London terror should trigger rethink on non-lethal weapons


In a week of tragic violent events, we today received the news that a knife wielding man shouting “This is for Syria” has slashed one person’s throat & injured two others in Leytonstone underground train station in East London.

Richard Walton, who leads the London Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command confirmed, “We are treating this as a terrorist incident.”

I take trains nearly everyday – in fact I prepared the first draft of this article while sitting on a train in Melbourne. Yet even as these attacks increase in number and severity, it remains illegal for me to carry a non-lethal weapon such as pepper spray for personal protection.

Victoria Police’s current position is as follows:

“Pepper spray or any other similar articles are prohibited weapons and are inappropriate for general possession… Self protection or self defence is not a lawful excuse to be able to possess these articles. Alternative options are to carry personal alarm devices such as whistles or personal protection alarms.”

In years past, banning these items was genuinely an issue of maintaining public safety – Sure you may be able to purchase them to protect yourself (certainly pepper spray, but also conceivably tasers) – but so could the man who wants to rob the supermarket or sexually assault you. And sure, in years past, carrying a personal alarm really was likely to scare off a would-be assailant as they were (1) reticent to be caught and (2) didn’t want an audience for their crime – however neither of these apply to the offenders in today’s London attack or similar recent terror attacks.

Self-defense courses certainly have their place; however this option is not open to those with limited movement and quite frankly – I’d still rather have the pepper spray. And we can also rely on police officers to respond in many situations, however the London tube is soaked with police officers, and three people were still injured before the attacker was apprehended.

Put simply, as Islamist attacks continue to increase in public spaces, the question of how best to maintain public safety has shifted sufficiently to justify a strict legal process for procuring and carrying non-lethal weapons.

Of high importance is the need to balance potentially escalating attacks with providing citizens with justifiable personal protection. If you have viewed the footage of this most recent attack it appears that a taser was the right level of response. Although it seems to me that allowing citizens to carry pepper spray is less of a safety issue than tasers, if pushed I’m not against carrying a taser either.

That said, carrying such an item should not be taken lightly. By all means, make me fill in a big pile of forms that takes three months and require me to complete a course (Hey, if you can train me to stay calm in a car accident, administer an EpiPen or judge a heart attack and administer a defibrillator then I can be trained to judge when it will be advantageous to use pepper spray). Make me complete a police check & present the item every 3 months to prove it’s being kept safely and hasn’t been discharged.

gun licence photo
Photo by wstryder

We could even consider the compulsory inclusion of fingerprint scanners and high penalties if the weapon is discharged unlawfully Etc. Etc. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need these onerous requirements, but we must be pragmatic if we want to see a proposal like this accepted by law makers.

Not everyone will want this responsibility or will be willing to jump through the onerous hoops required. But I would, and in the current climate it is highly appropriate to review our current laws.

Victoria Police should reverse it’s position that “Self protection or self defence is not a lawful excuse to be able to possess these articles” and governments must provide a limited process whereby one may legally be licensed for and carry non-lethal weapons for personal protection.

Photo by wstryder