Perhaps the discovery of a Taser lurking in the bottom of your date's purse does not bode well for a romantic evening. But a compact version of the electric-shock weapons, which have attracted ample controversy in their use by police officers, will be arriving in stores soon, in pink.
Taser International, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has been selling its device, one that paralyzes targets with a seriously painful zap, for more than a decade. The device is used by roughly 11,000 police departments around the nation and is sold to consumers, at a hefty price, as a personal defense item.
Taser now offers an item that is far more compact and a lot less expensive than the standard Tasers used by police, though its shock is no less potent. The company's executives say they are trying to capture a market of people looking for a weapon that is more reliable than pepper spray, but less reliable, so to speak, than a gun, and less expensive than the standard Taser.
The new C2, as the weapon is called, looks more like a large disposable razor than a gun, comes in a variety of colors and costs $350, all of which Taser executives believe will persuade women to add the weapon to their checklist for the evening: lipstick, wallet, keys, Taser.
"It is a woman's product," said Kathy Hanrahan, president of Taser, who says she has experienced numerous shocks as part of her market research.
Hanrahan imagines a situation in which a woman is menaced as she makes her way to her car in a parking garage. She points and clicks her Taser at her target, delivering a 30-second shock (the police version transmits a 5-second zap) and then drops the Taser and runs madly. "If I am going to use it, I'm going to fire it and leave," she said.
Object of controversy
The use of Tasers, which deliver an excruciating 50,000-volt shock, has been scrutinized for several years by medical professionals, law enforcement officials and Amnesty International, which says that more than 200 people have died after being shot by the devices. Taser disputes Amnesty International's figures.
Several groups have pressed law enforcement officials to limit the use of Tasers to instances in which the only other choice is gunfire, and not to use it to subdue targets who are simply resisting orders, which is often how it is employed.
The Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group focused on improving police tactics, has recommended that a doctor examine those who have been shocked.
"We think there should be similar guidelines for citizens," said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the forum. "We're also concerned about the first time a citizen confronts an officer with a Taser."
But medical examiners have rarely cited Tasers as a cause of death, and the company's executives have long held that Taser-related fatalities were instead caused by drug overdoses. They cite the company's record (52-0) in product liability lawsuits.
One study, by a Wisconsin scientist, showed that shocks from the device caused the hearts of healthy pigs to stop beating. But Dr. Ted Chan, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California at San Diego, who has studied the effect of Taser shocks on healthy human volunteers, said in an interview that the product "is by and large pretty safe. In general tests we haven't found anything significant," although he has not tested the product on drug users.
For good - or bad?
As for people using Tasers while committing crimes, executives have designed an elaborate system to activate the gun, including a required background check over the phone. And the device, when fired, discharges a spray of confettilike pieces of paper printed with the gun's serial number.
Still, law enforcement officials may well take a dim view of the broader population having access to Tasers. "I'm just going to point out that even within our police department, they are restricted to supervisors and expert personnel," said Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the New York Police Department. "It certainly raises questions to have them in the hands of individuals who are not trained."
Taser executives say, though, that their product is a humane alternative to guns, and that Tasers deter crime even when they are simply pulled out and aimed, if never fired.
Shooting the C2 at a target makes it clear that to be on the receiving end of its power would be something other than splendiferous. After a loud pop and a wee bit of feedback that zips through the shooter's hand, the target buzzes uncontrollably for about 30 seconds.
Hanrahan looked on with satisfaction. "It's not the world we grew up in," she said. "People need to feel safe. We fill the void."