Warning: It is a 5-Year Felony to Possess Self Defense Pepper Balls in Michigan

At the Southfield Freeway exit on Eastbound I-96, there is a large billboard selling Byrna Pepper Balls as a self-defense method.  The pepper-filled paintballs are fired by a launcher that is essentially a pistol-shaped paintball gun.  The billboard states, “Works Like a Gun, Without the Consequences.”  However, it misses the severe consequence that, under Michigan law, it is a 5-year felony to possess these cartridges.

Specifically, Michigan Compiled Laws sec. 750.224(1)(e) prohibits any cartridge designed to render a person disabled by the ejection, release, or emission of a gas or other substance.  The pepper balls are clearly a cartridge designed to disable by the release of a substance.  This easily meets the prohibition under that section.

The penalty for violation of this law is up to five years in a state prison or a fine of up to $2,500.00, or both.  That means, if you are convicted of simply possessing pepper balls, you can be charged with a felony.  A felony on your record would prevent you from ever exercising your 2nd Amendment Rights. This significant consequence is not well known and many gun stores in Michigan carry pepper balls.  Byrna will even ship the pepper-balls to you, making it as easy as possible to break Michigan law.

The most unfortunate consequence is that using pepper balls or devices like them would prevent you from asserting self-defense under the Michigan Stand Your Ground Laws.  A precondition of that defense is that you are not in violation of the law when you claim self-defense.  If you are carrying a prohibited weapon, like pepper balls, you would be required to retreat before being justified in your self-defense claim.  Your act of self-defense using paint balls could lead the officers to charge you with two felonies, one for possession of the pepper balls and another for improper use of a self-defense spray or device.  All it takes is an overzealous cop or prosecutor to turn you from the victim to the criminal facing prison time.

However, help is on the way.  An avid 2nd Amendment supporter in Michigan recently discussed with Michigan Gun Crimes Lawyer Ryan Ramsayer who is a Senior Attorney at the Barone Defense Firm. After talking to Mr. Ramsayer about these devices and the consequences of possessing them, the gentleman contacted the state legislature to advocate for an amendment to the law.  This quickly led to support from others who have an interest in self-defense.  While the matter was being considered, Mr. Ramsayer reviewed a proposed draft of the amendment to help assure it would accomplish the intended purpose.  Subsequently, the amended draft was eventually formatted into a Bill to legalize these cartridges which was introduced to the Michigan State House by Rep. Wendzel on January 26, 2022.  House Bill 5694 is now before the House Judiciary Committee with the hope it will move on to be signed into law.

The Barone Defense Firm encourages those who support such a non-lethal self-defense device to contact their local state Senators and Representatives and help make this change a reality.

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