Should you carry OC spray?

I’m often asked by folks new to concealed carry or self defense in general about OC or “pepper” spray and whether or not they should consider carrying it.

I’m by no means anything close to being the leading expert on the utility and use of OC spray. (Chuck Haggard of Agile Training and Consulting puts on some splendid classes about OC spray) That being said, I see OC spray as a valuable defensive tool for the average citizen and I encourage people to carry it.

To explain why, let me tell you about a situation where it came in handy for me.

A few months ago I pulled out of a parking lot on to the main road. Shortly after I pulled out a woman in an older Ford pickup pulled out from a parking lot across the same road and began flashing her lights and swerving around behind me. She was visibly very agitated and pounding on the steering wheel of her old truck as she got right on my bumper. When stopped at the next stop light, she laid on her horn behind me and continued to flash her lights, apparently screaming the whole time. I’m not much of a lip reader, but the bits and pieces I could make out through my rear view mirror were not very lady-like.

I had absolutely no idea why on earth this woman was in a tirade behind me but I had no desire to figure it out. When I see storm clouds of stupidity forming I’m not going to stick around to see if the funnel cloud is heading for my trailer park, you know? When the light changed I used the traffic around us to get distance from her old truck. I used a couple of last minute turns and some quick lane changes to get her out of sight. Then I drove on to the store I was originally going to when this all started. I got out of the car and was heading into the store when I saw her truck pull into the parking lot.

The store had some of those concrete pylons in front of it designed to prevent thieves from smashing through the store front, so I placed those between myself and her truck because I had a very real worry at that moment that she was going to try and run me over. Her behavior to that point didn’t make me think that she had doggedly followed me for at least ten minutes so she could tell me about Jesus.

She pulled right up to the pylons, screeching her truck to a halt and got out of it screaming obscenities at me for, in her mind anyway, cutting her off. This woman was in her late forties or early fifties and from her dress and demeanor I got the impression that she was a couple of ants shy of a picnic. Other people going into and out of the store stop in their tracks wondering what in the world is happening. At this point the woman balls up a fist and approaches screaming her intention to physically assault me.

Let’s ponder the situation this presents me: I’m larger, stronger, younger, and clearly saner than this woman. Even though I’ve done absolutely nothing to provoke this behavior from her, who do you suppose society at large will place the burden of responsibility on? I’m not legally required to let this woman hit me, but laying hands on this crazy witch is highly likely to be a losing proposition for me.┬áIn the moment I got the impression that she wanted me to get physical and that she would immediately try to play the victim to bystanders and the inevitable law enforcement response. Like the computer once said:

At that point I aimed my little canister of Sabre Red at her. This movement surprised her and she stopped in her tracks. I very calmly told her that if she took another step in my direction I was going to blast her in the face with this OC spray and then press assault charges on her when the police got there.

She reacted to this by getting even louder…but crucially, she backed away from me, got in her old truck and took off. The bewildered bystanders were sympathetic. “If that had been me, I would have punched her right in the face!” I’m quite certain the bystander who told me that would not have been as sympathetic had I actually decked her.

There are situations where the only option available to you is to draw a lethal weapon and use it with as much violent intent as you can muster…but those situations will not be the only ones you face. Sooner or later in life you will likely encounter some form of belligerent idiot intent on doing you some level of harm, but not enough harm to justify pulling a gun on them. If confronted with that sort of belligerent idiot the ability to spray some liquid pain and then get yourself away from them has a pretty high chance of successfully stopping their attack with the absolute minimum risk of serious injury to you or said idiot.

Manufacturers of OC spray products are making potent products in any number of convenient carry-friendly configurations these days, and I’m sure at least one of them would work out for you. I’ve found the little Sabre Red “Spitfire” pictured and linked in this article is convenient to carry and requires the right sort of deliberate effort to trigger. It even survived an (accidental) trip through the washing machine and worked afterwards.

Our goal in self defense is to preserve our life and the quality of it from criminal assault. We rightly spend a lot of time thinking about the most violent and threatening sorts of criminal injury that can be visited upon us, but it is also worthwhile to have a plan for dealing with less severe problems that still require using some level of force in response. For those problems that don’t require using your gun but do require doing something more than calling the police, OC spray is, I believe, a worthwhile investment.


  1. So, the answer is yes. It only makes good sense to have a “less than lethal” alternative for self protection.

    1. As a pepper spray Instructor for Instructors at a police Academy for 5 years, as well as a firearms instructor for 19 years, I know a little bit about both. Even bullets are not 100% effective 100% of the time and shooting someone is always a last resort. I carry only spray often and I ALWAYS carry spray if I am armed with my pistol. I am now retired and officially a “senior citizen” but I still run into creeps I knew when I was working for 30 years as a LE Officer. The vast majority of confrontations start with some sort of verbal crap and can escalate into violence quickly. I have had encounters and always just walked away from the idiots but was fully prepared to use whatever force necessary to defend myself. If they have no weapon and are physically threatening me, I’ll spray. If they pull a weapon, I’ll go to deadly force. Having a Less than Lethal Option is always a good thing so you don’t have to shoot someone. Very time consuming and can be costly in many ways.
      I also have used spray for defense from dogs when walking. Dog owners don’t get half as upset if you spray their dog then if you shoot it for some reason. Often they don’t even know their dog was sprayed, unless they pat their dogs head then stick finger in their eye to scratch an itch. They will know their dog got into something when their eye slams shut.

  2. Great article, although slightly different from my expectations based on the title. “Accessible Carry” or perhaps “Unobvious Open Carry” might be more to the point than “Open Carry”.

    Open carry of what is obviously pepper spray (a’la Dog) has all the disadvantages of open carry of a firearm, plus it might suggest to a potential perp that it’s your only weapon. This issue doesn’t arise with the keyring devices you depict, nor anything easily concealed but also easily accessible.

    Without having researched it, I suspect that both state and local laws need to be consulted before carrying spray anywhere any way. CCW may or may not authorize it where needed. CCH rarely does.

    1. More than likely. Whether it was street stuff or OTC, it’s a fair bet that woman was a trustee of modern chemistry.

  3. I carry the stuff both in its urban and bear spray modes. I can’t say I really trust it though because I once dumped a whole can of it on an attacking dog with very little effect. I know I hit because it was LE-type spray with the orange dye. I do agree about options and your story about deterrence fits with all I have heard about getting blasted with it. Perhaps your crazy woman had been sprayed before.

    1. OC is certainly not a sure thing, and is unlikely to stop a determined criminal assailant. It’s not the right tool for every job, but at least in my experience the aforementioned belligerent idiots have a relatively low pain threshold and a face full of liquid pain…or even the threat of it…is often enough to halt that kind of problem in its tracks. I will happily use OC spray to avoid going hands on. If the OC spray fails and the person presses an attack, then they’re justifying a more severe use of force like empty hands, a kubotan, etc.

      I view OC spray as a good option for when someone is thinking “I don’t want to fight this idiot!” as opposed to when someone is thinking “This person is going to really hurt me.”

  4. FBI stats indicate one is 5 times more likely to face a simple assault than an aggravated assault. Gun’s not much lawful use in the more common simple assault. Even if events move so fast you’re compelled to go straight to deadly force, mere fact that you prepared and trained (please, get trained) with OC undercuts ability of prosecutor to make the old “defendant was just a nut with a gun looking for the chance to shoot someone.” Of course, as others note, OC is not magic. (For that matter, neither is a handgun.)

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    1. I’ve heard that mentioned as a benefit of having OC handy before, but hearing it from somebody who actually has some experience in the courtroom makes me take that angle more seriously. Thanks for mentioning that.

    2. Hey Andrew!

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s also a much lower threshold of justification for using pepper spray. I mean you can’t just blast someone if you don’t like how they’re looking at you, but it’s a lot easier to defend than giving them new holes.

  5. Terrible idea to carry spray or a knife with a firearm. If you use the firearm a jury may question why you didn’t use the non lethal or less lethal alternative.

    1. That’s absurd. There is no law requiring you to use a less lethal alternative to a lethal threat. Andrew Branca, an actual defense attorney with experience in this sort of thing, outlined his thoughts above. In addition to that I’ve had the input of dozens of top law enforcement UOF experts helping form my opinion on this and to the last man they’re all in favor of something like OC spray for exactly the situations I described.

    1. No. I was turning right onto a 4 lane road from the parking lot I was exiting and I arrived first. She arrived at her exit after I did and was turning left. I had the right of way and she wasn’t in motion until after I had already entered the 4 lane road.

    1. I have one of those new-fangled integrated key/keyfob things. I keep my little canister of Sabre Red attached to that key because it’s almost always on me when I go out. It carries nicely in a pocket and doesn’t add any significant weight to the key itself so it won’t put any extra strain on your steering column locking cylinder.

  6. Just curious, how do you carry this? Do you attach it to your keychain as advertised or just put it in a pocket by itself? It would be interesting if someone attached a pocket clip to these so you could have your pocket knife in the right pocket and this spray in your left by your flashlight.

    1. I carry OC spray on a keychain. It’s a smallish bottle, not the big 9 ounce one that I’d take into bear/wolf country, but I don’t expect to run into a black bear in downtown Amarillo.

    2. Attached to my car key/fob which is carried separate from my house keys. It’s almost always on me and the Spitfire in black is sufficiently non-descript that nobody realizes what it is…at least not until I’ve pointed it at them and told them. (Sample of 1, your mileage may vary)

  7. Truly appreciate you sharing this experience. Great job keeping your wits about you in a very stressful, strange encounter.

    I just moved to NM a couple months ago. They emphasized the stairway concept of escalation/deescalation very well in the conceal carry coarse. They spoke of having a layered defense as your example demonstrates. After the course, I now carry mace also.

  8. One good option is the asp defender series. they’re essentially a hard aluminum tube built to act like a kubotan, which gives you a third option, impact weapon, as an option for uof

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: