habañero pepper. A 2 million SHU pepper spray will be effective on any attacker, but users can purchase pepper sprays that are up to 5 million SHUs.

Coming in Contact With Pepper Spray

When someone sprays pepper spray at another person, it immediately affects the mucus membranes of their eyes, nose and mouth, causing extreme pain. The more exposure they get to it, the more it will hurt. A human's inflammatory response is typically so strong that it will force their eyes to close and cause them to be temporarily blinded.

As the spray forces their eyes to shut, the affected person will produce significant amounts of tears and mucus, a natural response to protect them against further pain and to flush the product out of their system. The capsaicin also causes the individual's larynx and nerve endings to spasm, making it difficult to speak.

Legality of Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is legal in every state, but each has its own pepper spray laws. In New York State, the buyer must be at least 18 years of age and cannot have an assault record or any felony convictions. Before buying pepper spray, purchasers have to fill out a form stating that they are of legal age and have a clean record.

While some states allow the purchase of pepper spray from most stores or online, New York State is more strict – pepper spray is only available through a permitted pharmacy or a licensed firearms dealer. Purchasers are also limited to two canisters of spray at a time.

Pepper Spray Packaging in New York

Pepper spray canisters for sale in New York State must include directions for use, including information on storing them safely. They must also include first-aid instructions. All canisters must list a toll-free phone number leading users to self-defense safety and training courses and must state that using the spray in any instance other than self-defense is a criminal offense in New York. The state allows individuals to carry pepper spray on their person if the canister is pocket-sized and it has a clear label stating that the spray is for self-defense only.

Buyers can purchase only the amount of pepper spray they intend to use in New York in the state. They cannot buy it from online stores such as Amazon, and shipping it in from anywhere else is illegal. However, there are exceptions for some sprays – users can purchase animal pepper sprays from out of state. Using dog or bear pepper spray will temporarily stun an animal humanely, allowing the user to escape potential danger, but no one should use animal pepper sprays on humans.

Uses of a Self-Defense Spray Device

Pepper spray offers extra security for people walking to their cars at night or walking in areas where they may feel unsafe. Users typically keep it on a key chain or in a purse where they can grab it at a moment's notice. Pepper spray is an affordable, practical self-defense tool that almost anyone can use.

A person using pepper spray should read the canister directions before use – some brands will shoot up to 12 feet away, while others will spray over a shorter distance. The person using it will likely need to deploy it in a hurry, and therefore, should practice grabbing and disarming it before attempting to use it. When faced with an attacker, a person using pepper spray should stand firm and aim for the face. Once they stun the attacker, they can take time to run to safety.

Limits on Carrying Pepper Spray

While it is generally legal to carry pepper spray in public in the state of New York, there are limitations. In some instances, the state (and the federal government) forbid the concealment of pepper spray. For example, commercial airlines do not allow it on planes. If a person gets caught with pepper spray on a plane, it is a felony charge that carries a fine of up to $25,000.

Since September 2001, government agencies, including federal and state establishments, do not allow anyone to carry pepper spray in their buildings. This is the case in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Anyone caught with pepper spray under these circumstances may face detention, arrest and penalties, including fines.