If you’re nervous about living in the big city, and not sure how to stay safe once you’ve moved to Paris, you may consider buying pepper spray just in case something happens.
While physical violence is relatively rare in France, there’s no shortage of pickpocketing and petty crime. Having a strategy for defending yourself and your belongings is a great idea.
But caveat defensoris. (Beware to he who would defend himself.)
The laws on weapons and self-defense are vastly different in France than in the US.
For one thing, there’s no “right to bear arms” in France, and this applies not only to automatic weapons, but to less dangerous “weapons of self-defense” as well.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am NOT a lawyer, this is NOT legal advice, and I’m not responsible for anything that happens to you if you take my advice here.
But if you think you might want to use pepper spray to stay safe in Paris, here’s a quick overview of the rules:
How do you say “pepper spray” in French?
Pepper spray can be either “bombe lacrymogène” or “bombe au poivre.” It falls into the category of an “aérosol de défense,” or defensive sprays. (The prefix lacrima refers to tears in Latin.)
What is its legal status in France? Do I have to do anything special to be able to buy it?
Pepper spray is categorized as a Category 6 Self-Defense weapon according to Article L. 2331-1 of the Code de la Défense. That means that anyone over the age of 18 is able to purchase it, and only has to present a piece of photo identification in order to buy.
However, there are certain restrictions on the types of pepper spray that can be bought and carried in France, so if you’re purchasing before you come (not recommended), you’ll want to make sure that the one you buy meets the following specifications:
- Has to be composed of CS gas (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile or o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile)
- Concentration must be less than 2% CS gas
- Can not contain more than 100 ml (3 oz – the size of an airplane carryon liquid)
- Spray rate cannot exceed 60 grams per second
Can I carry the pepper spray around with me?
Yes, you can carry pepper spray with you, but you have to respect certain conditions.
First off, when you carry the pepper spray around with you, it has to be concealed, and it also has to have a safety or something to prevent you from using it right away. In other words, you can’t carry it around in your hand ready to spray, or put it on your belt loop.
If it’s small and looks like it could be a lipstick, I would probably recommend putting it in your pocket and having your hand on it.
You should also carry the pepper spray’s packaging or instruction booklet that outlines its composition, to prove that it meets the legal requirements. If you ever have to use it, you can show this to the police.
What happens if I use my pepper spray?
There are three rules for using self-defense in France.
First, that you have to respond to the attack, which means that someone actually has to try to assault you or steal something from you before you can use the pepper spray legally. Otherwise, you’re the one doing the assaulting.
Second, you have to respond to an attack using “appropriate force.” France is no Florida, and you can’t shoot a man from behind because he punched you once or looked like he was going to. Don’t Stand Your Ground. You also have an obligation to try to run and get away if you can.
If someone attacks you with their fists, using the pepper spray or punching back would be an appropriate response, while shooting him wouldn’t be. And you can be accused of using “excessive violence” if you continue defending yourself once the attacker has been subdued.
Third, you’re only allowed to respond in the moment, and you can’t take revenge. So if someone steals your iPhone today, you can’t spray him when you see him next week. Just get the police.
What are the risks of carrying pepper spray?
It’s unclear whether the police would be able to confiscate your pepper spray if they were to search you, so you run the risk of having it taken away. (I’ve never been searched in all my years in France, and there’s no reason why you should be worried about it. Also, it’s obviously less suspicious to be carrying pepper spray as a 5’1″ woman who weighs 115 lbs soaking wet than if you’re 6’4″ with a linebacker’s build.)
You should probably avoid carrying it if you go to the préfecture, or if you’re visiting monuments like the Sainte-Chapelle (in the Palais de Justice) or the Assemblée Nationale, where your bags are searched before you enter.
Remember that you also run the risk of an attacker turning the spray on you, and this is especially true if it’s a small group trying to steal your bag or your phone.
It’s up to you to determine whether the risks of carrying pepper spray outweigh the benefits of being able to defend yourself if you’re ever attacked.