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A TASER, with cartridge removed, making an electric arc between its two electrodes Taser-x26.jpg
A TASER, with cartridge removed, making an electric arc between its two electrodes
Police issue X26 TASER with cartridge installed Police issue X26 TASER-white.jpg
Police issue X26 TASER with cartridge installed

A TASER /ˈtzər/ is a brand of conducted electrical weapon sold by Axon, formerly TASER International. [1] It fires two small barbed darts intended to puncture the skin and remain attached to the target. The darts are connected to the main unit by thin insulated copper wire and deliver a modulated electric current designed to disrupt voluntary control of muscles, causing "neuromuscular incapacitation.” The effects of a TASER may only be localized pain or strong involuntary long muscle contractions, based on the mode of use and connectivity of the darts. [2] [3] The TASER is marketed as less-lethal since the possibility of serious injury or death exists whenever the weapon is deployed. [4]


The first TASER was introduced in 1993 [5] as a less-lethal force option for police to use to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous people, who would have otherwise been subjected to more lethal force options such as firearms. A 2009 report by the Police Executive Research Forum in the United States found that police officer injuries dropped by 76% in large law enforcement agencies that deployed TASER in the first decade of the 21st century compared with those that did not use them at all. [6] TASER International and its CEO Rick Smith have claimed that unspecified "police surveys" show that the device has "saved 75,000 lives through 2011". [7] [8] A more recent academic study suggested police use of conducted electrical weapons in the United States was less risky to police officers than hands-on tactics and showed officer injury rates equal to use of chemical sprays like oleoresin capsicum. However, when police combined conducted electrical weapons with use of other weapons, officers were four or five times more likely to be injured than when using a baton or chemical spray. [9]


Jack Cover, a NASA researcher, began developing the TASER in 1969. [10] By 1974, Cover had completed the device, which he named Thomas A Swift Electronic Rifle, or TASER [11] using a loose acronym of the title of the book Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle , a book written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate under the pseudonym Victor Appleton and featuring Cover's childhood hero, Tom Swift. [12] [13]

The TASER Public Defender used gunpowder as its propellant, which led the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to classify it as a firearm in 1976. [14] [15] The backformed verb "to tase" is used sometimes.

Former TASER International CEO Patrick Smith has testified in a TASER-related lawsuit that the catalyst for the development of the device was the "shooting death of two of his high school acquaintances" by a "guy with a legally licensed gun who lost his temper". [16] In 1993, Rick Smith and his brother Thomas founded the original company, TASER, [17] and began to investigate what they called "safer use of force option[s] for citizens and law enforcement". At their Scottsdale, Arizona, facilities, the brothers worked with the "...original TASER inventor, Jack Cover" to develop a "non-firearm TASER electronic control device". [18] The 1994 Air TASER Model 34000 had an "anti-felon identification (AFID) system" to prevent the likelihood that the device would be used by criminals; upon use, it released many small pieces of paper containing the serial number of the TASER device. The U.S. firearms regulator, the ATF, stated that the Air TASER was not a firearm.

In 1999, TASER International developed an "...ergonomically handgun-shaped device called the Advanced TASER M-series systems", which used a "...patented neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) technology". In May 2003, TASER International released a new weapon called the TASER X26, which used "shaped pulse technology". On July 27, 2009 TASER International released a new type of TASER called the X3, which can fire three shots before reloading. It holds three new type cartridges, which are much thinner than the previous model.[ citation needed ]. On April 5, 2017, TASER announced that it was rebranding itself as Axon to reflect its expanded business into body cameras and software. In 2018, TASER 7 was released, the seventh generate of TASER from Axon. [19]


The M-26 TASER, the United States military version of a commercial TASER M26 Taser.jpg
The M-26 TASER, the United States military version of a commercial TASER

The TASER fires two small dart-like electrodes, which stay connected to the main unit by conductive wire as they are propelled by small compressed nitrogen charges. [20] [21] The cartridge contains a pair of electrodes and propellant for a single shot (or three shots in the X3 model) and is replaced after each use. There are a number of cartridges designated by range, with the maximum at 10 feet (3.048 m). [21] Cartridges available to non-law enforcement consumers are limited to 5 feet (1.524 m). [22] The electrodes are pointed to penetrate clothing and barbed to prevent removal once in place. The original TASER probes unspool the wire from the cartridge that causes a yaw effect before the dart stabilizes, [23] which made it difficult to penetrate thick clothing, but newer versions (X26, C2) use a "shaped pulse" that increases effectiveness in the presence of barriers. [24]

TASER 7 is a two-shot device with increased reliability over legacy products. The conductive wires spool from the dart when the TASER 7 is fired, instead of spooling from the TASER cartridge which increases stability while in flight and therefore increases accuracy. The spiral darts fly straighter and faster with nearly twice the kinetic energy for better connection to the target and penetration through thicker clothing. [25] The body of the dart breaks away to allow for containment at tough angles. [26] TASER 7 has a 93% increased probe spread at close range, where 85% of deployments occur, according to agency reports. Rapid arc technology with adaptive cross-connection helps enable full incapacitation even at close range. [27] TASER 7 wirelessly connects to the Axon network allowing for easier updates and inventory management. [28]

The TASER may provide a safety benefit to police officers. [29] The TASER has a greater deployment range than batons, pepper spray or empty hand techniques. This allows police to maintain a greater distance. A study of use-of-force incidents by the Calgary Police Service conducted by the Canadian Police Research Centre found that the use of the TASER resulted in fewer injuries than the use of batons or empty hand techniques. The study found that only pepper spray was a safer intervention option. [30]


Axon currently has 3 models of TASER conducted electrical weapons (CEW) available for law enforcement use.  

The TASER X2 is a two-shot TASER CEW with a warning arc and dual lasers. [31]  

The TASER X26P is a single-shot TASER CEW that is the smallest, most compact SMART WEAPON of all three AXON models. [32]  

TASER 7 is the newest of all three CEW. It is a two-shot device with spiral darts that spool from the dart allowing the probes to fly straighter. TASER 7 rapid arc technology with adaptive cross connections allows for full incapacitation TASER 7 connects wirelessly to the Axon network of software that includes inventory management capabilities using Axon Evidence. [33]


Safety concerns

The TASER device is a less-lethal, not non-lethal, weapon. Sharp metal projectiles and electricity are in use, so misuse or abuse of the weapon increases the likelihood that serious injury or death may occur. In addition, the manufacturer has identified other risk factors that may increase the risks of use. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and very thin individuals are considered at higher risk. Persons with known medical problems, such as heart disease, history of seizure, or have a pacemaker are also at greater risk. Axon also warns that repeated, extended, or continuous exposure to the weapon is not safe. Because of this, the Police Executive Research Forum says that total exposure should not exceed 15 seconds. [34]

There are other circumstances that pose higher secondary risks of serious injury or death, including: [4]

Drive Stun

Some TASER models, particularly those used by police departments, also have a "Drive Stun" capability, where the TASER is held against the target without firing the projectiles, and is intended to cause pain without incapacitating the target. "Drive Stun" is "the process of using the EMD (Electro Muscular Disruption) weapon [TASER] as a pain compliance technique. This is done by activating the TASER and placing it against an individual's body. This can be done without an air cartridge in place or after an air cartridge has been deployed." [35]

Guidelines released in 2011 in the U.S. recommend that use of Drive Stun as a pain compliance technique be avoided. [36] The guidelines were issued by a joint committee of the Police Executive Research Forum and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The guidelines state "Using the ECW to achieve pain compliance may have limited effectiveness and, when used repeatedly, may even exacerbate the situation by inducing rage in the subject".

A study of U.S. police and sheriff departments found that 29.6% of the jurisdictions allowed the use of Drive Stun for gaining compliance in a passive resistance arrest scenario, with no physical contact between the officer and the subject. For a scenario that also includes non-violent physical contact, this number is 65.2%. [37]

A Las Vegas police document says "The Drive Stun causes significant localized pain in the area touched by the TASER, but does not have a significant effect on the central nervous system. The Drive Stun does not incapacitate a subject but may assist in taking a subject into custody." [38] The UCLA TASER incident [39] and the University of Florida TASER incident [40] involved university police officers using their TASER's "Drive Stun" capability (referred to as a "contact tase" in the University of Florida Offense Report).

Amnesty International has expressed particular concern about Drive Stun, noting that "the potential to use TASERs in drive-stun mode—where they are used as 'pain compliance' tools when individuals are already effectively in custody—and the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse". [41]


TASER currently has a total of 5 models of electroshock weapons for sale.

TASER currently has two taser models for sale for law enforcement. They are the single shot TASER X26P and the two shot TASER X2. Both TASERs have a civilian model available. Both TASERs have contact stun mode. Both TASERs have an optional camera battery pack. TASER also sells three self-defense weapons.


According to a 2010 study titled "Police Use of Force, TASERs and Other Less-Lethal Weapons", [42] over 15,000 law enforcement and military agencies around the world use TASERs as part of their use of force continuum. The study was conducted by the United States Department of Justice. Just as the number of agencies deploying TASERs has continued to increase each year, so too the number of TASER related "incidents" between law enforcement officers and suspects has been on the rise.

Although there has been a history of controversy regarding the ethical use of TASERs, studies similar to the one conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice have shown TASER use actually provides many positive benefits to police officers and even to the suspects they encounter. A study of the Houston Police Department found the number of workers comp claims by officers has declined by as much as 93% due to deploying TASERs as a means of non lethal force. Suspect injuries have also been impacted by TASER use, trimming the percentage of suspect injuries by as much as 60%. Another study conducted in 2009 by Wake Forest University confirmed data from the Houston study. The Wake Forest study found 99.75% of suspects who had been subjected to TASER use had no significant injuries.

Use of TASERs by the Seattle Police Department, one of the largest police forces in the Northwestern United States, has been shown to reduce the odds of suspect injury by 48%. Data gathered from other agencies confirms a decline in suspect injuries due to TASER deployment. In Orlando, Florida and Austin, Texas, studies found that suspect injuries were 50% and 30% lower respectively after TASER use was adopted. Officer injuries have been impacted by TASER use as well. The same studies found that in most agencies officer injuries were greatly reduced after TASERs were introduced as part of each particular organizations use of force continuum.

Although more recent studies have uncovered vast amounts of data that supports the positive benefits of TASER usage in law enforcement, there is also data that suggests TASER usage has negatively impacted some individual police officers as well. The study conducted in 2010 by the United States Department of Justice found that some officers may rely too heavily upon activating (deploying) a TASER during suspect encounters. The study refers to this negative trait in some police officers as "lazy cop" syndrome. Further research is being conducted to determine what triggers some officers to rely too heavily upon TASER use or deploy a TASER too early in an encounter.

Controlled taser demonstration by the North Dakota Air National Guard. The center person is being electrocuted through his back while being held to prevent falling injuries. North Dakota National Guard.jpg
Controlled taser demonstration by the North Dakota Air National Guard. The center person is being electrocuted through his back while being held to prevent falling injuries.

As the technology continues to evolve, TASERs are becoming more advanced "smart weapons."[ citation needed ] The officers and agencies who deploy them have opportunities to receive specialized training to hone their skills at deploying these emerging technologies. TASER International offers law enforcement agencies around the world the opportunity to receive hands on training in their training academy, led by some of the world's leading TASER experts. The TASER® Training Academy [43] offers courses including training in TASER tactics, weapon maintenance, data reporting, and "smart use" training.

In another related field advancement, Noel Sharkey reported in the Wall Street Journal (December 2015) that police in North Dakota have been cleared to operate drone aircraft equipped with tear gas and TASERs. [44]

Excited delirium

Some of the deaths associated with TASERs are given a diagnosis of excited delirium, a term for a phenomenon that manifests as a combination of delirium, psychomotor agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, speech disturbances, disorientation, violent and bizarre behavior, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature, and increased strength. [45] [46] Excited delirium is associated with sudden death (usually via cardiac or respiratory arrest) particularly following the use of physical control measures, including police restraint and TASERs. [45] [46] Excited delirium most commonly arises in male subjects with a history of serious mental illness or acute or chronic drug abuse, particularly stimulant drugs such as cocaine. [45] [47] Alcohol withdrawal or head trauma may also contribute to the condition. [48]

The diagnosis of excited delirium has been controversial. [49] [50] Excited delirium has been listed as a cause of death by some medical examiners for several years, [51] [52] mainly as a diagnosis of exclusion established on autopsy. [45] Additionally, academic discussion of excited delirium has been largely confined to forensic science literature, providing limited documentation about patients that survive the condition. [45] These circumstances have led some civil liberties groups to question the cause of death diagnosis, claiming that excited delirium has been used to "excuse and exonerate" law enforcement authorities following the death of detained subjects, a possible "conspiracy or cover-up for brutality" when restraining agitated individuals. [45] [49] [50] Also contributing to the controversy is the role of TASER use in excited delirium deaths. [47] [53]

Excited delirium is not found in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , however the term "excited delirium" has been accepted by the National Association of Medical Examiners and the American College of Emergency Physicians, who argued in a 2009 white paper that "excited delirium" may be described by several codes within the ICD-9. [45] The American College of Emergency Physicians "rejects the theory" that excited delirium is an "invented syndrome" used to excuse or cover-up the use of excessive force by law enforcement. [54]

Use in schools and on children

There has been considerable controversy over the use of tasers on children and in schools. In 2004, the parents of a 6-year-old boy in Miami sued the police department for firing a TASER at their child. The police said the boy was threatening to injure his own leg with a shard of glass, and said that using the device was the safest option to prevent the boy from injuring himself. Nevertheless, the boy's mother told CNN that the three officers involved probably found it easier not to reason with her child. Also in 2004, a 12-year-old girl skipping school and drinking alcohol was tased in Miami-Dade while she was running from police and started to run into traffic. The TASER was successfully deployed to stop her from being hit by cars or causing an automobile accident. [55] In March 2008, an 11-year-old girl was subdued with a TASER. [56] In March 2009, a 15-year-old boy died from alcohol-induced excited delirium [57] in Michigan after being tased. [58]

Police use TASERs on smaller subjects and elderly subjects since striking them or falling on them will cause much more injury than a TASER which only contracts their muscles that are conditioned for their size and it is extremely rare for a person to break their own bones by contracting muscles. Critics counter that TASERs may interact with pre-existing medical complications such as medications, and may even contribute to someone's death as a result. Critics also suggest that using a TASER on a minor, particularly a young child, is effectively cruel and abusive punishment, or unnecessary. [59] [60] [61] [62]

Use in torture

A report from a meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture states that "The Committee was worried that the use of TASER X26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use." [63] [64] Amnesty International has also raised extensive concerns about the use of other electro-shock devices by American police and in American prisons, as they can be (and according to Amnesty International, sometimes are) used to inflict cruel pain on individuals. Maurice Cunningham of South Carolina, while an inmate at the Lancaster County Detention Center, [65] [66] was subjected to continuous shock for 2 minutes 49 seconds, which a medical examiner said caused cardiac arrhythmia and his subsequent death. He was 29 years old and had no alcohol or drugs in his system. [67]

In response to the claims that the pain inflicted by the use of the TASER could potentially constitute torture, Tom Smith, the Chairman of the TASER Board, has stated that the U.N. is "out of touch" with the needs of modern policing and asserted that "Pepper spray goes on for hours and hours, hitting someone with a baton breaks limbs, shooting someone with a firearm causes permanent damage, even punching and kicking—the intent of those tools is to inflict pain, ... with the TASER, the intent is not to inflict pain; it's to end the confrontation. When it's over, it's over." [68]

See also

Related Research Articles

Deadly force force that a person knows would create a substantial risk of causing, death or serious bodily harm or injury

Deadly force, also known as lethal force, is use of force that is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death to another person. In most jurisdictions, the use of deadly force is justified only under conditions of extreme necessity as a last resort, when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed.

Non-lethal weapon weapon intended to be less likely to kill a living target than conventional weapons

Non-lethal weapons, also called less-lethal weapons, less-than-lethal weapons, non-deadly weapons, compliance weapons, or pain-inducing weapons are weapons intended to be less likely to kill a living target than conventional weapons such as knives and firearms. It is often understood that unintended or incidental casualties are risked wherever force is applied, but non-lethal weapons try to minimise the risk as much as possible. Non-lethal weapons are used in policing and combat situations to limit the escalation of conflict where employment of lethal force is prohibited or undesirable, where rules of engagement require minimum casualties, or where policy restricts the use of conventional force.

Pepper spray Lachrymatory agent

Pepper spray is a lachrymatory agent used in policing, riot control, crowd control, and self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears. Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision. This temporary blindness allows officers to more easily restrain subjects and permits people in danger to use pepper spray in self-defense for an opportunity to escape. It also causes temporary discomfort and burning of the lungs which causes shortness of breath.

Riot control measures used by police, military, or other security forces during a riot

Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest people who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. If a riot is spontaneous and irrational, actions which cause people to stop and think for a moment can be enough to stop it. However, these methods usually fail when there is severe anger with a legitimate cause, or the riot was planned or organized. Law enforcement officers or military personnel have long used less lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds and detain rioters. Since the 1980s, riot control officers have also used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and electric tasers. In some cases, riot squads may also use Long Range Acoustic Devices, water cannons, armoured fighting vehicles, aerial surveillance, police dogs or mounted police on horses. Officers performing riot control typically wear protective equipment such as riot helmets, face visors, body armor, gas masks and riot shields. However, there are also cases where lethal weapons are used to violently suppress a protest or riot, as in the Boston Massacre, Haymarket Massacre, Banana Massacre, Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Kent State Shootings, Soweto Uprising, Mendiola Massacre, Bloody Sunday (1905), Ponce massacre, Bloody Sunday (1972), Tiananmen Square Protests (1989), Venezuelan Protest (2017), Tuticorin Massacre (2018), 2019-20 Hong Kong protests.

Electroshock weapon Incapacitating weapon

An electroshock weapon is an incapacitating weapon. It delivers an electric shock aimed at temporarily disrupting muscle functions and/or inflicting pain without causing significant injury.

Riot shotgun shotgun designed or modified for use as a primarily defensive weapon, by the use of a short barrel and sometimes a larger magazine capacity than shotguns marketed for hunting

A riot shotgun is a shotgun designed or modified for use as a primarily defensive weapon, by the use of a short barrel and sometimes a larger magazine capacity than shotguns marketed for hunting. The riot shotgun is used by military personnel for guard duty and was at one time used for riot control, and is commonly used as a door breaching and patrol weapon by law enforcement personnel, as well as a home defense weapon by civilians. Guns of this type are often labeled as breaching shotguns, tactical shotguns or special-purpose shotguns to denote the larger scope of their use; however, these are largely marketing terms.

Axon Enterprise, Inc. is a Scottsdale, Arizona-based company which develops technology and weapons products for law enforcement and civilians.

Law enforcement in the United States is one of three major components of the criminal justice system of the United States, along with courts and corrections. Although each component operates semi-independently, the three collectively form a chain leading from an investigation of suspected criminal activity to the administration of criminal punishment.

Use of force continuum

A use of force continuum is a standard that provides law enforcement officers and civilians with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation. In some ways, it is similar to the U.S. military's escalation of force (EOF). The purpose of these models is to clarify, both for law enforcement officers and civilians, the complex subject of use of force. They are often central parts of law enforcement agencies' use of force policies. Various criminal justice agencies have developed different models of the continuum, and there is no universal or standard model. Generally, each different agency will have their own use of force policy. Some agencies may separate some of the hand-to-hand based use of force. For example, take-downs and pressure point techniques may be one step before actual strikes and kicks. Also, for some agencies the use of aerosol pepper spray and electronic control devices (TASER) may fall into the same category as take-downs, or the actual strikes.

On November 14, 2006, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a fourth-year University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student, was drive stunned five times with a Taser by campus police while handcuffed.

Excited delirium

Excited delirium, also known as agitated delirium, is a condition that presents with psychomotor agitation, delirium, and sweating. It may include attempts at violence, unexpected strength, and very high body temperature. Complications may include rhabdomyolysis or high blood potassium.

Medical conditions or use of illegal drugs can significantly heighten such risk for subjects in an at-risk category. In some cases however, death occurred after Taser use coupled with the use of force alone, such as positional asphyxiation, with no evidence of underlying medical condition and no use of drugs.

Baton (law enforcement) club of less than arms length

A baton or truncheon is a roughly cylindrical club made of wood, rubber, plastic or metal. It is carried as a compliance tool and defensive weapon by law-enforcement officers, correctional staff, security guards and military personnel.

Robert Dziekański Taser incident

On October 14, 2007, Robert Dziekański —a Polish immigrant to Canada—was killed during an arrest at the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia.

Jack Cover American physicist

John "Jack" Higson Cover Jr. was the inventor of the Taser stun gun.

Roberto Laudisio Curti, known as Beto Laudisio, was a 21-year-old man from São Paulo, Brazil. He died on 18 March 2012 after being pursued, tackled, tasered and sprayed with OC spray by officers of the New South Wales Police Force in Sydney, Australia.

The Taser X2 is one of the less-lethal conducted electrical weapon (CEW) models that is used by law enforcement agencies and by civilians as a use for self-defense. It was created by TASER International, Inc. in 2011 after their popular X26 model and the similar but bulkier and heavier X3. The X2 Defender, unlike previous CEWs, can shoot two cartridges and is semi-automatic.

Natasha McKenna was an African-American woman who died while in police custody. The event was notable because it was captured on video and is part of a growing number of incidents that are audio-visual representations of law enforcement that have contributed to discussions about African-Americans and their treatment by the police. While there were no charges against the deputies who tasered McKenna, the case is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

In the United States, use of deadly force by police has been a high-profile and contentious issue. Police killings are one of the leading causes of death for young men of color in the United States.

Crowd control in Jammu and Kashmir

Crowd control in Jammu and Kashmir is a public security practice to prevent and manage violent riots. It is enforced by police forces through laws preventing unlawful assembly, as well as using riot control agents such as tear gas, chili grenades, and pellet guns.


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