It’s insane that NYers can use, but not buy pepper spray for self-defense

It’s insane that NYers can use, but not buy pepper spray for self-defense

New York has a truly asinine law on the books: It’s illegal to ship pepper spray here. But it’s not illegal to own it or use it in certain cases of self-defense.

I’m calling on lawmakers, as well as Mayor Adams and Gov. Hochul: It’s time to give constituents easy access to basic self-defense.

I know it first hand as a young woman living in Manhattan. Last May, I wrote about an encounter with a menacing man who chased and threatened me. I managed to scare him off by brandishing my sparkly pepper-spray keychain — which I had to purchase in New Jersey.

It hasn’t even been a year since that incident, and I’ve been targeted once again.

During a 6 p.m. walk in Greenwich Village this weekend, I found myself staring down a menacing man who started shouting at me. I tried to cross the street, but he blocked my path and proceeded to chase me into moving traffic.

My fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, and I made a run for it. He managed to slap me in the rear as I ran past.

I didn’t have to use the pepper spray I had in my hand. But had the situation gone sideways, it would have been my only hope to fight back against a much larger attacker.

Rikki Schlott
Schlott said it’s illogical that you can mail-order a machete to New York, but not pepper spray.
Stephen Yang

I’m thankful that, in both scary encounters, I had my pepper spray on me. I wish every vulnerable New Yorker could carry a canister.

In 2023, New Yorkers can get just about anything delivered to their doors via Amazon — including axes and some seriously sharp Japanese knives. Even machetes can be ordered with next-day delivery.

But in our state, you can’t buy pepper spray online and have it shipped here. And finding it in person is exceptionally difficult; thanks to restrictions, only a handful of pharmacies sell it. Desperate city dwellers even trade notes online trying to find where it’s in stock.

Bedazzled pepper spray canister
The author’s dad regularly brings in shipments of pepper spray, from New Jersey to NYC, for her friends.
Stephen Yang

My friends ship pepper spray to my dad’s home in New Jersey, and he regularly visits me with packages addressed to 20-somethings longing for for a sense of safety on the streets.

SABRE, the manufacturer of the pepper spray NYPD officers carry, has seen a huge increase in demand from NYC residents, according to SABRE CEO David Nance. But the company cannot ship them here or to Massachusetts.

“At the end of the day they just want personal safety,” Nance told The Post of would-be customers. “Pepper spray allows individuals to protect themselves at a safe distance, which means they don’t have to get hands-on with an attacker.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul
Schlott is calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to rally New York State lawmakers on the issue.
Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York City Mayor Eric Adams
A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams said “state law currently has safeguards in place to ensure the shipping of mace does not allow criminals to purchase this weapon online.”
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Meanwhile, in New York City, we’re experiencing a huge surge in crime — including a 15-year record for felony crimes and an 18% spike in serious assaults. Violent crime against the elderly in New York City has been on the rise for years. And the Asian American community was rocked by a 900% surge in hate crimes from 2019 to 2020. 

Community activist and Chinatown Block Watch founder Karlin Chan has heard from many desperate Asian Americans unable to get their hands on pepper spray. So, he took matters into his own hands and has handed out more than 6,000 donated canisters to vulnerable New Yorkers since the pandemic started. Already, he’s had six people tell him they’ve used it to defend themselves against attacks.

Chan told The Post the law is “ridiculous,” and agrees it needs to be repealed: “There’s fear in the city, and people need to feel safe somehow. It’s legal to own and have and use, but it’s illegal to ship? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Line to get pepper spray in Manhattan's Chinatown
In April 2022, a group handed out 550 canisters of pepper spray to women and the elderly in Chinatown attracting a line spanning blocks.

For the sake of New Yorkers’ safety, this law needs to be repealed, and I’m calling on New York’s lawmakers to do so. This is low-hanging fruit. It is not a partisan issue.

As a woman, Gov. Kathy Hochul should know how scary being alone on the street can sometimes be. And as a tough-on-crime former police captain, Mayor Eric Adams should make helping New Yorkers protect themselves his number one priority.

I reached out to the Mayor, and his press secretary Fabien Levy told me: “While New Yorkers are able to purchase and carry mace, state law currently has safeguards in place to ensure the shipping of mace does not allow criminals to purchase this weapon online and use it further perpetrating their crimes against innocent New Yorkers.”

It’s true that pepper spray is occasionally used to commit crimes, like in December when a mom and her toddler were sprayed on a subway platform. But those instances happen in spite of this regulation. Law-abiding citizens shouldn’t be punished and left defenseless because of freak incidents.

Rikki Schlott
Schlott said she’s been grateful to have her pepper spray on hand in scary encounters, even when she hasn’t had to use it.
Stephen Yang

Besides, there are 48 states in the US that serve a testament to the fact that letting citizens buy pepper spray online doesn’t result in criminals running rampant and spraying hapless victims right and left.

And again: You can have a machete delivered to your doorstep!

As crime rates continue to soar, Adams should seriously reconsider his stance here and help fight this state law. Us New Yorkers don’t feel safe. The least we deserve is the right to fight back with non-lethal force.

This column marks the second time I’ve called on lawmakers to change this law. I probably sound like a broken record — but that’s what being harassed on the streets twice in less than one year will do to you. 

If you agree, you can contact your Representative, State Assembly member, or State Senator. And give Hochul and Adams’s offices a ring and tell them you want easy access to pepper spray now.

Rikki Schlott

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