A Shocking Issue

Taser International Inc. touts its stun gun as a nonlethal way
to protect handlers from assailants by sending an electric current
with up to 50,000 volts of energy shooting into their body. But, as
Taser-associated deaths continue to rise, controversy has blasted
the company right into court, at least 40 times last year,
defending the defense device.

As Silja J.A. Talvi reports for
In These Times, the stun gun has not
traditionally been subject to the same kinds of regulations as a
firearm. Deaths incurred by the weapons have, until now, mostly
been considered rare and chalked up to self-defense. This summer,
as the death-by-Taser toll reached 200 people throughout the last
five years, the
US department of Justice announced that it
would review those deaths.

Bill Lewinski, executive director of the
Force
Science Research Center
at Minnesota State University-Mankato
acknowledges in a column on
PoliceOne.com that more research into
stun gun use is needed, but argues that there would be more
horror stories without the Taser. Lewinski claims that even a
temporary moratorium on the use of Tasers ‘would literally
create a catastrophe for peace officers. Lawsuits would
increase, officer injuries would increase, subject injuries
would increase — all guaranteed.’

Columnist Rosie DiManno comes to a similar conclusion in the
Toronto Star after an expert review
absolved the weapon of what DiManno carefully refers to as ’14
deaths that occurred in incidents where a stun gun has been
applied.’ Until studies can prove that Tasers are not safe
alternative weapons, it makes sense, she writes, to give police
officers stun guns to diffuse violent situations as they
escalate. ‘Better a Taser than a Glock,’ DiManno says, summing
up the pro-Taser argument; as an alternative weapon, the stun
gun is safe to a point.

Critics maintain, though, that stun guns carry with them an
incentive for over-use and abuse. Safety is thrown out the window
when, rather than being tapped as a last resort, they’re
increasingly used out of convenience. Talvi argues that more
extensive training on how to safely use the weapons is needed.

Given such a need, the company’s silence on Taser abuse and
over-use is troubling, Talvi writes. Instead of addressing training
issues or acknowledging that the Tasers have a propensity for
abuse, the company has launched a pro-Taser web campaign that seeks
to dispel the idea of misuse with videos of fictionalized violent
scenes depicting potential assailants who prompt police to stun
them.

Talvi reports that despite allegations of exaggerated product
safety and numerous legal actions, the company maintains its
innocence. Taser just spent $7 million to defend the company’s
reputation in the midst of what the CEO claims is a targeted
campaign against it. In the face of mounting criticism, abuse and
deaths continue to rise, though Taser remains adamant that its
product is better than a gun any day.

Go there >>
Stunning Revelations

Go there too >>
Abuses Aside, Taser Guns Save Lives

Go there too >>
Should Cops Stop Using Tasers?

Related links:

Related Links from the Utne Reader Archive:

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to
Utne Reader

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.