SCOTTSDALE, AZ: Stun-gun manufacturer Taser International has launched a media and client-relations campaign to counter mounting accusations that the company's weapons are dangerous and potentially deadly.
Amnesty International (AI) blasted the widespread use of Taser stun guns in a lengthy report last week, calling them "particularly open to abuse."
The report was the latest in a series of high-profile challenges about the weapons' safety. Two weeks ago, a New York Times story detailed a government report that said the guns could pose serious risks and called for further study.
The report also noted that the weapons, which fire electrified darts that cause incapacitation, are increasingly being promoted for general public use.
Steve Tuttle, Taser International's communications director, said the company's products are non-lethal weapons that save lives every year.
"We're making as big a sea change for law enforcement as radio did," he said.
The company's strategy is to respond immediately to public attacks using fact-based message points, said Tuttle. He added that the AI report showed the organization was "out of touch with law enforcement and community standards."
Taser has undertaken a "massive" client relations campaign, relying on medical and safety data to reassure purchasers that the weapons are safe. The company is also in the midst of test marketing and an ad campaign in the Phoenix area to promote the weapons for public sale.
The test campaign includes billboard, newspaper, TV, and radio ads. Some refer potential customers to Taser's website or a 1-800 number. Others "are just informing the public on the success that Tasers have had with law enforcement locally," Tuttle said. He added that sales figures will determine if the campaign gets extended to other markets.
Taser uses Wexler & Walker for its public affairs and Public Strategies for strategic crisis advice, Tuttle said.
Gwen Fitzgerald, associate director of communications for AI, said that her organization hoped for a suspension of Taser use until scientists could conclusively prove their safety.
She said that AI was able to get publicity for its report quickly from a core group of about three dozen reporters at major regional papers who have written about Taser incidents in their own communities in the past.
"They knew the issue, they knew some of our concerns," Fitzgerald said. "They were a first go for us to reach out to."
AI also put the report out on all the major newswires and reached out to TV networks, cable outlets, and radio stations on the morning the report was released. "All of that gave us a pretty big splash," she said.