Personal Protection: What you need to know

(WPRI) — Your personal protection is paramount, but depending on where you live, not all personal safety tools are legal for you to use to defend yourself in an emergency or threatening situation. Eyewitness News uncovered what the law does allow you to use to keep yourself safe.

Many people carry a small can of pepper spray or Mace on their keychain or in their purse. It’s an extra level of protection that can provide peace of mind. However, if you were to leave Rhode Island and travel into Massachusetts, that personal protection becomes a legal problem.

As the law stands in Rhode Island, anyone 18 years or older is allowed to buy pepper spray or Mace without restrictions. Next door in Massachusetts, residents are required to apply for a firearms

Interactive: What the Law Allows You to Use for Personal Protection
Interactive: What the Law Allows You to Use for Personal Protection

identification card at a local police department, where officials will conduct a background check.

The restrictions on products like pepper spray and Mace are with good reason – their effect is immediate and temporarily devastating.

“Your face is on fire,” said former Marine and current police officer Rob Curran. “It’s a respiratory irritant so it does get into your lungs and it makes it difficult to breathe.”

Eyewitness News got a first-hand look at the effects of pepper spray and Mace, thanks to a self-defense course taught by Curran and two other certified trainers.

“What is pepper spray? OC, Mace, chemical defense spray, these are all different names for the same thing,” said James Wise, one of the course instructors.

The self-defense classes taught by Curran and Wise teach people when and how to use pepper spray and Mace safely.

“It’s very empowering,” said Jaqeline Rabuffo. “I’ve seen it used but I’ve never used it.”

Rabuffo says she would consider purchasing Mace or pepper spray and going through the process in Massachusetts where she lives and where the firearms ID is required.

“It’s the same application you fill out for a firearms ID card or for a license to carry, but all you do is check off the mace box,” course instructor Curran told Eyewitness News. “They do the background checks and in a couple of weeks, you can go down and purchase your mace.”

Instructors like Curran warn that if you do live in Rhode Island, where it’s okay to own pepper spray and Mace without further identification, it is important to remember you are breaking the law once you cross into Massachusetts without the proper ID.

A group of Massachusetts lawmakers are considering changing the stringent rules, pushing to remove the licensing process when it comes to protective products like pepper spray and Mace. The proposed legislation was sent to the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means but has not yet been put to a vote.

The cost for a Massachusetts restricted firearms identification card for pepper spray and Mace is $25 and must be renewed each year. Another well-known self-defense tool, stun guns, are both illegal in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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