If you’re walking home alone at night, or in a near-empty parking lot at a big store and you get a gut feeling you could be in danger, you might feel safer carrying a weapon.

Not everyone feels comfortable carrying a gun for self defense. That’s where pepper spray comes in.

Pepper spray, which is also known as OC spray because it contains oleoresin capsicum (OC), an oil derived from hot peppers, is a non-lethal weapon. When used on an assailant, it will inflame the eyes, nasal passages and respiratory tract temporarily to distract someone for the user to get away. It causes excessive tears, burning pain, difficulty breathing and temporary blindness.

Genesee County Undersheriff Chris Swanson said, “If a citizen has the desire, the training and the mindset to carry personal protection gear, they should be allowed to do so under the law.”

Holly Police Chief Michael Story took a more cautionary tone.

“Use them at your own risk,” he said, adding that the user can often get hurt from the spray due to the wind or if it’s pointed in the wrong direction. “I’m not a proponent of selling this over the counter … it’s too easily abused, too.”

Police pepper spray is usually between 2 and 5 million Scoville units, which is the measure of how hot it is. For reference, Sriracha Sauce is between 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units.

According to, it’s important to practice using a test canister because not everyone uses it correctly. Some people will fumble in the haste to get it out and spray themselves instead.

Swanson said, “I was at a talent show last week at the University of Michigan-Flint when an excited attendee accidently hit the OC spray on their keychain, which stopped the show and cleared the auditorium. It’s an aerosol so it will impact many people.”

At the sheriff’s office, officers carry FOX pepper spray, which contains 10 percent OC. Swanson said it works “really good.”

A bill recently passed by the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate would allow pepper spray to be sold with 18-percent OC concentration. It passed 88 to 21 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

Swanson said he’s not sure why they would want to increase the amount.

Features to consider

Range — look for pepper sprays that can cover a large distance. However, with longer distance comes fewer shots overall.

Number of shots — The more shots you can get out of canister, the better. It’s recommended by to test the canister at least once a year to make sure it works properly.

Spray type — A stream pattern is similar to a water gun. It has the longest range, which is approximately 10 feet. This pattern requires accuracy.

A fog pattern covers a wider area and has a range of up to 25 feet. Bear repellent sprays use a fog pattern because of the coverage. However, there is the risk of hurting yourself and you have fewer shots.

A foam pattern, which sprays like shaving cream, is better for indoor use. You need to have good aim. The range is only about 4 to 6 feet. A gel pattern is similar to the foam pattern, but the range is longer at 10 to 15 feet. There is little chance of hurting yourself with this pattern.

Safety feature — most spray canisters have a flip top or sliding mechanism to prevent someone from accidentally using it. A flip top is more reliable.

Size — Smaller canisters are better for joggers and smaller purses. For something in the home, look for a bigger container.

Ingredients — Check the OC percentage. Many sprays also contain tear gas and UV dye to identify the attacker easily.

Top three recommended pepper sprays

SABRE Red Pepper Spray-Runner: $12.99. This spray comes with a hand strap, more than 35 shots, range of 10 feet, UV dye and a four-year shelf life.

Fox Labs Mean Green H2OC: $19.99. The spray contains high-strength formula, a range of 12 to 15 feet, 16 to 18 shots, flip top safety feature, a large nozzle, and green permanent marker dye that will stain the assailant’s face.

Fox Labs Flip Top Stream: $16.99. This spray has a range of 17 to 20 feet, a large nozzle, 16 to 18 shots, UV dye, flip top safety feature, and high-strength formula.

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