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It's My Party: I'll Taser if I Want To

Marketing Tactic Jolting Sales of Self-Defense Item

by Chris Kahn

GILBERT, Ariz. - Before she lets them shoot her little pink stun gun, Dana Shafman ushers her new friends to the living room sofa for a serious chat about the fears she believes they all share.

"The worst nightmare for me is, while I'm sleeping, someone coming in my home," Shafman says, drawing a few solemn nods from the gathered women. Shafman, 34, of Phoenix, says she knows how they feel. She says she used to stash knives under her pillow for protection.

Welcome, she says, to the Taser party.

On the coffee table, Shafman spreads out Taser's C2 "personal protector" weapons that the company is marketing to the public. It doesn't take long before the women are lined up in the hallway, whooping as they take turns blasting at a metallic target.

"C'mon!" she says. "Give it a shot."

Shafman isn't an employee of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International. She's an independent entrepreneur who's been selling Tasers the way her mother's generation sold plastic food storage containers.

As a single woman who lives alone, Shafman says she's the perfect pitchwoman for Taser as it makes a renewed push to sell weapons to families.

The company agrees. Taser officials like Shafman's homespun sales tactics so much that they plan to build a living room set at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and have Shafman hold a Taser party for buyers and dealers. The show, which runs Jan. 7-10, is one of the world's largest tech trade shows.

Taser doesn't expect its dealers to start imitating Shafman. But Steve Tuttle, a Taser spokesman, says company officials think people can learn from her approach.

"When I talk about Taser, I come across as a salesman," Tuttle says. "When you see her it comes across as very real."

Shafman, a freelance construction consultant, says she always had a natural interest in self-defense products. She loved the idea of the Taser, which would allow her to stop an attacker from across the room without getting physical.

She tried moonlighting as a door-to-door Taser saleswoman. But years of negative press about Taser made it tough.

So the Taser party was born.

Shafman says she's sold about 30 guns per month at $349.99 since her first Taser party on Oct. 15. She doesn't get a commission from Taser. Instead, Shafman says she gets a discounted dealer rate for the units and keeps the difference.

Taser has been growing on Wall Street two years after the Securities and Exchange Commission concluded its investigation into the company's safety claims and business practices. Its stock more than doubled in 2007 from a low of $7.44 to a high of $19.36 a share.

Company officials say that they're now selling Tasers in 43 countries and that more than 12,500 police agencies in the United States are either using or testing their weapons.

It launched the C2 in August. Though it packs the same electric punch, the C2 is smaller than the bulky personal stun guns Taser developed years ago, and its sleek exterior makes it look more like an electric razor than a weapon. They're legal in every state except New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Michigan, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C.

Amnesty International, which has criticized Taser's assertion that its weapons are nonlethal, objects to any attempt to spread the use of stun guns. Officials with the human rights organization say the weapons are frequently used in excess by trained police, and they're likely to be abused by the public as well.

Shafman says that if she had a choice between getting shocked or being attacked with a knife, a gun, or something else, "I'd much rather be assaulted by a Taser."

And unlike other weapons, she says, Taser forces its customers to submit to a criminal background check before giving them a code to turn on their weapons.

© 2007 Associated Press

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