Pepper spray is a chemical compound that can be used to control crowds or rioters, or for self-defense -- whether against people, or animals such as bears or dogs. The spray, derived from cayenne pepper oil, works by irritating the eyes--causing pain, watering eyes, and in some cases blindness. Some states place restrictions on its use but in Texas the only requirement is that the pepper spray container be of a small size and intended for personal self-defense purposes.
Pepper spray is classed as a chemical weapon, and therefore banned for wartime use. It is legal in all U.S. states, but possession is restricted in some. Restriction examples include a minimum age requirement of 18 years for pepper spray possession, or a requirement that the pepper spray owner has no felony or assault convictions.
Legal in Texas
Texas Penal Code Section 46.01 (14) deems it legal for an individual to possess a small, commercially-sold container of pepper spray for personal self-defense. This is generally interpreted to mean that a person is allowed to carry one of the small, "key-chain" type of pepper sprays which are marketed and sold for self-defense purposes.
Illegal in Texas
Texas law defines any chemical dispensing device, which is not small, or commercially-made for personal defense purposes, as a restricted weapon. For example, a private individual is not allowed to carry tear gas grenades such as those made for law enforcement officers on riot control duty. Jason Simpkins of Wylie, Texas, fell foul of this law on August 22, 2009, when the police-strength pepper spray canister he was carrying in his truck was deemed illegal, and he faced a felony charge. The ambiguity over what constitutes a "small" or non-police container of pepper spray has caused some confusion regarding the law in Texas.
Small pepper sprays for self-defense--which are otherwise legal to carry in Texas--are prohibited in certain locations. These include the secured departure areas of airports and in certain court buildings.
Police use of pepper spray in the U.S. is controversial. First introduced during the 1980s by the U.S. Postal Service as a dog repellent, pepper spray quickly became popular with corrections officers and police departments, including many in Texas. In 1987, the FBI named pepper spray as its "official chemical agent". Austin, Texas, police Commander Jim O'Leary faced criminal charges relating to his use of pepper spray during a 2003 anti-war protest in the city, but was ultimately found not guilty by a federal jury.
Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.