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Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (from "oleoresin capsicum"), OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and temporary blindness) used in policing, riot control, crowd control, and personal self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears. Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision. This temporary blindness allows officers to more easily restrain subjects and permits persons using pepper spray for self-defense an opportunity to escape. Although considered a less-than-lethal agent, concerns have been raised about a number of deaths where being pepper sprayed may have been a contributing factor. The actual compound, however, is not lethal.
The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, which is a chemical derived from the fruit of plants in the Capsicum genus, including chilis. Extraction of oleoresin capsicum from peppers requires capsicum to be finely ground, from which capsaicin is then extracted using an organic solvent such as ethanol. The solvent is then evaporated, and the remaining waxlike resin is the oleoresin capsicum. An emulsifier such as propylene glycol is used to suspend the OC in water, and pressurized to make it aerosol in pepper spray. The high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) method is used to measure the amount of capsaicin and major capsaicinoids within pepper sprays.
Determining the strength of different manufactures of pepper sprays can be confusing. The best and possibly the only reliable method is using the CRC of the product. The federal government of the United States has determined that Bear Attack Deterrent Sprays must contain at least 1.0% Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids. CRC does not measure the amount of Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) within the formulation. Instead, CRC is the heat bearing and pain producing components of the OC. The federal government of the United States makes no mention of SHU (Scoville heat units) or OC in their requirements, only CRC. Some manufactures may show a very high percentage of OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) and, although OC is the active ingredient within the formulation, it does not indicate pepper spray strength. The OC percentage only measures the amount of peppers contained in the defense spray, not the strength, pungency or effectiveness of the product. Other companies may show a high SHU, but again this is deceiving. The SHU is measured at the base resin and not by what comes out of the aerosol. The rated high heat of the resin can is diluted down depending on how much of it is put in the can.
A synthetic analogue of capsaicin, desmethyldihydrocapsaicin, is used in another version of pepper spray known as PAVA spray that is used in the United Kingdom. Another synthetic counterpart of pepper spray, pelargonic acid morpholide, was developed and is widely used in Russia. Its effectiveness compared to natural pepper spray is unclear. Pepper spray typically comes in canisters, which are often small enough to be carried or concealed in a pocket or purse. Pepper spray can also be purchased concealed in items such as rings. There are also pepper spray projectiles available, which can be fired from a paintball gun. It has been used for years against demonstrators. Many such canisters also contain dyes, either visible or UV-reactive, to mark an attacker's skin and/or clothing to enhance identification by police.
Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent. It causes immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing. The duration of its effects depends on the strength of the spray but the average full effect lasts around thirty to forty-five minutes, with diminished effects lasting for hours.
The Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science published a study that concluded that single exposure of the eye to OC is harmless, but repeated exposure can result in long-lasting changes in corneal sensitivity. They found no lasting decrease in visual acuity.
The European Parliament Scientific and Technological Options Assessment (STOA) published in 1998 "An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control" with extensive information on pepper spray and tear gas. They write:
The effects of pepper spray are far more severe, including temporary blindness which lasts from 15–30 minutes, a burning sensation of the skin which lasts from 45 to 60 minutes, upper body spasms which force a person to bend forward and uncontrollable coughing making it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 to 15 minutes.
For those with asthma, taking other drugs, or subject to restraining techniques that restrict the breathing passages, there is a risk of death. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1995 at least 61 deaths associated with police use of pepper spray since 1990 in the USA. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) documented 27 people in police custody who died after exposure to pepper spray in California since 1993. However, the ACLU report counts any death occurring within hours of exposure to pepper spray. In all 27 cases, the coroners' report listed other factors as the primary cause of death, though in some cases the use of pepper spray may have been a contributing factor.
The US Army concluded, in a 1993 Aberdeen Proving Ground study, that pepper spray could cause "[m]utagenic effects, carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neurotoxicity, as well as possible human fatalities. There is a risk in using this product on a large and varied population". However, the pepper spray was widely approved in the US despite the reservations of the US military scientists after it passed FBI tests in 1991. As of 1999, it was in use by more than 2,000 public safety agencies.
The head of the FBI's Less-Than-Lethal Weapons Program at the time of the 1991 study, Special Agent Thomas W. W. Ward, was fired by the FBI and was sentenced to two months in prison for receiving payments from a peppergas manufacturer while conducting and authoring the FBI study that eventually approved pepper spray for FBI use. Prosecutors said that from December 1989 through 1990, Ward received about $5,000 a month for a total of $57,500, from Luckey Police Products, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company that was a major producer and supplier of pepper spray. The payments were paid through a Florida company owned by Ward's wife.
Pepper spray has been associated with positional asphyxiation of individuals in police custody. There is much debate over the actual "cause" of death in these cases. There have been few controlled clinical studies of the human health effects of pepper spray marketed for police use, and those studies are contradictory. Some studies have found no harmful effects beyond the effects described above.
Direct close-range spray can cause more serious eye irritation by attacking the cornea with a concentrated stream of liquid (the so-called "hydraulic needle" effect). Some brands have addressed this problem by means of an elliptically cone-shaped spray pattern.
For individuals not previously exposed to OC effects, the general feelings after being sprayed can be best likened to being "set alight". The initial reaction should the spray be directed at the face, is the completely involuntary closing of the eyes (sometimes described as leading to a disconcerting sensation of the eyelids "bubbling and boiling" as the chemical acts on the skin), an instant sensation of the restriction of the airways and the general feeling of sudden and intense, searing pain about the face, nose, and throat. Coughing almost always follows the initial spray.
Subsequent breaths through the nose or mouth leads to ingestion of the chemical, which feeds the feeling of choking. Police are trained to repeatedly instruct targets to "breathe normally" if they complain of difficulty, as the shock of the exposure can generate considerable panic as opposed to actual physical symptoms.
The burning reaction lasts, in some cases, for up to 4 hours. Intense headaches can result in some situations. On occasion, seasoned offenders have complied immediately after production of OC spray canisters, often requesting TASER usage as opposed to OC spray usage due to total time of effects.
Capsaicin is not soluble in water, and even large volumes of water will not wash it off. In general, victims are encouraged to blink vigorously in order to encourage tears, which will help flush the irritant from the eyes.
- "...there was no significant difference in pain relief provided by five different treatment regimens. Time after exposure appeared to be the best predictor for decrease in pain..."
Using contact lens solution seems to help ocular relief.
To avoid rubbing the spray into the skin, thereby prolonging the burning sensation, and, in order to not spread the compound to other parts of the body, victims should try to avoid touching affected areas. There are also wipes, manufactured for the express purpose of serving to decontaminate someone having received a dose of pepper spray. Many ambulance services and emergency departments use baby shampoo to remove the spray and with generally good effect. Some of the OC and CS will remain in the respiratory system, but a recovery of vision and the coordination of the eyes can be expected within 7 to 15 minutes.
Some "triple-action" pepper sprays also contain "tear gas" (CS gas), which can be neutralized with sodium metabisulfite (Campden tablets, used in homebrewing), though it is not water-soluble either and must be washed off using the same procedure as for pepper spray.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2011)|
Pepper spray is banned for use in war by Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use of all riot control agents in warfare whether lethal or less-than-lethal. In the US, when pepper spray is used in the workplace, OSHA requires a pepper spray "Material Safety Data Sheet" (MSDS) be available to all employees.
In Bangladesh, pepper spray is forbidden and it is used only by the police. Bengal Police started using pepper spray to control opposition movement.
In China, domestically made pepper spray known as the "chili water" by the government and the public, is forbidden and it is used only by law enforcement agencies. However there are examples that citizens purchased illegally for self-defense, either on online stores or by phones. Also, although the City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau doesn't have the right to possess any weapons according to the Chinese law, the Bureau have been reported the use of the pepper spray.
In Hong Kong, pepper spray is legal to posses and use by only the members of Disciplined Services when on duty. Such devices are classified as "arms" under the "Laws of Hong Kong". Chap 238 Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance. Without a valid licence from the Hong Kong Police Force, it is a crime to possess and can result in a fine of $100,000 and to imprisonment for 14 years.
In Indonesia, pepper sprays are legal, but purchasing or selling it may got caught and interrogated if caught red-handed.
In Thailand, the use of pepper spray for self-defense is legal, and it is freely available in stores. However, possession in a public place can be punished by confiscation and a fine.
In Taiwan, pepper spray is legal for self-defense, and it is available in some shops.
In Japan, there are no laws against possession or use, but using it could result in imprisonment depending on the damage caused to the target.
In Belgium, pepper spray is classified as a prohibited weapon, and it is illegal for anyone other than police officers and police agents (assistant police officers) to carry a capsicum spray. The use by the security services of public transport companies is also authorised after obtaining permission from the Minister of Internal Affairs.
In Denmark, possession of pepper spray is illegal for private citizens. As of 2008, police officers began to carry pepper spray as part of their standard equipment. This was introduced following the shooting of a number of mentally ill citizens in 2006, where 4 people were killed. However, the police continue to use firearms as frequently as before, causing the Danish civil liberties organization KRIM to conclude that pepper spray has not displaced the use of guns but merely added to the arsenal of weapons of the police force.
In France, it is legal for anyone over the age of 18 to buy a pepper spray in an armoury or military surplus store. It is classified as a Category 6 Weapon in French law and if the aerosol contains more than 100ml, it is classed as an offensive weapon, possession in a public place can be punished by confiscation and a fine. However, if it contains less than 100ml, while still a Category 6 Weapon, it is not classed as a punishable offence for the purposes of the Weapons law, so if you are controlled, it will be confiscated with maybe a verbal warning given.
In Finland, it is classified as a device governed by the firearm act, and possession of pepper spray requires a license. Licenses are issued for defensive purposes and to individuals working jobs where such a device is needed such as the private security sector. However, the Finnish Supreme Court has recently ruled in KKO:2010:7 that owning a pepper spray in itself is not a punishable act; but, on the other hand, carrying one can be punished as a device capable of harming other people.
In Germany, pepper sprays labeled for the purpose of defense against animals may be owned and carried by anyone (even minors). Such sprays are not legally considered as weapons §1. Carrying it at (or on the way to and from) demonstrations may still be punished. Sprays that are not labelled "animal-defence spray" or do not bear the test mark of the Materialprüfungsanstalt (MPA, material testing institute) are classified as prohibited weapons. Justified use against humans as self-defense is allowed. CS sprays bearing a test mark of the MPA may be owned and carried by anyone over the age of 14.
In Greece, Mace or pepper-spray canisters are illegal. Such items will be confiscated and may result in detention and arrest.
In Hungary, pepper spray is reserved for law enforcement (including civilian members of the auxiliary police); civilians may carry canisters filled with maximum 20 grams of any other lachrymatory agent. However, there is no restriction for pepper gas pistol cartridges.
In Iceland, possession of pepper spray is illegal for private citizens. Police officers carry pepper spray as part of their standard equipment.
In Ireland, the Garda Síochána is equipped with pepper spray as part of their standard equipment. Possession of this spray by persons other than Gardaí is an offence under the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act.
In Italy, the Decree of the Ministry of Interior n°103 dated May 12, 2011 removed all restrictions over private purchase, ownership and everyday carry by any citizen over 16 years of age without a criminal record of all and any OC-based compounds and personal defence devices that respond to the following criteria:
- Containing a payload not exceeding 20 ml., with a percentage of Oleoresin Capsicum not exceeding 10% and a maximum concentration of capsaicin and capsaicinoid substances not exceeding 2,5%;
- Containing no flammable, corrosive, toxic or carcinogenic substances, and no other aggressive chemical compound than OC itself;
- Being sealed when sold and featuring a safety device against accidental discharge;
- Featuring a range not exceeding 3 metres.
In Latvia, pepper spray in canisters is classified as a self-defense device and can be bought and carried by anyone over 16 years of age. Pepper spray handguns can be bought and carried without any license by anyone over 18.
In the Netherlands, pepper spray is illegal for civilians to own and carry. Only police officers trained in the specific use of pepper spray are allowed to carry and use it against civilians and animals.
In Norway, pepper spray is illegal for civilians. Police officers are allowed to carry pepper spray as part of their standard equipment.
In Poland, hand-held pepper spray (called precisely in Polish Penal Code "a hand-held disabling gas thrower") is considered a weapon, but can be carried by anyone over 18 without further registration or permission.
In Portugal, it is possible for civilians who do not have criminal records to get police permits to purchase from gun shops, carry, and use OC sprays with a maximum concentration of 5%. CS is considered a weapon and is not permitted. Police carry OC sprays of higher concentration.
In Romania, pepper spray is banned on sportive and cultural events, public transportation and entertainment locations (according to Penal Code 2012, art 372, (1), c).
In Russia, pepper sprays are classified as a self-defense weapon and can be carried by anyone over 18. Usage against humans is legal. OC is not the only agent used. CS, CR, PAM (МПК), and (rarely) CN are also legal  and highly popular.
In Spain, approved pepper spray made with 5% CS is available to anyone older than 18 years. OC pepper spray was recently adopted for some civilian use (e.g., one of 22 grams, with no registration DGSP-07-22-SDP, is approved by the Ministry of Health and Consumption).
In Sweden, pepper spray falls under firearm laws, and may only be carried by police officers, prison officers, some security officers, and soldiers actively serving in the armed forces.
In Turkey, pepper spray is illegal for civilians. However police forces usually use it.
In the United Kingdom, "Any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing" is a Prohibited Weapon, under S.5 of The Firearms Act 1968. The same act covers other prohibited weapons such as automatic firearms and rocket launchers, all of which can be possessed only by permission of the Home Secretary.
In Canada all products with a label containing the words pepper spray, mace, etc., or otherwise originally produced for use on humans are classified as a prohibited weapon. Only law enforcement officers may legally carry or possess pepper spray. Any similar canister with the labels reading "dog spray" and/or "bear spray" is regulated under the Pest Control Products Act - while legal to be carried by anyone, it is against the law if its use causes 'a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person' or harming the environment and carries a penalty up to a fine of $500,000 and jail time of maximum 3 years. Carrying bear spray in public, without justification, may also lead to Criminal Code of Canada charges.
In April, 2011, the creator of a system to integrate pepper spray with a home security system was charged with trafficking in illegal weapons. It was also designed to be installed in cars.
In Massachusetts, residents may purchase defense sprays only from licensed Firearms Dealers in that state, and must hold a valid Firearms Identification Card (FID) or License to Carry Firearms (LTC) to purchase or to possess outside of one's own private property. It is classed as "ammunition", unlicensed possession of which is punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
The state of Michigan allows "reasonable use" of spray containing not more than 10% oleoresin capsicum to protect "a person or property under circumstances that would justify the person's use of physical force".
In the state of New York, pepper spray may be legally possessed by any person age 18 or over; however, it must be purchased in person (i.e., cannot be purchased by mail-order or internet sale) either at a pharmacy or from a licensed firearm retailer (NY Penal Law 265.20 14 (a)), and the seller must keep a record of purchases. The use of pepper spray to prevent a public official from performing his/her official duties is a class-E felony.
New Jersey allows non-felons over the age of 18 to possess a small amount of pepper spray, with no more than three-quarters of an ounce of chemical substance.
In Wisconsin, tear gas is not permissible. By regulation, OC products with a maximum OC concentration of 10% and weight range of oleoresin of capsicum and inert ingredients of 15-60 grams are authorized. This is 1⁄2 and 2 oz (14 and 57 g) spray. Further, the product cannot be camouflaged, and must have a safety feature designed to prevent accidental discharge. The units may not have an effective range of over 20 feet and must have an effective range of six feet. In addition there are certain labeling and packaging requirements: must state cannot sell to anyone under 18 and the phone number of the manufacturer has to be on the label. The units must also be sold in sealed tamper-proof packages.
In many (but not all) other states, pepper spray can be purchased at various stores and carried legally by anyone over 18. However, other states do not have requirements about age.
In Brazil, pepper spray is classified as weapon by Federal Act n° 3665/2000 (Regulation for Fiscalization of Controlled Products). Only law enforcement officers and private security agents with recognized Less Lethal Weapons training certificate can carry it. However, for civilian use, a Brazilian firm developed a defensive spray that uses non-controlled chemical compounds, extracted from lemons and onions. Civilians also can use the ACDC spray ("adesivo para controle de distúrbios civis" - civilian disorder control adhesive), a non-toxic adhesive compound that block the nostrils and keep the eyes closed.
In Colombia, pepper spray is sold without any kind of restriction to anyone older than 14 years. The use of it hasn't been inducted on the law enforcement officer's arsenal.
In the Northern Territory of Australia, pepper spray is prescribed by regulation to be a prohibited weapon under the Weapons Control Act. This legislation makes it an offence for someone without permit, normally anyone who is not an officer of Police/Correctional Services/Customs/Defence, to carry a prohibited weapon.
In the state of Tasmania, possession of pepper spray by unauthorized persons is illegal, under an amendment of the Police Offences Act 1935, being classified as an, "Offensive weapon". Likewise, possession of knives, batons and other any other instrument that may be considered, "Offensive Weapons" if they are possessed by an individual, in a Public Place, "Without lawful excuse". This has led to confusion within the police force over what constitutes "legal excuse," self-defense as a legal excuse to carry such items varies from one officer to the next. Pepper spray is commercially available without a license. Authority to possess and use Oleo-resin Capsicum devices remains with Tasmania Police Officers (As part of general-issue operational equipment), and Tasmanian Justice Department (H.M. Prisons) Officers.
Possession of pepper spray by individuals for self-defence has been legal in Western Australia since 28 March 2003, following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Hall v Collins  WASCA 74 (4 April 2003).
It is illegal to possess pepper spray in the remaining states.
In New Zealand, pepper spray is classed as a restricted weapon. This means people would need a permit from the police to obtain or carry pepper spray. Front-line police officers have routinely carried pepper spray since 1997. New Zealand Prison Service made OC spray available for use in approved situations in 2013. The Scoville rating of these sprays are 500,000 (sabre MK9 HVS unit) and 2,000,000 (Sabre, cell buster fog delivery). This was as a result of excessive staff assaults and a two year trial in ten prisons throughout the country.
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