Static: Wednesday, March 07, 2007
His Trousers Should Have Been Toast

Debbie Russell, who runs the ACLU’s Texas hotline for Taser victims, was shocked — no pun intended — to receive an e-mail from TASER International spokesman Peter Holran, saying that company president Tom Smith was taking his private jet down to Austin to meet with her.

“It was surreal,” Russell said.

Apparently, the Taser jet was fueled by news of bills filed by Fort Worth State Rep. Lon Burnam, proposing, among other things, that the Texas Lege classify Tasers as dangerous weapons requiring licensing and training, when used by civilians or police officers. (The proposals would also limit Taser use by police to situations calling for deadly force, require development of a statewide Taser training program, require police to seek medical treatment for all those shot with Tasers, and require agencies to institute Taser use policies, record all discharges of the weapons, and report that info to the state.)

Russell said she duly met Smith and Holran for an hour and a half at a downtown Austin coffee shop. She said Smith expressed concern that, if Taser usage is reined in, more people will end up dying by gunshot. (And, really, who would choose to die by a bullet when they could die so much more pleasantly via electrical shock?) Smith cited the company’s studies — that tested individuals only 24 hours after an incident — showing no ill effects in those who have been tasered. He and Holran did a little good cop/bad cop: Russell said that when she mentioned the victims who call the hotline, Holran said, “You’re not going to believe anonymous strangers, are you?” while Smith seemed attentive.

However, Russell said, Smith fell silent when she mentioned that the U.S. Department of Justice is doing a two-year study on the issue. (And several medical examiners around the country now believe the electronic pulse weapons played a role in a number of deaths.) Meanwhile, Amnesty International and others have been raising a stink over Taser-related deaths. (It was Fort Worth Weekly’s coverage of the issue, including a statewide story by a group of college journalism students, most of them from UNT, that inspired Burnam’s legislation.)

She and Smith found no common ground, Russell said, but the meeting was civil. And it does represent progress of a sort — Burnam’s legislative aide, Heather Creek, said this is the first she’s heard of a Taser top dog meeting with any advocacy or opposition group. In fact, Russell said, Smith told her that the company now realizes it should have sent its reps before to talk to advocacy groups. But, he said, they’ve been too busy in the labs trying to make their product safer.

Hey, this was in Austin and the legislature was still in town. Stranger things have happened. Or maybe he was just wearing his asbestos slacks.

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