Lt. John Pike's casual dousing of students at a sit-in on U.C. Davis campus in pepper spray was met by the public with both horror and hilarity (of the gallows humor sort). While many decried the incident, it also sparked mockery, most notably via a highly-frequented Tumblr page. A Twitter handle has cropped up too, unsurprisingly. And the real John Pike has even been targeted by the hacking group Anonymous, which created a video about the him containing personal information.
The U.C. Davis incident and its fallout have puts an odd product in the center of discussions about nonviolent resistance. In an ironic twist, the man credited with inventing pepper spray, Kamran Loghman, told The New York Times: "I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agents."
With the ACLU speaking out against the incident and victims at U.C. Davis threatening lawsuits, it remains to be seen whether the market for pepper spray will now become more tightly regulated -- though, of course, the incidents of late involve law-enforcement officials rather than general-market consumers.
It's a complicated product both because of the array of names it's marketed under, and because of its broad consumer base. Pepper spray is used by military and security forces and by law enforcement agencies, but it's also widely available for private citizens to purchase (as low as $4) from your local Walmart or Amazon.
The formulas, which are either chemical-based or water-based, have varying intensities depending upon the concentration of Oleoresin Capsicum (the oily extract of pepper plants that is the active ingredient in sprays). Strength is measured in Scoville Heat Units -- the same scale that 's used to measure the spicyness of peppers used in cooking -- and the shelf life of pepper spray is around five years. Different types of nozzles emit either a "fog spray" or a "stream spray."
The canisters come in a range of shapes and sizes, from tiny tubes that fit on a keyring to ones that resemble a gun and require a holster. Many have disguises, making them look like everything from a pager to a pen to a heart-shaped bottle of perfume.
It's popular to market pepper spray to women, via "hot pink" containers or "for your purse" models. Perhaps the strangest type of pepper-spray product -- and arguably the riskiest for the user -- is one called "The Stunning Ring." Over at the Pepper Spray Superstore, it is marketed as a piece of jewelry that "can always be worn" and one that "makes the perfect gift for someone you love."
The following are a list of brands under which pepper spray is sold. Law enforcement, as in the case of Lt. Pike, tend to more regularly use the latter four products on the list.
- Mace-brand Pepper Spray: This is probably the brand name with the most awareness. It comes in a range of strengths, and the company also sells sprays that are meant to be used on bears and dogs.
- Police Magnum: It bears a logo in the shape of a police badge. These products also come with a UV dye that can help law enforcement catch a perpetrator later.
- Streetwise Pepper Spray: Calls its keychain model a bestseller because "your personal security is most vulnerable to attack when getting in or out of the car."
- Pepper Shot: It markets its spray as having a "very fine grain" in contrast to the "coarser grains of most other pepper sprays." It has one of the smallest models around, which looks like a tube of lipstick.
- Bodyguard OC: Offers a family unit with glow in the dark packaging that makes it easier to find at night.
- ASP Defender: Sold in multicolor baton canisters or keyrings, the packaging tends to display a bald eagle in the background (American values, we guess?).
- Wildfire Pepper Spray: This brand is considered among the most powerful, with an 18% concentration of capsaicin (the stuff that actually burns).
- Fox Labs Pepper Spray: It of late has been marketing its "Mean Green" product which sprays clear but has a "visible green ID dye that can take days to remove from the skin. Fox Lab's also was the first to sell wipes to help clean up exposure to pepper spray.
- Sabre Pepper Spray: Among other products, it sells "The Jogger" aimed at those folks who enjoy long jogs in the city or wooded rural areas. The model has an adjustable hand strap band for "easy carrying in the palm."
- Defense Technology: Specifically makes pepper sprays in sizes meant for crowd control, not just for personal protection. (Recent Amazon reviewers are claiming this is the brand that Lt. Pike used.)