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Erik Burgess, Published April 10 2013

Some cite concerns with looser stun gun laws in North Dakota

FARGO – Don Fischer wouldn’t be shocked if more customers soon bolted to his south Fargo Spy Shop to purchase a stun gun.

Others are hoping North Dakota doesn’t become stun gun central after two bills deregulating the weapons passed easily through the Legislature and await the signature of Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Fischer usually keeps around 10 stun guns in stock – some that look like cellphones, others that double as a flashlight – but Wednesday he put in an order for about 15 more.

“Over the next two weeks, I’ll get people coming in for them. I guarantee it,” he said.

While it is still illegal to conceal and carry a stun gun, House Bill 1327 specifically removes stun guns from a list of other weapons deemed “dangerous” in state law – a list that includes switchblades, machetes, billy clubs, slingshots, bows and arrows, BB guns, air rifles and bombs containing noxious gas. HB 1327 was passed by the Senate 46-0 on April 3.

Senate Bill 2239 amends state law so stun guns don’t require a conceal-and-carry permit. That passed the Senate 46-1 on Monday.

Both bills apply to stun guns that use “direct contact to deliver voltage for the defense of an individual,” leading some to believe that they would not apply to Tasers, a specific brand of stun guns that shoot barbed projectiles and are standard issue for police.

Speaking in favor of SB 2239, Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, said the loosened regulations were a “request of some young women out in the Oil Patch who say that increasingly these stun guns are a popular safety precaution for women to carry.”

But there are those who believe the deregulation of stun guns is a very bad thing, like Paul Dyer, grandmaster at Dakota Dragon Defense in Fargo.

Dyer, who has been teaching martial arts for 35 years and weapons training courses for 25 years, said without proper training, humans are “preschoolers” in self-defense. And because the bills don’t require any training, the Legislature is essentially arming preschoolers, Dyer said.

“It gives people a false sense of protection,” he said. “If the person doesn’t know what they’re going to do with it, it now becomes a weapon being used on them. That’s the problem.”

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, who was the lone senator who voted against SB 2239, agrees with Dyer.

“These are weapons of self-defense,” Mathern said. “They are serious weapons that need training.”

Mathern said that the concept of the bill was to allow more people to carry a stun gun, which he said will only result in more problems since there will be more around.

“It’s an overall public safety issue,” Dyer said.

If signed, the new laws would go into effect Aug. 1.

Police not concerned

Police here say they aren’t worried that stun-gun-wielding criminals will suddenly flood the streets if Dalrymple signs the bills.

“It’s not a device that we see a lot in assaults, criminal behavior,” said Pat Claus, a deputy police chief in Fargo. “There’s no reason at this time for us to believe now that criminals will go and acquire these with the intent of using them in a criminal manner.”

It is currently a Class A misdemeanor to carry a concealed stun gun, with a maximum penalty of a year in jail, a $2,000 fine or both, Claus said.

If the conceal-and-carry permit requirement were to go away, it would still be illegal to assault somebody with a stun gun, Claus said.

“You must use those devices in a manner consistent with law in protecting yourself or another,” Claus said. “If you use it for reasons outside of that, you are committing a crime.”

While stun guns are sometimes labeled “non-lethal,” Tasers have come under scrutiny from groups including Amnesty International, which has repeatedly urged law enforcement agencies to restrict their use. Last year, the human rights group released a study saying at least 500 people have died since 2001 from Tasers.

Claus said he has never heard of a Taser being labeled a cause of death, only a “contributing factor.” For example, the deceased may have had a health issue or was under the influence of drugs when shocked with a Taser.

He said a stun gun, one that doesn’t fire barbs, has never been the cause or contributing factor in a death, as far as he knows.

“The term ‘non-lethal’ has fallen out of use amongst law enforcement,” Claus said. “It’s ‘less lethal.’ In other words, is it less lethal than a handgun? Yes.”

“Anything has potential to be lethal,” he added.

Instruction manuals found at Fischer’s store say the effects of the stun gun are “temporary” and “can cause no permanent harm.”

“I don’t believe they’re ever a lethal weapon,” Fischer said. “They’re designed to be a self-defense weapon.”

If women in the Oil Patch feel unsafe, Mathern placed blame on the Legislature for failing to provide protection for the rapidly growing area.

“The problem isn’t because law enforcement can’t address the issues, it’s because this body can’t get enough money out there for more law enforcement,” he said.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, who sponsored HB 1327, said Wednesday that stun guns do not need to be considered “dangerous weapons” because technology has advanced to a point that makes them easy and safe to use, and that someone shouldn’t be convicted of a misdemeanor for forgetting their stun gun in a bag when going into a location that prohibits a dangerous weapon.

He said a stun gun is a good alternative for protection because many do not want to go through the training and fees that come with obtaining a concealed weapons permit.

But for Dyer, that’s exactly the problem. When people aren’t trained, a weapon intended for self-defense ends up being taken by an assailant and used against its owner.

“I love people getting carry permits,” Dyer said. “But the next step, that more than likely a majority of people do not do, is go get the training with the weapon.”


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Forum News Service reporter TJ Jerke contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518