Home » Crime Avoidance »Use of Force Issues » Currently Reading:

Legal Strength of OC Spray in Arizona

October 4, 2008 Crime Avoidance, Use of Force Issues 1 Comment

I recently received a question regarding the legally allowed strength of OC spray or “pepper spray” in Arizona.  Here in Arizona, we are fortunate to live in one of the less regulated states as far as non-lethal personal protection devices.  There is no statuatory limit to the strength of pepper spray in Arizona.

I do feel a bit of an obligation to explain how pepper spray works and how to determine the strength of any spray you might consider purchasing.  This is important because there is some confusion about how hot a spray should be in order to insure that it is effective against a potential attacker.

First, let’s talk a little about the idea behind what is more properly called ‘OC Spray’.  The ‘OC’ stands for Oleoresin Capsicum.  OC is a strong irritant of any mucus membranes it comes in contact with.  The sensation generated by exposure to OC is one of severe burning of the affected tissues.  If sprayed in the eyes, it causes profuse tearing, burning, pain and can cause temporary blindness.  A friend of mine in law enforcement that has been sprayed with OC in training says that it feels like “drowning with your face on fire”.  Not a pleasant experience to say the least…

This experience of burning eyes, running nose, coughing and having difficulty breathing can continue for 30-45 minutes depending on the amount of spray used and it’s strength.  The strength of the spray not based on the percentage of active ingredient, but rather is based on the number of Scoville Heat Units or SHUs that the spray has.  Scoville Heat Units are a measure of ‘heat’ in peppers.  A mild jalapeno pepper might have a SHU rating of 1,000 to 1,500.  Tabasco might carry an SHU rating of 30,000 to 50,000.  The hottest pepper in the world, the habanero, carries an SHU rating of 300,000 to 500,000.  Compare those to the rating of popular pepper sprays which can range from 2 million SHUs to 5.3 million SHUs.  As you can see, these sprays are really hot.

As you have no doubt experienced, different individuals can have different levels of sensitivity to peppers.  My father-in-law can put incredible amounts of crushed red peppers on food.  What he relishes is completely inedible to me.  Similarly, some people will be less susceptible to pepper spray due to ‘conditioning’.

Since pepper spray is many times used by law enforcement and correctional officers against their ‘clients’.  Some of those individuals develop a higher tolerance to the effects of the spray.  While OC spray will always have some effect, even on a heavily conditioned individual, they may be able to continue to function if the strength of the spray is near the lower end of the range.

That is one of the reasons that I recommend a spray by Fox Labs.  The Fox Labs product is highly refined and the SHU rating for it tops out at 5.3 million SHUs.  It is the hottest OC spray available.  Even the most ‘conditioned’ criminals have a difficult time fighting through this stuff.  It is truly ‘wicked hot’ as my friend from the east coast would say.

If you plan to carry OC spray for personal defense, there are a few of things to think about on both the positive and negative sides:

  1. It will do you no good if it is in the bottom of your purse, in your pocket or in your briefcase when you need it.  It needs to be accessible.
  2. There is a high likelihood of ‘cross contamination’ if you use OC spray.  What I mean specifically is that you might be exposed to it when you spray someone else.  This is not something you want to be experiencing for the first time when you are in trouble.  I’m not saying that you should blast yourself in the face with it, but you might want to understand what you might have to deal with.
  3. You cannot just ‘spray’ someone without justification.  You need to be under threat of assault at a minimum to be justified in using OC spray.
  4. You might also want to think before using OC spray in enclosed spaces.  Several people were killed during a panic to get out of  a Chicago dance club when a bouncer used OC spray on an unruly guest inside the club.

After considering all those things, you might ask yourself “Should I carry OC spray”?  Here is the answer for me:  one of my students probably prevented a robbery or worse by using pepper spray.  She had it in her hand when she was grabbed from behind at an ATM.  She sprayed the robber/rapist in the face and got away unharmed…

You can decide for yourself, but I don’t go anywhere without my OC spray…

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 7.0/10 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)

Legal Strength of OC Spray in Arizona, 7.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Geno says:

    Doug:
    Thanks for the informative and comprehensive reply. Even though I am in LE I’m planning a trip to Az. in the future and want to make sure I am comletely legal. In Michigan the alowable legal limit for non LEO is 2% OC.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)