A Taser stun gun, capable of shocking three people without being reloaded, was unveiled Monday in front of hundreds of law enforcement officers who applauded after watching six rounds of the barbed wire fired at metal targets.
The demonstration of the Taser X3 at the Scottsdale-based company's annual conference was performed by Taser International Chairman Tom Smith, and his brother, CEO Rick Smith, who says the device will become the new standard for police officers who want greater tactical abilities.
The device is the first new stun gun Taser International has introduced since 2003.
Older Taser stun guns, in use by 14,200 law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, have to be reloaded after one shot, which can be a problem for an officer who has missed a target or has more than one suspect to subdue.
"This is as big a step as when firearms went from a muzzle loader to the revolver," Rick Smith said later. "If I was a cop I'd want to carry one."
The new stun gun costs $1,799, compared with $799 for the older model, though Smith said law enforcement agencies could trade in their older ones for credits worth $300-$800.
He said the devices are in line with the costs of other law enforcement tools, and that Taser hopes law enforcement agencies can tap federal stimulus funds.
He said the device will be available to law enforcement agencies in late August. Officers at the conference will receive free ones provided they pass an operating test.
Like the older models, the new stun gun shoots two barbed wires that deliver about 6 watts of electrical current for several seconds, temporarily immobilizing people from a distance. Only the new device has three sets of wires.
The device, which can hit people up to 35 feet away, looks like a bulky gun but weighs less than two pounds. It's about 2.5 inches wide and seven inches tall.
While the new Taser stun gun can be used against three people, it also can target the same person more than once. Smith said each barb would deliver a separate shock.
The device also will allow for greater accountability because it has sensors that measure each discharge, Smith said, and that data can then be downloaded and analyzed.
Human rights groups contend Tasers cause heart attacks. Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said the company has won 96 of 97 wrongful-death and product liability lawsuits filed against it and is appealing after being found 15 percent responsible in the one suit it lost.
Amnesty International says 351 people in the U.S. died after they were shocked with Tasers, and that in 50 of those cases, medical examiners cited a link between Taser shocks and death.
Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, said while he hasn't been able to fully examine the new mode Taser, it raises concerns.
"The new models will likely fuel the controversy about the potential lethality or abuse because there's potential for repeat Tasings," he said.
He said his organization generally supports the development of non-lethal force for police agencies but that officers are using Tasers far too often. "The threshold for use of force is often lower, so police are using these weapons in situations where the operation of a firearm would never be justified," he said.
Smith said Tasers are saving the lives of suspects across the country and saving police departments money that would have gone for workers' compensation for injured officers and litigation stemming from the use of firearms.
"It's just one of those things that unfortunately, Amnesty is more about what they're against than what they're for," he said. "We are the new technology — it's splashy because of the electricity, you can make it scary. And I'm really disappointed they haven't taken a more constructive approach."
Fred Cheatham, an officer with Escondido police in California, said he thinks the new Tasers seem too bulky but that he would appreciate being able to fire the device three times without reloading.
"I can see a lot of applications for that," he said.