Is Pepper Spray Legal in Virginia?

Pepper spray, although made from an item you can get in the produce section of your local grocer, is considered a weapon by most states, and is restricted to some extent in nearly all of them. Pepper spray causes temporary blindness, pain, breathing problems and panic.  However, when it’s used excessively, it can kill.

Don’t get Mace confused with pepper spray. Mace is an irritant that is very similar to tear gas. Unlike pepper spray which is an inflammatory agent, Mace is an irritant. Pepper spray will have an effect on those that feel no pain, such as those under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Mace may or may not have an effect on these types. Unlike pepper spray, Mace will NOT cause inflammation of the capillaries resulting in temporary blindness, nausea, or will not cut off all but life support breathing, nor create a very strong burning or stinging sensation. It is important to note that Mace is also a brand name. Nearly all dealers do not sell Mace: only the Mace brand. Most dealers selling sprays that are PEPPER SPRAY!pepper-spray-orig

In some states, you can buy pepper spray, but the amount is restricted, and you can be arrested or fined if your canister contains more than the amount specified by law. Some states regulate the allowed strength of the pepper spray: most sprays contain somewhere between 2% and 10% of capsaicin, the primary component of capsicum. Pepper sprays that also contain tear gas may be illegal in some states but not others, so before you decide to buy a spray or take it with you when traveling across state lines, you should find out what the state and local ordinances say about its possession.

Generally, pepper spray as a personal defense weapon is considered legal in all 50 states.  However, some states impose restriction on the shipping of pepper spray. Some manufacturers may ship their bear spray (a stronger pepper spray made to deter an attacking bear) to states where pepper spray can’t be shipped as a weapon. However, if someone is found to have used bear spray on a person, there are all sorts of interesting questions about its legal use (unless that person happens to be doing a highly convincing bear act). Pepper spray isn’t sold to minors or to people who have been convicted of a felony. And never take pepper spray with you when you travel by air.  Pepper Spray cannot be carried on a commercial airline where it is accessible. This is a federal crime with a $25,000 fine.

And, after 9/11 there may be secured locations such as federal buildings, state buildings or any place you must pass through security where you cannot have pepper spray.

In Virginia, as a general rule, pepper spray may be carried.  However, there are two Virginia Code Sections regarding pepper spray you should be aware of when carrying pepper spray.

  • 18.2-312. Illegal use of tear gas, phosgene and other gases.

If any person maliciously releases or causes or procures to be released in any private home, place of business or place of public gathering any tear gas, mustard gas, phosgene gas or other noxious or nauseating gases or mixtures of chemicals designed to, and capable of, producing vile or injurious or nauseating odors or gases, and bodily injury results to any person from such gas or odor, the offending person shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony.

If such act be done unlawfully, but not maliciously, the offending person shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.

Nothing herein contained shall prevent the use of tear gas or other gases by police officers or other peace officers in the proper performance of their duties, or by any person or persons in the protection of person, life or property.

  • 18.2-52. Malicious bodily injury by means of any caustic substance or agent or use of any explosive or fire.

If any person maliciously causes any other person bodily injury by means of any acid, lye or other caustic substance or agent or use of any explosive or fire, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in a state correctional facility for a period of not less than five years nor more than thirty years. If such act is done unlawfully but not maliciously, the offender shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.

Check with your local municipality or police on the restrictions and permissible use of pepper spray in your area.

Popular on college campuses, pepper spray comes in various size containers and is used as an aerosol spray and directed towards the attacker’s eyes and facial skin area. Once in contact with skin, and especially the eyes, pepper spray causes a burning sensation like no other, typically causing the attacker to become more concerned with their own well-being than with trying to keep up the attack. The good thing with pepper spray is that it can come in sizes as small as a keychain attachment or larger ones that you can carry in your pocket. The downsides are, you have to be within so many feet for the spray to reach the attacker, the wind can cause the spray to come back to your own face, and you may get only two to four chances to spray your attacker before the spray runs out and you have to resort to some sort of physical means of defense.

Never use pepper spray unless you feel you are threatened or you need to protect someone else. Improper use could result in criminal action. You could be sued or in some states fined up to $1000 or imprisoned up to 3 years in some jurisdictions. Spraying an innocent victim in the face can be a crime. Much like a punch in the face, it could be charged as assault in most jurisdictions. The justification for using pepper sprays must be self-defense from personal injury, and the force must be reasonable under the circumstances.

Always remember that you assume all risk and liability for owning and using pepper spray. Even if you use it correctly, there is no guarantee that it will always be effective at hindering an attack, and there is always the possibility that it may be used against you instead.

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