Is pepper spray legal in Australia?

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Pepper spray is an item commonly recommended for self-defence as it has the ability to immediately incapacitate an attacker. Often promoted on online forums and regularly shown in movies and shows, it is generally accepted as a staple in many personal protection toolkits.

That doesn't mean, however, that it is a safe, or legal item to carry. The problem with any weapon carried for self-defence is that it can easily be turned against you, but some items bring larger risks than others.

In this article we'll be exploring the legality of carrying pepper spray in Australia, as well as alternative self-defence strategies.

What are the laws around pepper spray in Australia?

Carrying, or even owning, pepper spray - whether for self-defence or not - is illegal in the majority of Australia.

The exception to this is Western Australia, however it isn't a free-for-all type situation. Those carrying pepper spray must prove that they have "reasonable grounds" to do so, and although self-defence can fall into this category in some situations, you're not covered in all circumstances. 

You may also be able to carry pepper spray in New South Wales if you have an appropriate permit, but these are difficult to get and conditions are strict. 

Because the line is blurry in NSW and Western Australia, and pepper spray is entirely banned in all other areas of the country, we suggest avoiding this particular item altogether. 

What about mace?

Because mace is commonly referred to in contexts where you would expect pepper spray to be used, many people believe that it is a different product.

However, this is not the case. Mace is a specific brand of pepper spray, but is still the same product and therefore subject to the same restrictions.

Other names for pepper spray also include capsicum spray and OC spray, but no matter what you call it, it's still a prohibited item. 

What happens if you get caught with pepper spray in Australia?

Being caught carrying pepper spray is quite a big deal in most states of Australia. Regardless of the type of weapon that the state considers pepper spray to be, it will still be viewed as an illegal item and you will face consequences accordingly.

For example, even though it is possible to get a permit to carry pepper spray in New South Wales, you can still end up in jail for possessing it. With a maximum sentence of 14 years, and general minimum of five, it really isn't worth the risk. 

How can I protect myself in Australia?

Just because pepper spray is illegal, that doesn't mean that you have to be completely unprotected. We recommend taking the below measures to help ensure your personal safety:

Avoiding unsafe areas

Some areas are quite obviously unsafe, while others are more subtle with their potential to be dangerous.

For example, you probably wouldn't voluntarily enter a dark alleyway, but an area that has only one way in or out may not immediately seem as menacing. Always check your surroundings and ensure that wherever possible, you're remaining in brightly lit areas with plenty of ways to escape. 

Don't ignore the feeling of being followed

If you think you're being followed, it's important not to ignore that feeling. If you're wrong, you'll just feel silly for having been so worried. If you're right, however, and choose to ignore your intuition, you could end up in a rather sticky situation quite quickly. 

Making use of personal protective apps

Another way to help ensure your safety is to make use of a personal protective application. These apps are designed to send an alert to either the authorities or a trusted contact when activated.

They also commonly provide the ability to share your location and can be incredibly helpful if your attacker moves you to a second location. We have a list that outlines some of the best personal protection apps, but it's always a good idea to try a few and find out which one works best for your needs.

Knowing basic self-defence

Knowing at least basic self-defence can quite literally save your life. If an attacker grabs you from behind, or is significantly larger or stronger than you are, you're probably not going to know how to fight back unless you've been taught how to. For this reason, we believe that everyone should take at least a basic self-defence course.

Keeping a personal alarm with you

A personal alarm is also highly recommended when out alone. Designed to emit a deliberately obnoxious sound, these alarms serve both to startle attackers and alert others in the vicinity that something isn't right.

Carrying a bright torch

For both general safety, and personal protection, we recommend carrying a bright torch with you. Not only will this be highly useful if you're in an area that isn't particularly well lit, but it can also get you out of a sticky situation.

Shining your torch in an attacker's eyes can temporarily blind them, allowing you to make a quick getaway. Torches are also useful for checking your car before you hop in if it's parked in an area where you can't easily see inside. 

Using a lanyard

Finally, lanyards can also be quite useful. Not only do they help prevent the loss of your keys, but they can also serve as a deterrent to those who don't have the best intentions.

If you feel that you are in an unsafe situation, we suggest taking your lanyard off and softly swinging it around. This action is casual enough that it shouldn't seem threatening to those who don't mean harm, but obvious enough that it will make would-be attackers think twice.

Final word

Although ensuring your personal safety always deserves a spot at the top of your priority list, you do need to be careful about the methods you choose to do so.

Pepper spray, no matter how useful it may sound, is not a good choice for a multitude of reasons and should be avoided. Instead, we suggest following the self-defence tips outlined in this piece.

Jessica Jones
Written by
Jessica Jones
Jess has been writing educational content for almost ten years with a focus on lifestyle content. She loves coffee, dogs and all things fitness, and can often be found with her nose buried in a book and her music blaring through her earphones.

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