In 1969, NASA researcher Jack Cover would begin work on a device that would come to revolutionize law enforcement. In 1974, that device was completed. The TASER, short for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle, fired using the medium of gunpowder and came to be classified as a firearm. This inefficient device was not updated until 1993, when brothers Rick and Thomas Smith, looking for new non-lethal force options for law enforcement created a new model. Based on this model, the brothers finished a handgun-shaped weapon in 1999, this weapon is the device people now know as taser today. The taser however, has come under scrutiny in recent years, for both its dubious legality, as well as controversy surrounding the device.
The taser is a handgun-shaped weapon that fires two electrodes at the target, these electrodes are attached to conductive wiring mounted in the bottom. The wires can be up to 35 feet long and are propelled by nitrogen canisters contained within. Once the electrodes reach a target, their pointed ends pierce through the subject’s clothing, with their barbs entangling themselves within the skin. Electricity then flows through the wiring, interrupting the brain’s ability to control muscle movement, and causing immediate and unavoidable incapacitation of the receiver.
Tasers also possess a mode called drive stun, in which the taser is placed directly against the body and applies direct electricity to the outside. This method of use causes extreme pain to the person being tased, and as is used as a form of pain compliance technique by law enforcement. This method of tasing is by far the more controversial of the two, as it is easily open to abuse, and conformed guidelines for when it should be used do not exist. Certain groups worldwide have legitimate concern that through abuse, this option of use could easily constitute to torture.
Since the widespread deployment of the taser in 1999, it has become a common and often useful tool in the hands of the police. The taser is able to incapacitate subjects from a safe distance, while causing much less harm to a subject than conventional firearms would. Despite this, the taser has been subject to a variety of controversy, due to the inherent nature of its operation.
The main controversy with the use of tasers, lies in the medical term excited delirium. Excited delirium is used to describe a condition in which psychomotor skills become agitated, delirium and hallucinations set in, and bizarre behavior is exhibited. The cause of excited delirium is thought to be an adrenaline burst brought upon by some outside stimulation. Some medical examiners have claimed that this condition can be activated by exposure to a taser, sometimes leading to death to respiratory and cardiac failure. Yet even the diagnosis of excited delirium is in question, as it is not fully recognized in the medical community as an actual condition. Even if the condition is legitimate, questions are still being asked as to whether a taser shock can really trigger it.
Although controversial, and sometimes deadly, the taser’s use in the world since its advent has most definitely been beneficial. Since coming into law enforcement’s hands, no one can deny that the tazer has saved thousands of lives, outweighing the questionable costs it might inflict. The taser’s role in the world today is a controversial one, but in the right hands, it is also a useful police and self-defense tool.