Friday, May 09, 2008
Ding - Dong. Taser calling!
In a downtown loft apartment in Denver, Colorado, a group of 30-something women is having a party. They joke easily with each other about men, cats and botox.
It's more Sex and the City than Psycho, but party organiser Dana Shafman would have them believe they could easily be victims of violent crime.
She runs a company that sells Tasers, the electric stun guns used by security forces around the world.
In Colorado and other US states, it's legal for ordinary people to own them. Dana's marketing them to women as the ideal personal protection device.
"I've been to everyone's Avon-type tupperware-style parties, purse parties, clothing parties, boutique parties and I felt like why not have a self-defence party? Why not have a Taser party, because without self-defence you won't have any of the other stuff."
'Take it to the gym'
She gives a presentation, including worrying crime figures for Denver.
This is an unusual party, to say the least - there's food, but no alcohol, and much of the time is spent listening to disturbing statistics
But she also goes on to show off the different colours that are available (bright red, soft pink and electric blue are all on display) and the fashionable accessories you can buy, including a carrying pouch made of fake leopard-print fur.
"I sometimes carry mine with me like this to the gym," Dana says.
You can order your Taser at this party. It'll cost you US $350 to buy (about £180), and you'll have to pass a background criminal record check first.
Dana says she sold two Tasers in the six months before she started the parties. Now it's one a day.
This is an unusual party, to say the least. There's food, but no alcohol, and much of the time is spent listening to disturbing statistics.
'Deaths in custody'
The lone male party guest is Kevin Sailor, an off-duty police officer, brought in to demonstrate how a Taser works.
Tasers in leopard print and pink
The latest models are designed to appeal to women
Like many a partygoer who doesn't really know anyone, he spends much of the time on his own, slightly awkwardly standing with his (soft) drink. But he holds court later, when explaining the device and how best to use it.
He's a firm believer that Tasers are not permanently harmful - but civil liberties groups voice concerns over this.
The American Civil Liberties Union argues there have been a number of deaths in custody, following Taser use by security officials. They want the devices more strongly regulated and oppose proliferation among civilians.
But when I ask Kevin Sailor if he thinks America would be a safer place if everyone owned a Taser, he says: "Everybody that's a law-abiding citizen. Obviously cirminals or convicted felons, no I don't want them to be armed with one."
He talks of levelling the playing field, and the party guests listen patiently and ask questions, but really they are just waiting to get their hands on a Taser and have a go.
Dana talks them through how to hold one, load it and fire it and then it's their turn.
By the way, they're aiming at a target pinned to a cork board, not each other.
'It kinda scared me'
The first guest steps up, fires and runs to other side of the room, smiling, pleased with herself. Everyone else claps. The metal-coated paper target lights up as the current surges through it.
"Don't touch the wires," warns Dana, "they're live."
Later she shows everyone the vicious metal barbs: "They're even harder to pull out!" she announces.
The next guest, Amanda Moseley, puts her baby daughter in another room, then takes her turn.
She fires, squeals and says: "It kinda scared me."
Later she tells me she would consider buying one, because guns "are not really [her] thing".
Veronica Sword looks pretty excited to have a go. "If it wasn't in a party atmosphere, I probably wouldn't have ended up learning about Tasers," she reveals.
Lena Guare, whose apartment this is, takes her turn and says: "I thought there would be more of a kick to it, because I've shot guns before, but No, it was cool."
She tells me she would consider buying one, because it might make her feel safer, especially when she goes running alone.
Parties like this are a growing phenomenon.
While national security is an important issue in the US presidential race, local elections in America are often fought on the question of personal safety - numbers of police officers, how they are armed and how secure people feel in their neighbourhoods.
In a country with about one gun for every adult, Tasers are sometimes touted as a less dangerous alternative.
While some criticise parties like this Denver soiree for putting more weapons on the streets, several people here, tonight at least, seem convinced it's an effective way to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms.