Tase craze

Lezlie Lowe sets her stylish self-defense and torture implement

If you shoot someone with a Taser while you've got the soundtrack from Juno cranked to 11, does that mean you don't hear the person scream?

This and other questions I honestly couldn't have imagined I would ever ask myself (also: is the verb Taser? Like, "Gah! Aagh! I've been Tasered!" Or Tase? Like, "Dude, come on, don't Tase me!") now beg for an answer after Taser International has released its new "consumer" stun-gun---the Taser C2.

Holy heavenly father, are people ever gonna get zapped!

The Taser C2 delivers the same debilitating 50,000 volts as the law enforcement version, and it's cheap---about $380 for the deluxe version. Yeah, that's US funds, but you don't need the conversion. That's not because we're practically par; it's because Tasers are illegal in Canada.

"It's a prohibited weapon," says Jeff Carr of the Halifax Regional Police. "If you're caught with one, you'll be charged with a criminal offense. Not a good idea."

The C2 comes in a passel of designs---pink, silver and leopard print; like Taser International says, "Who says safety can't be stylish?"---and clips to a holster that doubles as an mp3 player (No joke.)

It's a fucking stun-gun walkman.

This thing's got women written all over it and, you know what? That's not even what bugs me the most about it.

I'm offended---hell yeah---that it's sold at taser.com with pictures of a smiling mom and an infant, under the headline "There When I Can't Be" (because, you see, women are vulnerable and when there's no man around, it helps to have a Taser tucked into your Baby Bjorn).

And I'm offended, too, that the product's other pitch targets women who don't feel vulnerable. It's a picture of a tough-looking woman in a blouse and blazer, backed by a busy downtown street. Her headline---"I Will Control My Own Destiny"---tops the suggestion that the Taser C2 is for "independent, self-reliant women."

The basis of this sales pitch is that the world we live in is a dangerous place. And that's odd, because here's what I just picked up from the Statistics Canada website--- "Canada's overall national crime rate, based on incidents reported to police, hit its lowest point in over<0x00A0>25<0x00A0>years in<0x00A0>2006, driven by a decline in non-violent crime."

In the US, where Tasers are sold, violent crime is on the wane too. The FBI reported in its semi-annual uniform crime report that for the first six months of 2007, crime rates dropped. Nationwide, violent crime fell 1.8 percent from 2006.

Despite the obvious mix-up about the need for in-purse zap-defence, the really devious part of Taser's marketing---the most stinging part---is that the C2 isn't being sold as an extreme-situations-call-for-extreme-measures kind of product. It's sold as a cool gadget.

Add pink plastic to the outside, a one-gig music player and sell it for as much as you'd pay for a good cell phone, and bang! It's completely normal. It's an iPod gun that's about the size and weight of the controller for your Wii.

This is no Wii.

You're familiar, of course, with the Vancouver International Airport death of confused and agitated Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, after he was shot by a Taser at least twice by RCMP officers in October.

The same week in Montreal, Quilem Registre died in hospital, after being shot by a Taser during an arrest for erratic driving.

In November, Howard Hyde died in the Burnside Correctional Facility, 30 hours after being shot by a Taser during a violent scuffle in a police booking area.

That's not all.

Amnesty International, which says more than 100 people have died in North America after Taser shocks (Steve Tuttle, Taser's VP of communications, told MSNBC in 2005 "medical examiners are clearing us in a vast majority of cases"), has big concerns about the use of Tasers and their push-of-a-button pain infliction.

Taser death rates are low, and compared to other weapons, Tasers leave little physical evidence of attack; the stun-gun's "close contact" mode (where the 50,000-volt jolting probes are used directly on the skin rather than by shooting from the gun) isn't for stand-offs, but for compliance when you already have someone in custody. It all means, to Amnesty International, the thing is full of ways it can be abused.

All this power---and it plays your favourite running mix too. Tasers, suddenly, are completely par for the course.

"I'm heading out to the gym! See ya later!"

"Don't forget your keys and Taser, honey!"

Maybe those violent crime rates will soon be on the rise, after all.

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