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CANADA Rise in seizures of U.S. stun guns alarms officials



Published: Sat, August 20, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



More than 170 have been seized by border guards so far this year.

TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL

Canadian authorities are alarmed about a shocking rise in seizures of smuggled stun guns, even as U.S. manufacturers are stepping up their campaigns to sell the weapons to American civilians.

Fifty-nine Black Cobra model stun guns were found hidden in the body panels of a sport-utility vehicle at the Alberta border recently, pushing to 173 the number of stun guns seized by border guards so far in 2005. The Canada Border Services Agency says it seized only 95 stun guns in 2004, and 126 the year before that.

The weapons, which are meant to disable victims by zapping them with nonlethal-but-powerful electric shocks, are banned from civilian use in Canada. Yet they are marketed and sold as "personal-protection" devices in the United States. Police on both sides of the border say that "thugs" and "organized crime" members, particularly those in the drug trade, are eager to get their hands on them.

A 22-year-old Florida man faces criminal charges in connection with the Alberta discovery, the largest such seizure in recent memory.

"It indicates there's a real spike in stun guns," said CBSA spokeswoman Loretta Nyhus. She added that "certainly they are more available and they are becoming more and more common."

Web sales

U.S.-based Black Cobra, which sells its cigarette-pack-size stun guns on the Web for $30 to $50, says that jolts from its handheld weapons are "capable of incapacitating even the biggest of assailants." More discriminating stun-gun users, particularly police forces, prefer $400 to $1,000 models sold by NASDAQ-traded Taser, whose brand is to stun guns what Kleenex is to facial tissue.

Because its products have become synonymous with its type of weaponry, Taser International takes pains to point out that, unlike dozens of lower-end competitors, it runs background checks on customers, registers them and engineers the weapons to leave behind an identifying trail of confetti once fired. Despite selling 100,000 stun guns to American civilians in the past decade, the company says that criminals have used Taser-brand stun guns very rarely.

Dozens of accounts of accidental deaths involving police-used stun guns exist, though the precise causes of death are often contentious. Because sales to law-enforcement agencies remain brisk, Taser and its competitors are seeking to leverage police enthusiasm for stun guns into broader commercial sales.

Steve Tuttle, the Arizona-based company's spokesman, goes so far as to describe the stun gun he keeps on his nightstand as a family-friendly alternative to the .357 Magnum he keeps locked in a safe. "If, God forbid, my children were to find the Taser, they would at least go to school the next day," he said.

Different perspectives

Stun guns, he added, are "an issue of personal protection. We have a right to personal protection in the United States."Police, however, say that criminals on both sides of the border are seizing upon the increasing availability. In one spectacular example, New York mobsters are said to have applied a stun gun to a businessman, as part of a shakedown scheme involving a British porn baron.

Stun guns have been seized during raids on Hells Angels properties in Western Canada and also during an investigation into a loan-sharking ring working out of the Montreal Casino. Toronto police recently also seized a stun gun and other weapons when they busted up a violent robbery ring known as the "Pee-Wee Herman gang" for its leader's peculiar hairstyle.

"It would be fair to say they are used for threats and intimidation and robberies," said Constable Paul Brown, a Winnipeg officer. "It's all types of criminals, from organized crime and your everyday street thugs."




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