Tear Gas

John Dowland was an accomplished lutenist and composer who lived in England in the 16th and 17th century. His most famous work is a song, an aire, called ‘Lachrimae’ although it was originally written as an instrumental for the lute. The sung version has the title ‘Flow My Tears’.

The name simply means ‘tears’, translated from Latin. A lachrymator is something that causes tears, and the song indeed is a pretty sad lament. However, the most effective lachrymator is tear gas, which works not on our emotional responses but by irritating the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. It causes crying, sneezing, coughing, pain, breathing difficulty and even temporary blindness. It is used commonly in riot control, but is prohibited as a weapon in warfare, following the Geneva Convention Protocol of 1925.1

The Tear-Gas Act 1964 criminalises various things about tear gas – actually, about ‘any substance, whether a solid, liquid, vapour or gas, or any combination of such substances used or intended to be used as a lachrymator’.2 The Act is administered by the Minister of Justice.

  1. It is an offence to manufacture or import any tear gas or such article otherwise than in accordance with the authorisation and conditions of a permit from the Minister.3

  2. If you are in possession of tear gas, or any article used or intended to be used for releasing tear gas, other than in terms of a permit4 and then in accordance with any conditions attaching to such permit, you commit an offence.5

  3. Any person who hinders, obstructs, or delays any person in the exercise of his powers under the Act commits an offence.6

  1. Wikipedia – ‘Tear Gas’

  2. See section 1 of the definition of tear gas. 

  3. Section 5(a) read with section 2. 

  4. The Act also provides for an exemption where the person in possession ‘falls within any class or category of persons in respect of which the Minister has by notice in the Gazette granted permission to be in possession thereof’. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there has been no such notice published. 

  5. Section 5(b) read with section 3. 

  6. Section 5(c).