The Human Factors of Weapons

James R. in California sends along a tragic story of police officer confusing his taser with his firearm.  The news story can be found here.  Here’s what James says:

An example taser

Here in CA there is a big to do over the shooting death of a young man (Oscar Grant) by a BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.  Apparently, Mr. Grant was being detained by Mr. Mehserle.

At some point Mr. Mehserle felt that Mr. Grant needed to be tasered (tased?). The police officer drew his weapon and fired, killing Mr. Grant. Mehserle had drawn his pistol instead of his TASER.

As you can see [ed: example taser on right] it is remarkably like a pistol in design and form.

The question now becomes “should non-lethal weapons look and act like lethal ones?

8 thoughts on “The Human Factors of Weapons”

  1. Pretty sure this is national and not regional news; meanwhile the defense alleged this was a mistaken weapons use. There were a number of different theories proposed and I wouldn’t necessarily state that as a conclusion.

    1. Steve, I don’t want to side with the defense or the prosecution on this particular issue. The jury decided that it was indeed “involuntary manslaughter”. So, that’s all we have for a “conclusion”.
      Regardless of the actual reason Mr. Grant was shot, it raises the question for us, as Human Factors people “Should non-lethal weapons look/act the same as lethal ones?”.

      1. I agree that we aren’t judge or jury (although we may on occasion be expert witnesses!).

        James states the most interesting question – “Should they look and work similarly?” I can’t answer it to my satisfaction but here are my thoughts:

        1. Leathal weapons are among the most ergonomically tested items in history – the reason a gun looks like it does is probably because that’s the best and most natural way to make an object that shoots a projectile. If you want your non-lethal weapon to be accurate and have good transfer of training from previous experience… similar seems better.
        2. The price of a mistake is incredibly high – for both parties. Imagine an armed situation where the police pulled a taser. Different would prevent this.
        3. If they were substantially different, a defense such as the one in the Oakland case could not have been made and there probably would have been a conviction.

        Really interesting question.

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