From the high-profile case in which police pepper-sprayed sitting protesters at UC Davis, to a Walmart shopper whom allegedly fired the tear-inducing chemical at other customers during a Black Friday sale, pepper spray has been making its rounds in the news recently.
The spray, which is made from capsaicins, the same compound that makes habanero chilis so potent, is intended to produce temporary burning and pain to any part of the body it touches, including membranes, airways, the stomach lining and the eyes.
It has also been known to cause nausea and temporary blindness.
Pepper spray, despite its potential strength, is legal to carry and use without having any special state or federal permits, according to the state’s penal code.
With the exception of minors, felons, criminals convicted of assault and drug addicts, pepper spray, which is regulated as a form of tear gas in California, can be purchased or used solely for self-defense purposes, according to the code.
Police, who were working on an investigation Monday to present to the district attorney, said they were not ruling out the possibility of self-defense in Thursday’s incident at a Porter Ranch Walmart.
Self-defense could be difficult to prove, according to witnesses, who said a woman pulled out pepper spray and began spraying at other shoppers as she made her way to an Xbox 360 game console.
“I just heard something and the next thing I knew, I couldn’t see, I was coughing,” said one woman, who was inside the store. “It was just chaotic.”
Illegal use of pepper spray products can bring fines of $1000 and three years in prison, according to state law.