Libby Lewis, NPR
Dana Shafman uses an aluminum target to show attendees of a Taser house party in Fairfield, Conn., where to aim the weapon. Shafman is an independent Taser dealer.
Taser is marketing a version of its stun gun — in metallic pink, among other shades — to women.
First, there was the Tupperware party. Then came gatherings for friends and neighbors to admire and bid on gourmet cooking gear, scented candles, lingerie and now ... the Taser.
That's right: Taser International is working with independent dealers to market a version of its stun gun — in metallic pink, among other shades — to women. The weapon, priced under $400, delivers 50,000 volts of low-current electricity.
On a recent evening, in a cozy split-level home in Fairfield, Conn., a half-dozen people — mostly women — listen with interest as Dana Shafman makes her pitch.
Shafman owns an independent dealership called Shieldher Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., that sells Tasers to women for personal safety.
Shafman, 35, is likable in that American, go-get-'em kind of way. Standing in her red suede cowboy boots, she tells the gathering, "You have a full right to carry this," adding, "In fact, I keep mine in my purse!"
The U.S. government doesn't consider Tasers to be firearms. They're legal in most states — with restrictions. Taser will sell you one if you're 18 or older and can pass a felony background check.
Fairfield is one of the safest corners of America. In 2006, it had one homicide and three reported rapes. But Fairfield is also next door to Bridgeport, which has troubling crime statistics that Shafman cites: 28 murders, 69 forcible rapes, 659 robberies and 753 assaults in 2006. She also brings up campus crime statistics.
At her last Taser party, Shafman says, someone asked her if she is trying to scare people into buying Tasers. "I say, 'Watch the news,' " Shafman says.
Debbie Deutch, a mom from Fairfield, has a question: "Do you think law enforcement is afraid of seeing people out on the street with Tasers?"
Shafman addresses the safety issue head-on. "It is not a lethal weapon," she says. "It's never been proven that the Taser causes death."
In fact, the issue is complicated — and far from settled. More than 200 people have died after being hit by Tasers or similar electro-shock weapons. The Justice Department is studying what role Tasers might have had in some deaths.
But at this party, it's time to shoot. Deutch goes first. With Shafman's encouragement, she aims and shoots at an aluminum target; it lights up when Deutch hits it.
Police Tasers shock for five seconds. These Tasers deliver an electrical shock for 30 seconds straight. Both can deliver repeated shocks — just press the trigger over and over. Shafman says the idea is to be able to stun a bad guy several times and run away.
Deutch's turn is up. With Shafman's encouragement, Rachel Beitman gives the Taser a go. Beitman, 20, goes to college classes in Bridgeport. The party is taking place at her parents' home, where she lives.
Everybody takes a turn at shooting. A few partygoers make their way to the hummus and chips laid out for guests. Lisa Turnick is thinking about being aware.
"Most people are so consumed with their day-to-day lives; they're oblivious to what's going on," Turnick says. Bam! the Taser emits a loud sound as someone takes a turn pulling the trigger.
Deutch tells Beitman's mom, Robin, "I think they just took out your chandelier!"
"That's OK," Beitman says. "I actually just ordered some new CFL [compact fluorescent] light bulbs."
The chandelier is fine.
Nobody buys a Taser on this night. But Shafman says she sells about one every day.