FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. – Taser International unveiled its first new stun gun since 2003 on Monday, a device that can shock three people without being reloaded.
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.
Taser CEO Rick Smith and his brother, Chairman Tom Smith, unveiled the new device to hundreds of law enforcement officers and distributors at the Scottsdale-based company's annual conference. They stood on stage, each holding two new Tasers, and fired six rounds a piece at metal targets to whoops and applause.
"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 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.
Smith said he believes the device will become the new standard for police officers who want greater tactical abilities and allows for greater accountability because it has sensors that measure each discharge; that data can then be downloaded and analyzed.
He said the devices are in line the costs of other law enforcement tools, and that Taser hopes law enforcement agencies can tap tap federal stimulus funds.
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.
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 device can be used against three people, it target the same person more than once. Smith said each barb would deliver a separate shock.
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 claims 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."