Stun weapons to target crowds

June 16, 2004

WEAPONS that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe.

At present, commercial stun guns target one person at a time, and work only at close quarters. The new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many people at once and operate over far greater distances.

But human rights groups are appalled by the fact that no independent safety tests have been carried out, and by their potential for indiscriminate use.

The weapons are designed to address the perceived shortcomings of the Taser, the electric-shock gun already used by 4000 police departments in the US and undergoing trials with some police forces in the UK.

It hits the victim with two darts that trail current-carrying wires, which limit its range to a maximum of 7 metres (see Graphic). As a single shot, short-range weapon, the Taser is of little use in crowd control. And Tasers have no effect on vehicles.

These limitations are beginning to be overcome. Engineers working for the US Department of Defense's research division, DARPA, and defence companies in Europe have been working out how to create an electrically conductive path between a gun and a target without using wires. A weapon under development by Rheinmetall, based in Düsseldorf, Germany, creates a conducting channel by using a small explosive charge to squirt a stream of tiny conductive fibres through the air at the victim (New Scientist, 24 May 2003, p 19).

Meanwhile, Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS), based in Anderson, Indiana, will be one of the first companies to market another type of wireless weapon. Instead of using fibres, the $9000 Close Quarters Shock Rifle (pictured) projects an ionised gas, or plasma, towards the target, producing a conducting channel. It will also interfere with electronic ignition systems and stop vehicles.

"We will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose at one or many targets in a single sweep," claims XADS president Peter Bitar.

The gun has been designed for the US Marine Corps to use for crowd control and security purposes and is due out next year. It is based on early, unwieldy technology and has a range of only 3 metres, but an operator can debilitate multiple targets by sweeping it across them for "as long as there is an input power source," says Bitar. "Before, it took a laser about the size of two trucks," says Schlie. "Now we can do it with something that fits on a tabletop."

The laser pulse must be very intense, but can be brief. So the makers of the weapons plan to use a UV laser to fire a 5-joule pulse lasting just 0.4 picoseconds- equating to a momentary power of more than 10 million megawatts.

This intense pulse - which is said not to harm the eyes - ionises the air, producing long, thread-like filaments of glowing plasma that can be sustained by repeating the pulse every few milliseconds. This plasma channel is then used to deliver a shock to the victims similar to a Taser's 50,000-volt, 26-watt shock.

HSV Technologies of San Diego, California is also working on stun and vehicle-stopping shock weapons with ranges of over 100 metres. And another company, Ionatron of Tuscon, Arizona, is due to supply a prototype wireless vehicle-mounted weapon to the US Department of Defense by the end of the year.

But the advent of wireless stun weapons has horrified human rights groups. Robin Coupland of the Red Cross says they risk becoming a new instrument of torture. And Brian Wood of Amnesty International says the long-range stun guns could "inflict pain and other suffering on innocent bystanders".

And there are safety concerns. Of the 30,000 times US police officers have fired Tasers, in 40 instances people stunned by them later died. The deaths have been attributed to factors such as overdoses of drugs and alcohol, or fighting with officers, rather than the electric shock.

In a statement, Taser International chief Rick Smith said: "In every single case the medical examiner has attributed the direct cause of death to causes other than the Taser." Amnesty is not convinced, however, and wants an independent study of the effects of all existing and emerging electric-shock weapons.
-end-
This article appears in New Scientist issue: 19 JUNE 2004

Author - David Hambling

"These articles are posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to quote extracts as part of fair dealing with this copyrighted material. Full attribution is required, and if publishing online a link to www.newscientist.com is also required. Advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full - please contact celia.thomas@rbi.co.uk. Please note that all material is copyright of Reed Business Information Limited and we reserve the right to take such action as we consider appropriate to protect such copyright."

New Scientist

Related Taser Articles from Brightsurf:

Experiencing police brutality increases mistrust in medical institutions, impacts health
There is plenty of data showing that police brutality leads to mistrust of police and law enforcement.

Ultrasound to guide treatment strategy not beneficial in early RA
According to new research findings presented this week at the 2019 ACR/ARP Annual Meeting, a treatment strategy guided by ultrasound information use does not appear to provide better treatment decisions in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis.

Exposure to police violence reported often, associated with mental health issues
Exposure to police violence is increasingly recognized as a public health issue in the United States.

Police officers 'open up' about body-worn cameras in a post-ferguson era
A study is the first to use qualitative research to gain deeper insight into law enforcement officers' personal experiences and perspectives on the use of body-worn cameras in a post-Ferguson era.

Electric eels leap to deliver painful, Taser-like jolt
The electric eel has always been noted for its impressive ability to shock and subdue its prey.

Researchers successfully test modified stun gun with heart monitoring capability
Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have successfully tested a prototype conducted electrical weapon capable of recording a subject's heart rate and rhythm while still delivering incapacitating electrical charges.

US police killed or injured more than 55,000 people during 'legal interventions' in 2012
US police killed or injured an estimated 55,400 people during legal stop and search incidents and arrests in 2012, reveals research published online in the journal Injury Prevention.

Electric eels make leaping attacks
Vanderbilt biologist Kenneth Catania has accidentally discovered that can electric eels make leaping attacks that dramatically increase the strength of the electric shocks they deliver and, in so doing, has confirmed a 200-year-old observation by famous 19th century explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

Taser shock disrupts brain function, has implications for police interrogations
New research from a first-of-its-kind human study by Drexel University and Arizona State University reveals that the burst of electricity from a stun gun can impair a person's ability to remember and process information.

Report raises concern over health risks of Tasers
Tasers are increasingly being used by UK police yet recent studies suggest the health risks are greater than previously thought, reports The BMJ this week.

Read More: Taser News and Taser Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.