At least 100 law enforcement agencies have used tear gas against protesters in recent weeks


Washington (June 26, 2020) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today announced legislation to ban the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by law enforcement. The No Tear Gas or Projectiles Act would prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement officers’ use of tear gas and rubber bullets by banning federal officers’ use of riot control agents and kinetic impact projectiles, and by restricting the allocation of federal funding to state and local entities that do not ban riot control agents and kinetic impact projectiles. The legislation also creates a civil penalty for law enforcement officers who violate the prohibition, as well as establishes a private right of action for their victims. The Chemical Weapons Convention bans the use of riot control agents – including tear gas – in warfare, but U.S. law enforcement can still use them against civilians. 


“Our streets are not meant to be battlefields, and law enforcement shouldn’t be using weapons of war against protestors and other Americans,” said Senator Markey. “Law enforcement’s use of tear gas also compounds the effects of structural racism, because we know communities of color are already suffering disproportionately during this global respiratory pandemic. It’s time we stop using these potentially lethal weapons against our own people. I thank Senator Sanders for his partnership on this legislation and urge our colleagues to join us in protecting the health and rights of the American people.”


“How can it be, in the United States of America, that militarized police forces can repress our people like occupying armies?” said Senator Sanders. “Enough is enough. Americans should never have to worry about being blinded, injured, or even killed by police as they exercise their First Amendment rights. I am proud to be joining Senator Markey to introduce this legislation to ban tear gas and rubber bullets. We need to make certain that when people go to the street to protest, that they are not treated like criminals and that their basic constitutional rights are not denied.”


A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.


For the term “riot control agent,” the legislation uses the same definition found in the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which the United States is a signatory, and which covers tear gas and its relative, pepper spray. According to a recent ProPublica report, tear gas leaves victims at “higher risk for contracting influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses” and “has been found to cause long-term health consequences.” Injuries can also include chemical burns, blurred vision, corneal erosions, ulcers, nerve damage, abnormal growth of tissue on the eyes, and permanent vision loss. The term “kinetic impact projectiles” covers rubber and plastic bullets, bean bag rounds, sponge rounds, pellet rounds, wooden dowels, and any other projectile-delivered impact munitions. Both riot control agents and kinetic impact projectiles have been found to be indiscriminate weapons than can cause serious bodily injury, and in some cases, death.