Pepper-spray projectile

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German policeman with Pepperball gun in Dresden

A pepper-spray projectile, also called a pepper-spray ball, pepper-ball, pepper bomb, or pepper-spray pellet, is a frangible projectile containing a powdered chemical that irritates the eyes and nose in a manner similar to pepper spray. These projectiles are fired from specially designed forced compliance weapons or modified paintball guns.


A pepper-spray projectile may be a sphere, hence the name pepper-ball, but it may also come in other shapes. The irritant payload may differ from product to product but is usually a powder, less frequently a liquid, gas or aerosol. Some companies offer different substances as payload for their projectiles and launcher systems, so potential sellers can choose a substance that is certified for use in their country. Also, projectiles with an inert dummy payload are often offered, for training and testing purposes.

A powder called PAVA (capsaicin II) pepper is often used. PAVA is a capsaicinoid that can be synthesized for cheaper than grown peppers, although it is also found in nature.

Pepper-spray weapons systems are used by law enforcement, military and other organizations, and individuals. The weapon is used generally in the role of stand-off weapons, where physical proximity to a suspect is deemed dangerous but deadly force is not warranted. The systems are not limited to classic standoff situations and allow agents to apply as many rounds as required to bring individual suspects, multiple suspects, or crowds into compliance.

Other uses[edit]

The projectile is usually sold to be used with a launcher or gun by the same company, to provide best reliability.[1] The different companies usually also sell other types of projectiles for non-lethal use or projectiles with combined effects. Such effects may include:[2][3]

  • break glass and disperse barricades
  • mark suspects for later round-ups
  • force of impact effect


Although generally considered less-than-lethal when properly used (targets should exclude the face, eyes, throat or spine),[4] one death has occurred when they have been fired at inappropriate areas. In one well-publicized incident in 2004, the Boston Police Department's use of an FN 303 during a crowd control situation resulted in the fatal shooting of Victoria Snelgrove, when the projectile struck her in the eye.[5] Also in 2004, University of California, Davis (UC Davis) police who wanted to break up a block party shot a pepperball at an unarmed student and damaged his eye—the student subsequently lost his athletic scholarship and dropped out of college. In 2012, a federal appeals court ruled that the police could be sued over the incident.[6] In 2013, the student was awarded $774,000.[7][8]


  1. ^ FAQ Page of Vendor PepperBall Technology - Retrieved October 7, 2011 Archived September 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Product Page of Vendor PepperBall Technology - Retrieved October 7, 2011 "PepperBall Technologies Incorporated | Products". Archived from the original on 2011-10-07. Retrieved 2011-10-06.
  3. ^ FN 303 projectiles Product Page - Retrieved October 7, 2011
  4. ^ Product sell sheet from vendor (PepperBall Technologies). Retrieved December 9, 2006 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-03-24. Retrieved 2011-01-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Commission Investigating the Death of Victoria Snelgrove" (PDF). May 25, 2005. p. 14. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2009 – via Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ "UC Davis student can sue over pepper spray, court rules". Los Angeles Times. July 11, 2012.
  7. ^ "$774,000 Settlement For Former Student Injured In Pepper Ball Shooting". Eastern District of California Blog.
  8. ^ Clift, Theresa (5 March 2016). "Parents of young man killed by Citrus Heights officer seek answers". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 30 July 2023.