Personal Stun Guns May Be Next Sales Wave for Taser

Steve Tuttle keeps a Taser stun gun in his bedroom night stand and another in the glove compartment of his Honda Accord.

The executive with Arizona-based Taser International is not alone: the company sells a special version of the zapping device through its web site for about $1,000 US to citizens in the United States and abroad.

It's being marketed as a tool to immobilize intruders, giving people time to get safely out of the house and call police.

Law enforcement agencies remain the company's primary customers.

``That's what we know, that's where we've been very successful and that's where we've seen the growth in our company,'' said Tuttle.

But families, private security firms, airlines, prisons and the military are also potentially attractive markets for the company.

The recent boom in Taser popularity has swelled profits for makers of the powerful weapons.

Soaring sales of the 50,000-volt stun guns pushed profits for the three months ended June 30 to $4.5 million US _ up from $347,059 US for the same quarter in 2003, say Taser International filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sales for the same period leaped to $16.3 million US, from $4.2 million US the year before.

The company experienced 100 per cent revenue growth in each of the last two calendar years and expects 150 per cent growth in 2004, said Tuttle.

Recently Britain announced expansion of Taser use by police following a field trial _ a move Tuttle says could pave the way for sales in countries including France, Germany, New Zealand and South Korea, where officials were awaiting the United Kingdom's decision.

While the sale of Tasers to individuals is legal in many U.S. states, they're tightly controlled in Canada, classified as prohibited weapons and used almost exclusively by police and correctional officers.

The thought of average citizens carrying stun guns makes some people shudder.

``Our concern is we don't want to see them smuggled into this country for use by criminals and other less-than-noble people,'' said Emile Therien, president of the Canada Safety Council.

``It could be a very ugly product in the hands of civilians. I mean, why would you want it?''

Therien cited various reports of cases in the United States in which criminals used stun guns to intimidate victims.

Tuttle insists the guns are not a tool of choice for outlaws.

However, the safety council wrote Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan last summer calling for appropriate border measures to control the illegal entry of Tasers into Canada.

A national organization that represents many in the private security field says members lack the necessary training to use the stun guns or other means of force reserved for police.

``It would be silly for private security to be promoting the use of Tasers, in my humble opinion,'' said Gordon Pinder, executive director of the Canadian Society for Industrial Security.

Still, Vancouver lawyer Phil Rankin has no doubt Tasers will quickly spread in Canada and the United States, much to his dislike.

``Try and get somebody in Vancouver or Toronto to advocate using electric dog collars ... to shock dogs to comply. People would be up in arms,'' said Rankin, who represents the family of a Vancouver man who died after being Tasered last May.

``If it's too cruel for animals to have, it's probably too cruel for people.''

Some, including Amnesty International, have expressed concern about the potential abuse of stun guns in nations with poor human-rights records.

Taser has sold guns to customers in 40 countries, said Tuttle. He refused to release the list, calling it proprietary information.