Drones armed with Tasers are no way to combat school shootings, ACLU says

·3 min read
cop with drone
Acting Police Sergeant Chris Linzey pilots a DJI Matrice M300 drone (UAV) during a demonstration for media on May 25, 2021.GEOFF CADDICK/AFP via Getty Images
  • Axon, the manufacturer of Tasers, said this week it is developing a drone armed with stun guns.

  • The company's CEO said the drones could be deployed in schools to prevent mass shootings.

  • Critics, including the ACLU and the company's own ethics board, worry the technology will be abused.

The company behind Taser stun guns has a plan to stop the next school shooting, it says: put those Tasers on a drone.

Axon CEO Rick Smith announced in a post this week on the company's website that Axon was moving forward with a plan to develop technology he claimed "could help prevent the next Uvalde, Sandy Hook, or Columbine." Drones armed with his less-lethal energy weapons could be installed in schools, activated in times of emergency just like "sprinklers" in the event of a fire."

But critics include Axon's own artificial intelligence ethics board. In a statement, the board said it had "deliberated at length" on the question of selling Taser-armed drones to police and decided it was a bad idea. That the company is nonetheless moving forward, and expanding the potential market to educational institutions, it said, "gives us considerable pause."

In a Reddit "AMA" on Friday, Smith noted that the board is only "advisory" in nature.

"If the board [had] governing rights over the company, then we would have to make sure the board had a stronger balance of pro-public safety views," he said.

In a separate statement shared with Insider, he argued that he shared the concerns about the unregulated use of the technology — the board specifically criticized the deployment of drones in classrooms — but said it was safer than relying on "simply a person with a gun."

Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU focusing on police practices, told Insider that drones "should not be armed, period."

His chief concern was that they lower the barrier to the use of force — and that once in the hands of law enforcement or others, they will not just be used in extreme situations, such as a school shooting, but the mundane, like the clearing of a homeless encampment.

"It's not going to stop at schools," he said. "It's going to be at protests and deployed in the Black and brown communities that already feel the greatest harms from policing."

The ACLU's concerns are shared by the White House.

While Axon's CEO told Reddit on Friday that he envisions funding for drones in schools potentially coming from "federal grants," a May 25 executive order issued by President Joe Biden expressly limits the transfer and purchase of "weaponized drones" by law enforcement. States such as Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin have also prohibited their use.

For good reason, Takei argued, critics do not differentiate between drones armed with lethal weapons and those armed with less-lethal stun guns, which have resulted in the death of hundreds of people in the US since they were adopted by law enforcement.

"What we've seen over and over again is police officers using Tasers in situations where they might not have used a weapon at all," Takei said, including "against school children who are refusing to follow a school police officer's orders."

Adding them to drones, he said, "is opening a Pandora's box."

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