Concert venues need to allow pepper spray

By Peter Zemeske

The pre-concert process is a ritual any music fan has been through buying tickets with exorbitant fees, figuring out how to get to and from the venue, picking out an outfit for the night, showing up early to get good spots and so on. Your group of friends shows up at the gates for security to check for prohibited items, and the guard removes an important item from the girls’ purses: pepper spray. If venues are so concerned with the safety of attendees, then pepper spray is something that shouldn’t be confiscated.

Safety is something that should be on the mind of any concert-goer, especially for women. Unfortunately, one in three women will experience some form of sexual assault in her lifetime, according to 2010 data from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Concerts and other entertainment events are most often held at night in cities, a setting notorious for being dangerous to anyone not in a group or in high-traffic areas.

So why then, do concert venues take away one of women’s only means of defending themselves? Most venues around Chicago such as the Riviera Theatre or Aragon Ballroom have a strict prohibited items list including guns, drugs and drug paraphernalia, e-cigarettes and unopened water bottles. Most items on the list make sense as to why they’re prohibited; guns, vapes and drugs for obvious reasons, and outside food and beverage because the venues want to make money on concessions. Most venues don’t explicitly say pepper spray is prohibited, but group it under the weapons category.

This is a classic example of businesses failing to practice what they preach. “Our staff is committed to creating a safe and pleasant experience for all guests,” the Riviera Theatre’s website claims. “Metro/Smart Bar is committed to the safety and security of our patrons, performers and staff,” Metro’s website says. If venues like these were truly committed to patrons’ safety, they would be concerned about safety inside and outside the venue. Disarming attendees’ of pepper spray, a non-lethal substance, undermines the safety of anyone with it on them.

It can be argued that allowing pepper spray into venue premises is a danger to other attendees. Yes, having pepper spray in the venue has a potential to be abused. However, people with pepper spray on their person aren’t trying to attack other people unprovoked, they’re simply trying defend themselves in the case of an attack. A fair compromise would be for venues to hold on to pepper spray while the attendee is in the venue, but then return it once they exit. This way it can’t be used on other attendees, but can be carried and potentially used on the way home.

Pepper spray is an important tool for the safety of women and others who carry it. Getting home from a concert in the city is one of the most vulnerable and dangerous moments for anyone, especially women. Disarming people of pepper spray is a huge step backwards in the age of sexual assault awareness and prevention. If pepper spray isn’t allowed into a venue you’re going to, remember to stay in a group, stay in well-lit areas and keep car keys in your hand on the way to your car if you drove.