SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Reuters) - It resembles a hand-held electric razor and is available in metallic pink, electric blue, titanium silver and black pearl.
But it gives out a 50,000-volt jolt that short-circuits brain signals and momentarily incapacitates.
Meet the sleek new C2 stun gun from Taser International in Scottsdale, a controversial device aimed mainly at women consumers that has sparked widespread concern among U.S. law enforcement and human rights groups.
Police forces in the United States have been issued with Tasers since 1999 to subdue violent criminals. A pistol-like civilian version aimed at the self-defense market has been available since 1994.
But the new, lighter, brighter designer version, which was launched in late July with a price tag of around $350, is small enough to tuck into a purse and packs the same paralyzing punch.
“We wanted to make sure that it was something that people were comfortable carrying and didn’t make it look like they were ‘Dirty Harry,'” said Tom Smith, the company’s co-founder and board chairman, referring to the Clint Eastwood movie.
“And it does the job.”
But some of the nation’s top police authorities are concerned that the gadgets could easily wind up in the wrong hands. Amnesty International also is opposed, saying it can pose “serious harm” for women.
The C2 Taser, which fires two electrical probes and is equipped with a laser sight, can legally be sold to consumers in all but seven U.S. states. It is largely banned for civilian use throughout the rest of the world.
“If a police officer or a civilian is stunned with a Taser there are a whole array of things that can happen and most of them are very bad,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police in Washington, D.C.
Pasco, whose group represents 325,000 police officials nationwide, said the immobilizing devices should be limited to well-trained law enforcement professionals.
“There’s a tremendous amount of respect and accountability that goes along with a police officer using a Taser,” he said. “This Taser is no more regulated than a hair drier.”
An official with the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Alexandria, Virginia, said the group is concerned that the device had the potential of making an already dangerous job worse for police.
“It’s just one more thing that law enforcement officers will have to face in their day-to-day activities,” said Wendy Balazik, a spokeswoman for the 20,000-member association.
Taser said the gadget should be used for self defense. The idea is to fire the device, hit the intended target with its two electrical probes that stun a person for 30 seconds, drop the C2 at the scene and then run for help.
Company officials said they have taken steps to ensure that the C2 has ample safeguards, starting with its limited 15-foot (4.5-meter) range. Police can strike a target from 30 feet (9 meters).
The stun gun is shipped inert, meaning it can’t be fired until the buyer registers it, goes through a background check and receives a five-digit activation code from the company.
When fired, the Taser shoots out paper confetti that identifies the serial number registered to its owner. One-on-one training also is available for an additional fee.
“We’re hoping that we’re doing everything we can to ensure to the best our ability that it’s used correctly and if it’s not, that we can identify the user,” said Smith.
Smith said that everything carried on a police officer’s belt can be purchased by civilians, and that the company has no control over the intent of an individual to do harm.
The company hopes to begin producing about 20,000 of the Tasers by the end of the year.