Jack Cover

2 minute read
Gilbert Cruz

There was a whiff of the future in the Taser. When inventor Jack Cover, who died Feb. 7 at 88, first conceived his controversial stun gun, he imagined a world in which danger could be averted without the use of deadly force.

A nuclear physicist who studied at the University of Chicago under Enrico Fermi, Cover worked as a contract scientist on NASA’s Apollo moon program. It was during this period in the 1960s–an era of civil unrest, airplane hijackings and urban violence–that he began to ponder the need for a nonlethal weapon.

Cover recalled his favorite book of childhood adventure stories, Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. “What an amazing thought,” he once said, “stunning people with blue balls of electricity.” A rejiggering of some letters later, and Cover had a name–TASER (Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle). Resembling a large flashlight, the device fired darts that delivered an electrical current through the human body, briefly incapacitating anyone on the receiving end.

The Taser was launched in the mid-’70s and is now used by thousands of police departments and military agencies worldwide. But the device’s efficacy has been hotly debated–not least amid the public outrage over its role in the 1991 Rodney King incident. Organizations like Amnesty International have strongly criticized the regularity with which law-enforcement officers use the stun guns, attributing hundreds of deaths to incorrect Taser use.

Multiple product redesigns and one “Don’t Tase me, bro” incident later, the Taser remains contentious–although Cover never doubted his invention’s mission. “I would rather see someone get shot with a Taser gun,” he said, “than a real gun.”

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