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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with Day to Day, and our regular Thursday treat, What's the New What. That's our weekly series looking at new trends in young America. It's produced by Youth Radio. Today Youth Radio's Jordan Monroe fills us in on the hip new accessory. Watch out, it may shock you.

JORDAN MONROE: What's the new what? Stun guns might be the new pepper spray.

(Soundbite of popping noise and shouting)

MONROE: Pepper spray was once just a tool for police and law enforcement officers, but it became standard equipment for average consumers. Now some stun gun companies are hoping those consumers will swap their cans of pepper spray for something a bit more shocking.

Unidentified Woman: When you're in a very stressful situation, you can just go OK, I know how to use this thing, press the button and then you're done.

MONROE: These are testimonials from Taser International's web site.

Unidentified Man: It gave me a great peace of mind knowing that my wife is walking through that parking garage and she's got her hand on her Taser.

MONROE: Now, here's Steve Tuttle, representative for Taser International, a leading company in the stun gun market.

Mr. STEVE TUTTLE (Representative of Taser International): What we're telling people is that when you've gotten millions of violent crimes per year occurring here in the United States, there is no denying that we've got an issue with personal safety. There's no scare tactics beyond that.

MONROE: OK. No scare tactics. But this music from Taser International's website does make me a little afraid. So I asked USC professor and author of "The Culture of Fear", Dr. Barry Glassner, is this feeling that we need to protect ourselves justified?

Professor BARRY GLASSNER(University of Southern California, Author "The Culture of Fear"): We live in about the safest times in human history, and about the safest place in human history, in the United States right now. And yet there's this generalized fear out there of the mysterious stranger that's out to get me and to get my children and my family. Because that's what we have had promoted to us by people who are selling themselves in campaigns or selling products.

MONROE: So fear sells, but how about if you can also look good? Some tasers come in pink and leopard print, and are even equipped with MP3 players. So I'm a little confused here. Is it a weapon, or is it an accessory?

Mr. TUTTLE: You know, there is some confusion when you look at the website.

MONROE: Steve Tuttle of Taser International.

Mr. TUTTLE: Is it a gimmick? Is it an accessory? No. What it is, is we're making personal safety fashionable. If it's not fashionable, the women aren't going to carry it and, quite frankly, the men aren't going to buy it for their spouses and their girlfriends.

MONROE: This attempt to be fashionable is a bit too much, according to USC Professor Barry Glassner.

Prof. GLASSNER: But it's not surprising, because what we're trying to do here, if we're a company selling these sorts of things, right, is to make them more socially acceptable, and to make them cool!

MONROE: Making stun guns cool might take more than just slick advertising. The devices have been stigmatized by well-known incidents like this one.

Mr. ANDREW MEYER (Student Activist): Don't tase me, bro!

MONROE: When campus police from the University of Florida tased a student activist.

Mr. MEYER: Ow! Ow!

MONROE: Law enforcement agencies are facing legal challenges for their use of stun guns. And Amnesty International blames the devices for contributing to nearly 300 deaths.

Mr. MEYER: Oh my god!

MONROE: But America's chronic fear might catapult stun guns from police holsters to women's purses. And if that happens, I think we'll have to admit that stun guns might just be the new pepper spray.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Youth Radio's Jordan Monroe with this week's What's the New What. To listen to past What's, and last week we stunned quite a few of you, go to npr.org/what.

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