Pepper spray in Europe: what the law says
Unlike firearms, pepper spray is not regulated by a minimum common standard through an EU directive. This leaves Member States completely free to regulate their trade, ownership, carry and use at will.
The legal situation is thus wildly different all around Europe, ranging from the complete prohibition (such as in the United Kingdom, where its ownership, carry and use by common citizens is banned under Section 5(1)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968) to the more lenient laws of Italy − where certain formulas can be purchased, carried and operated license-free by anyone above the age of 16 − and to the unclear situation of France, where trade is license-free and ownership is legal but carry can be punished with a fine depending from the quantity and concentration. In a vast number of European Countries, pepper spray is completely forbidden to civilians and issued as a non-lethal service weapon to law enforcement.
In the following table, we provide a quick heads-up of the legal status of OC-based pepper sprays in twelve European Countries. If you have further information − particularly concerning the legal status of OC in Countries that aren't mentioned − please let us know.
Legal situation in various EU countries:
|France||Category 6 weapon||
Germany ||Weapon / Defense against animals||
Permitted 14 years |
|Not a weapon (depending from the formula)||
with license |
with license |
a weapon ||
Permitted with license
1. When and for what purposes may pepper spray be used?
Pepper spray is usually sold as a defense spray against animals. If it is meant for use against humans in self-defense, it is only to be sold to and carried by persons aged 14 and above. However, the use of sprays meant for use against animals on humans generally constitutes criminal assault in the EU, and can only be justified in cases which fulfill the criteria of factual self-defense.
2. Does pepper spray cause blindness?
The retina of the eye can be burned by the active ingredient in pepper spray. This can also happen even if only small amounts enter the eye. Important: Burns of the eye are an acute emergency that require persons present at the incident site to act immediately. The eye must be rinsed immediately. Burns of the eye may lead to serious injuries, blindness, or even loss of the eye.
3. What is the maximum effective range of pepper sprays?
The range of sprays from different manufacturers varies greatly, and is highly dependent on wind and weather conditions as well as the spray technology used. Hence, the following rule of thumb applies: Better safe than sorry — there is always the risk of injuring yourself when using such sprays. That is why you should always practice using such sprays.
Generally, pepper sprays are divided into two main categories: Firstly, there are sprays with a ballistic stream, which is particularly effective when the user lands a direct hit. Secondly, there are mist-type versions, which distribute the active ingredient much like hairsprays do. In the latter case, it is not as important for the user to have accurate aim.
Both variants may have advantages and disadvantages. There are products like those from Fox which effortlessly achieve a range of 4 meters. Cheap products often only have a range of less than 2 meters. However, in self-defense situations where the attacker is less than 2 meters away, all sprays achieve a good result.
4. Is pepper spray permitted on board aircraft?
Definitely not. Pepper sprays are forbidden in aircraft, as they may explode due to the pressure differences in the cabin. Furthermore, pepper sprays are categorized as weapons or even as forbidden weapons in certain countries — and there is no reason to have them on board an aircraft.
5. What is the most effective use of pepper spray?
The best defensive spray is always what you actually have within reach. Hence, sprays with a belt clip are highly recommended. You remove the safety and shoot. Do not point the spray nozzle at yourself, and do not spray into the wind. Accurate aim is generally advantageous, and users should definitely practice using the spray beforehand. There are also courses teaching you how to use sprays correctly. Many manufacturers also offer practice sprays without active ingredients.
6. What should I do if I have come into contact with pepper spray?
Rinse all parts of the body which had contact with pepper spray for at least 10 to 15 minutes using cold water. If the symptoms do not abate after 45 minutes, you should definitely consult a doctor.