Pepper Spray Laws – Washington State

Pepper spray is an excellent self-defense tool and one of the only ranged, less lethal tools available for civilians.

Although pepper spray is legal pretty much everywhere in the United States, laws and regulations do vary from state-to-state, and understanding the legalities concerning the ownership and carry of pepper spray as well as under what conditions you are allowed to deploy it is an important part of your personal self defense plan.

flag of Washington state

Washington is a state where you definitely won’t have any issues obtaining pepper spray, though there are a few more regulations than in other states when it comes to the age of the purchaser, as well as specific language concerning the contents of the canister.

We will tell you everything you need to know about pepper spray ownership and use in Washington State, and provide you with the most relevant statutes that you should familiarize yourself with.

Fast Facts

  • Several varieties of “defense” spray are legal in Washington state, including conventional OC (pepper) blends, as well as CN and CS (tear gas) blends.
  • There is no restriction on the capacity for civilian carry of pepper and other self-defense spray in the state.
  • One must be 18 years old to purchase pepper spray in Washington State, though exceptions exist for people aged 14 years and older so long as they have their parents’ permission.

Overview

Washington State is definitely friendly when it comes to the civilian carry and use of pepper spray and other self-defense sprays and all their varieties.

You have to be of the appropriate age to buy it, though; starting at age 14 one may buy pepper spray so long as they have their parents’ permission, but at 18 years of age it can be bought over-the-counter with no other concessions.

Pepper spray can be carried pretty much anywhere in the state though, as always, you may not carry it onto an aircraft, or into the secured terminal of any airport.

Use of pepper spray and self-defense is also surprisingly clear in the state of Washington considering how flimsy the rest of their self-defense laws are.

Generally, the state makes allowances that one may use force appropriate to the task to protect yourself or someone else who’s about to be injured, and even specifically names malicious trespass or malicious interference with personal property lawfully in someone’s possession as a viable reason, though it cautions that more force than is necessary may not be used and later specifically defines the word “necessary” to mean that no reasonably effective alternative to the use of whatever force was applied appeared to exist to the defendant.

Also take care that the Washington State statutes explicitly state that the amount of force used in defense must be reasonable to affect the lawful purpose of that force.

What does that mean? It means that since pepper spray is still considered a use of force (it is not a harmless prank after all) there should be some significant threat against you or someone else before you use it, though not necessarily a lethal threat.

The inverse is also true: you should not spray someone who simply insults you, yells at you or flips you off.

This should be taken to mean that any threat of physical violence, to include assault or sincere threats of violence could definitely warrant you pepper spraying someone.

It should go without saying that any lethal or potentially lethal threat warrants the defensive application of pepper spray, and that furthermore a great disparity of force exists between the use of pepper spray on the part of the defendant and the use of lethal force by an assailant.

Conclusion

Washington State has entirely reasonable laws governing the purchase, carry and use of pepper spray and other defensive sprays by civilians. Even young people can own and carry pepper spray in the state and take it with them virtually everywhere.

So long as you do not carelessly employ your pepper spray and save it for situations when you really think your safety or life might be on the line you won’t have any issues.

Relevant State Statutes

RCW 9.91.160 Personal protection spray devices.

(1) It is unlawful for a person under eighteen years old, unless the person is at least fourteen years old and has the permission of a parent or guardian to do so, to purchase or possess a personal protection spray device. A violation of this subsection is a misdemeanor.

(2) No town, city, county, special purpose district, quasi-municipal corporation or other unit of government may prohibit a person eighteen years old or older, or a person fourteen years old or older who has the permission of a parent or guardian to do so, from purchasing or possessing a personal protection spray device or from using such a device in a manner consistent with the authorized use of force under RCW 9A.16.020. No town, city, county, special purpose district, quasi-municipal corporation, or other unit of government may prohibit a person eighteen years old or older from delivering a personal protection spray device to a person authorized to possess such a device.

(3) For purposes of this section:

(a) “Personal protection spray device” means a commercially available dispensing device designed and intended for use in self-defense and containing a nonlethal sternutatorf or lacrimator agent, including but not limited to:

(i) Tear gas, the active ingredient of which is either chloracetophenone (CN) or O-chlorobenzylidene malonotrile (CS); or

(ii) Other agent commonly known as mace, pepper mace, or pepper gas.

(b) “Delivering” means actual, constructive, or attempted transferring from one person to another.

(4) Nothing in this section authorizes the delivery, purchase, possession, or use of any device or chemical agent that is otherwise prohibited by state law.

RCW 9A.16.020 Use of force—When lawful.

The use, attempt, or offer to use force upon or toward the person of another is not unlawful in the following cases:

(1) Whenever necessarily used by a public officer in the performance of a legal duty, or a person assisting the officer and acting under the officer’s direction;

(2) Whenever necessarily used by a person arresting one who has committed a felony and delivering him or her to a public officer competent to receive him or her into custody;

(3) Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary;


RCW 9A.16.010 Definitions.

In this chapter, unless a different meaning is plainly required:

(1) “Necessary” means that no reasonably effective alternative to the use of force appeared to exist and that the amount of force used was reasonable to effect the lawful purpose intended.

(2) “Deadly force” means the intentional application of force through the use of firearms or any other means reasonably likely to cause death or serious physical injury.

RCW 9A.16.110 Defending against violent crime—Reimbursement.

(1) No person in the state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting by any reasonable means necessary, himself or herself, his or her family, or his or her real or personal property, or for coming to the aid of another who is in imminent danger of or the victim of assault, robbery, kidnapping, arson, burglary, rape, murder, or any other violent crime as defined in RCW 9.94A.030.


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