History Of Tear Gas: When The U.S. Gassed Their Own Citizens

By Jacob Shelton
(Public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Tear gas, mace, pepper spray—we see them being used pretty much every day on the news without knowing exactly what they are. Essentially, tear gas is a chemical weapon that causes skin and eye irritation, respiratory problems, and blindness. It's not good. The effects of tear gas can be so harsh that its use has been banned in warfare, but it's still used by police in countries like the United States and Australia for crowd control. This nasty chemical has a violent history dating back to the 19th century, but it only recently (historically speaking) started infiltrating our streets.

Tear Gas Isn't A Gas

Despite its straightforward name, tear gas isn't a gas. It's more of a powder or an aerosolized solid that attacks mucus membranes and makes it hard to breathe or see within a minute of exposure. When the powder hits the air, it gloms onto any bit of moisture it can find, whether that's your tears, sweat, saliva, mucus, or even the products you use in your hair. Your chest tightens, you can't see, and as your body attempts to flush your orifices to get you back to normal, the symptoms get worse.