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Taser maker’s early science: From garage tests to stun gun empire

Taser International persuaded police departments to buy its electrified weapons by touting internal research attesting to the devices’ safety. But Taser’s claims about its early studies were overstated, a Reuters examination has found.

In marketing materials released early last decade, Taser described its initial research as using an approach comparable to what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires. But the FDA doesn’t regulate weapons. Moreover, Reuters learned that Taser’s early science – beginning with one pig, five dogs and some willing police volunteers – didn’t rise to the agency’s level of rigor.

Taser, which recently changed its name to Axon Enterprise Inc, said its weapons are the “the most thoroughly studied” law enforcement force option. The company says it has been fully transparent about its research.


Founder Rick Smith’s introductory letter in 2000 told police the weapon had been subjected to testing comparable to what the FDA requires. The company’s testing lacked the rigor of agency-approved studies, scientists say. Its human subjects were prospective buyers. No physiological measurements were taken. At sales demos, police officers volunteered – sometimes for a chance at free beer – to be shocked. Some tests were done in employees’ garages.

As indications of cardiac risk emerged in its own studies, Taser took months or years to disclose details and issue relevant warnings. For instance, Taser waited a decade to disclose that a test dog suffered a potentially fatal heart disruption in one of its early tests.

Today, Taser says there is a small “theoretical” risk that its weapons can endanger the heart; it puts that risk at “about 1 in 2 or 3 million uses.” An independent panel in Canada concluded in 2013 that there still was not enough quality evidence to determine the weapons’ true risk.