Mace, similar sprays are best sellers Some are promoted as stocking stuffers

December 24, 1992|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

The sale of Mace and other self-defense sprays is up dramatically in the past few months, prompting one distributor to promote the tiny canisters as the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer.

"I know it's weird," John Goodrich, president of MSI Mace, said somewhat apologetically. "But that's the world we live in."

At Mr. Goodrich's company in Bennington, Vt., sales are up 300 percent in the last six weeks; 40 percent in the last four years. Local companies are seeing similar sales increases.

At Nicoll's Guns in the 2200 block of E. Joppa Road, owner Tom McCann says the sprays are selling like "wildfire."

Mel Abrams, owner of Valley Gun Shop at Harford Road and Taylor Avenue in Parkville, said, "It's unbelievable. We've sold thousands."

Valley sells $500 to $800 worth of spray guns a day, each one costing between $14 and $19, said Mr.Abrams. The sprays are now being sold in many outlets besides gun shops.

But in the midst of the current craze over sprays, Wayne Perry, an expert in all forms of self-defense, warns customers to be wary.

"There's suddenly a lot of money in this," said Mr. Perry of Schenectady, N.Y. "Companies are jumping in without properly testing their products. Some just don't spray, or don't have the punch."

According to Mr. Goodrich, women account for 70 percent of the sales. His market studies, which his company takes quarterly, show the biggest customers are women between 18 and 25.

Mr. Perry discounts the recent carjacking scare as an explanation for the increased sales of the sprays.

"Rape, or the fear of rape, is the reason, as well as crime in general," he said. "Carjackings have been going on for years, and they rarely turn violent. . .The fear of rape is what's on their minds."

Six years ago, MSI Mace bought the Mace trademark from gun maker Smith & Wesson. MSI is now phasing out the product -- which is a type of tear gas called CN plus filler material -- in favor of a pepper spray the company has named Pepper Guard.

"CN is still OK for civilian use," Mr. Goodrich said, "but the police don't like it anymore because it gets all over the officer when he puts a suspect in the police car. A civilian is just going to shoot and run, and doesn't have that problem. Also, it might be slightly less effective than pepper spray against a highly agitated person who is high on drugs or alcohol."

All Baltimore-area police and sheriff's departments and the Maryland State Police have shifted to a pepper spray or plan to shift. Sprays are used regularly to subdue unruly suspects and are effective against bare hands, clubs and knives.

For quality control, MSI Mace tests each spray gun in a special booth to see if it works. Mr. Goodrich has tested the spray on NTC himself, and he didn't like it.

Mr. Perry, who conducts company seminars and lectures nationallyon self-defense, also has tested many of the products on himself.

"My wife sprays me and enjoys it," said Mr. Perry, adding that though the right spray is an excellent defense, it does not make its owner invincible.

"You have to be alert when you're in a vulnerable position, and keep the spray in your hand," he said. "I have heard crime victims say over and over that they didn't believe it would happen to them. They also say, 'I knew something was wrong with that guy,' but they don't take steps to protect themselves."

Mr. Perry said the sprays should be used as a last resort.

"Every situation is different, but common sense says you can't fight a gun with a spray," he said. "Just give up what they want, slowly and carefully . . . but you have to use your gut instinct and your good sense in a crisis situation.

"If they want to take you somewhere, down an alley, into a car, or tell you to kneel down in a corner, it's time to fight back," said Mr. Perry. "Anything goes then, because you could be in a fatal situation."

If caught in a threatening situation, the person should spray an attacker in the face, run and yell for help, Mr. Perry said.

"And don't ever warn the person you're going to spray him if he comes any closer. Surprise is a major factor in the use of sprays," Mr. Perry said. "If you warn him, he can prepare himself psychologically, and you've lost half your defense."

Mr. Perry also said a buyer should look for an expiration date on the product because the aerosol can leak out, making the spray useless.

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