By MATT WALTERS
Capitol News Service
LANSING – A new Senate bill would legalize private possession of high-voltage electroshock weapons, best known by the brand name Taser.
It would let anyone with a concealed weapons permit carry the weapon.
“I very strongly believe that everyone has the right to defend themselves,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, co-sponsor of the legislation.
According to Jones, the “common sense” bill would save lives by allowing potential victims to carry such “less than lethal” devices.
Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who also sponsored the bill, said that giving the option of carrying a high-voltage electroshock weapon instead of a handgun would be beneficial.
“People can still carry a pistol if they want to,” Hansen said. He added that the proposal would allow another means of protection for people who are uncomfortable carrying a gun.
Private possession of such devices is already legal in 43 states, according to Jones.
Jones said versions of high-voltage electroshock weapons sold to the public are weaker than those used by law enforcement agencies.
When fired, the devices also release “confetti” that lets police identify the owner.
Owners would be subject to the same laws that govern concealed weapons.
Jones said, “They will be treated just like handguns. No one can just play with them.”
Jones said legalizing private ownership would help keep real guns off the streets because it would “replace bullets with a Taser.”
He said he isn’t worried about the device winding up in the wrong hands and said most criminals prefer guns. Only in “rare cases” have criminals used them.
“If my daughter worked at the local convenience store and was robbed, I would be thankful if the criminal had a Taser instead of a gun,” Jones said.
Last year, Hansen and Jones co-sponsored similar legislation in the House but it died.
Hansen said lawmakers were uncomfortable with the proposal because of a couple of Taser-related deaths at the hands of police last year.
However, he said, “There is a big difference between police and civilian use of Tasers.”
According to Hansen, there has been no opposition to the current bill, which unanimously passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the full Senate.
Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said the measure would have little-to-no effect on law enforcement.
He said that any person with a license to carry the device should be able to use it for protection, but added that the user is responsible for the weapon.
“Weapons that are used to protect people can also harm them,” Jungel said.
According to Jungel, there is an increased need for self-protection because the state has fewer police officers this year than in the past.
He said the bill is part of the “evolution of self-protection” and likened it to other protection devices such as pepper spray.
“We don’t know if allowing more protection devices is a good or bad thing,” Jungel said. “Only time will tell if this legislation is a positive.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.