Lawmaker: Pepper Spray Should Be Available Over-the-Counter

In the wake of Amy Lord's murder, the conversation about the permit process is back.

As the community tries to make sense of the murder of 24-year-old Amy Lord, some state lawmakers are pushing for more protections for constituents, and want to ease-up on the process for obtaining mace and pepper spray.

State Representative Kimberly Ferguson, R-Holden, wants to make over-the-counter mace more readily available for women in Massachusetts, she said, by doing away with the lengthy permitting process that can stall people from purchasing the self-defense product. “The issue is, we are one of the only states in this country that forces people to go through a [rigorous process] to get a card to carry pepper spray,” said Ferguson. “Obviously, I feel that it is time to lift that restriction.”

On Monday, one day before Lord was laid to rest in her hometown of Wilbraham, hundreds of residents in the South Boston community attended a neighborhood meeting to speak with police officials, and find out more about the case.

Ferguson said the incident has left many residents on edge, and she has been fielding continuous calls from constituents about changing the way the law is written so that pepper spray and mace are easily attainable. “I have had many women—especially recently—call me, and say they want to protect themselves but they can’t go out and buy this pepper spray. And they can’t,” she said.

Currently, a person has to obtain a Firearm Identification Card, or FID, from a local law enforcement agency, in order to possess mace or pepper spray because of the state law. Each application for a FID card costs $25, and is renewable on an annual basis. Applicants for the restricted FIDs are exempt from the education requirement that people seeking gun ownership have to take.

But Ferguson said getting the limited license, while meant to be speedy, can take up to months in some cases, cutting off access to the product. “You have to go to a police station, go through an interview process, and it can take anywhere up to 40 days—I have had people tell me it can even take at least four months,” she said. “People should be allowed to purchase it.”

To fix that, she has offered up a resolution, which reads:

Notwithstanding and special law or regulation to the contrary it shall be lawful for residents or non-residents aged 18 years of age or older to purchase, possess, carry, transport Defensive Sprays

Although police promised they would speed up the permitting process at local stations following Lord’s death, Ferguson’s proposed legislation would eliminate that process altogether, and allow anyone over the age of 18 to buy the product at big box stores, or anywhere else that can legally supply mace, she said.

Ferguson said she hasn’t received any negative comments about her proposal to lift the current regulations, and her legislation has quickly moved through the appropriate committees on Beacon Hill. “It has had some good bipartisan support. People tend to agree this is something we should be able to buy over counter.”

But not everyone thinks having such easy access to mace and pepper spray is a good plan.

Ashley Moquin, who works in Boston, said the proper paperwork should still have to be filled out instead of buying pepper spray over the counter without a license. “I looked at the form to apply for the restricted FID card, and it’s very straightforward. If officials processed the paperwork the same day, allowing someone to get the right to carry mace, I think that would be more acceptable,” she said. “They could carry a temporary ID or something of the sort. This [would] ensure the proper safety measures are taken before putting an irritant in someone’s hands that otherwise shouldn’t have it.”

Moquin said she will be taking night classes in Boston starting in the fall, and while she wants to have a precautionary tool by her side for emergency situations as she walks to her car or around the city, she doesn’t think the entire license procedure should be eliminated. “The increase in interest to carry mace is obviously a reactionary measure … but it shouldn’t be held to a more loose standard. An alternative to making it easier to obtain [would be to] decrease, or remove, the fee for the license,” she said.