Opinion: Bear Spray More Effective For Self Defense Than Firearms

Which offers better protection? At first glance, this question may seem like a no-brainer. After all, aren’t guns made to kill, while bear spray does not? Most bear sprays boast a capsaicin content of 2 percent, compared with 1.2 to 1.4 percent in most self-defense products. So is bear spray more effective in self defense vs bears and if so, wouldn’t that also hold true for self defense in most other situations? What is more dangerous than a charging grizzly bear?

MJS Studios

When it comes to self-defense the answer is not as obvious as it may seem. In fact, Experienced hunters are surprised to find that despite the use of firearms against a charging bear, they were attacked and badly hurt. Evidence of human-bear encounters even suggests that shooting a bear can escalate the seriousness of an attack, while encounters where firearms are not used are less likely to result in injury or death of the human or the bear. So with it settled that bear spray is a safer and more effective method of defense vs bears, does this hold true for self-protection in other situations as well?

Image Source: M. Silva

While firearms can kill a bear, can a bullet kill quickly enough — and can the shooter be accurate enough — to prevent a dangerous, even fatal, attack? The question is not one of marksmanship or the ability to take action under duress, for even a skilled marksman with steady nerves may have a slim chance of deterring a bear attack with a gun. Law enforcement agents for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have experience that supports this reality — based on their investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time.

Image Source: M. Silva

During the same period, persons defending themselves with bear spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries. Canadian bear biologist Dr. Stephen Herrero reached similar conclusions based on his own research — a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used. So how does this logic apply to self-defense vs assailants of the two legged variety?

Source: University of Montana

 Capsaicin reduces forced expiratory volume in the first second of expsure (FEV1) (Johansson et al., 2019), even led to death in some asthmatics (Steffee et al., 1995). So it should only be used in the event you feel you are in imment danger of serious bodily harm or death. Bear spray is a lot more concentrated than mace or pepper spray as noted above. When hit in the face it is the virtual equivalent of a choke hold that cuts off air supply.

Source: MJ Studios

Another Pro in the spray vs gun debate is that often times home invasions will happen at night and about 40% of all home invasions are by people the victim knows. The emotional trauma casued by taking someones life, especially someone that you know, with a gun is something that can be avoided with bear spray.

Source: Club 99

This isn’t just hypothetical situations, a cannabis shop owner used bear spray to run off 3 would be robbers in Everett, Washington. The would be robbers had a gun, the shop worker had bear spray and effectively deployed it to thwart the attempted robbery.

Source: Deer Park Pharmacy

A pharmacist in Deer Park, Washington who ran off a would be robber who demanded she turn over all of the shops oxycodone and methadone. Instead he got a face full of capsaicin.

Image Source: KOMO channel 15 news

James a retired law enforcement officer purchased bear spray, noting that using a firearm is a big decision and bear spray is something you can use immediatley and figure things out later if necessary. He sprayed two would be car jackers in the face in SEATAC, Washington and ran them off.

Source: San Francisco Public Defenders Office

It is important to note that bear spray can be a lethal weapon as it reduces oxygen uptake and spraying it on asthmatics or others with reduced lung fuction can have lethal consequesnces. Here in this photo a man is seen spraying a homeless person with bear spray. To date no charges have been filed against the suspect.

Source: NYPD

It is not just the good guys using bear spray either. This image shows a robber deploying bear spray in the face of a clerk at a conviencence store before he removed the cash register in New York.

Source: NBC channel 4

Road rage incidents often end up in tragedy when guns are involved. In the incident above when tempers flared a can of bear spray ended the dispute. Authorities are however still looking for the driver of the Toyota matrix that deployed the spray. The LAPD wants to question him.

Source: LAPD

In this video a suspected smash and grabber got away by deploying a can of bear spray against a security guard that was attempting to apprehend him.

From the evidence presented it does appear that bear spray can be an effective self defense tool that also has the benefit of being safer than a gun.