Why is pepper spray banned in the UK?

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Why is pepper spray banned in the UK?
Use of pepper spray is illegal in the UK. (George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

The use of pepper spray is illegal in the UK under the Firearms Act 1968 which prohibits use of any weapon designed or adapted to discharge noxious liquid, gases or substances. It is illegal both to bring pepper spray into the UK or to possess it, and people caught carrying or using it will be arrested. The reasons for this can be found in the UK’s laws around self-defence and carrying weapons.

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The law

UK law does not allow for the use of “defensive weapons.” This means that offensive weapons such as pepper spray cannot be carried even as a means of defence. Everyday items such as keys, combs or umbrellas may be used in self-defence, provided that they were being carried for their usual purpose.

Effects of pepper spray

Pepper spray can have a significant impact. A burning sensation in the eyes, mouth and nose will be felt by somebody sprayed in the face, and the chemicals can aggravate the protective layer of the eyes causing great pain and temporary blindness in some cases. Other symptoms include confusion, light-headedness, disorientation and a loss of muscle control. People who have asthma or heart conditions should seek medical advice if they have been sprayed.

Self-defence

Householders might consider use of pepper spray to defend themselves in their own homes, however use of pepper spray is illegal and other means of defence should be used. UK law does allow citizens to use reasonable force to defend themselves as long as the force used is applied honestly and instinctively in the heat of the moment. Even if an intruder is injured or dies the police and CPS should review a case sympathetically and charges are unlikely to be pressed if reasonable defensive force was used.

Legal alternatives

Legal defence sprays are available in the UK. Products are on sale which do not contain toxic chemicals and do not fall under the control of firearms legislation. EveAid is a spray that discharges a non-toxic but strong smelling odour that will help fight off attackers. The odour sticks to skin and clothes for up to three days which can help identify suspects and also emits a hidden dye which can be detected by police and increases the chance of a conviction. The product also comes in a can similar to CS gas or pepper spray which can be a deterrent in itself.

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