SAFTD Pepper Spray Training
by Kirk Lawson

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There is a lot of interest in Less Than Lethal self defense. While potentially lethal self defense, such as sticks, knives, firearms, and, yes, sometimes even bare hands, is often required, not every Force scenario necessarily requires a potentially lethal response. Filling this gap is difficult and currently only has a relatively small number of contenders such as batons, "soft hands," Tasers & Stun Guns, and Pepper Spray. Unfortunately, not all are created equal. Batons are only considered Less Lethal under special circumstances, sometimes restricted to Law Enforcement, and only with specialized training (1). "Soft Hands" usually means "grappling" but no striking, yet, as the death of Eric Garner shows us, can still turn from a submission technique into accidental death under certain conditions (2). Tasers and electronic Stun Guns, which use electric pulses to incapacitate the target, have a spotty success rate with various studies and official reports indicating as much as a 47% failure rate (3).

This is where Pepper Spray shines. An April '03 paper released by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) titled "The Effectiveness and Safety of Pepper Spray" (4) indicates an effectiveness of 85% or more at affecting "stops" (5) while being extremely safe, with injuries or deaths attributed to or contributed to by the use of Pepper Spray to be very small, usually associated with asthma. The report concludes that, "The results of all studies discussed in this Research for Practice seem to confirm that pepper spray is a reasonably safe and effective tool..." (6)

Defensive Training Solutions, through the Second Amendment Foundation Training Division, partnered with SABRE Pepper Spray to produce a $75 half-day class introducing students to Pepper Spray, the most effective ways to use it, limitations, social and legal ramifications, and integrating Pepper Spray into the student's personal self defense plan. (7)

The students are provided with a GBX binder of the power point presentation (but bring paper and pen to take notes anyway), two "inert" trainers, one pocket size pepper spray, and some literature for SAFTD, SABRE, and The Armed Citizen's Legal Defense Network.

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Instructing the class was owner and lead instructor Bill Martin, with an impressive list of instruction credentials (8), and assisted by Lisa Murphy, an NRA Training Counselor and SAFTD asst State Master Instructor. They did a good job of keeping the class energetic and preventing it from becoming Death by PowerPoint by engaging the students, asking questions, and including personal experience and observations.

As promised, the class covered:
  • Situational alertness
  • Attacker Distraction Tactics
  • Verbal and Physical Escape Techniques
  • Training Drills for Preventing Attacks
  • Options for protection
  • "Personal Safety Spray" Information
  • Training Drills
To be honest, the fun part, and the most "educational," were the training drills. These involved using one of the inert trainers, which operates the same as the "live" canister but is filled with water, against a BOB martial arts striking dummy. This is critical because, while very easy, using Pepper Spray is not so simple that no practice or instruction is required. It is a small canister, operated by the thumb, with a "safety" which must be disengaged, and no sights. As I experienced myself, using instinctive aiming techniques, it is still possible to "miss" the target, even at very close range. I had to learn the Point of Impact and how to "aim" the thing. Positional and evasive movement was quickly integrated into the drills, finally moving up to some limited "force" and ambush drills which included the use of a kick pad for the attacker role. As with any other defensive tool, including unarmed, familiarization and practice will be required to ensure effective use and clean deployment of Pepper Spray. The biggest challenge will be how to carry it. The canister came with a pocket clip from SABRE but I'm not very impressed with it. It is better than none, but still seems small and difficult to use. Some canisters come with key chain attachments, which also leave me uninspired. A belt holster of some sort, similar to what I use for my flash light, would probably be the best option for EDC ("Every Day Carry"). To that end, I found out that Bill, who also makes kydex holsters, has turned his skills to the problem of belt carry for a Pepper Spray canister. He demonstrated a prototype and said that he nearly has all the kinks worked out. To my knowledge, no one else is making a EDC belt mount for a Pepper Spray canister like this. It looks like a neat system and, when he's ready, I will look seriously at it as an EDC option for me.

Of particular interest from a legal standpoint is that Pepper Spray is "50 State Legal." It is legal to carry Pepper Spray in all 50 states (9). However, every state has their own variations on what formulation and concentration of the spray is legal, and, while the list of prohibited carry locations is typically smaller than that for firearms, there are often still restricted areas such as schools and police stations so check the laws first before you try to carry Pepper Spray to any specific location.

Was this class worth the $75 cost? Yes, to me it was. I'm seriously looking at expanding my repertoire of force options as well as looking for additional options for the Safety Team at my Church.

Would I recommend the class to someone else? Yes, I would. I am convinced that Pepper Spray is very safe and very effective but, even as easy as it is, there are some basic skills which need to be learned.

5) Ibid, pp10
6) Ibid, pp13