Pepper spray is a weapon made from capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers hot. If you've ever rubbed your eyes after chopping a jalapeno, you know just how painful capsaicin can be upon direct skin contact. The legality of pepper spray ownership by private citizens varies from country to country.
Pepper spray is a liquid form of highly concentrated capsaicin used to incapacitate a person. The Scoville heat unit, the scientific scale used to measure the spiciness of foods, give the jalapeno pepper 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units, while pure capsaicin used for pepper spray rates at 15,000,000 Scoville units. Pepper spray is considered a non-lethal weapon since it can incapacitate a person without threatening his health or life.
Pepper spray was banned in the United Kingdom as part of the Firearms Act of 1968, which bans the possession by any private citizen of "any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing," unless that citizen is given a government-provided certificate that exempts them legally from the act. The same law also prohibits most other firearms and weapons, and also bans the importation of pepper spray into the UK.
The only exception under the law is if the government provides a certificate that gives a citizen the right to own the pepper spray with impunity. A quick Internet search of "pepper spray in the UK" brings up many websites that promise that their products are "legal to purchase" and "UK legal" but as it stands, the law provides no exemptions for any types of pepper spray.
Like any other piece of legislation, the question as to why the Firearms Act of 1968 was implemented and why it included pepper spray is a complex one. According to the British Parliament, "[t]he underlying purpose of firearms legislation has generally been to control the supply and possession of all rifles, guns and pistols which could be used for criminal or subversive purposes, while recognising that individuals may own and use firearms for legitimate purposes." But the law's definition of "firearm" also includes imitation firearms, missile launchers and pepper spray, items that wouldn't traditionally be thought of as firearms.
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