Last Sunday the venerable CBS News magazine “60 Minutes” did an informative report on a piece of hardware that, hopefully, most of us are only vaguely familiar with: The electric stun gun device known by the brand name “Taser.” As the TV report pointed out, the developers of the Taser took the name from a favorite childhood book title, “Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle” which works when one has the arcane knowledge that the character’s full name was Thomas A. Swift.
Tasers were thrown into the national spotlight in 2007 when John Kerry appeared at the University of Florida at Gainesville and a 21 year-old male undergrad in the audience became unruly and was ‘tased’ by security personnel, even after pleading, “don’t tase me, bro!” Had the officer involved actually been the man’s real-life brother, I’d be even further into my point than I am at this moment.
Because while the “60 Minutes” report centered on law enforcement decisions like the one made in Gainesville, where you might successfully argue that the Taser was deployed too soon or even wrongly, the part of the CBS story that intrigued me most was this statement near the end of the report: That 1.5 million suspects have been estimated to have been ‘tased’, that the Taser company has run-off all competitors and enjoys a virtual monopoly with sales to law enforcement agencies… and that the company “is now pushing into the consumer market.”
In fact they’re already all over that consumer market. In mere seconds I found the website for “The Home Security Superstore” and checked out the prices on Tasers. The bigger ones run about a grand, and the smaller ones are about $400. Regarding the smaller models I refer you to the advertising copy meant to sell personal Tasers: “ 6” compact, lightweight design allows it to be easily and discreetly carried everywhere you go.” And later on, “New T-wave technology, works even through bullet proof vests.”
Before we get too agitated at the availability of a device that controls others by using electricity to spasm their muscles and send them to the ground screaming, let it be known that the “Superstore” insists that any Taser purchase includes a felony background check. You buy the device, then you wait until the people that run the felony check operation call you with instructions on how to activate your Taser. It’s like having to hang on until Christmas Day to open your presents.
The reason the words “consumer market” made my ears point up like my dog when she hears dinner coming is that on November 14th The Mirror reported on a police incident in Santa Monica in which a woman was arrested for spraying her live-in boyfriend with pepper spray. The man who got peppered indicated to police that he had been trying to have a conversation with the woman when without warning she sprayed him with the easily-obtained pepper spray.
Had the girlfriend cleared the felony check at the Home Security Super Store she might just as easily have turned in that moment to her “easily and discreetly carried” Taser which could have penetrated the boyfriend’s bullet proof vest, assuming he knew things were going to get bumpy and he threw on some Kevlar before starting in on their “conversation.”
Over the weekend someone who reads this column with regularity (yes, people do!) thanked me for a recent piece discussing hand guns. We agreed that when people are killed or seriously injured by guns the focus of reporting on those incidents rarely follows the path of the weapon getting into the wrong hands, but instead on the personality of the ‘perp’. But there are no gun events without guns. I can see a view where one might think getting more Tasers out there would possibly bring down the number of gun events resulting in heartbreak. That’s certainly the view of the men who manufacture Tasers and told “60 Minutes” that they are “making a tool that protects lives” and that by selling their tool to law enforcement “We have changed the world.” But again, I was more concerned about their consumer sales division.
Initially, Tasers powered the flight of their electric darts with gunpowder. When Taser developed the technology to power the darts with compressed gas, Tasers were free of the regulations subjected to the sale of firearms. Now your own home could have the protection of Tasers without the concern for safety inherent with keeping guns in your house. Assuming that you do, in fact, have that concern for safety.
Human decision-making, emotion, anger management, common sense: The core elements, ultimately, involved when integrating a weapon into a potentially violent confrontation. The future is bringing us options, but they still require that someone makes a proper decision. Maybe you don’t even want your live-in girlfriend to know that you can get pepper spray from the Home Security Super Store that comes in a heart-shaped perfume sprayer for only $9.95. The perfume case “provides the element of surprise” according to the sales pitch. Yeah, I guess so. Because it looks like you can get into a “conversation” and have no idea what sort of surprise might be waiting.
Contact Steve Stajich