Now, a Torrance, Calif. company is producing a device it says could become a non-lethal weapon of choice -- the "LED Incapacitator."
The federal Department of Homeland Security has put more than $800,000 into the device, according to Brandi Hitt of CBS station KVOR-TV in Sacramento, Calif.
The device looks like a flashlight -- but is meant to stop people in their tracks by disorienting them.
"The flashblindness, the 'Oh my gosh, this light is really bright and I can't see anything behind it' is what temporarily disables people," says Bob Lieberman, president of Intelligent Optical Systems, which makes the device. "That effect is immediate for everybody."
Lieberman turned on the incapacitator for Hitt, and she felt its effects, firsthand. She couldn't even see Lieberman after a brief time. A headache followed. For others, nausea sets in.
The effects last about an hour, Witt says.
"It's extremely bright. It's extremely well-focused," Lieberman notes. "The longer you look at it, the more you don't want to look at it. The closer you are to it, the more intense the effect it is."
Witt explained that the device repeatedly flashes LED lights at several specific frequencies. Before the brain has time to adjust to one frequency, the incapacitator flashes another. Add in multiple colors, which the eyes read differently -- and random pulses, back-and-forth, and the brain just can't keep up, Witt explains.
The only solution is to "close your eyes, put your hand up, turn your head away -- all of which will give the user the advantage they need," Lieberman asserts.
DHS Program Manager David Throckmorton says the government would like to arm the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Border Patrol and air marshals with the device.
"For them," he says, "it would be a way to stop a terrorist or whomever from advancing, or somebody who's out of line on an airplane -- to be able to stop them from moving forward."
DHS says it expects to start field trials of the incapacitator this year. And local police agencies are eager to try it, Witt says, adding that they feel they could mount the device on vehicles, helmets, shields -- even install them in prisons -- to combat unruly crowds, rioters and others.
The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concern over the way the incapacitator would be used, Witt points out.