Fears over sale of stun guns on Web

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The Independent Online

A new type of stun gun, developed from an American police weapon, is to go on sale to consumers this year.

The Taser X26C, a light-weight version of a weapon that is on trial with British police, is being marketed in the US as a trendy, self-defence accessory for wealthy young men and will be available on the internet for about £600, prompting fears that it will be widely circulated in the UK.

The move has angered Amnesty International, which warned that the new version of the electro-shock gun could fuel the trade in illegal weapons.

Conventional stun guns are illegal in Britain, but there is little to stop them being bought over the internet. They deliver a painful electric shock through two darts mounted on coiled wires.

Intelligence reports show that the weapons are becoming more popular among criminals, particularly drug dealers.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), which helps to combat serious and organised crime, has circulated a report to police forces highlighting the growing threat from criminals equipped with stun guns.

NCIS has also warned that police officers are not equipped to deal with offenders armed with the weapons.

Human rights groups have raised concerns about the public safety risk from electric-shock technology. Research shows that, in the US, around 40 per cent of people who have been struck with Tasers and other "non-lethal" weapons have been shot in the chest area, which could result in serious injury or death.

Taser International plans to start taking orders for the Taser X26C, which is less than half the weight of the model used by police officers, through its website and by phone this summer.

The company has said that the device is being marketed in the US as a safer alternative to a handgun and says it has no intention for the weapon to be used indiscriminately by its customers.

However, Amnesty International said better regulations were needed on weapons and called for a new international arms treaty to control the trade. "If this [the Taser X26C] is aimed at the public, this is worrying," said a spokeswoman.

"We clearly have to have better regulations. We feel the international arms trade is out of control. The way that any website user can get hold of potentially lethal weapons is of huge concern."