We discussed Tasers quite a bit on the old site (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) but not since we moved to ScienceBlogs. Tasers are the only widely used “non-lethal weapons,” delivering a jolt of 50,000 volts thrugh two small darts connected to the handheld gun by thin wires and shot into the target. The device is made by Taser, International and has been the subject of repeated reports of lethal outcomes (see concerns of Amnesty International), reports the company repeatedly and aggressively denies. The combination of being tasered and being on alcohol and drugs are suspected risk factors for dying from a tasering. These are often the situations where tasers are used, although there are also reports of deaths following use on people without these risk factors.
Not that you’d know it from Taser, International:
Zapping someone with 50,000 volts will never, ever, under any circumstances, help kill him. That’s long been the assertion of executives at Taser International, Inc., makers of the controversial stun guns. Never mind the negative news coverage. Or the barrage of lawsuits. Or dozens and dozens of deaths that have allegedly been linked to police use of the weapons. Or the coroners’ reports, for that matter. The company stands firm. (David Hamburg, Wired)
As Hamburg points out in the Wired article, the company has been extremely successful in defending itself against lawsuits, winning or getting dismissed 45 wrongful death cases, with no judgments against them so far. The company has also been active in funding experimental studies to show no harm from the devices. On the other hand, one of the few non company sponsored studies published in a peer reviewed scientific journal showed Tasers were much more powerful than publicly acknowledged and capable of causing fatal cardiac arrhythmias. Taser, International didn’t like this study. They sued the scientist for defamation and attacked him as lacking the expertise to make such a judgment. Aggressive defense, indeed. That’s firing back with live ammunition.
Their response to Amnesty International has been more rhetorical:
“Amnesty has repeatedly called for independent testing while ignoring the mounting independent comprehensive reports showing TASER technology is safe and effective. Anyone living in the real world in which law enforcement officers worldwide have to make split-second life or death decisions knows that Amnesty International’s report and position is out of step with the needs of law enforcement concerning our proven life-saving technology,” said Mr. Smith. ((Taser, International Press Release)
Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Taser, International. Because the company is also aggressively marketing a consumer version of their weapon, the C2. And the same law enforcement officers that Taser, International was championing in their press releases are not very happy. The company has turned a deaf ear:
Police groups say Taser International Inc.’s latest consumer weapon, a palm-sized stun gun in metallic pink and three other colors that will start shipping next month, may end up helping the bad guys.
“Inevitably, this will fall into criminal hands,” said James Pasco, Washington-based executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest law-enforcement labor union, with more than 325,000 members. “It will also be in a lot of untrained hands.”
The union has barred Taser, the world’s largest maker of stun guns, from exhibiting the new C2 weapon or any other at its convention in August. Seven states, including New York and New Jersey, have already outlawed consumer use of stunning devices. At least seven more bills seeking bans or regulation of ownership have been introduced in three states, including Texas. The International Association of Chiefs of Police sees “a training issue,” said Albert Arena, a program manager.
“It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, and we don’t know about how it will be used,” said Fred Wilson, director of operations at the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Sheriffs’ Association, which is considering issuing guidelines to members about how to confront civilians wielding the weapons. “There is concern out there.”
Taser has sold stun guns to consumers since 1994. The previous offerings have been more expensive and larger than the C2, making them harder to acquire and hide, according to law- enforcement officials. The C2 starts at $299 — $100 cheaper than the M18, a pistol-shaped weapon modeled after the kind sold to law-enforcement agencies. (Bloomberg)
The idea of a non-lethal weapon is good. Better not to kill someone. On the other hand, weapons like this may not really be non-lethal, as the record indicates. If used as if they are, a night on the town or a teenager’s little toot might be lethal. For the police, it is just another weapon that can be used against them.
I don’t blame them for being unhappy.