By C. Julia Nelson

What would you do if, while walking to your vehicle at night in a low lit, relatively empty parking lot, someone put a gun to your head and said “drive”? Do you have a plan of action?

Scenarios like this, coupled with recent headlines of kidnappings and homicides, have sparked a strong interest by Sandy Springs residents–especially women–to learn the art of self defense.

That was proven on March 12 when more than 70 women and about a half dozen men showed up for a pilot self defense class offered at the Sandy Springs Police headquarters, at 5995 Barfield Rd.

“We’ve had some events that happened recently that bring this to light,” Lt. Steve Rose of the Sandy Springs Police Department said. “Bad things do happen. Everything we talk about tonight has to do with common sense.”

Detective Tiffanye Davis led the one-hour class offering tips and demonstrating how to protect oneself when caught in stressful and potentially dangerous situations.

“Trust your instincts,” Davis said. “Your gut is usually right.”

Lt. Rose added that when “you are in fear for your life, you are legally allowed to use deadly force.”

Often times, women are fully equipped with everyday tools that can be used for protection, most of which can be found in a purse, such as pens, nail files, nail clippers, keys or anything sharp.

Det. Davis discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using pepper spray, which is legal in Georgia. She suggested it as a good mechanism to quickly flee an assailant.

“You have to be ready, quick and efficient when you use it,” she said. “Spray and run; don’t wait to see if it works.”

Pepper spray, also known as OC Spray (Oleoresin Capsicum, which is a derivative of chile peppers), should be able to shoot a stream at least eight to 10 feet and should carry an expiration date. Pepper spray should be shaken daily, tested at least once every three months and replaced once a year.

The trick to using pepper spray is in knowing which direction the nozzle is facing and making sure the wind is moving toward the assailant.

One retail web site that sells a variety of pepper spray tools is Everything from key chains to fake pens and lipsticks are available for purchase for less than $10.

In addition to safety tips, Det. Davis demonstrated a few self defense mechanisms including knee strikes, a palm heel to the face and getting out of a choke hold using an arm bar.

“There’s a time and a place for you to be polite and there’s a time and a place for you to be aware of what your situation is,” Lt. Rose said. “Trust your first instinct; if it causes you to be apprehensive, go with that. Know when you’re vulnerable; know when you’re not; know when to take action.”

Based on the overwhelming response to the pilot program, Lt. Rose said the department would coordinate additional classes in the future with more interactive opportunities. The next class is likely to be scheduled in April, but a specific date, time and location is yet to be determined.