Editor’s Note: I was about to publish a different essay I wrote for myself this week, and then May 23rd came, and Elliot Rodgers’ rampage took over the American conscience. It’s just not good timing to publish that original essay.
hen you buy a stun gun,* your girlfriends show shock and your guy friends say “Don’t tase me, bro!”
After the shock, the girls say “Don’t tase me, bro!” too.
I ordered the Vipertek Mini after spending a month doing live event marketing. Here, “live event marketing” means being surrounded by hundreds of people at a time, people I didn’t know personally, and often being the only representative from my team on site. The events were lively, raucous, unpredictable. I’ve locked myself in my car watching an event clear out, not wanting to get swept up in it. I’ve phoned Bill at midnight just to let him know where I am and my estimated time home, basically a “If you don’t hear from me in two and a half hours, trace my location” call.
I bought the Vipertek thinking preventatively. I wanted an external deterrent. Something that has an effect that’s bigger than me, but fits covertly in my pocket. I never wanted to use it, and I never want to use it. I even planned to specifically not tell anyone I had it at these events. Even with willing test subjects – adults who have asked me to use the stun gun on them – I haven’t made any contact to human flesh with the stun gun. I don’t really want to know that it works, that it truly debilitates or temporarily messes up an aggressor’s nerve functions. When I got it, I was most concerned that it discharged a good sound and made jagged lightning. It’s like when my brother bought my mom a paintball gun for Christmas. It was meant to scare away the coyotes overconfidently approaching her property, not actually hurt them.
I bought the Vipertek because I don’t want to leave my job due solely to the possibility of something going awry. I don’t live that way. I was in a collision that completely totaled my car. Doesn’t mean I don’t drive anymore. A homeless guy groped me in the street. Doesn’t mean I don’t walk alone anymore. I do continue driving defensively, keeping heightened awareness of my surroundings, and trusting my gut, but I’m not backing down on my activities just because of “possibility.” My job is fun! It is not all danger, all the time. It takes skills, I like challenges, and I generally like to think that my normal approach of being überprepared would prevent me from having to worry about this possible downside of unpredictability.
Since I want to continue my work and I bought the stun gun for work, my coworkers were the first group I discussed the purchase with. Knowing what an attention-stealing hot topic such a purchase could be, I didn’t tell them about it beforehand. I just brought it up over dinner the day the stun gun arrived at my house. Characteristic of discussions involving stun guns, there was a lot of “Don’t tase me, bro!” popping up around the table, then we went into the differences between stun guns and tasers, and finally – the team comprising mostly of analytical minds – we went into the strengths and weaknesses of various self defense tools.
- Tasers are out of the question, just like guns. High barrier to entry. Too volatile for an everyday type of defense.
- Stun guns are limited in terms of range: If the on-demand lightning doesn’t scare off a perpetrator, you then have to be or get within arm’s reach to apply the stun gun.
- Mace or pepper spray (they are not the same) could be the best investments because they can protect from greater distances.
“I already have pepper spray,” I said, when the conversation reached the third conclusion.
“Oh, whoa!” the collective responded. “You’ve got everything!” they said.
It was a little “Well excu-use me, Princess!”
“I’ve been groped in broad daylight,” I said, really wishing I wouldn’t have to stoop to this, digging up something that actually shouldn’t matter. “I do not mess around with this shit.”
“Oh, okay,” they said, end-of-discussion style, as if I had finally said something logical. They got it, which I appreciate, but this exchange was basically identical to every same such conversation before it. Ultimately:
My all-male coworkers didn’t see my need for protection as valid until I told them I had been groped before.
I work with seven grown men. Some have kids. Some have wives. Some have girlfriends. Some have sisters. They live in a society with women – just like, news flash, all of us do – but it’s not until a visible, nearly tangible, sometimes blatant display of physical or sexual abuse occurs that they recognize the threat. And at that point it’s basically not a threat. At that point it’s something that’s actually been carried out. At that point, it’s basically too late.
My coworkers are not bad guys, they’re just typical. Weaponry is a more fun conversation topic than the need for self defense. And it’s not like I wanted to hijack our dinner conversation regaling the details of an episode that, even though it could have been a lot worse, I wish had never happened. If America’s take on justice is innocent until proven guilty, its take on self defense is unwarranted until you’ve already been assaulted. We don’t do preventative health. Why would we do preventative protection?
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering variations of what is basically:
“Wow, so you’re going to use a stun gun at work?”
And now, I can tell you officially: No.
After conferring with counsel, regardless of how out-of-hand a situation gets, regardless of whether I need to defend myself or scare someone off: No, I am not going to use my stun gun at work.
I am not going to use my stun gun at work because I cannot use my stun gun at work. It would bring a legal throwdown onto my company.
If I stunned someone in self defense, the responsibility would rest upon me to prove that I was fully assaulted to the point that I had no other choice but to use the stun gun. Defense lawyers specialize in dismantling plaintiff allegations, so I can easily envision almost any self defense arguments being torn apart.
The laws vary not just state by state, but also region by region. In some regions, If I took out the stun gun just to show it to stop someone’s actions, I may as well brandish a gun as a lethal threat. There goes my thought of just holding up a stun gun to keep a belligerent person at bay.
If someone swiped my stun gun and stunned someone else, being the person who brought it on-site would put me, a representative of my organization, at fault as the source of the weapon.
The hypotheticals for what could go wrong keep growing with other self defense options: Someone could go blind with pepper spray. Tasers can cause permanent paralysis. When my boss physically held down a shoplifter and made a citizen’s arrest, we congratulated him, and then we grew concerned that the shoplifter could charge him with assault even though he was acting selflessly toward the greater good.
Empirically, I understand where counsel – and the company – is coming from. As a nondescript woman who stands under 5’4″ whose everyday team cannot innately see the justification for personal protection, I feel like a lot of other women feel: On my own, left to the lions. While my team (and by “my team,” I mean myself and my boss, as advised by our coun$el) is mapping out alternative protection solutions, I repeat my daily commute in and out of a seedy train station, knowing that the best way to get help if you need it is to single someone out live, because when someone yells for help, the likelihood of anyone in the vicinity calling the authorities is low (And that’s if there are people around, of course.); thinking back to that one time a girlfriend and I ran zig-zag back to her car because we were being followed; keeping in front of mind that a proper yell for self defense comes from the sternum; pretending I can’t hear random cat calls over my headphones as I walk in and out of Walgreens; excusing my male friends for dismissive responses like, “Welcome to the world you live in.” when I liveblog an uncomfortable situation on my Facebook wall because deep down I want to believe they know better and I shouldn’t make them feel bad for not having the words to give me actionable advice in a mere comment.
Whether it’s planning against violence or sexual abuse, it doesn’t matter if you have a stun gun, support at home, or time to make a phone call. Ladies, we’re on our own.
*Stun guns are not tasers.
“Don’t tase me, bro” is a handy catchphrase retort to the topic of self defense weaponry, but it’s misappropriated. Tasers aren’t stun guns and stun guns aren’t tasers. And honestly, I, like many, didn’t even know the difference between tasers and stun guns until I put myself on the market for one. (Originally I wrote, “Until I was in the market for one,” but we’re basically all in the market for one – women and men. People who want to feel safe.)