I live in the District of Columbia, or as I like to call it, the District of Chaos. Among my vocations, I teach people how to use firearms for self-defense and recreation. Until recently, effectively teaching anyone to use a firearm in the District was impossible because even allowing them to touch a gun not registered to them was a crime – possession of an unregistered firearm. Last year the DC Council, thanks to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, came to its senses, and relaxed the law so that a person may now handle a gun in the course of firearms training without fear of arrest.
Citizen ownership of functional firearms has been legal in DC for five years now as a result of the Heller decision. In conversations with my fellow DC residents, it amazes me how few know that they can now legally obtain a firearm for personal protection. Those that do, by and large, however, believe that the process is so onerous that it is not worth their time.
They have a point.
But it is not just obtaining firearms that DC makes difficult. DC outlaws such non-lethal self-defense tools as Tasers® and stun guns. DC also is one of the few jurisdictions in the nation that requires citizens to register self-defense sprays.
I am a big believer in pepper spray and Mace®. The difference between the two is that Mace contains both pepper spray and tear gas as well as an ultra-violet marker so the police can identify an attacker. I own a bunch of pepper spray and Mace. They are in my emergency packs, in my car, and scattered around the house.
Because DC does not allow me (or any civilian) to carry a firearm – now the only jurisdiction in the nation that completely prohibits concealed carry – I don’t leave home without a can of self-defense spray in my pocket.
Because a recent inventory of my self-defense and prepper gear showed my self- defense sprays to be out of date, I ordered several new containers of Mace. When the first one arrived, I decided to go ahead and comply with DC’s ridiculous requirement to register it. I should have known it would not be easy.
I first called up the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) web site to see if I could register it online. I did not think that likely, however. Calling up the MPD home page, I did not see a link for registering self-defense sprays. I tried the search function. Nothing for “pepper spray;” nothing for “self-defense spray.”
But there was a link to firearms registration, so I tried that. Still not a word on self-defense sprays.
However, I remember once reading it could be done at the local precinct. So, I headed down to my local 3rd District MPD station with my still plastic wrapped Mace. “Hi” I said, “I’d like to register some self-defense spray.” “You can’t do that here,” was my answer. “Really, I thought you could do it at any police station.” “Did you read that somewhere?” “I’m pretty sure I did.” “Well we don’t have the forms here.” “Can you find out where the forms are?” The officer makes a phone call. “You have to do that downtown in Room 2169.” “You mean the gun control office.” “Yeah.”
I’ve registered several guns and am thoroughly familiar with the bureaucracy of the DC firearms registration section, so just to make sure, I called. Yes, that is where to register self-defense sprays; bring the spray and a photo ID and be there before 4:30, because they close at 5 pm. (They also do not open before 9 am, so anyone going to register a defense spray has to take time off from work to go to the only place in the city where they can register pepper spray.
So at 4:15 p.m., I arrive at 300 Indiana Ave., put my keys, flash light and still plastic wrapped pepper spray in the tray to go through the X-ray machine, walk through the metal detector without a beep, pick up my gear and walk into the gun control office. “Hi, I’d like to register some self-defense spray.” “You have it with you?” “Yes, here it is.”
The officer hands me a little red two-part form that asks: My name, address, phone number, date of birth, date of purchase, type of ID I showed, from where I purchased the spray, and its active ingredients. What is not asked is make or model of the spray, expiration date, or serial number.
On the back, it quotes from the “Legalization of Self-Defense Sprays Amendment Act of 1992” to the effect that any person 18 or older may possess and use a self-defense spray in reasonable defense of person or property but only if it is propelled from an aerosol container and labeled or accompanied with clearly written instructions for use and dated to indicate its useful life. Another provision of the Act states that the spray must be registered on a standard form at the time of purchase.
I informed the officer that I notice that no serial number is required and that I have three more canisters on order and ask if I need to register each of those as well. He asks, “Why do you need so many?”
Apparently, DC police do not understand the concept of redundancy, so I reply, “One for the car, one to carry, one for the house, and one extra. Have you ever heard the saying, ‘one is none, two is one, and three might get you by?’” No, he’s never heard it. “Well, to be safe,” he says “you probably should register each of them.”
Now, I’m defense spray legal. But I cannot think of any possible reason to require anyone to jump through these hoops to carry a non-lethal self-protection tool. In the vast majority of states there is no regulation whatsoever for self-defense sprays. There does not appear a plethora of reports in the news of people misusing these sprays. What the DC regulatory scheme accomplishes is not readily apparent.
Discharge of a self-defense spray cannot be traced. DC does not even know for example, that my registered spray is Mace. What the law does do, like so many other useless weapons laws, is inconvenience the law abiding and criminalize conduct that is not inherently dangerous or antisocial – carry unregistered defense spray.
It is a trap for the unwary and a waste of public and private resources. The DC Council should repeal the requirement to register defense sprays. DC has a lot more important things to address than worrying about who is carrying pepper spray.