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Self-Defense And Your Legal Rights: An Attorney’s Perspective

pepper spraysIn July I was in the checkout line at Dick's Sporting Goods in West Springfield when I saw a display of pepper spray dispensers that were small enough to fit on a keychain.   I was surprised to see the display because, as I understood it, I needed a License to Carry/Firearms Identification (LTC/FID) card to purchase and carry self-defense spray such as pepper spray. The great news is that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts no longer requires such licensing to purchase or carry self-defense spray for the vast majority of people.

For years I had considered getting a License to Carry/ Firearms Identification Card (LTC/FID) for the purpose of obtaining self-defense spray.  Since I work in the city, I find myself leaving the office in the dark when the days start getting shorter, and I wonder whether I should have some form of protection with me.

Unfortunately, obtaining an LTC/FID card meant I would have to go to the local police station, complete the fairly extensive application and pay the $25.00 fee.  Most local police stations only have specific hours when they can help with paperwork such as this, and often those hours are between nine and five.  Since I work in a different city than I live, this would require taking time off work to go into the police department and fill out the application.  There would then be a CORI check, meaning I would need to come back when my application was finally approved - taking more time off work in the process - to obtain the actual license.  However, the process would not end there.  After obtaining the LTC/FID card, I would need to find somewhere to purchase the self-defense spray.  With a license requirement, that would most likely mean I'd have to go to a gun store.

These factors had kept me from going forward with getting the LTC/FID card.  In the past I had completed the first step of going to the police station to obtain the application, but then other responsibilities like work and family always seemed prevent me from actually moving forward with the process.  It should not have been so difficult, but every year as autumn approached I would reconsider getting the LTC/FID card, and every autumn would go by without me having this important safety tool.

When I got to the cash register at Dick's Sporting Goods, I asked the cashier about the self-defense spray display. "Do I need an FID card to carry pepper spray?"  I was told that the law was changed and that I no longer needed the LTC/FID card.  Although my law practice focuses on personal injury and not licensing, I do have over eleven (11) years of legal experience and ample access to legal publications and other attorneys at the firm. I was baffled that a cashier from a sporting goods store knew about this vitally important change in the law before I did.  With on-campus sexual assaults in the news regularly, and potentially millions of students and young working women who could benefit from this change statewide, I could not understand why such potentially lifesaving information had not been publicized.  I bought my pepper spray right then and there.

Being a lawyer, of course I went home and checked the Massachusetts General Laws regarding the need for a license to carry self-defense spray.  It turns out that the law was actually updated two years ago, in August 2014, yet it was not widely publicized.  This astounded me - both as a young, single woman who stood to benefit from this removal of red tape to our ability to take control of our own safety, and as a lawyer who prides herself at being well versed in women's issues.  How many women could have benefited from such easy access to a means of self-defense?  How many women could have gotten away from a sexual assault if they had pepper spray conveniently located on their keychain?   How many women had done what I had done, putting off getting the LTC/FID card because of all of the steps, always having something else she needed to do getting in the way of her putting her safety first?

Along with going into the Massachusetts Gun Laws, I Googled the LTC/FID card requirements.  I wanted to see what would happen when women who may be interested in obtaining self-defense spray checked online to see what they had to do.  Specifically, I searched "Do you need a license to carry self-defense spray in Massachusetts?"  Google told me that in Massachusetts, you need to carry a Firearms ID Card to purchase and carry self-defense spray.

I even asked around, checking with a police department.  No one I asked, other than the cashier at Dick's Sporting Goods, seemed to know that a LTC/FID card was no longer needed to purchase and carry self-defense spray.

The good news is that, as of the writing of this article, Google appears to have updated and now it is providing the correct information. Overall, it seems that there are many more sources now in the Google search, and a local news source had something on the nightly news about self-defense spray, which means this important issue seems to finally be getting the attention it deserves.

For a little legal history, on August 13, 2014, "An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence", Bill 4376 was signed into law.  The full text of this law is available at http://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2014/Chapter284.  Under the law, the requirement to obtain a license to carry or firearms identification card to purchase or possess self-defense spray has been eliminated.  There are some restrictions: An LTC/FID card is still required if you are under eighteen (18).  There are also other ways you may be disqualified by law (for example: convicted as a youthful offender or delinquent child in MA or another state; been committed to any hospital or institution for mental illness; subject of an outstanding arrest warrant, etc).  These disqualifications are specified in Chapter 140 (Licenses), Section 122D (Persons prohibited from purchase or possession of self-defense spray, penalty for violation).The full text of this portion of the law is available at:  https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/Part1/TitleXX/Chapter140/Section122D.

Although it has taken a while for the information to get out, I am pleased to report that we now have a simple, convenient option available to us to protect ourselves. As the days continue to get shorter and we find ourselves working late or leaving class after dark, we have the power to safeguard ourselves from attack.  It only costs about between $10 and $15 at your local sporting goods store.

As I have already purchased mine, I can tell you that self-defense spray is very easy to use-not that I have sprayed anyone yet, but the directions do tell you to safely test the spray to make sure that your spray is in working order.  You are instructed to step outside, in an open area without wind, and spray it away from yourself (and anyone else).  Then lean or walk into the area. You should feel like coughing and/or feel other respiratory/eye irritations.

Having access to resources like self-defense spray empower us to take control of our own safety and independence.  Know your rights.  Ask a lawyer.  Take control of your safety.

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Atty. Nicole Murray