Laura Sullivan narrated a report on Taser International's new personal stun guns on NPR's All Things Considered tonight. Given that it is April Fool's Day, at first I thought this was some kind of a tease, but as the story went on, I realized it is true. [The next story , on "New England Suffers Maple Woes", was an April Fool's Joke, describing maple trees that are filling up and exploding with sap due to the slowed demand for maple syrup (because of the popularity of low-carb diets), with hilarious references to "arboreal thermodynamics", the "tapping point" of maple trees, and Danish Samoa.]
These stun guns shoot two electrical darts up to 15 feet, which can incapacitate the victim by generating short pulses of intense voltage (50,000 volts) between the sites where the darts become embedded, lasting between 10 and 30 seconds. They have been used by law enforcement officers, and Taser is now planning a new advertising campaign to sell "citizen Tasers" for self defense -- claiming these are safe, effective, easy to use, legal to carry, convenient and responsible.
I was extremely impressed with the journalistic dedication of Ms. Sullivan, who volunteered to be tased, and described the experience as "like someone reached into my body and ripped my muscles out with a fork." I was reminded of another journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, whom Gary Trudeau parodied as "Uncle Duke" in his Doonesbury cartoon; one episode described one of Duke's campaign platform planks:
I'm for mandatory gun ownership. It's a simple safety issue. We require seat belts--why don't we require sidearms? I believe every American--man, woman or child--should be in a position to return fire, you know, in their day-to-day life. If you know someone's armed, it prevents a lot of misunderstandings, or at least they get resolved quickly.
As for the "responsible" claim in Taser's promotional literature, each air cartridge that power these new weapons will include 20-40 Anti-Felon IDentification (AFID) tags, "pieces of film printed with the serial number of that Air Cartridge are loaded behind them. When the TASER is deployed, these AFID tags are dispersed at the scene." Thus, any use of the weapon can potentially be traced to the place it was originally shipped to ... whether that is a place associated in any way with the person using the weapon remains to be seen, since it appears that Taser does not expect that its customers will necessarily retain ownership of these weapons.
Taser offers a Lifetime Replacement Policy: "If the TASER is used in self-defense, it can be deployed and left behind attached to the attacker causing incapacitation while you get to safety." So, once the 10- to 30-second window of opportunity is up, the stunnee can now become a stunner (the batteries are supposed to last up to 10 years). The story suggests that a Taser may not be easily distinguished from a firearm that shoots bullets, and so may be even more threatening ... at least to the uninitiated. Of course, if the prospective stunnee does have a firearm with bullets, this ploy may not be very effective ... such encounters may devolve into a variation of the childhood game of "rock, paper, scissors".