Who Made That Stun Gun?





” In the summer of 1965, just before riots broke out in Watts, President Lyndon Johnson ordered a study on crime in a “free society.” Among its recommendations was developing a technology for handling unruly citizens. A patrolman ought to have a “nonlethal” way to incapacitate a criminal, one that worked quickly and with little risk of lasting injury. “For example,” the study’s authors wrote, “darts have been used for injecting tranquilizing drugs into animals.”

  Cops were already using cattle prods with the same goal.

  In Mississippi, a pair of Freedom Riders were zapped while in custody in 1961. Two years later, newspapers described for the first time how Alabama policemen used cattle prods to “herd Negro demonstrators.” This led to widespread public outrage, says Darius Rejali, a professor at Reed College who has traced the history of electric crowd control, and the cattle prod — or “shock baton” — fell out of favor.

  Inventors rushed to find replacements. In 1965, a Massachusetts man filed a patent for a long-range weapon that worked like an electrified supersoaker. The following year a Japanese inventor proposed an air gun that fired two electrode needles that would “stun the criminal to a temporary state of false epilepsy, which renders him helpless.” Neither caught on.

“ Hundreds and hundreds of different patents were made,” Rejali says, “but it’s one thing to have a great idea, and another thing to have a lot of social institutions that will sustain it and carry it forward into society.” Even the Taser, the device Jack Cover patented in 1974, wasn’t all that different from the ones that came before: A pair of electrode projectiles, tethered to the gun with wires, delivered a high-voltage, low-amperage pulse of electricity that could subdue a target without killing him. Cover tried to sell his invention in any way he could, Rejali says, even marketing it to airlines to fight hijackers.”

Read more at NY Times