An Overview of Pepper Spray Laws in America

Pepper spray is one of the very best defensive implements that a person can carry as part of their daily accoutrement.

Pepper spray is unique and that it offers a highly effective ranged tool that sits neatly between the use of bad language and more substantial lethal or non-lethal force. Except in the rarest instances, pepper spray inflicts searing pain but no lingering injury to an assailant.

All of these positive attributes mean that no one who is serious about self-defense can afford to ignore the use of pepper spray or its inclusion as part of a well-rounded defensive plan. This counts double if one carries a gun as a lethal option for self-defense.

Pepper Spray Laws State By State

Let’s dig deeper into each state to see exactly how you can and cannot use pepper spray. Click on any state on the map below to open state-specific pepper spray laws, or select a state from the table just below the map.

NevadaNew HampshireNew Jersey
New MexicoNew YorkNorth Carolina
North DakotaOhioOklahoma
OregonPennsylvaniaRhode Island
South CarolinaSouth DakotaTennessee
VirginiaWashington DCWashington State
West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

Thankfully, pepper spray is seen as one of the most friendly or permissible self-defense weapons and is legal in all 50 states throughout the US.

However, laws for carry, employment and permitted types of defensive sprays do show quite a bit of variation, and you’ll need to be familiar with common concepts relating to pepper spray statutes throughout the land before you decide to start habitually carrying it.

This article is here to help you better acquaint yourself with the ins and outs of carrying pepper spray legally.

Pepper Spray is an Excellent Defensive Option

It is difficult to overstate just how useful pepper spray is. Although it is commonly decried by those who rely on lethal weapons exclusively for serious self-defense, particularly men who carry a knife or gun, pepper spray has an awful lot to commend it.

Trust me; it isn’t something for sissies or for housewives who want to go jogging on the trail around the lake.

Modern pepper spray and other defensive chemical formulations that are made to a high standard pack a formidable punch, and nine times out of ten will completely starch someone and drain the will to fight out of them.

In addition to scalding, blinding pain pepper spray will cause the involuntary closing of the eyes, copious tearing, equally copious production of mucus, significant coughing and difficulty breathing.

In short, except for the most ferociously motivated, cast iron tough or drugged out attackers it will reduce their will to fight by eliminating or degrading their ability to see and breathe, aside from hurting a lot.

Even if the fight initiates after the application of pepper spray you’ll have an advantage since it will be affecting the attacker.

Believe me when I say that nothing gives a defender as many options as reliably as pepper spray does, and you will have many, many more encounters where this intermediate level of force will be called for but not necessarily lethal force.

Why risk going hands-on or being forced to, literally, jump the gun when you don’t have to?

Pepper Spray is Widely Allowed throughout the U.S.

More so than any other weapon suitable for self-defense, pepper spray is ubiquitous and legal pretty much everywhere.

No matter where you go in the US there is some variation of defensive spray that will be allowed, except perhaps in the most heavily restrictive localities.

Based on my own research and writings on the subject, no state bans pepper spray or other defensive sprays completely out of hand.

There may be restrictions in place on what specific formulation you can carry, or the quantity, restrictions on where you can carry it or who is allowed to carry it, but no state institutes a blanket ban on such sprays.

This makes pepper spray an even better option for self-defense because wherever you might go there is a good chance that your spray, especially if it is a common formula of average capacity, is permissible.

For travelers this is a huge boon, and whenever you are heading into a state or a locale that is non-permissive with regards to the carry of knives or firearms, pepper spray should be your constant companion.

Well, this is not to say you won’t have to pay attention to those local restrictions, whatever they are, but you’ll generally have a lot less to worry about in terms of consequences should you make a mistake with pepper spray compared to a firearm or knife.

Pepper Spray is Still Considered Force in the Eyes of the Law!

There is a common misconception about pepper spray that could get you in serious trouble if you use it frivolously.

Some folks believe that just because pepper spray is little more than industrial grade spicy sauce that it somehow is not considered Force for the purposes of self-defense, or for any other application whether it is legal or illicit.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, pepper spray is properly classified as less lethal, not less than lethal. This is an important distinction, I’m not just mincing words here.

A less than lethal weapon is one that is incapable of inflicting lethal damage. When you come to think of it, it is a bit of a paradox because any weapon that is worth the name is likely capable of inflicting lethal damage when used accordingly.

On the other hand, a less lethal weapon is one that is less likely to be lethal, not non-lethal. Yes, pepper spray causes extraordinary pain and discomfort, but it’s not dangerous, not lethal, right

So much of the time that is correct, but situations have arisen from the use of pepper spray that resulted in death or great bodily injury.

Someone might be terribly allergic or sensitive to the active ingredients. They might have a pre-existing condition that makes them particularly vulnerable to it.

Simple bad health or an accidental fall or other injury resulting from its application could see your pepper spraying them be classified as the cause of death. That is serious business, and you definitely don’t want to be liable for an unlawful death in any regard.

This would be bad enough if you pepper sprayed someone who deserved it and had it coming on account of aggressing against you, but it would be an order of magnitude worse if you pepper sprayed someone simply because they pissed you off or you didn’t like them.

Pepper spray is not a toy, and no state, anywhere treats the pepper spraying of another person lightly.

Quite a few states have specific statutes against dousing someone with harmful chemicals, but even if they do not have specific ones against the unlawful use of pepper spray using pepper spray against someone except in case of legitimate self-defense will at least get you a misdemeanor battery charge, and could easily result in felony charges.

Understanding Spray Formulas and Types

One tricky facet of typical state statutes concerning pepper spray is what formulations are permissible.

Many states feature a fairly nebulous or varying definition of defensive spray. They might specify defensive sprays as any chemical spray sold commonly for the purposes of self-defense, an aerosolized disabling chemical or some other phraseology.

What you and I commonly called pepper spray is actually likely to be one of three typical formulations.

The most common, and typically the most effective, is oleoresin capsicum, or OC. As the name suggests, this solution relies on the chemical ingredient that gives hot, spicy peppers there, well, heat, hence the name pepper spray.

The two other common formulations are varieties of tear gas, either CN or CS. Though less effective overall and most circumstances compared to OC, they do have some advantages and their proponents.

To further complicate matters, some defensive sprays might be a combination of CN and CS, or even a blend of OC and one tear gas formulation or another.

This can cause trouble for even a well-intentioned carrier of a defensive spray. Some states might specify that a defensive spray uses natural ingredients, or they might specifically disallow tear gas formulations.

Some state statutes confusingly assert that any legal defensive spray formula for civilians must contain only natural ingredients or be chemical composition designed to cause no lasting injury.

Don’t assume that just because your chosen pepper spray was purchased over the counter or sent to you via an internet merchant that it is legal in your state and in your hometown. Double check all the relevant laws and make sure you aren’t carrying a restricted formulation.

Capacity Counts

Unfortunately, one of the most common restrictions for civilians concerning the carry of defensive sprays like pepper spray is a capacity restriction.

Yes, as it turns out, it isn’t just handgun and rifle magazines that are subject to onerous laws by those busy bodies that consider themselves our betters.

Pepper spray capacity is regulated by volume or weight. Most commonly you’ll see it restricted to a container carrying no more than an ounce or ounce and a half, but some particularly restrictive areas limit civilians to a half ounce. Some states use grams as a unit of measurement and others rely on cubic centimeters or CC’s instead.

Nominally this is to prevent people from carrying around those jumbo sized, riot busting containers that we see police using all the time on TV, or even to keep someone from toting a larger, personalized sprayer that could be used for multiple applications.

The notion is that the smallest, self-defense units good for a handful of half second bursts is all that we normal people should be allowed access to lest we go crazy and season everyone in sight with scorching hot pepper.

Any pepper spray unit that you purchase over the counter from a major manufacturer should be clearly marked or otherwise indicated so you’ll know for sure how much payload it carries.

This might seem like yet another law that you could thumb your nose at, but I wouldn’t take the chance if I were you, not in these strange times.

Restricted Locations

Pepper spray is greatly favored by in-the-know proponents of self-defense because it can go pretty much everywhere except the most restricted areas or no weapons whatsoever are permitted.

You shouldn’t expect to take your pepper spray on an airplane or into a courthouse, but generally everywhere else is fair game and most States.

however, some states do have restrictions on pepper spray in specific venues, oftentimes schools, bars and the like what a few places feature restrictions on pepper spray that border on the abstract.

One large metropolitan area in the US restricts pepper sprays or any other defensive spray from any enclosed public venue or place they could hold 50 or more people.

Other states allow you to carry pepper spray pretty much wherever you want but forbid the discharge of pepper spray, even in cases of self-defense, in any crowded public place. Apparently they are worried more about injuries from stampede and panic.

Bureaucratic Impediments

Although comparatively rare, some states mandate any pepper spray carried by civilian be marked by the manufacturer with pertinent information concerning the solution and the unit itself. Things like a manufacturer’s mark, date of manufacturer or date of expiry, formula type and so on are common in this regard.

States that adhere to this protocol may allow a sticker for the job or they might mandate that the casing or container of the spray dispenser be permanently engraved, embossed or otherwise marked accordingly.

Generally, only the most restrictive areas have such mandates, but once again it would not do to run afoul of them!

Restricted Persons May Still be Able to Carry and Use Pepper Spray

Compared to knives and guns, pepper spray and other defensive sprays are far more likely to remain useful to people who are otherwise restricted from carrying typical defensive weapons.

For folks who have certain crimes in their backgrounds, even ones that they have paid their debt to society for, pepper spray might be the answer as in most places it isn’t considered a weapon per se.

If someone has been adjudicated mentally incompetent, has a felony conviction, any conviction of domestic violence or for whatever reason has had their civil rights stripped pepper spray likely remains a viable defensive tool.

Only a handful of states specifically bar people who are restricted from carrying typical weapons from carrying pepper spray.

Right, wrong or indifferent even when people who have a criminal history are legitimate victims in an attack the resulting legal battle is always tipped against them. Using any weapon to defend themselves, even a weapon of opportunity or desperation, can sadly make more trouble for them.

Although pepper spray is not free of such stigmas, it is widely accepted by courtrooms and juries as a minimally harmful tool, and one that is highly unlikely to cause any lasting injury.

If you have been debarred the use of typical defensive weapons, you’ll find that most states will still permit you to carry pepper spray or some other defensive spray formula.


Pepper spray is one of the very best tools available for self-defense, and it is worth rejoicing that it is available to citizens for legal carry in all 50 states.

But just like every other facet of life, every state has their own ideas when it comes to regulation of pepper spray and other defensive sprays.

Though it is a tool of considerably less import than a gun or knife you still want to do a thorough job in your preparations by researching and understanding in totality your state’s laws concerning defensive spray. You can start by finding your state in the table above.

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