Will pepper spray save you during an attack?

An effective self defense weapon must meet the following criteria:

a) It must be readily available when needed;

b) It must be deployable without complicated technique being required and;

c) It must have the ability to buy the user time and/or stop the threat.

Pepper spray is often hailed as the ideal self-defense weapon in that it does not require a license and it is easy to use. Whilst pepper spray does have value in self-defense it is essential that one understands the requirements for effectiveness as well as the limitations thereof.

Like any other self-defense weapon, pepper spray will have absolutely no value if it is not carried on your person and if it is not available for use at a moment’s notice. Pepper spray left at home, in a car or placed in a handbag offers no value. This is where most people fall short. In our C.O.B.R.A. Self-Defense courses we often ask participants if they own pepper spray and many are very eager to inform the instructors that they own pepper spray. When asked to have a look at the pepper spray, most will tell you they left it at home.  This is as good as not having pepper spray at all. Many attacks happen unexpectedly because the attacker always controls the Time, Place and Method of attack.  The victim thus has very little time to react. Carrying a small concealable pepper spray canister ready for deployment in your hand will offer you much more value during an attack as having a large can in your handbag or at home.

Contrary to popular belief pepper spray is not easy to use during an attack. There are many factors to consider. When attacked, most people experience panic and fear. The additional adrenalin the body produces to prepare the body to fight, freeze or flee causes many people to mentally shut down. Simple tasks like aiming the nozzle of the pepper spray in the direction of an attacker becomes impossible for many people, especially if they were not trained to use the pepper spray under stress and duress.  Other factors such as wind direction may negatively affect the deployment of pepper spray i.e. the wind may blow the spray towards the attacker and not the victim.

The other harsh reality is that pepper spray does not always affect all attackers in the same manner.  The active ingredient of most pepper sprays is Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) which causes an intense, temporary debilitating burning sensation. OC also causes non-lethal inflammation of all mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. It may cause eyes to slam shut from intense burning and temporary blindness. The effects may last anything between 15-60 minutes depending on various variables.

In many instances attackers are highly pumped up with adrenalin or they may be under the influence of narcotics and alcohol which makes them more aggressive and intent on achieving their objective. Although the irritants in pepper spray may continue to have an effect, the attacker may still have the ability to work through the effects of pepper spray. Many military units and police departments train their members to work through the effects of pepper spray as it happens frequently that they are also affected by pepper spray when deployed against combative subjects.

Under the ideal conditions, pepper spray is a valuable self-defense tool to buy the victim time to escape the situation.  It is important however to have a variety of self-defense options available to you. Over reliance on only one method or tool to defend yourself may get you seriously injured or even killed. If you for example need to take a screw out of the wall you would use a screw driver. However, sometimes you may damage the head of the screw and then you have to use alternative methods to get the screw out. You may for example use pliers to grasp the head of the screw and turn it or you may even use a claw hammer to pull the screw and wall plug out of the wall.  You have just used a variety of tools to eventually get the job of getting the screw out of the wall done. The same principle applies in self-defense. You need to be able to use various self defense tools or options to achieve the desired result if one of the tools or options has no effect on the attacker or of you are in such a position that a technique or tool cannot be used.

Learn more about our law enforcement based reality self-defense training: http://www.cobradefense.co.za