As stun guns and tasers become more common among police, military, and everyday consumers, it is important to understand the interface between these devices and society. This chapter outlines a brief, social evaluation of the developmental history of these non-lethal weapons and explains the significance of current variations. It then examines the ongoing debate over taser/stun gun usage by looking at relevant social groups involved. Also included is a quick look at the influence of viral videos through user sharing video channels such as Youtube, which exacerbates stigmas associated with electroshock devices.
The first idea for using electricity in a non-lethal fashion can be traced back to 1852, from US Patent 8843 an 'Electric Whaling Apparatus.' This preceded the electric chair, after which the use of non-lethal electric devices for torture manifested in such forms as the Picana Electrica, used in Argentina in the 1930's. The electric cattle prod, invented by John M. Burton in 1890, became widely popular in the Americas in the 1940's. In the 1950's, this evolved into the first stun devices for personal protection. The "Electrified Stick for Postmen" was a stun baton that was adapted for police use in the 1960's for prisoner and riot control. In the early 1970's, the first modern ranged w:Electroshock_weapon were marketed to the public. The idea for a ranged shock device, the taser, originated from the fictional novel, Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle, where Mr. Swift used a rifle that fired bolts of electricity. This inspired NASA researcher, Jack Cover. Cover went on to invent the taser in 1972 and later formed TASER International, the most common maker of electroshock weapons. John Cover's patent was adapted by Nova Technologies in 1983 for the Nova XR-5000, their first non-projectile hand-held style stun gun. . The XR-5000 design was widely copied as the source for the compact non-projectile handheld stun gun used today.
Stun guns vs. TasersEdit
Both are electroshock weapons that apply a non-lethal current to stimulate uncontrollable muscle function and subdue a person. A stun gun applies a charge to the body when the two electrodes are in close proximity with the skin. A taser propels two electrodes on conductive wires through the air when fired. These electrodes embed themselves into the target's skin before the shock. Counter-intuitively, it's the taser that shoots not the stun gun.
Stun guns' consumer market expanded with the evolution of a line of concealed designs. These self defense weapons take on a whole new aspect of surprising your attacker. These weapons are disguised as cell phones, flash lights, pens, even lipstick tubes. This decreases the chance for a would-be attacker to anticipate a counter-attack. It also creates a hierarchy of advantages: people may value revenge through surprise on an assailant more than the ability to preemptively dissuade attackers by displaying an obvious weapon.
Risks Associated with TasersEdit
The high voltage associated with tasers can cause some individuals to go into cardiac arrest. This has warped the public’s view since tasers can do more than subdue. They have the potential to kill. Individuals with pre-existing conditions are under higher risk. Even cops and soldiers who are tased as apart of their training have filed lawsuits against taser companies citing lasting injuries. In situations in which individuals are healthy, calm, and relaxed, tasers are usually safe. However, as many viral videos on the internet present, individuals that are tased by police are never in that state. There are claims with significant evidence of risk of injury or death, while others studies vouch for taser safety.
Tasers were implemented to offer police a new alternative to subdue suspects. The goal was to reduce firearm use. In Pittsburgh, PA, taser use increased from 274 in 2005 to 332 in 2006. The use of firearms against suspects decreased from 14 to 6 over the same period. This is one of many examples of reduced gun use.
Although the police intended tasers to reduce firearm use, critics disapprove of the situations in which police justify taser usage. It is possible that officers are needlessly using tasers, and are overcompensating for the decrease in gun incidents. In Minneapolis, MN, tasers were used 232 times in 2006, a 75% increase from 2005. Critics say that police officers no longer try alternatives such as reasoning with a suspect to defuse situations but instead use a taser as a primary means of gaining control.
British police guidelines call for tasers to be used preemptively in any case in which a suspect poses a threat, even if they are unarmed. In the past, tasers have traditionally been fired when a suspect has a weapon, but more officers are tasing individuals who are unarmed. In San Antonio, TX, from 2006 to January 2008, of 99 taser applications, police incorrectly believed the individual to be armed in 40 cases. Police are no longer warning individuals of use, but are surprising them instead. Supporters of electroshock weapons claim that tasers are more effective than conventional methods of gaining control of a situation, i.e., pepper spray, batons, etc.
While medical professionals urge caution when using the taser, several prospective studies have failed to find any negative cardiac impact. Still, some case reports have documented a handful of associated injuries. Doctors stress the use of tasers by trained and experienced individuals and do not promote the use of tasers in any situation that does not warrant the use of otherwise extreme force.
American Civil Liberties UnionEdit
The American Civil Liberties Union claims that from 1999, approximately 148 people have died in the United States and Canada as a result of a taser shock. The greatest problem concerning tasers according to the ACLU is the fact that police can use them and are not subject to some form of regulation or control. They are also not limited to the number of times they use the device per suspect. 
Taser International and Department of DefenseEdit
Taser International (T.I.), with its vested interest in its product, references peer-reviewed research articles and statistics vouching for taser safety. A recent study, advertised highly by the company, claims that "99% of subjects do not experience significant injuries after conducted electrical weapon use." Taser International works closely with the Department of Defense as a weapons contractor. It is in the DoD's interest for T.I. products to be viewed as safe. T.I. has 'welcomed' independent studies on taser safety sponsored by the DoD. The two groups will foreseeably continue their working relationship and jointly develop new weapons.
United Nations and Amnesty InternationalEdit
Both the United Nations and Amnesty International are the largest voices to be heard speaking out against the usage of tasers. Although tasers are not as lethal as firearms, in many cases from 2001-2008, tasers have led to the deaths of 334 individuals. The groups cite the devices as a means of torture and not as a means of suppression. Both groups claim that police and other users can revert to safer alternatives with the same efficacy..
Influence of Internet VideosEdit
Since the advent of the internet, social perspectives have been influenced from a variety of open sources. One source, YouTube, which hosts user generated videos, has changed the public's perception of tasers due to the viral video phenomenon. The pervasive nature of the internet in our lives makes the propagation and popularity of these videos effective at molding people's thoughts. These clips present tasers as contrastingly dangerous and humorous. One can hypothesize that their popularity is due to the extreme nature of how tasers are used in situations involving near death experiences or ones that make us laugh.
Popular Police CasesEdit
On September 17, 2007, Andrew William Meyer was tased by police at a University of Florida forum in which John Kerry was a guest speaker. Meyer asked an inappropriate question, then resisted police who were trying to escort him off the premises. His pleas and cries for help are either comical or chilling, depending on the viewer's reaction. His catch phrase "Don't tase me bro!" has become a part of pop culture. This incident was caught on tape and has more than 5.25 million views.
On May 11, 2009, Kathryn Winkfein was pulled over for speeding. After she refused to cooperate, Deputy Constable Christopher Beize tasered her. Her groans as she falls on the ground are chilling due to her old age. This police dashboard-camera video was released to the public and has more than 1 million views in total.
In contrast, fewer people have seen the video of Donald Wade Evanger . In a spectator's video, he is seen running, armed, on a riverbank away from police. When finally confronted by police, Evanger attempts to pull his gun, but gets tasered in the process. The video is a clear example of proper taser usage, demonstrating its life saving ability. However, this incident is only mildly interesting to the public as it does not contain any abrasive or shocking content. This video currently has around 50 thousand views in total.
Both Meyer and Winkfein's encounters with the police give a one-sided view of tasers, and are famous due to their extremism. Though viral videos are not intended to influence public opinion, their usage in conjunction with authority nevertheless does.
There is another type of viral video that involves tasers and stun guns. They feature young adults in (usually) controlled settings. These videos depict stun guns either being used for fun or as a demonstration; they range from kids laughing as a friend is tased, to trained marines cringing in pain from the electricity surging through their body. The stunned subjects' reactions are milder than the previous videos because these videos show the effect of tasers when victims expect the shock with no heightened anxiety, stress, or emotions.
Although the debate over the use of tasers is still ongoing, as can be seen by the evidence provided, the main concern over the usage of tasers and stun guns is regulation and its occurrence in the death of individuals during usage. These devices may be seen by many as a viable and more potent alternative to other forms of self defense, but only individuals who have experience and careful training with respect to the effects of this device should be entrusted with using them. Given all the social groups involved, by far the most important remain the police. The growth of the internet and other media channels has provided individuals a means to spread stories of brutality in most cases and heroism in far fewer. These channels are the greatest sources of influence to the public and with further investigation could possibly reveal more issues. Future contributions may examine studies on taser safety in more depth, as well as further research the impact of the media, social networks, and wikipedia on society's perception of taser use.
- US Patent 8843, Electric Whaling Apparatus
- Electric Torture: A Global History of a Torture Technology, Picana Electrica and other electric device evolution history
- US Patent 427549, Electric Prod Pole
- US Patent 3119554, Electrified Stick for Postmen
- Taser International, Company website
- Edelson, Edward (1985). [url=http://books.google.com/books?id=oQAAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA92 "Stun Guns How dangerous?"]. Popular Science (Bonnier Corporation) 227 (4): 92-93. ISSN 01617370. url=http://books.google.com/books?id=oQAAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA92. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Canada TV, Tasers can cause cardiac arrest: heart specialists
- AZ Central, Police in 5 states sue Taser in past 2 weeks
- Merciad, Tasers remain an issue
- Annals of Emergency Medicine, Safety and Injury Profile of Conducted Electrical Weapons Used By Law Enforcement Officers Against Criminal Suspects
- Pittsburgh City Paper Charged Debate
- Minneapolis Police Department TASERs: Evaluation and Statistical Analysis
- Taser.org.uk Preemptive tasering in the UK
- My San Antonio News Cops hail Taser use, but critics aren't sold
- Eastern Michigan Risks and Benefits of Tasers
- American Medical Association, "AMA meeting: Increasing use of Tasers prompts safety review"
- American Civil Liberties Union, "Unregulated Use of Taser Stun Guns Threatens Lives, ACLU of Northern California Study Finds"
- Web Pro News Taser Welcomes Report from Department of Defense
- Amnesty International Media Release USA: Safety of Tasers questioned as death toll hits 334-mark
- East Portland News Carjacked! Career criminal accused of stealing car, and groceries, at gunpoint