Should pepper spray be legalised in Australia?

Bridie O’Shea looks into the reality of legalising pepper spray in Australia and the implications it would have on our society.

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Everybody deserves to feel safe; whether you’re out for an early morning run, or walking from a bus stop late at night. And by living in Australia, you’d think we’d have that liberty, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

With the increase in fatalities over the past few months from the stabbing murders of Prabha Arun Kumar in Parramatta Park in western Sydney, to 17-year-old Melbourne schoolgirl Masa Vukotic, and the recent murder of Leeton school teacher Stephanie Scott. The issue of personal safety has been thrust into the media spotlight with the public questioning what needs to be done to prevent further attacks on innocent people in our society.

This raises the debate over pepper spray in Australia. According to Sydney Criminal Lawyers, it is illegal to carry or possess pepper spray and mace in all states and territories, excluding Western Australia, where they say, “pepper spray and mace are defined as controlled weapons, meaning that ownership of them is legal, but is restricted”.

That being said, a pregnant woman was fined over having pepper spray in her possession for protection, according to online news site Perth Now. The article tells of former Perth resident Samantha Andrew who carried pepper spray on her 4am walk to work. She told The Sunday Times that a friend bought her the spray after a run-in with a “creepy” man on the Causeway Bridge. She also told the Times, “I would rather be charged with carrying pepper spray than end up dead in a ditch”.

Is that what our society is coming too? That people are willing to be prosecuted for carrying a ‘weapon’ where the maximum penalty for the offence is two years imprisonment in order to feel safe. Where is the justice in that?

Commander of Newcastle City NSW Police force, John Gralton, believes that pepper spray isn’t the answer to stopping violent crimes against others.

“Pepper spray is a volatile substance and an extremely painful and debilitating substance when sprayed into any orifice of the human body.  If it falls into the wrong hands, it could be used to commit criminal offences against others, i.e. armed robbery, sexual assault or assault,” said Commander Gralton.

In relation to the recent murders of Kumar, Vukotic and Scott, Commander Gralton explains that he doesn’t know the full circumstances surrounding their deaths, but he isn’t convinced that having access to pepper spray would have made any difference. It would depend on the veracity and speed of the attacks.

“Perhaps if they had it in hand and perceived the violence before it occurred, then things might have been different. However, can you imagine how many times spray would be used inappropriately by people ill-perceiving risks when perhaps people were approached by innocent others just seeking directions or the time?” he said.

Whilst the majority of us are law-abiding citizens and can see the reasons for passing legislation to legalise pepper spray, (like the USA who have legalised it with varying restrictions on size, strength and purchasing age), Commander Gralton believes there would be many that also see the danger of it being used inappropriately by ill-perceived individuals or by criminals in support of their criminal exploits.

Commander Gralton admits that he doesn’t have all the answers, however, he also doesn’t see the legalisation of pepper spray across Australia as a whole.

“Personally, I think when weighing up the pros and cons, it has less benefits to the community by legalising it than keeping it as a prohibited article,” he said.

So if pepper spray is unlikely to be available in the future, what can we do to feel safe?  Precautionary measures seem to be the best option and Commander Gralton offers some tips below:

  1. Don’t walk alone in sparsely populated areas.
  2. Be acutely aware of your surroundings.
  3. Walk with friends.
  4. Take a taxi.

 

*The responses in this article are Commander John Gralton’s personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSW Police Force.

Image: Viktor Hertz, Flickr, no changes made.

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