Taser Take-down

Is the device humane? What about effective? Liberals and conservatives seem to agree on this one.

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Taser International's release of a new device has coincided with a string of high-profile incidents, spurring a debate over the Taser's humanity and effectiveness reminscent of one in 2007, when a student famously urged cops, "Don't Tase me, bro." Unsurprisingly, most of the pundits who have taken the time to write about the Taser are against it--with U.S. police officers using the device in the thousands, they don't need many defenders.

Wired's Noah Shachtman tested both ends of the Taser X3, allowing himself to be Tased on video. Shachtman found himself skeptical of the device:

What I keep wondering is: Who would inflict that kind of pain? And under what circumstances? We all know that our tools change our behavior. Give us cars, and we'll go new places; give us iPhones, and we'll check our e-mail way more often. So when we hear stories about grandmothers and kids and handcuffed prisoners and even runaway sheep getting tased, I asked [Taser International chairman Tom] Smith, what does that say about the stun gun's impact? He and his colleagues gently ducked the question. [...] 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."

Stephen Colbert did a critical segment on the Taser, showing unflattering footage of police officers Tasing, among others, a 72-year-old grandmother. "Just because police have Tasers," he said, "doesn't mean they get to use them on every single defenseless person who happens to disagree with them." Conor Friedersdorf asked similar questions regarding the tasered grandmother in a blog post on the American Scene, saying the cop "exhibits behavior that sickens me." Condemning the Taser, he quotes a friend:

The cost to a cop of shooting someone with a gun is very high. The cost to a cop of shooting someone with a Taser is very low. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to work out the incentive structure and realize that cops possessing Tasers is going to produce an awful lot of Taser victims where, absent the Taser, a non-violent outcome would have resulted.

The American Conservative's Kelley Vlahos pegged her Taser take-down to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, who she argued would likely have been Tased himself if Cambridge Police used the weapon. In a lengthy cost-benefit analysis of the Taser, Vlahos conceded that federal statistics show that "the number of police officers shot and killed in the line of duty is at an historic low [...] and Tasers are in part, credited." But, citing the cases involving children and elderly, she concluded that the Taser created "police militarization" and "the transcendence of American police from neighborhood 'peace officers' to gods, armed to the teeth and impervious but ultimately hostile towards criticism."

Who will defend the Taser? Only Engadget's Paul Miller, who details the new X3's safety features. "After talking it over with the company, it's clear they've put a lot of effort into making the X3 as safe as possible," he wrote. "TASER is continuing to improve the safety of its devices, and learning from its past mistakes."

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