closeup of taser
taser cartridges

The term Taser was initially “TASER,” abbreviating “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle” after the 1911 novel Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. The acronym is trademarked but has become informally used to refer generically to similar devices. 

The Taser was first developed in the mid-1970s by American inventor Jack Cover. The hand-held device can be used to incapacitate a person by transmitting a 50,000-volt electric shock. The range extends from 15 feet for a non-law enforcement Taser to 35 feet for a law-enforcement model. A Taser fires two small barbed darts intended to penetrate clothing, puncture the skin and remain attached to the target. The darts are connected to the main unit by thin insulated copper wire and deliver a modulated electric current designed to disrupt voluntary control of muscles, causing temporary “neuromuscular incapacitation.” The effects of a Taser device may be localized pain or strong involuntary muscle contractions, dependent on the mode of use and connectivity of the darts. A Taser can also be used as a stun gun by pressing it directly against the target’s body, thereby administering the electric shock.

The Taser is not considered a firearm, as it uses compressed nitrogen to launch the darts. It is typically marketed as a “less-lethal” force option since the possibility of serious injury or death still exists whenever the weapon is deployed. State laws vary on whether Tasers require a concealed carry permit in order to purchase and/or possess.

Did You Know?

The Man Behind the Taser

Physicist Jack Cover patented the Taser in 1974. He named it after the 1911 science fiction novel Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. He later added “A” to T.S.E.R. because it was much easier to pronounce The TF-76 looked like a flashlight and fired two darts up to 15 feet (these remained attached to the device by a thin wire). He began to develop the device during the 1960s in response to a rash of airplane hijackings. Cover allegedly got the idea for the Taser after he heard about a man who was briefly stunned by a power line that had fallen down. Initially, the ATF treated the device as a Title II firearm because gunpowder was used to launch the darts. This was later changed to compressed air in 1994, allowing for the Taser to comply with federal firearms statutes and making it available to civilians.   

Photo of Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle publication
(Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

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