Stun gun company fired up over Amnesty's 'death link' claims

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The Independent Online

Taser International, the US manufacturer of stun guns currently being rolled out among the UK police force, is fighting back against allegations that the equipment causes deaths and increases violent confrontations.

Taser International, the US manufacturer of stun guns currently being rolled out among the UK police force, is fighting back against allegations that the equipment causes deaths and increases violent confrontations.

Tom Smith, president and co-founder of Taser, dismissed a report by Amnesty International earlier this month that the stun guns had contributed to more than 70 deaths in the US and Canada.

Amnesty was "completely out of touch with reality", Mr Smith said. He pointed to studies including one by the US Department of Defense, which found no evidence that the 50,000-volt charge administered by a Taser gun had an adverse lasting impact on victims' health.

Amnesty's report came at a sensitive time for Arizona-based Taser, which was created by Mr Smith and his brother, Rick, in 1993, in order to provide a means for their mother to defend herself when their father was out of town on business.

Taser has expanded from being the only supplier of the technology to the US police. Now, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has given the go-ahead for Taser stun guns to be used by the British police following a 12-month study including the Metropolitan, Northamptonshire and North Wales forces.

The Amnesty report alleges the proliferation of Taser guns, which cramp the muscles, increases violence between police and suspected criminals.

The company is also battling against outrage whipped up earlier this year when law enforcers shot a six-year-old in a Florida school with a Taser gun in a bid to restrain the child, who was reportedly trying to cut himself with a piece of glass. According to Mr Smith, Tasers provide "the lowest level of force" police need to do their job in dangerous situations.

Mr Smith admitted that "there certainly was concern" among the British authorities about adopting Tasers, which are marketed as an alternative to guns in some situations. But he argued that Taser guns would be useful in the UK, because the country "has one of the highest rates of officers being stabbed". He added: "The police don't get paid to get hurt."

Mr Smith predicted that, over time, Europe would be a larger market for the company than the US, where this method of subduing suspects is used by more than 10 per cent of police.

Earlier this month a member of Taser's board, Bernard Kerik, was chosen to be the next head of Homeland Security by President George Bush. Mr Kerik, the New York police commissioner during the 11 September terrorist attacks, is now almost certain to stand down from Taser's board. But he set the tenor of his approach to the job by using his first speech to emphasise the need to be extra vigilant about possible assailants.

Taser is still a small player in the multi-billion-dollar defence market. But it has seen its sales soar by 150 per cent in the past few years on the back of the technology by which barbs, fired from a compressed nitrogen cartridge, deliver a shock which is high in voltage but whose power is only 26 watts.

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