TASERs may be street legal in Mich.

Legislation would allow licensed citizens to buy and carry a single-shot consumer-grade device

By Chad Livengood
The Detroit News

LANSING, Mich. — Some Michigan residents could soon be allowed to arm themselves with a Taser to temporarily incapacitate would-be attackers.

After making some minor changes, the state House on Thursday passed a package of Senate bills authorizing individuals who have a concealed pistol license to carry a Taser for personal protection.

The legislation would allow licensed Michiganians to buy and carry a single-shot consumer-grade Taser that fires two dart-like electrodes up to 15 feet.

Consumer-grade Tasers, which are legal in 44 states, have less firing range than the controversial multi-shot devices police use to subdue unruly individuals during arrests. The police stun guns have been the focus of five cases in southeast Michigan of individuals dying of health-related problems since 2009 after being shot with a Taser.

Passage of the Taser bill comes as lawmakers are considering another bill that would speed up the process for obtaining a concealed weapon permit and allow some licensed gun owners with additional training to carry concealed pistols in traditionally pistol-free zones, such as schools, hospitals and bars.

State Sen. Rick Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff who once allowed himself to be shocked by a Taser during a 2008 legislative committee meeting, said "thousands" of citizens have contacted him seeking legalization of the Taser device.

Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he believes the threat of electroshock could prevent violent crimes, especially against women.

"I would say you could pull it out and say 'Back away, I have a Taser,'" said Jones. "Ninety-nine percent of the time I think they'll run away because they don't want to be Tasered."

But a consumer-grade Taser, which costs about $400 and is the size of a small handgun, has some pitfalls, such as a 15-foot shooting distance limit, said Doreen Hankins, owner of Detroit Arms, a handgun training facility in Chesterfield Township.

"It shouldn't be carried in your purse. It should be carried on your person because you only have seconds to react to an attack," she said. "The misconception is it's the little $20 stun gun that you charge up ... and that's not what the bill is covering - it's covering an actual Taser gun."

More than 286,000 Michigan residents had a valid concealed pistol license in October, according to the Michigan State Police.

The House's minor changes to the bills must be approved by the full Senate before the legislation can advance to Gov. Rick Snyder for his consideration.

The Republican governor has not publicly opposed the bills, which had overwhelming bipartisan support in both Republican-controlled chambers, Jones said.

"At this point, we need to review the bills," Snyder spokesman Terry Stanton said.

State Rep. Lisa Howze, D-Detroit, was one of four legislators in the 110-member House who voted against the bills Thursday.

"My general concern is the appropriate use of them," Howze said.

Amnesty International reported in February that at least 13 individuals have died in Michigan since 2001 after being shocked by a Taser during an arrest or while in jail.

Still, Jones said Taser-related deaths remain "extremely rare."

"If a death does occur, it's usually when someone has a heart full of cocaine or some drug," he said.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International has sold 250,000 consumer-grade weapons since 1994, said company spokesman Steve Tuttle.

Police-grade Tasers contain multiple shots with a maximum range of 35 feet, Tuttle said.The consumer-oriented Taser C2 keeps subjects knocked down for 30 seconds, he added.

The company has taken steps to prevent owners from using the weapon in the commission of a crime, Tuttle said.

The company registers and serializes each of its devices, requiring buyers to submit to a criminal background check before the device is activated.

Mike Barbour, owner of Top Gun Shooting Sports in Taylor, said he has customers who see Tasers as a safer alternative to loaded guns.

"The biggest thing is it's a less lethal device," Barbour said. "A lot of people are not comfortable carrying hand guns, so they want something to defend themselves."

Copyright 2012 The Detroit News

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