Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Thursday, November 12, 2009

TASER WARS: Another Chapter

TASER International Zaps Non-lethal Claim with Video
By Eddie Griffin

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who knows what Taser International chairman and co-founder Tom Smith was trying to prove when he zapped reporter Noah Shachtman with an X3 taser. What in the world was thinking when they allowed Shachtman to volunteer for a one-second jolt of 50,000 volts of electricity?

“It was brutal,” said Shachtman, “like sticking your finger in a socket over and over and over again. I screamed in pain as he zapped me. I screamed some more after it was over. Then I cursed, and put my fingers to the bridge of my nose.”

On the video, Smith and his assistant laughs lightheartedly. “Kind of like hitting a funny bone,” the chairman remarked. “Like a good workout.”

“Not exactly,” writes the reporter. “Five hours later, I was still tingling.”

It may have started out as a stunt to offset the rising negative image of tasers. But clearly in the end, the public relations repair backfired, as Shachtman became angry at the effects and after-effects of being tasered. That's when he began asking Taser International executives some hard questions.

“What I keep wondering is", Shachtman writes, "Who would inflict that kind of pain?”

So when we hear stories about grandmothers and kids and handcuffed prisoners and even runaway sheep getting tased, I asked Smith, what does that say about the stun gun’s impact?

He and his colleagues gently ducked the question, saying it was up to individual police forces and military units to teach their troops how and when to use the electroshock weapons. “All we can do is build in as many features as we can think of,” said Brian Beckwith, vice president of product development.

“Any new tool has to have good policy and good training,” Smith said. His VP of public relations, Peter Holran, added, “You’re not just going to give someone a BlackBerry and expect them to use it.”

My colleague Steven Levy then asked about that 72-year-old Texas woman who was tased during a traffic stop. “I felt it was justified,” Smith replied. “Just because she was 72 doesn’t mean she wasn’t strong,” one his associates answered.

Levy then tried to determine how old a lady has to be before she’s considered ineligible for zapping. Holran took it as an accusation. He said angrily that “we can’t change the U.S. Constitution.” After another minute or two, the question was repeated. Smith said there was no upper age — or a lower one, for that matter. The only guidance the company gives cops and soldiers is not to use the stun guns on pregnant women, or people with heart conditions or epileptics.”

By what notion does Peter Holran invoke the U.S. Constitution? The Eighth Amendment prohibits Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

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