Demand Overpowers Pepper Spray Supplies : One Self-Defense Program Overwhelmed by Response; Two New Sites to Open Soon


Gene Covell doesn’t believe in using guns for self-protection, but he has no problem with pepper spray.

The 61-year-old salesman took a break from his job Wednesday afternoon to complete a two-hour training session where he was taught how to properly use the tear gas, which became legal under California law Tuesday.

“I had considered carrying it illegally, just to have something effective to protect myself,” Covell said. “I’m in and out of parking lots a lot, so I feel exposed. I want something for self-defense, but I don’t like guns. They kill people.”

Covell was among the dozens of people who have been crowding into the offices of Martial Arts Security Service Inc. in Santa Ana for the last two days for a course in pepper spray tear-gas training.


“I’ve been in business since 1978 and I’ve never seen anything with this kind of impact,” said William S. Ungerman, the school’s president. “We’ve taken over 500 calls. I’m sure it will level off, but there has been a tremendous response. We never expected this.”

When properly used, the stinging pepper spray, known as oleoresin capsicum tear gas, disables a person by forcing his eyes shut and restricting his breathing. The searing pain and difficulty in breathing are initially acute, subside within 10 to 15 minutes and are usually gone within an hour.

Assailants can be disabled from a distance of as much as 10 feet, Ungerman said.

As of Wednesday, Ungerman’s school was the only site in Orange County to receive state certification and the materials needed to teach the use of pepper spray. Two others, California Security and the Gendarme Institute, both in Garden Grove, have received their state licenses and will also be offering the training soon, officials at the two companies said.

The training course, which can cost between $30 and $45, includes watching a 30-minute videotape, passing a 30-question test, and test-spraying a canister filled with a harmless substance such as water.

The local schools are among the more than 200 sites statewide that have been licensed by the state Department of Justice to sell the spray. The substance was legalized by the Legislature on the condition that users be trained to properly use it before being allowed to buy it.

The spray itself, which is sold in three-ounce canisters for between $14 and $20, will be available at about 14 other locations locally, including law enforcement uniform stores and community colleges where training courses will be offered, said Clay Segar of Defense Technology Corp.

“It will be pretty easy for someone to pick up once they have their permit,” said Segar, whose company has been authorized by the state to sell pepper spray.


Ed Vilensky, regional manager of Uniforms Inc. in Santa Ana, said his company is also selling the tear gas and has received a flood of inquiries this week.

“I’m telling people to go over and get the training,” Vilensky said. “We also caution them that if they give the pepper spray to someone else, like their wife or girlfriend, and that person is not authorized to carry it, it’s breaking the law.”

It is a misdemeanor to carry pepper spray tear gas without legal certification and a felony to use the spray in the commission of a crime, authorities said.

Irvine resident Teddy Jones, 56, said she had been trying in vain for months to buy pepper spray by calling police departments and veterinarians.


“I do a lot of walking in the woods, and I want it to protect myself against dogs, animals and people,” said Jones, a retired schoolteacher. “I want it for peace of mind.”

As Jones prepared to watch the 30-minute video at Martial Arts Security Service Inc., she said she was annoyed at the trouble she had to go through to get the spray.

“I think it’s a good idea that people have means of legal protection, but I think it’s foolish to make people go through all of this,” said Jones. “You don’t have to go through a test when you buy a gun.”

Jack Woods, a 41-year-old general contractor from Aliso Viejo, said legalization of pepper spray is long overdue, especially since it is already available in 47 other states.


“I’d rather use (pepper spray) since it’s non-lethal,” Woods said. “It’s a good thing for people to have. When someone who is trying to attack you can’t see or breathe, they go down.”

The new law was authored by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame), who said she carried the legislation to give people who want to protect themselves an alternative to buying guns.