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Pepper spray is not a foolproof form of protection, police say

Like any weapon, pepper spray has supporters and opponents.

Local law enforcement officers keep personal self-defense spray in their arsenal, but officials say its users should know its benefits and stings of reality.

Pepper spray’s most active ingredient, capsaicin , is a derivative of chilis , which subdues a person with temporary inflammatory effects. Mace , a brand name, is a chemical cocktail as opposed to other natural-made counterparts and is more dense than aerosol self-defense spray, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Jose Hernandez said .

"Although it’s great for self-defense, it’s not guaranteed to work on everyone," he said. "Some people naturally have a higher tolerance than others. Therefore, you should have an idea of what the spray’s capabilities are."

Assailants could "fight through" the spray’s effects : sinus discharge, burning of the eyes and throat and difficulty breathing, North Las Vegas Police Department spokeswoman Chrissie Coon said.

"Some people may say it’s effective, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they (criminals) are going to stop fighting," she said. "If there is a way they (victims) can stun their assailant and run away and get to a public area and call police, that’s probably the best-case scenario."

Henderson Police Department spokesman Keith Paul said people shouldn’t feel indestructible because they have pepper spray in their purse or on their key chain.

"You can’t specifically rely on anything to make you feel invincible," he said. "It can be taken from you and used against you. If (residents) are going to use something like pepper spray, we’d encourage you to buy and take additional classes in self-defense."

Hernandez suggested researching pepper sprays before purchase via a tactical store or the manufacturer. People older than 18 and without a felony conviction are permitted to purchase pepper spray, including online. The seller must record and maintain proof of the buyer’s name and address and the brand name, model number or type and serial number for two years, as per Nevada law.

Nevada law also states that the spray’s cartridge can contain only 2 or fewer fluid ounces of the agent and it must be an aerosol spray, Coon said.

Other states vary on their pepper-spray laws.

Massachusetts law dictates that defense sprays must be purchased from licensed firearms dealers, and the owner must have a valid license to carry firearms . Michigan restricts pepper-spray grades to less than 10 percent of capsaicin . New Yorkers are required to purchase the spray in person. Californians are permitted to carry spray totaling no more than 2.5 ounces , and New Jersey residents no more than three-quarters of an ounce .

In the past, some states have required pepper-spray purchasers to test the agent’s effect on themselves after sale .

Coon advised Southern Nevadans to take precautions and know how they would react if the spray blew in their face.

"They don’t want to spray pepper spray and incapacitate themselves," she said. "If they are not skilled on how to use pepper spray and spray downwind, they’ll get themselves. It’s like spraying hair spray into the wind."

The effects of pepper spray can last about two hours, Coon said.

Coon also suggested keeping the spray away from children and pets and being mindful of accidental discharge. She also suggested having the spray in hand if a situation seems suspicious.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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