By Tony Barthel
If you want to start a controversy in any RV social media group, bring up the topic of self-defense. You will get passionate responses from all sides about what’s best and why. Recently I had a chance to speak with several people about the use of bear and pepper sprays for self-defense, as well as firearms.
What are they?
Bear spray, pepper spray and muzzle spray are all essentially created from oleoresin capsicum, which is the “hot” in things like cayenne pepper.
Because pepper spray is a product derived from hot peppers, it is nonlethal but it certainly can disable a predator without killing them. The effects of pepper spray wear off in about half an hour. It is legal to use in all 50 states, although the specifics of its use vary by jurisdiction.
With the recent conflicts across the U.S., we’ve seen the effects of pepper spray on humans. It causes temporary blindness, nausea, burning sensations, inability to breathe temporarily and other bothersome symptoms.
Human pepper sprays come in a very wide number of forms and concentrations. They are essentially unregulated, so purchasing them from a reputable company is wise. There are gels, sprays and streams. The form factor for the sprayer itself varies tremendously.
While human pepper spray is powerful, bear spray is even more so. It is designed to give you more space between yourself and the bear, so it can spray further. While human pepper spray is about 1.33 percent capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, bear spray is 2 percent.
Bear spray for self-defense?
Are we advocating the use of bear spray? Not at all. In fact, several readers brought up the question of being charged with an assault for using bear spray on a human. But in searching the Internet for this, there was no evidence of that.
Another important aspect of bear spray is that it is an agricultural product; in this case, a pesticide. It is regulated by the EPA and every product that calls itself bear spray needs to go through their regulatory processes. Every can of bear spray must have an EPA registration number displayed on the container.
But since it’s a pesticide, it is not intended for use for personal protection.
Yet, according to attorney Vitaliy Kertchen of Tacoma, Washington, via the website AVVO.com, “Regarding use of pepper spray, you can use it so long as its use is reasonable and necessary (like all use of force in self-defense). Once you raise self-defense, the prosecutor must disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Still, cans of bear spray do protect their manufacturer by advising to use the product for its “intended purposes only.”
I spoke with bear expert Steve Searles for my own podcast about bear safety and bear spray. He recommends carrying bear spray for the people in his inner circle.
Is it legal to carry bear spray?
It is legal to carry bear spray, particularly if you’re going to be traveling where you might encounter bears. There are no rules about crossing state lines with bear spray. It can be purchased even in Hawaii, New York, or Massachusetts, where standard pepper sprays are illegal unless bought locally by certified firearms dealers or pharmacists. In Canada, while legal for use against bears, bear spray is a prohibited weapon if intended to be used against humans.
And what about wasp spray for self-defense?
Another tool we’ve heard advocated is wasp spray. According to Nicole Robbins, SABRE Quality Assurance and Safety Manager: “The amount of active ingredients in the spray (according to the label) are 0.04% to 0.06%; the compound is typically ‘pyrethrin or pyrethroids, which come from a species of chrysanthemum plant.” This active ingredient is meant to disrupt a wasp’s nervous system.
“Independent testing concludes that wasp spray is ‘minimally’ irritating to human eyes, so how could it be expected to incapacitate a goal-oriented attacker?”
In a previous article, Do You Hate Guns, we heard from Mike Sherman, a retired law enforcement officer, on the use of firearms for self-protection. In speaking further with Mike for this article, he said, “As a retired cop, I always defer to my training and knowledge…. I became proficient in the use of a firearm, and I know it has a conclusion that is absolute. But my training and experience is not applicable to the general public, so trying to get them to understand the need for training and practice can be difficult.
“One thing I know to be a fact is that a handgun is just about the best defense over anything else because if one is lucky enough to get off a couple of shots to the upper torso and/or skull, the threat is eliminated. The results are usually immediate. So I advocate most people learn to shoot a gun….become familiar with it, use it as a last resort.”
However, there are significant laws about carrying firearms that an owner should be familiar with. The book “Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the 50 States” is also a good reference.
Furthermore, for anyone who does choose to carry, and I am someone who does, one of the most important things to do is to become proficient in the use of that firearm through training and education. It can indeed be a permanent solution to a problem but one that can lead to significant legal ramifications. If you shoot someone you’re going to deal with the courts almost invariably and it can get expensive if it’s not clearly self-defense.
Remember, too, that RVs are very flimsy, wobbly boxes and even a small-caliber bullet can travel through several RVs before it ultimately stops.
How do you stay safe, then?
There is no single answer to this. But a podcast interview with former law enforcement officer Ginny Craven leaves you with these thoughts:
- Be vigilant – be aware of alternate routes.
- Know where you are – be able to describe your exact location to a dispatcher.
- Have a place where you write the name of the place you are camping including the address and site number. Also, know what county you are in.
- Evaluate your surroundings when you arrive and be aware of what’s going on and what’s around you.
- Pay attention to your instincts.
- Use the buddy system – know where your fellow campers are.
- Perhaps find out the channel a campground is using on their own walkie-talkies and be able to contact them in an emergency.
- Don’t be isolated. But if you’re alone – don’t invite others into your RV.
In summary regarding self-defense
Occasionally we read about tragedies that our fellow RVers experience at the hands of another individual or even due to an unfortunate interaction with wildlife.
Being aware and cognizant of your surroundings is always good advice. Whether you choose to carry some form of protection with you and what that form of protection is, is totally your decision. Whatever you choose, it’s best to be aware of rules and regulations regarding its use and be aware of how to operate it properly so that the effects you desire are the ones you achieve.
Perhaps it’s best to stick with pepper spray for humans, bear spray for bears, and wasp spray for, well, wasps…
Your polite and respectful comments are welcome.