by Lizzie Widdicombe March 3, 2008
The New Yorker
Dana Shafman was at home in Arizona, preparing to visit her cousin Robin Beitman, in Fairfield, Connecticut, when she experienced an anxious moment. Shafman—a dealer in Taser stun guns—was packing up her wares to send ahead, when it hit her that she had put her last gun in the box. “I realized that I couldn’t be at home without a Taser,” she said. “It becomes something similar to your cell phone. If I leave the house without it, I go into panic mode. It’s that safety blanket.”
Shafman, who is thirty-four, is the inventor of the Taser party—it’s like a Tupperware party, but the women get together to pick out Tasers rather than plastic storage containers. Last week, she hosted her first out-of-state party, at her cousin’s in Connecticut. “It’s about educating the customer,” Shafman explained, as she arranged three Taser C2s—pink, blue, and silver—on a pine coffee table in Beitman’s living room, along with coördinating leopard-print pouches. The new model, introduced last year, is, at around three hundred dollars, cheaper than the one wielded by cops, and is about the size and weight of an electric razor—the Virginia Slims of stun guns. “I want people to get comfortable with the product,” Shafman said. “I want people to play with them, if they so desire.” Behind her, Beitman was putting out snacks: hummus, cookies, grapes, and pink lemonade. (Shafman has a no-alcohol rule where Tasers are involved.) “I’ll be honest, when I first heard about this I was torn,” Beitman said. “But I actually shot one on Friday, and now I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one.”
The guests arrived: three young women, all from New York, all in jeans and high heels. (Connecticut is the only state in the tristate area where it’s legal to own a Taser.) “Before we start, I want to ask you guys how you’re currently protecting yourself,” Shafman said. The women were quiet. “I’m embarrassed to say I use my cell phone,” one said. “I used to have pepper spray, but it would spray in my bag.” Sarah Kreisman, a lawyer, said that she had once taken a self-defense class where she was trained to poke an attacker in the groin and the eyeballs. “Very good,” Shafman said. She explained that she has never been attacked, but, then, she has always been vigilant; she kept a baseball bat by her bed in college. “I graduated a couple of years ago to a barbecue knife under my pillow,” she said. (Stalkerish ex-boyfriend.)
The women discussed what-if scenarios and rape statistics, and then, one at a time, selected a C2 from the table. Shafman pointed out the gun’s sliding safety switch and its built-in flashlight. It comes with a single cartridge, or one shot; a spring-loaded mechanism shoots out two fishhook-like metal probes. The probes are attached to wire filaments: when you pull the trigger, the metal probes are propelled into your attacker’s body like darts, creating a closed circuit, and administering up to fifty thousand volts of electricity. (If the darts miss, the Taser itself can still be wielded as a stun gun. “Go for the jugular,” Shafman said.)
Shafman had set up a foil-covered target in Beitman’s living room, with a silhouette of a man on it. Kreisman tried shooting him. She slid open the safety lock, and the Taser made a rattling sound, indicating that the electricity was running. Then she pressed the trigger: the probes shot out and hit the man-target in the chest. There was a loud smack! Blue light twinkled on the tinfoil. “Look how accurate she is!” Shafman said over the guests’ oohs and ahs. Police tasers shock people for only five seconds, but the civilian version can send out electricity for up to thirty seconds, presumably giving one a chance to escape. Kreisman pressed the button a few more times, each time creating the frying sound associated with bug zappers, while her friends cheered. “How does that feel?” Shafman asked. “Pretty good,” Kreisman said.
“Most people arrive with a fear-based perception of the device,” Shafman said, but she added that that changes when they realize that the Taser won’t cause injury. She got over her own fear by volunteering to be Tasered at a training facility in Arizona. “I wanted to be shot by my own product,” she said. “I was, like, ‘Just shoot me.’ I did it for three seconds. The trainer was really nice. He gives you a verbal warning— ‘Taser! Taser!’—and all of a sudden you hear a pop. He shot me in the rear end.” Shafman shook her head. “It’s just a really intense, harsh pain. It feels like—if you’ve ever walked on a cold day and felt that little jolt, that static-electricity shock? It’s like that, but it goes inside you, into the core of your body. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”
Shafman encouraged her guests to take home their spent cartridges as party favors. There was also a photo op: the women posed for pictures aiming their Tasers, Charlie’s Angels style. “I look fierce,” Kreisman said.