Tasers are now being used by many law enforcement agencies throughout the world. (Tasers are also called stun guns) They are certainly used by the police in Orlando where I live. Instead of shooting or wounding a victim with bullets the Taser delivers a 50,000-volt electric shock to a lawbreaker that overrides one’s central nervous system. This causes uncontrollable contractions of the muscle tissue and instant collapse. This is known as nonlethal force.
A while ago I was invited by the Orlando Chapter of Amnesty International to perform some research and deliver an address to the group concerning the pros and cons of Taser use. During the same time period, I happened to be serving on Florida State Senator Gary Siplin’s Commission on the Use of Deadly Force by Law Enforcement in Florida and had the opportunity to witness live demonstrations of Taser use by members of the Orlando Police Department.
You might be interested in learning some of the Taser facts that I derived from my research for that speech.
First, from where does the name Taser derive? The inventor of the Taser took the name from a 1911 boy’s adventure story by author Victor Appleton. Appleton wrote a science fiction story about a young crime-fighter who foiled criminals by incapacitating them with an electric rifle he had invented. The name of that young crime fighter in the story was Thomas A. Swift. The name of the story was entitled: Thomas A. Swift and his Electric Rifle. The modern-day inventor of the first true electric stun gun named his invention after the initials of the story — T A S E R!
The company that makes and markets Tasers is an Arizona corporation called Taser International. The company sells several models of the Taser, in 1994 they came out with their first called the “Air Taser” in 1998 they introduced the model “M26” and in 2003 they brought out the “X26.” These high powered Tasers are the new fad in law enforcement. Police contend that the use of Tasers lower injury to the police and to the public. The police also maintain the Taser is a tool to be used in conjunction with other nonlethal types of force.
However, doctors, reporters, and human rights groups contend that the Taser use raises grave safety issues. A number of citizens have died after having been Tasered. Taser International spokespersons disagree that the Taser is a dangerous weapon. When a human being is Tasered his or her body is subjected to a 50,000-volt shock that is designed to override the target’s central nervous system, causing contractions of the muscle tissue that leads to instant collapse. The company maintains that the jolt will physically debilitate a target regardless of their tolerance for pain or their mental focus. The Taser is said to “directly tell the muscles what to do: contract until the target is in the fetal position on the ground.” The company further contends there are no residual effects to the body after having been Tasered.
My research revealed that since 2001, at least 70 people are reported to have died in the United States and Canada after being shocked with the M26 or the X26 models. Twelve of the deaths have occurred in Florida. Four of those deaths have occurred in Orange County where I live. Coroners who have commented on the deaths generally attribute such deaths to other factors such as concurrent drug intoxication when Tasered. Other medical experts question whether Taser Shocks may exacerbate a risk of heart failure. Some scientists contend that that electricity near the heart can be dangerous because it may cause ventricular fibrillation. Still, other scientists suggest or speculate that an excess of potassium, produced when the muscles contract violently, maybe a key ingredient in the deaths associated with the device. In essence, no one knows for sure whether the Taser by itself can cause death.
Despite the deaths that have occurred, more than 6,000 law enforcement and correctional agencies in 49 states are deploying or testing Taser equipment. My research also revealed that several states which formerly banned all stun guns have recently changed their law to allow local and state police to use Tasers. Tasers are now used by campus police on many university campuses. Tasers were used by the U.S. Army during the Iraq war and are still being used by the military at Guantanamo Bay. Tasers have been purchased or tested by police or the military in Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Forty-three states place few or no restrictions on possession of such stun weapons by members of the public for self-defense. However, the price may be a deterrent to buying a Taser for personal use. The price of the Air Taser is $399.95; the M26 model costs $699.00, and the X26 is advertised at $999.00.
Local police agencies in Florida were among the first agencies to adopt the new generations of Tasers on a wide scale. The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported in March 2005 that police had used Tasers against 24 students in the prior 18 months. An Amnesty International report states that Tasers are used against unarmed suspects in 80% of all cases of nonlethal weapons; Tasers were employed in 36% of cases for verbal noncompliance by suspects, but used only in 3% of cases involving deadly assault.
According to information released to the media in 2007 by the Orange County Sheriff’s office when I was pursuing my research, 700 deputies out of the 1,318 man force were armed with Tasers and the department had just ordered 125 more Tasers. The next year it was reported that Orange County deputies made 45,033 arrests and used Tasers 464 times, including against 14 suspects who were so aggressive that the law would have allowed the use of deadly force.
The Orlando Police Department has a stricter policy on the use of Tasers and prohibits Taser use unless a suspect actively resists a police officer. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office mandates that each deputy be given eight hours of annual Taser training – an increase from four hours initially used by the office. This will allow for 6,000 hours a year of training for the deputies of the Orange County Sheriff.
Critics of Taser use, such as Amnesty International, have called for all federal, state and local authorities to suspend the use of Tasers and other electro-shock weapons pending an urgent rigorous, independent and impartial inquiry into their use and effects.
There has been no such suspension and it looks like Tasers are here to stay.