The news release was meant to be clever: "The hottest new gift for Christmas is the Safe at Home Stun Gun," it proclaimed. It was possible that the man who sent the release wanted to put a new twist on the old holiday notion of peace on earth.
But Hugh Farrior said otherwise. Sales were off at his small store, Safe At Home on S Dale Mabry Highway, and he was hoping for some attention to his usually hot item.
He sold 46 stun guns in October, but not quite as many in November and even fewer so far this month. The recession is on, and it seems to have even affected what people will spend to arm themselves.
In this case, the starting price is only $59 for a stun gun the size of a beeper. Farrior had several others, including two the size of walkie-talkies and one other that doubled as a night stick. The only difference was the two tiny metal prongs coming out of the top.
When you throw the switch on any of the stun guns, it emits the angriest-sounding snaps, crackles and pops imaginable. An arc of blue light, sizzling with thousands of volts of electricity, dances between the metal points.
This way, as long as you actually touch your attacker with the thing, you can zap him into a paralyzed daze for a few minutes.
"The smallest, meekest girl can take down the biggest jerk in the world," Hugh Farrior said.
"It does exactly what you want to do with a gun, without injuring them."
This is supposed to satisfy everybody that a stun gun is simultaneously benign and nasty, and not at all like a regular gun. But as a person with no stomach for guns, I am still profoundly uncomfortable.
These things are illegal in some places. Crooks can buy them, too. And you've crossed a pretty serious line when you have decided that life is so threatening that you need to arm yourself. To proclaim this at Christmas is, at the very least, ironic, and the most, frightening.
Hugh Farrior communicated none of that. He had a soft-looking face and wore a natty polo shirt, and was polite and easy with his customers, including Barbara Clardy.
She needed to have her stun gun exchanged. She and Farrior got into a discussion in which she said she had heard she needed a permit for the stun gun if she wanted to carry it in her purse like a concealed weapon.
This, you would figure, Farrior knew. But he appeared not to. He hadn't checked the law for a year, he said. "Cops tell me, no problem . . . unless it is some rookie looking to make his first bust."
The three of us _ Mrs. Clardy, Farrior and I _ got to talking, and I agreed to check on the law for a final word. I left hoping the law treated stun guns the way I thought of them _ namely, much like a gun.
Sure enough, the Secretary of State's Office in Tallahassee says that if you're going to use the stun gun for personal protection, which is its usual purpose, and are going to keep it in your pocket or purse, or on your belt under your jacket, it's a concealed weapon. In other words, it is like a gun, and you must spend $160 getting a concealed-weapon permit.
To get the permit you usually must take a $30 safety course. But because Florida is goofy on guns and gun regulation, the only course available is a handgun course, and anybody who wants to carry a concealed stun gun has to take it.
This makes no sense but is fact, according to the Tampa Police Pistol and Rifle Club, which teaches the course.
Barbara Clardy decided to keep her stun gun but only at home, where she doesn't need a permit. She said she felt misled by Hugh Farrior.
So you can decide for yourself whether a stun gun is just the thing to give in this season of good will.
But don't think _ in case this makes any difference _ you'll get away cheap.