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Good Collective Term for Pepper Spray, Mace, Tear Gas, and Similar Personal Weapons:

For my article on nonlethal weapons, I'd like to come up with a good collective term for such devices. "Defensive sprays" seems to stack the deck in favor of my conclusion that the devices should be allowed, since it assumes that they are defensive -- of course, they can be used offensively. "Personal chemical weapons" sounds too ominous, because of the link to the deadly chemical weapons. "Nonlethal chemical weapons" is possible but sounds too abstract, and again too linked to chemical weapons in the military sense. (I realize that such sprays could be lethal, but punches could be lethal, too; as best I can tell, the sprays are lethal only in a tiny fraction of all uses, comparably to other weapons, such as fists, that aren't treated as deadly force.)

My tentative thinking so far is "irritant sprays," but again that seems a bit abstract. I also thought of using "pepper spray," which is more concrete, more commonly heard, and thus more quickly grasped by readers, and defining it at the outset to include the other kinds of sprays; but I prefer to avoid such literally inaccurate definitions, even if I make the literal meaning clear at the outset. So if you have some suggestions, I'd be much obliged. Thanks!

Mike& (mail):
"Defensive sprays" seems to stack the deck in favor of my conclusion that the devices should be allowed, since it assumes that they are defensive -- of course, they can be used offensively.

But isn't it true, as an empirical matter, that the sprays you mentioned are used defensively? Firearms are used offensively and defensively. Yet it's been my impression that people use pepper sprays and the like for personal defense - whether against animals or people. If that's true as an empirical matter, then what is wrong with "defensive spray"?
4.14.2009 2:31pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
How about "spray weapons" or "personal spray weapons"?
4.14.2009 2:36pm
Donny:
Spray weapons is a good suggestion.
4.14.2009 2:37pm
Dominic Bologna (mail):
Isn't the technical term "Lachrymatory agents."
4.14.2009 2:38pm
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):

Good Collective Term for Pepper Spray, Mace, Tear Gas...


How about "false sense of security?"
4.14.2009 2:39pm
Phelps (mail) (www):
Small Scale Chemical Weapons. SSCW. They are chemical weapons. They aren't designed to kill people, but sometimes do. We shouldn't euphemize that reality away.
4.14.2009 2:41pm
Tim McDonald:
"Skunker" of course!
4.14.2009 2:42pm
alkali (mail):
I mildly prefer "spray irritants" or "sprayable irritants" to "irritant sprays."
4.14.2009 2:46pm
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
I think the more neutral course is to use a term that focuses on how they affect the person they are used against rather than the motivation of the user.

So, "irritant sprays" or something along the lines of "temporarily disabling sprays/agents" makes sense to me.
4.14.2009 2:46pm
cirby (mail):

But isn't it true, as an empirical matter, that the sprays you mentioned are used defensively?


They can be.

But it's very easy to use such "defensive" weapons as a tool to disable a target so you can get close enough to mug them or to beat them up - or kill.
4.14.2009 2:47pm
John Jenkins (mail):
I think "disabling spray" is an accurate description.
4.14.2009 2:48pm
Chaymus (mail):
Since not all of them are sprays, I would probably suggest airborne irritants, but that's just getting more abstract. The delivery method (spray/gas) also indicates if it can be used to target someone or if it's a passive nature of contact.
4.14.2009 2:49pm
George Mocsary (mail):
How about "nonlethal aerosol spray," or "disabling chemical spray," "disabling irritant spray," or some combination thereof?
4.14.2009 2:52pm
Harry Schell (mail):
"Defensive sprays (such as pepper spray or tear gas)"
4.14.2009 2:52pm
CDU (mail) (www):
"Irritant sprays" is the one I've heard used as an overarching term.
4.14.2009 2:53pm
Sk (mail):
I've thought of lots of jokes involving hippies, but I know the Victorians at the site would take outrage.

How about

'non-lethal irritants?'

"Non-lethal weapons" included rubber bullets, and sound waves that make you nauseous, etc. "Irritants" is generally related to gases (even though being hit with a rubber bullet would probably make you irritable, too).

Sk
4.14.2009 2:56pm
Erick:
Assault Spray. Though maybe thats just for the ones with an extra grip or that hold more spray. Or come with a bayonet lug.
4.14.2009 2:57pm
Rr:
"Spray weapon" or "irritant spray weapon" sounds good. Although it does a bit more than irritate for most ... so perhaps "(personal) chemical spray weapon" is better. The latter is also more in line with terms such as 'firearm' and 'impact weapon' which describe the functioning of the weapon, not the effect on the target.

The risk of not using a 'function of the weapon' type description is that one might then want to distinguish between 'personal spray' and 'area spray' (such as the big bear cannisters) and run into firearm vs. assault weapon type arguments. Maybe helpful, maybe not. I guess it all depends on what you intend to convey in naming the weapon/tool.

On the lethality argument - all I would caution for is to not aid Taser-like less-than-lethal situations. While it's indeed not deadly force, the Taser's use (by too many) as a first-line compliance tool is ... wrong on many levels, to put it mildly. Not that spray is in the same league, but just a thought.
4.14.2009 2:58pm
The Unbeliever:
"Nonlethal aerosol spray" sounds close, but it could also mean anything from hairspray to non-stick cooking spray.

How about "nonlethal aerosal deterrant", or just "chemical deterrant" (since you could conceivably use it in a pump mechanism or open-mouth delivery mechanism)? I suppose it wouldn't cover things like tobasco sauce or just finely ground pepper in a paper envelope, but those should probably be classified under improvised weapons anyway.
4.14.2009 2:58pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:
Is tear gas used as a personal spray weapon, such as pepper spray or mace?

To the original question, how about "hand-held spray weapons" or "nonlethal hand-held spray weapons?" Maybe a little too wordy.
4.14.2009 2:59pm
Harvey Mosley (mail):
I also like "false sense of security", but I know that's not what you're after.

How about personal chemical deterrent?
4.14.2009 3:02pm
hattio1:
How about "Pepper-type sprays?" Effectively lets people know basically what you are talking about and also informs people (or at least implies) that they are not all literally Pepper sprays.
4.14.2009 3:03pm
Harvey Mosley (mail):
Oops, The Unbeliever beat me too it.
4.14.2009 3:03pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
If you're including the electrical discharge non-lethals, I think the overarching neutral term (if this is even a good idea) should be "repellent weapons."

I admit that some of these weapons can incapacitate for a long period if the attacker receives the full effect of the weapon, but the main purpose of these weapons isn't to defeat an enemy but to fend them off long enough for the victim to escape.
4.14.2009 3:05pm
Harvey Mosley (mail):
Oops, The Unbeliever beat me too it. I also like

hattio1:
How about "Pepper-type sprays?" Effectively lets people know basically what you are talking about and also informs people (or at least implies) that they are not all literally Pepper sprays.
4.14.2009 3:05pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Pepper spray is also sold as "bear repellent" so it isn't really much of a stretch to see what we should call the anti-criminal variety.
4.14.2009 3:07pm
JohnK (mail):
The term would be "non-lethal personal defensive weapons". That is a bit general since it could include non-chemical weapons but not many since a club or a nightstick can be lethal.
4.14.2009 3:08pm
NowMDJD (mail):
If you use "irritant spray," people will know what you are talking about. Novel terms are a distraction to readers. This term is accurate and isn't distracting.
4.14.2009 3:08pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Googling reveals that "spray weapon" is often used in this context, but is also used to refer to shotguns, full-automatic weapons, and other devices which spray lead. So, less than useful if courtroom-grade precision is desired.

From what I'm seeing so far, the scholarly literature on the subject seems to prefer the term "aerosol weapons".
4.14.2009 3:11pm
Scape:
Non-projectile personal weapon? Although "NPPW" is a less than pretty acronym.
4.14.2009 3:11pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
How about the short form: "Disablers"? It avoids the offensive/defensive problem altogether.
4.14.2009 3:16pm
Sisyphus:
Non-lethal spray weapons.

It differentiates the category from tasers and rubber bullets, while clearly indicating that only weapons are included (no hairspray or non-stick cooking spray).
4.14.2009 3:18pm
Chris 24601 (mail) (www):
Sprirritants. Spreapons. Gotta make up a new word here.
4.14.2009 3:25pm
Larrya (mail) (www):
I teach the Texas concealed handgun class. There I refer to pepper spray (today the overwhelming favorite) and other such personal chemical devices as a "self-defense spray."

It's true irritants can be used offensively, but then so can Tasers, baseball bats, and rocks. The law enforcement clear polymer shield is obviously defensive in nature, but you can certainly lay someone out by swatting them with one, or break an ankle with the bottom edge. Reasonable people understand that almost anything can be misused as an offensive weapon, so I don't think the "self-defense" term is misleading.

The advantages of "self-defense spray" are first, that everyone immediately knows what I'm talking about and second, that it's technically correct.
4.14.2009 3:25pm
Reg Dunlop:
Aerosolized Temporary Whupass (ATW)
4.14.2009 3:36pm
Eric T (www):
This is easy:

Sprays, Chemicals and other Historically Personal and Reputable Irritants To Zap with.

Or SCHPRITZ, for short.


And don't forget me in the footnotes.
4.14.2009 3:37pm
AndrewK (mail):
Aeresolized irritants.
4.14.2009 3:44pm
David E. Young (mail) (www):
How abount "skunks"?
4.14.2009 3:50pm
J.McFaul (mail) (www):
Weapons of mist destruction?
4.14.2009 4:00pm
Andy Trujillo (mail):
Aerosol Deterrents
4.14.2009 4:06pm
George Mocsary (mail):
Mace calls its products "personal defense sprays."
4.14.2009 4:22pm
DennisN (mail):
@My Middle Name Is Ralph:

Is tear gas used as a personal spray weapon, such as pepper spray or mace?


Yes he stuff used to be CN or CS teargas (or a blend), but the pepper sprays were found to be more effective against drunks. I think there may be Teargas Pepper blends available.

@John Jenkins
I think "disabling spray" is an accurate description.


They're not truly disabling sprays, although they are used that way most of the time. They are best used as an adjunct to aggressive activity. The combination appears to be highly effective.

But I read a test report where a subject would be sprayed and then required to perform a task like snatching a purse of snatching a doll from a baby carriage and then running away. The subjects were on the order of 70% successful in accomplishing their task. This is from memory, but it captures the sense of what I read.

Chemical Irritant Sprays (referring to the weapon) or Sprayable Chemical Irritants (referring to the agent) is about as neutral as you can get.
4.14.2009 4:23pm
Hank Bowman, MD (mail) (www):
Pepper spray? Condiment in a can.....

How about noxious sprays?
4.14.2009 4:36pm
pintler:

But I read a test report where a subject would be sprayed and then required to perform a task like snatching a purse of snatching a doll from a baby carriage and then running away. The subjects were on the order of 70% successful in accomplishing their task.


I have been told that at the local police academy, the trainee gets to stand there, no cap or glasses to shield the eyes, and no turning away or blocking with an arm while an instructor liberally hoses your face with pepper spray. Then you get to chase down an instructor, subdue and handcuff him. Then comes the hard part - you have to relock the cuffs, which requires putting the tiny key in the keyhole. In the account I heard, the trainee had to use one hand to hold open an eye so he could see well enough to do that.

The take home message was that pepper spray caused (a lot of) discomfort, but a suitably motivated person can still function after being sprayed; it's not an infallible phaser set on stun. That said, its track record is pretty good, and it is very low on the continuum of force.
4.14.2009 4:39pm
glangston (mail):
Deterrents.

Borrowing from fireworks....Safe 'n Sane.
4.14.2009 4:47pm
fishbane (mail):
"Defensive spray" is literally incorrect as well - simply look to some of the methods of deployment used by police.

(I am not making any argument about anything having to do with what police do, other than to note that some uses of chemical irritants are clearly not strictly defensive in nature.)
4.14.2009 4:48pm
mmcbrayer:
how about "personal repellant sprays", kind of like insect repellents.
4.14.2009 4:57pm
Troll (mail):
Stay away from "nonlethal" because that can be misleading - avoid the universal prefix "non" in general, or any universal statements regarding lethality. "Less lethal" is more desirable and does not mislead.
4.14.2009 4:58pm
DennisN (mail):
@pintler:

The take home message was that pepper spray caused (a lot of) discomfort, but a suitably motivated person can still function after being sprayed; it's not an infallible phaser set on stun. That said, its track record is pretty good, and it is very low on the continuum of force.


It can be very effective. The converse of the study I (almost) cited was one where chemical sprays were found to be on the order of 80% effective when backed up by aggressive action. Spray a guy, wrestle him to the ground, and cuff him, and it works pretty well.

It's a force multiplier.

And as you say, it is very low on the continuum of force. Cops consider it less violent than striking someone.
4.14.2009 5:27pm
KR Training (mail) (www):
I 2nd troll's comment. "Less lethal" is the most accurate term. Fox Labs (one vendor) calls them Aerosol Defense Sprays. DefTec (another vendor) calls them aerosol projectors. The Mace company calls them personal defense sprays.

I suggest "less lethal aerosol sprays" because every time someone incorrectly calls them "nonlethal" it reinforces the (wrong) perception that these weapons cannot have lethal consequences.
4.14.2009 5:36pm
hattio1:
I hereby Withdraw my nomination in favor of Weapons of Mist Destruction (I know, they don't literally destroy anything, but it's a lot more fun than pepper-like sprays.
4.14.2009 5:58pm
Smokey Behr:
http://volokh.com/posts/1239733511.shtml#563308

"nonlethal aerosol deterrent", or just "chemical deterrent"

"Unbeliever" probably has the best politically correct terms for it (spelling corrected). The whole point of this class of items is to be a deterrent against an attacker, and to potentially identify him later as the perpetrator. As "Jim at FSU" explained, the same sort of items are sold as "bear deterrent", although the "Bear Deterrent" is a higher concentration and in a larger dispenser.
4.14.2009 6:26pm
Pierre (mail):
I'd like to suggest the term "useless crap"

Pierre
4.14.2009 7:22pm
Dougger (mail):
I prefer the moniker "Personal Protective Device" or PPD

This would also cover disabling foams, tazers/stun guns, your wicked mother-in-law, etc.....
4.14.2009 7:23pm
Zubon (www):
The Michigan State Police term for those and tasers is "less-lethal weapon/device."
4.14.2009 7:30pm
DR:
I think a term like "noxious spray" (suggested above) or "noxious agent" is most appropriate.
4.14.2009 7:47pm
DR:
I think a term like "noxious spray" (suggested above) or "noxious agent" is most appropriate.
4.14.2009 7:47pm
zippypinhead:
Don't forget, in some places they're known by the legally-operative name "contraband."

But seriously, lots of good possibilities here. "Spray irritants" or "irritant sprays" seem to be clear and in little need of further definition, if one is really set on rejecting the more commonly used phrase "defensive sprays."
4.14.2009 10:08pm
markm (mail):
I don't know about pepper spray, but in training for the Air Force, I've stood in a tent full of tear gas, removed my mask, and held a conversation. If you're sufficiently determined, it's an irritant, not an incapacitating chemical.

So I vote for "irritant spray." It's as accurate as you're going to get - unlike phrases that suggest such weapons are defensive in nature, that they are reliably incapacitating, that they are uniformly non-lethal, ...
4.14.2009 10:13pm
Steve2:
Professor Volokh, as "irritant spray" seems ideal except for being too abstract, what about substituting a more visceral descriptor in place of "irritant"? "Pain spray", for instance?
4.14.2009 11:33pm
guestttttttt:
- spray weapons
- personal spray weapons
- personal chemical weapons
- nonlethal chemical weapons
- nonlethal personal weapons
- nonlethal weapons

"Defensive" probably comes too close to picking sides, but so too does "irritant." Neither is *incorrect,* in a certain way, but they both carry minimizing connotations.

Actually, if you're including tear gas, the "personal" stuff doesn't seem to fit (nor, possibly, does "defensive").

- chemical-based weapons?

I think this last might avoid the problem of suggesting military-type chemical weapons, and if you've avoided stacking the deck in that manner, it's pretty accurate, isn't it?

(That said, I still think you might be best off just saying something like: "Except where specifically indicated, in this article I use 'pepper spray' to refer more broadly to the class of chemical spray weapons which also includes chemical spray weapons such as mace and tear gas.")
4.15.2009 12:51am
MH:
How about "Right Guard"? But, if that would cause trademark problems, I propose "Jersey kiss."
4.15.2009 1:17am
gerbilsbite:
My vote is for aerosolized irritants as well.
4.15.2009 1:18am
Larrya (mail) (www):
Actually, if you're including tear gas, the "personal" stuff doesn't seem to fit (nor, possibly, does "defensive").
The original request concerned personal use, so I presume the term won't be used to refer to the law enforcement versions that shoot canisters, etc.
"Defensive spray" is literally incorrect as well - simply look to some of the methods of deployment used by police.
OTOH using a variant of "self-defense spray" might make offensive use sound less legitimate.
My vote is for aerosolized irritants as well.
I do quite a bit of editing. I'd prefer a term most people can spell.
4.15.2009 2:38am
Mike McDougal:

Weapons of mist destruction?


I agree.
4.15.2009 3:16am
Scote (mail):
"aerosolized irritants" is factually incorrect as many self-defense "sprays" are *streams* for longer range and less blowback than aerosolized liquids.

Chemical irritant spray is, perhaps, the better and more inclusive choice.
4.15.2009 4:50am
David Schwartz (mail):
The term "non-lethal" does not literally mean "cannot have lethal consequences". If it did, then a paper cut would not be "non-lethal" and there would be no way you could use the term. You couldn't even refer to injuries that in fact did not cause death as "non-lethal", since any injury is capable of causing death.

A "non-lethal" weapon is one that is intended to be unlikely to cause death, permanent injury, or great bodily harm if properly used.

Again, nobody *ever* uses the term "non-lethal" to mean "not capable of causing death" except perhaps to, erroneously pedantically claim that "so and so is not non-lethal".
4.15.2009 9:13am
Scote (mail):

Again, nobody *ever* uses the term "non-lethal" to mean "not capable of causing death" except perhaps to, erroneously pedantically claim that "so and so is not non-lethal".


Oh, come on. Non-lethal doesn't just imply "non-lethal" it states it expressly. "Oh, when I say p I mean not p..." The term "less than lethal" suffers the same issue. Reduced lethality? Perhaps, but let's not pretend the term "non-lethal" isn't misleading.
4.15.2009 10:05am
Thales (mail) (www):
Isn't a pepper spray technically a personal biological (as opposed to a chemical) weapon?
4.15.2009 10:37am
Indy (mail):
How about, "Protective Aerosols"?
4.15.2009 11:06am
LarryA (mail) (www):
Isn't a pepper spray technically a personal biological (as opposed to a chemical) weapon?
Oleoresin Capsicum is still a chemical, even though biological in origin. It acts to irritate the eyes.

"Biological" carries the connotation, right or wrong, of germ warfare.
4.15.2009 11:37am
Sagar:
"Stinging sprays" - since they sting the eyes, nasal passages, etc.

of course, sub 'k' for the 'g' above if you want to go with the odor property.
4.15.2009 1:39pm
zippypinhead:
The college-age daughter of a friend told him that her little keychain canister of pepper spray was "drunk frat-boy spray," apparently on the theory that if a bigger can is properly labeled "bear spray," her device should also be named by reference to the identity of the intended target...
4.15.2009 2:32pm
guess'd (mail):
"Defensive spray" seems fine.

It was conceived and developed for defensive use, it is marketed and sold for that use, it is purchased and carried for that use. It can be used for unintended purposes, such as offense, but so can a vase of flowers. Irrelevant.

"Fix-a-Flat", "steak seasoning", "fire extinguisher", "bottle opener", - all use this type of nomenclature. A fire extinguisher is not guaranteed to put out a fire, and can be used to crush a skull, but so what?

I think defensive spray is a fair descriptive for this kind of product, and in keeping with labeling norms we use for everything else.

Several of the others mentioned would be ok too, but we need not be so defensive about the very idea of self protection.

(SCHPRITZ would make a good brand name, but by appending the words "Egregious Rapists" we would have SCHPRITZER, an excellent generic term. I'll have to make sure Eric splits the licensing revenues with me. Is there a lawyer in the house?)
4.15.2009 5:45pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Scote: Then "non-lethal" can only mean "did not in fact cause death". It can be used this way, but nobody is arguing it can only be used this way. So nobody is arguing that "non-lethal" only means what it literally suggests, "did not in fact cause death".

So you are defending a position nobody is taking. Are you? Do you maintain "non-lethal" can only mean "cannot possibly cause death or did not in fact cause death"?
4.15.2009 11:01pm
Carl the EconGuy (mail):
No-kill-ums.
4.16.2009 8:52am

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