Is it Legal to Carry Pepper Spray in Australia?


Everyone deserves the right to feel safe. If you walk home from your bus stop after work and the way is poorly lit, or if you live in a dodgy neighbourhood, you may feel that you face a real risk of being attacked. You can’t rely on Superman or Batman to come to the rescue at the right moment (unfortunately!), so you may want to arm yourself in some way so you feel more secure about going out alone. But if you are thinking about arming yourself with pepper spray in Australia, you may want to reconsider that approach.

In most states and territories, including NSW, it is illegal to carry or possess pepper spray or mace. These items are classed as prohibited weapons. The only exception is in Western Australia, where pepper spray and mace are defined as controlled weapons, meaning that ownership of them is legal, but is restricted.

This article will outline the legality of carrying these items, and the possible legal consequences of possessing or using them.

Can I carry pepper spray or mace?

In NSW, Section 7 of the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 states that it is an offence to possess or use a prohibited weapon unless authorised with a permit. Permits authorise the use of a prohibited weapon for sporting, training or instructing purposes, or for educational, historical or commemorative-type purposes. Permits are usually not issued to people wanting to carry items for personal security or recreational purposes.

Schedule 1 of the Act lists items classed as prohibited weapons. Included in that list is mace and any device designed or intended as a defence or anti-personnel spray that is capable of discharging by any means any irritant matter comprising or containing in liquid, powder, gas or chemical form oleoresin capsicum, known as OC. OC is generally the main ingredient used in pepper spray.

So the short answer is no, you cannot carry pepper spray or mace to protect yourself in NSW. This list also covers many more items that you are not permitted to carry to protect yourself. For example, flick knives, kung-fu sticks, batons, Tasers, and even light-emitting anti-personnel devices that are designed to cause temporary incapacity are also classed as prohibited weapons.

It is worth noting that police officers are permitted to carry pepper spray and mace. However, they must use these devices reasonably and appropriately in the right circumstances, or they may face an internal investigation and reprimand.

Using pepper spray or mace

To be in possession of these items is an offence. Using them is also an offence, and can give rise not only to breaching the Act, but also to being charged with additional criminal offences.

For example, if you are in a situation where you are carrying pepper spray, and you are attacked and use it to defend yourself, you may still be charged for possession and use of a prohibited weapon.

You may also possibly be charged for assault, or assault occasioning actual bodily harm. You could have your lawyer raise the argument that you acted in self-defence, which the prosecution would have to negate by showing your actions were not a reasonable response. But even if you are successful in this defence, you are being put through quite an ordeal with being charged by police and facing the stress, time and expense of a court process. The penalties for using pepper spray against someone can be severe.

The penalties for using pepper spray or mace

Unauthorised possession or use of pepper spray or mace is a serious offence. It can be prosecuted on indictment, which means you can face a jury trial in the district court. If you are charged on indictment, then the maximum penalty is up to 14 years in prison.

The offence does, however, tend to be prosecuted summarily in the local court, unless the prosecutor elects otherwise. The maximum penalty if this offence is prosecuted in the local court is two years’ imprisonment.

Remember there can be legal consequences

If you are in a situation where you feel that you face a real risk of being attacked by someone you know, you may want to consider applying for an apprehended violence order against that person. If you fear for your personal safety late at night, for example, carrying pepper spray is not going to be the best course of action. Taking matters into your own hands can have serious legal consequences.


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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.

6 comments

  1. Johnson

    This is ridiculous. How is someone suppose to protect himself/herself these days? Literally everything is illegal. What if someone else has a weapon, what are you suppose to do? Changes need to be made quickly. We are sick of living by the rules that corrupt governments/world elites make just to make the citizens of the world more and more vulnerable/weak. This needs to be changed, or the citizens of the world will have enough. Once the citizens declare a war against the government/world elites, there’s no going back. It’ll be like the purge, but not only for 12 hours, but 24/7. The destruction of this earth will be caused by the corrupt government/world elites and no one else.

    Make changes, make us citizens feel safe, have us carry ATLEAST pepper spray in case of an incident, and there will be no dramas.

  2. Emanuel

    I am certain that the Prime Minister feels safe with his escort of body guards, don’t you Mr.Prime Minister?
    It seems to me that you are protecting the predator, the criminal, not the weak, not the single mother who comes home from a late shift and has to walk to her car in fear in case there is a sick person lurking in the dark. We are told that the police are to protect us. What is going to happen when someone will approach me, a 70 year old with a knife or a baseball bat? Where are the police then? Or shall I tell him / her to hold on while I make a phone call!
    It could not be more ludicrous. The public has every right to protect themselves in the absence of the police when the situation arises. Follow the example of WA, their law makes sense yours does not. Review it.

  3. Emanuel

    Those in high places who have security guards must feel very safe but about the common public?
    If you are not legalizing a simple device like a pepper spray to so be used with discretion and hopefully may that day never come by a defenseless person what is he/she supposed to do if confronted by a predator?
    I know a single mother who works late shifts but is terrified to walk to her car at 11pm. A simple pepper spray would give her some confidence, at least she is not DEFENSELESS. The police are not around when you need them and in the situation as cited it will be too late.
    Take care of the weak, the aged and the law abiding citizen and indirectly do not protect the criminal by disallowing the public from defending themselves.

  4. Emanuel

    Carrying a pepper spray is the least anyone can have. A woman returning home from late shift feels extremely vulnerable late at night. A pepper spray is some defense mechanism against anyone intending to inflict harm. It would provide her some time to get away.
    This is the most stupid thing I have heard recently, where we are NOT ALLOWED TO PROTECT OURSELVES.

  5. Sarah

    I feel that these laws are truly ridiculous. I understand that pepper spray or mace can be used in robberies or other terrible scenarios (I guess?) but just like police officers can protect themselves with it, why can’t citizens? I came across this site only because I have a uni party event coming up (that I recently found out has unlimited drinks…) which obviously has a lot of people attending, in particular large guys, who I do not know and am not entirely feeling comfortable with, and wanted something to protect myself. Changes must be made. How else can we protect ourselves? At least have a commercial substitute which has a low lasting effect or that doesn’t cause too much pain on those who it is used on to buy instead to protect ourselves. Finding out this information is very disheartening because although I don’t know what will happen at my event, I cannot be prepared for the worst. Thanks NSW laws :/

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