Should Teen Girls Be Allowed to Carry Pepper Spray?


R. Butler

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Check every teen girl’s keychain you know, and you’ll probably find a bottle of pepper spray attached. It’s a common self-defense item for young women to carry around, for fear of the many instances of kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder that plague our society. It’s often just a precautionary measure to help women feel safe when they’re going somewhere alone, but there are instances where it has saved lives and prevented dangerous situations. Though, there is somewhat of a debate over whether minors should have access to items such as pepper spray, because when placed in the wrong hands these items can become hazardous. Many counter this by saying that if women are at the constant mercy of men’s criminal behavior, they should at least be allowed to carry something to deter it. Taking a look at our state laws, crime rates, and examining moral stipulations, I’d conclude that teen girls should be allowed to carry pepper spray, as well as other items such as mace, tasers, etc.

In North Carolina, it’s illegal for people under the age of 18 to carry pepper spray and mace. Sidenote, I feel it’s necessary to make the distinction between pepper spray and mace, terms often used interchangeably. Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent made of oleoresin capsicum that can immediately incapacitate an assailant, while mace is an irritant made of phenacyl chloride and is similar to tear gas. Pepper spray can cause “inflammation of the capillaries of the eyes and skin causing temporary blindness, nausea, breathing difficulties, and an intense burning sensation,” while mace merely irritates the orifices of the recipient. Though, here in NC, you must be a legal adult to possess either. “Actually? That’s absolutely absurd because of all the incidents that happen with teenage girls,” says Diti Tanotra, a senior here at Green Level after I informed her of the laws. “So much scary stuff happens to girls, even with just the people I know. Can NC get it together?”

While this is the law in NC, I’m dubious of it being enforced to a great extent. Even though minors are unable to purchase it, parents often purchase pepper spray and mace for their children to carry. It’s unlikely for teens to be stopped for carrying it by law enforcement, especially if they are discreet, but the fact that it’s technically legal for this to happen is disquieting. Though, as long as these self-defense items aren’t abused, there shouldn’t be any legal trouble. Ethan Curran, a Green Level senior sees the point of these laws: “I think the reason why it’s not allowed for people under 18 is because many people might wanna abuse it, both men and women. When you’re under 18 your mind is still developing, so I think that’s the reason. I know that males’ brains don’t develop until like 25-26 so I think that law exists so there is no misusage of the protection.”

Many view pepper spray as more of a deterrent and something that reassures one of their safety, and are unaware of how much that kind of precaution can actually come in handy in real dangerous situations. As we are all well aware, human trafficking is a major issue in North Carolina. The I-85 highway is a huge corridor for trafficking between Charlotte and Greensboro. We constantly hear horror stories of new methods of kidnapping by these traffickers; men hiding under women’s cars and slashing their Achilles’ as they try to get in, blocking in a woman’s parked car on all four sides with other vehicles, sticking tracking devices to women’s bumpers, and the list goes on as new tricks are encountered by unfortunate women every day. Young women are especially at risk of being trafficked, hence the importance of them having a mode of self-defense. Especially in the state we live in, going out in public is running the risk of being human trafficked, so carrying mace as a teen girl is a no-brainer. Ellie Naemura, a junior here at Green Level, thinks that a common misbelief about these self-defense items should be dispelled: “There’s definitely an importance for these things because there is a present danger for women in public. Women often feel anxious going outside, so pepper spray is more of a safety precaution, not violence. The misconception is that women are violent with it, when really it’s only being used when they’re under attack.”

Additionally, many women and girls work jobs or go places that require them to be alone at night, the criminal’s favorite time to strike. If crime rates (concerning sexual assault, murder, kidnapping) are not low enough to the point where a teen girl can feel safe existing alone, I see no issue with her defying a loosely applied law and carrying pepper spray or mace for her own safety, and even just for her peace of mind. If law enforcement and lawmakers are not doing enough to lessen the instances of these crimes, teenage girls should be able to take matters into their own hands and not be left to become another statistic.

There comes some more contention when the question of other, more intense methods of self-defense are brought into consideration. Some believe that we should go beyond mace and pepper spray, and that teen girls should carry tasers and even small knives to keep themselves safe. While I understand how these could be abused and cause some unintended injury, I believe that if a girl lives in a particularly dangerous area, pepper spray or mace could be a mere bandaid over a bullethole and more severe methods may be warranted.

Tasers and knives are illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to possess in North Carolina, as is consistent throughout most other states. Though, like with pepper spray and mace, many believe teen girls should be allowed to carry these as well. The effectiveness of spray self-defense items is debated, as they don’t necessarily immobilize your hypothetical attacker, and due to this some feel tasers/stun guns are necessary. Some even go as far as to recommend pocketknives, though many are apprehensive of this idea due to how serious of injuries they could inflict. Apparently, it is unlawful in NC for “anyone under 18 years old to purchase or possess any type of pocketknife unless they have written consent from their parent or guardian.” Though, I (a 17-year-old) was able to purchase a pocketknife myself from a tourist shop in South Carolina, where the law differs a bit: “There aren’t any specific restrictions on possessing knives as a minor as long as you don’t carry bowies or dirks. Every other type of knife is legal to carry, and you can even carry a knife in a school if it’s under 2 inches in length.” Ellie Naemura weighs in, saying “Knives is an interesting one, because I do believe in self-defense, but they are obviously very dangerous and harder to regulate. Carrying a massive knife, especially as a teen is a no, but carrying around a pocketknife is fine. Pepper spray and mace are dangerous too but mostly used for self-defense rather than violence. With knives, people get stabbed all the time.”

Diti Tanotra isn’t so sure about these other self-defense items: “I think that tasers and knives could be okay in moderation, but a lot could go wrong. If you want to buy a knife I guess go fir it, but its not really practical. Mace is something you can protect yourself with that doesn’t do permanent harm, but tasers and knives are kind of unpredictable.” 

When asked if pepper spray and more dangerous items like tasers and knives should be allowed for teens’ self-defense, Ethan Curran felt the need to bring firearms into question: “Honestly, I think men and women have the right to carry something for self-defense. Personally, I do believe in the 2nd amendment, so as long as you get a clear background check, I think you should be able to handle even a firearm, but do it responsibly. I think when someone tries to murder you you can use a firearm, but if it’s something else then you use something like pepper spray or a taser.” Given the state of our country right now, I don’t think it’s a great idea to be handing out guns to teenagers, so I’d have to disagree with him on this in terms of minors. Although, less harmful methods like pepper spray and tasers should be available.

Another common and harmless method of self-defense is the use of alarms. I myself have the Birdie Personal Safety Alarm, which goes on my keychain. When pulled, it makes a shockingly loud blaring noise, which I am familiar with due to having pulled it by mistake a few times. It’s meant to be pulled if you are in danger, such as if someone is attacking you, and it’s supposed to draw attention to you and alert those nearby that something is wrong. The problem with solely relying on this method is that you are relying on the presence of others, and the goodwill of strangers. People are more likely to come and help if you yell ‘fire’, so hoping this alarm will be your savior is unrealistic. Though, it does have a good chance of scaring off an attacker, due to their possible fear of being caught. In a utopia, alarms would be a great alternative to anything from pepper spray to a firearm, but that’s just not the world we live in where we can rely on the kindness of those we don’t know. I think teen girls should definitely carry an alarm, but do so along with pepper spray or something similar.

All in all, I think it’s unreasonable to make pepper spray and mace illegal for people under the age of 18. I think that NC and other states with similar laws should lower the minimum age to at least 13, and also put in place legislation that regulates these items and ensures they are not abused. When it comes to the question of tasers and pocketknives, I believe in the ‘to each their own’ philosophy. I don’t foresee every state making these legal for minors to buy and possess, but I think that parents should use their own discretion and give them to their teens if they feel there is a need, and that their child is responsible enough to handle them. Leaving teen girls defenseless in a world full of dangerous people is unwise, so we should utilize the items available (and not so available) to us to keep ourselves safe.