By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Personal protection entrepreneur Rochelle Morton of Detroit has been advocating a change in the self-defense pepper spray law for the past three years.
“I have always wanted to protect myself after having been robbed years ago,” said Morton, who sells self-defense products for a company called Damsel in Defense.
A bill to allow the purchase of stronger pepper spray in Michigan has won House approval and is awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill would increase the maximum amount of oleoresin capsicum (OC) allowed in self-defense spray and foam devices from 10 percent to 18 percent and allow the devices to contain an ultraviolet dye to help identify attackers.
“The stronger pepper spray will allow the victim to flee to safety and allows an aggressor to be accurately identified by the victim if the spray contains an ultraviolet dye,” Morton said. The dye would be visible under ultraviolet light for about a week.
Michigan is one of seven states that restrict the amount of OC in self-defense spray. Forty-five states allow 18 percent OC, which is derived from chili peppers.
An analysis of the proposal by the House Fiscal Agency said the limitation “has hindered many Michiganders from purchasing pepper spray online because many companies will not ship pepper spray to Michigan if it contains over 10 percent OC.”
Current law prohibits the use of pepper spray containing more than 10 percent OC. “The amount allowed in self-defense spray was last changed in 2010, when it rose from 2 percent to 10 percent for both police and personal protection,” according to the House Fiscal Agency.
Morton said that she learned about a pepper spray that includes an ultraviolet dye and wanted it, but the state currently doesn’t allow it.
Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said the organization remains neutral on the bill. So does the State Police.
Stevenson said the biggest concern is about pepper spray being used against a police officer. “We do not want it to get so strong that it could incapacitate an officer, which could lead to them being disarmed.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, said that although she’s comfortable carrying a pistol for self-defense, not all women are.
Among the co-sponsors are Reps. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township; Holly Hughes, R-Montague, and Sue Allor, R-Wolverine.
Critics of the proposal argue that an increase in OC could cause serious injuries, “not only to an intended target, but to an untrained user as well,” the bill analysis said. They’ve called for research about the specific effects of 18 percent OC on human bodies.
Studies show that exposure to OC spray may lead to multiple risks, which respiratory problems and other “health effects that can range from mild irritation to death,” the bill analysis said.
Morton said many women want the law changed to enhance their protection.
“Residents in our state deserve to have what the federal government and most other states are allowed to possess,” Morton said. “We deserve the ability to layer our protection with the most effective options allowed.”
By CRYSTAL CHEN