A law-abiding resident has few options to protect herself, if she is luckless enough to live in the Nation’s Capital. This truth became abundantly clear this weekend, when a neighborhood drunk attempted to break into my apartment way past either of our bedtimes. Once the situation resolved, I became hell-bent on determining how someone in my circumstances should respond in case next time they fared less agreeably.
A cursory web search of DC urban policy was less-than-encouraging: in the Nation’s Capital, urban policy so markedly favors the assailant that the victim’s best tool in the event of an emergency seems to be something like practicing jujitsu moves in the corner while she runs the clock out.
Conventionally speaking, there are two options when you are assaulted; lethal or nonlethal resistance. Guns fall into the former category, but leaving the matter of D.C.’s gun laws aside -- as bewildering as they are -- the perhaps more asinine urban policies are those surrounding non-lethal deterrents.
Non-lethal deterrents include 1) self defense sprays (mace or pepper spray) and 2) tasers. If you're a woman, don’t own a gun, and would like to protect yourself, your best option is probably a good self-defense spray, followed by a taser or knife, except that in D.C. all of these options are either sometimes or always illegal.
For self-defense sprays, this is because certain sprays do not meet the requirements the City Council has set forth, requirements like containing approved chemicals from a list, being labeled with “clearly written instructions for use, and dated with [their] anticipated useful life.” (Apparently, in a life-or-death situation you should be thinking about whether you’ve labeled your itty bitty mace keychain’s expiration date properly.)
City council members are also rarefied luddites, insisting that your self defense spray use an aerosol-propelled mechanism, rather than the more effective, recent innovations that use a incendiary charge to direct the spray, like the Kimber Pepperblaster.*
This requirement is especially obnoxious, because aerosol-propelled self-defense sprays are less precise than self defense sprays with newer mechanisms. This means they must be used within close range, and that there is considerable risk that the spray blows back in your face, so that you can’t easily flee.
Adding insult to injury, if you still decide to bite the bullet – so to speak – and buy a strain of compliant self defense spray in DC, they are only sold in a limited number of stores, and you’ll be required to register your pathetic “weapon” before you check out.
Oh well, at least you can substitute a taser (which is legal in 45 states) if you get into a pinch? Not so fast. Just possessing a taser in DC, not using it, is a misdemeanor punishable by one to five years of jail time and a $1,000 - $5,000 fine. And don’t you dare think about arming your teenage daughter with a taser to protect her on her sketchy walk home from school; distributing a taser to someone under the age of 18 will land you ten years in jail and a $25,000 fine.
This is in spite of the fact that earlier this spring the Supreme Court found bans on tasers unconstitutional, and ruled that the Second Amendment “does not mean … that only weapons popular in 1789 are covered...”**
Still, at least you have one decent option to defend yourself, right -- a good, old fashioned knife? Unfortunately, no: knives with blades longer than three inches, razorblades, switchblades, and daggers are illegal, too.
That doesn’t leave you with much to work with. Tragically, in this, Weapon Control Utopia, it seems our enlightened legislators favor a “come and get it” approach when it comes to law-abiding resident’s life and property. It shouldn’t be a surprise; those that sit on the thirteen-member City Council likely hold all sorts of advantages, including those that provide for basic security. Instead, if you’re a regular young woman or just a law-abiding citizen in DC, it’s probably time to get practicing those air punches.
* Verified with DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, 10/03/16.
** There are signs this rule may change in the wake of a recent DC lawsuit, but in the meantime, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department confirmed that tasers are illegal, 10/05/16.