Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dutch Self-Defense

I was aware that it is illegal to own or carry a gun in Holland. Guns are, of course, controversial issues in most countries, and most US states for that matter. I also knew that you cannot carry a pocket knife, or any kind of knife, in Holland. Furthermore, you cannot have large knifes over a certain size in your home, even for display purposes, such as Samurai swords.

However, I was surprised to learn that it's also illegal to carry pepper spray in the Netherlands. I was talking with a female colleague about how she heard a noise at her front door the night before, and she went to inspect because she thought someone was trying to break into her apartment. Luckily, it ended up being nothing but some noise on the street, but it made her realize at that moment that she didn't have anything in her bedroom to defend herself with if someone actually did break in. I suggested that, for starters, she could simply get a can of pepper spray to keep with her, since she lives alone. But, she said it was illegal! What?

My colleagues went on to explain that it is also illegal to have a baseball bat in your car unless there is also a glove and baseballs present, as it can be used as a weapon. The same goes for having a golf club in your car without golf balls. You must also show that you have intent to play the sport, and in certain circumstances have the accompanying clothes on hand.

At the tone, please state your emergency:

I asked them how people were meant to defend themselves, then. They said by calling the police. Hmm… I think they misunderstood the question. Calling the police won’t stop someone from continuing to attack you. Furthermore, if you call the EU emergency number in the Netherlands, 112, you will get an automated system where you first have to listen to a recording (in Dutch, of course) and enter a number to select your city from a list of choices, and then select if you want the police, ambulance, or fire department. By the time you get through to a person the crime will already be over.

I asked my colleagues if they agreed with these laws, and they both shrugged their shoulders and said they weren't sure where they stood. They do feel that criminals have more rights than law-abiding citizens, and that makes them upset. Maybe that’s why the Dutch wear wooden clogs, so they have something legal to hit their attackers with, like Jackie Chan's great Rotterdam scene in 'Who Am I' (check it out on YouTube... classic).

Anyway, the point of this post was not to take a stance on weapons one way or the other. I just found it shocking that you cannot carry pepper spray, which is a major means of self defense for many people in the US. It also does no permanent damage, but simply provides necessary time to escape the situation until help arrives. After doing some light research, I found that pepper spray is considered a weapon in most of the EU. I understand that it can be seen as a weapon, if it is used with malice intent. But using that argument, almost anything can be used as a weapon if you get creative, including keys.

I believe that if a criminal is going to attack or mug you, then they are already breaking the law, so why do they care if it is also illegal to carry a weapon, too. So, only the law-abiding citizens have no means of protection. That is where the law can sometimes miss the point.

- S

Ironically, just the following week after my conversation with my colleagues about the above, this article was posted on

Woman fined for bread knife in car; Monday 04 January 2010
"A woman from the staunchly religious town of Staphorst has been fined €60 for carrying a bread knife in her car, just hours after picking it up at her local bakery through a coupon reward program, the Telegraaf reports.

The knife was spotted by police in her car glove box during a routine check when she was asked to produce her car papers. The woman had placed it there for safe-keeping while she went shopping.
Baker Willem Ubak told the paper he considers the police action childish and that he will pay the fine.”


Right to life said...

Over the top stupid

Unknown said...

In Holland you are also not allowed to own a replica firearm (e.g. Hop-up or BB gun) without a license - this can get you a prison sentence if you have it with you outside. But you are allowed to own an uprated paintball gun with no license whatsoever (I have a Tippmann TipX with glass reinforced nylon reballs) which could easily ACTUALLY kill somebody as opposed to just LOOKING like it could.

Double-edged knives are also illegal regardless of length (and possession will get you a €2.500 fine) - even the little credit-card ones. Actually I kind of understand that law.

Dutch weapon laws are weird though - and many are based around what a weapon LOOKS like it could do, as opposed to what it ACTUALLY could do.