News; Stun guns for citizens...

Published: Wednesday 30 March, 2011

Stun guns for citizens a charged issue with law enforcement, legislators...

WEST MICHIGAN — Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jeff Blackmer said he wishes the state legislature would holster attempts to allow stun gun instructor for the sheriff’s office since 2009. “It’s bad enough to keep kids away from knives and firearms.
“People might treat stun guns like toys and they’re dangerous. There is an awful lot of power,” he said.
Tasers, a brand name — are not legal in Michigan outside of law enforcement and a few other limited exceptions. Law enforcement officers have used Tasers in Michigan for several years. The device fires two prongs that can penetrate clothing and deliver an electrical charge strong enough to disable a person.

Now, a bill to allow stun guns under the state’s concealed weapons law recently passed the state House. The bill would allow people to carry so-called “citizen Tasers,” if they undergo a training course and meet the standard requirements for getting a concealed weapons permit. Those include not having a felony criminal record or documented history of mental issues.
Many legislators support the bill and say concerns about people misusing stun guns “subject to the same regulations and restrictions as concealed pistols,” according to the bill.

“You would have the same rules in place,” Hansen said.
Another supporter in the Legislature is Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive. “The legislation basically says if we trust you with a deadly force weapon, we certainly should trust you with a less-than-deadly force weapon,” he said.

But, like Blackmer, many law enforcement officials oppose the idea and hope to steer people toward using pepper spray as a means of protection.
“I hope (the bill) doesn’t go through in Michigan,” Blackmer said. “You have to treat a Taser like a firearm. A pepper spray will disable a person from being able to see or attack. But a Taser is more of a weapon.”
Blackmer said he worries a Tased (for training purposes) and I can’t explain the feeling, but I would never want it to happen again. It goes all the way through the body. No matter how hard you try to move you can’t,” Blackmer said. “They totally incapacitate the body. They shut the body down.”
For Peggy Foster, co-owner of Gary’s Guns Inc., 4021 Apple, in Muskegon Township, citizens coming in to the store, inquiring about stun guns isn’t anything new. “They come in and ask for them on a constant basis,” she said.
It’s about time they’re legal, as long as a purchaser has proper training, she said.
Foster, who is a firearms trainer, said she would also do stun gun training if the legislation becomes law.
“I do want everyone to be trained and understand when to use it and when not to use that,” she said. “If it passes, I do hope everyone does get properly trained.”
But Blackmer said he worries criminals will end up with a stun gun — something that already happens when firearms are stolen from homes and then later end up on the streets.
“A Taser could be used for just about anything — an armed robbery, a car-jacking, any violent crime. They are far more persuasive than a knife,” he said.
Muskegon County Undersheriff Dan Stout said he sees “both sides” of the issue.
“I can see where people say, ‘I don’t want to kill somebody, but I want to protect my family,’” Stout said. “On the other hand, I can see people getting a false sense of security, too, and maybe not waiting for local law enforcement to get there. They need to let the true professionals take over.”
But, Stout adds, if “your back is against the wall, whatever it takes.”
Ottawa County Sheriff Gary Rosema said stun guns have been useful tools for officers who need to disable someone who simply refuses to cooperate with police.
“We have had some really good luck with Tasers,” he said. “They have helped resolve bad situations for us.”
His only concern about allowing “citizen Tasers” is the possibility that someone hit by a stun gun might recover more quickly than expected and cause trouble for the stun gun owner.
“In law enforcement, we train our people to react when we deploy a Taser and subdue a suspect,” Rosema said.
“You as a private citizen, you have to deal with the reaction of just Tasing somebody, and it’s usually not an enjoyable event for a person who has just been Tased.”
Ron Dehne, owner of Michigan Taser Distributing in South Lyon, which serves law enforcement needs in Michigan, said a “citizen Taser” would likely sell for about $400.
They are different from police-issued stun guns because they have a 30-second electrical discharge instead of an estimated 5 seconds for the police units.
Muskegon County Sheriff Deputy Kevin Bouwman fired a Taser brand weapon at a target as a demonstration for the Chronicle on March 15, 2011. Weapons like the Taser brand may be available for citizens in Michigan.
He said the longer discharge is meant to give the stun gun owner a longer time to escape a dangerous situation, tempering the concerns of officials like Rosema.
Stun guns also are equipped with safety features whereby the manufacturer makes them “activated” through an input code that is only given after a successful felony background check. The compressed nitrogen firing mechanism also includes 20 to 30 pieces of confetti, each printed with the stun gun’s serial number, to help identify who fired a stun gun.
The confetti can be useful is somebody tries to use a stun gun to commit a crime.
“All you are doing is giving a group of people the option of carry a non-lethal weapon. It’s not like you’re going to be outfitting everyone, just those who want them and that qualify for a concealed weapons permit.”

— Chronicle News Service’s John Tunison contributed to this report

-Heather Lynn Peters
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