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They Wanted to Put Tasers on Drones in Schools. Then Most of Their Ethics Board Resigned.

An interesting story in the world of tech brings together several significant lines of debate in contemporary American life, including the role of police, how to keep schools safe and who watches the watchmen anyway?

It starts with Axon, a police contracting company that proposed installing “flying Taser drones” in schools that could react to active shooters within seconds. The thinking goes that police officers could pilot the drones remotely, shocking the shooter and shouting orders through a speaker. A bold new proposal in keeping schools safe or a Terminator-like dystopia in which schools are increasingly militarized? Axon’s ethics board largely believed it to be the latter. Nine members of the board resigned in protest.

“It’s such an obviously bad idea to use these in the context of schools. I mean, it’s absurd,” one of the resigning board members, Ryan Calo, told the Washington Post. “You cannot address these horrific national tragedies …by throwing a Taser on a drone.”

The ethics boards’ concerns were myriad. When and how would these drones be deployed? Would they also be used to shock vandals, bullies and kids who refuse to pipe down in the classroom? There were concerns about the strength of Tasers, which may not be enough to stop a gunman. And as many have noted, a lack of force was not the problem in the deadly mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 armed police officers waited outside the classroom door for at least 47 minutes.

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The Taser drones are the latest fanciful effort to stem the tide of school shootings without grazing current gun laws, joining things like bullet-proof backpacks, facial recognition software and proposals for single-entrance school buildings. The resigning ethics board members released a statement about their decision, saying the Taser drones have “no realistic chance of solving the mass shooting problem Axon now is prescribing it for, only distracting society from real solutions.”

“Before Axon’s announcement, we pleaded with the company to pull back,” they wrote. “But the company charged ahead in a way that struck many of us as trading on the tragedy of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings. …[It] is more than any of us can abide.”

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