May 14, 2008 / 1:50 AM / in 9 years

Taser chairman defends stun gun's safety

<p>Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski is seen on the floor as airport police secure him in the arrivals area of the Vancouver airport in video footage takenn October 14, 2007. Police use of the stun guns -- which incapacitate people with a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity -- has become controversial in Canada following the death of Dziekanski during an arrest at Vancouver International Airport last year.Paul Pritchard/Handout</p>

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The chairman of Taser International Inc accused critics on Monday of spreading myths about the stun gun's dangers, saying there was no "magic bullet" to completely eliminate the risk of death during police use of force.

No studies have shown the devices can cause deaths, but that does not mean their use is entirely risk free, Taser co-founder Thomas Smith told a Canadian inquiry in Vancouver.

"There is no use-of-force option, ours included, that is a magic bullet," he said.

Smith said that Tasers, which are becoming increasingly popular with police forces, were still safer for both police and those being subdued than either firearms or batons. He emphasized his statements with videos of people being hit and pepper-sprayed by police officers.

Police use of the stun guns -- which incapacitate people with a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity -- has become controversial in Canada following the death a Polish immigrant during an arrest at Vancouver International Airport last year.

Images of Robert Dziekanski writhing on the floor after he was shot with the Taser were broadcast around the world, but the cause of this death has not been determined.

Smith called the incident tragic, but said he declined further comment until a medical examiner's investigation is completed.

Critics have accused Taser of pushing its product on the market without adequately testing for health risks such as heart failure, and for manipulating studies to downplay possible safety issues.

Taser use has been linked to over 290 deaths in North America since 2001, but the company argues there is no evidence the guns caused any fatalities and factors such as victim's drug use may have responsible.

Smith accused critics of basing their attacks on second-hand information. "I believe this is the most studied police technology out there today," he said.

Former British Columbia Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, who first approved police use of Tasers in the western Canadian province, said on Monday he felt he had been misled by claims the guns were entirely safe.

"I don't have much confidence in (Taser's) claims," Dosanjh said, echoing a recent call by the Canadian Medical Association Journal for a comprehensive independent study of police use of the weapons.

Dosanjh said he does not oppose police having the weapons available, but wants more limits on their use until questions over their safety are resolved.

Arizona-based Taser has waged a vigorous legal battle in defense of its safety claims, including suing at least two U.S. medical examiners who ruled the stun guns were the cause of deaths.

Smith declined to speculate if the company might take legal action against the British Columbia's inquiry if it does not like the outcome of the investigation.

Taser also sells the stun guns to the general public in the United States, but Smith said there are no plans to do that in Canada where such sales are illegal.

Editing by Rob Wilson

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