Taser guns are electroshock weapons that temporarily incapacitate the neuromuscular transmission, disrupting voluntary muscle control. Tasers are used worldwide; some consider them as firearms, safe police or self-defense weapons, while others as harmful killers. Taser is the registered trademark of manufacturer Taser International, and is actually an acronym that stands for Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle. It is a gun that stuns people by stimulating the sensory and motor nerves to produce strong involuntary muscle contractions. In the field of stun guns, tasers are preferred by law enforcement officers, because they do not rely on pain compliance only (unless used in the 'drive stun' mode).
Although they were introduced as safe, nonlethal weapons for self-defense, law enforcement, and to control fleeing or aggressive felons, they hit controversy when they resulted in deaths and severe injuries. Let us first know something more about these guns, before we move on to its pros and cons.
Views 'Against' Tasers
Though these guns are meant to temporarily control aggressive or hyper people, there are concerns that their usage can amount to torture. Below are some general views and the legality of their use in various parts of the world.
- Amnesty International has taken a stand that the use of tasers amounts to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which is absolutely prohibited under international law", because they have received many cases on the issue.
- After they were used to control the anti-globalization protests, the German non-government organization, Medico International's Thomas Gebauer, gave the following statement. He stated that nonlethal weapons are symbolic of "the growing repressive character of European and North American Governments". He further said, "The aim of these weapons is to guarantee social borders, to install perennial control of movements, to restrict democracy.".
- The United Nations committee against Torture gave the following report on the use of tasers: "The committee was worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases, it could also cause death, as shown by reliable studies, and certain cases that had happened after practical use.".
Views 'For' Tasers
They have some supporters too.
- The Chairman Tom Smith has this to say in taser's defense, "Pepper spray goes on for hours and hours, hitting someone with a baton breaks limbs, shooting someone with a firearm causes permanent damage, even punching and kicking - the intent of those tools is to inflict pain ... with the taser, the intent is not to inflict pain; it is to end the confrontation. When it's over, it's over."
- The police force generally finds it a better weapon than guns and batons. Regarding all the death controversies, the police departments have a counterargument. They say that all their in-custody deaths cannot be classified as taser deaths, as they could have been caused by other traditional police impact weapons as well.
- There are many instances of the usefulness of these guns. For example, the Greek Police Special Forces used them to end the A310 Turkish Airline hijacking at Athens International Airport in March 2003.
Pros and Cons
The pros have not been segregated from the cons in this subsection, as there is a very thin line between the good and the bad. If the specific purpose for which they are used is achieved, these are arguments in favor of tasers.
However, if something goes wrong, and the same thing is overly compensated, the same advantages turn into drawbacks.
- Taser guns can stun a subject from about 10.6 meters away, with a jolt of electricity. Law enforcement officers praise them for being able to do so from such a distance, and succeeding in rendering the fleeing subject temporarily immobile.
- Though these guns are not considered as firearms in many places, Taser International makes it a point not to export them anywhere without the importer having a registered license to do so. Even then, they try to restrict sales outside the law enforcement arena.
- Though taser guns are meant for controlling potential threats without killing them, their use has indeed resulted in many deaths, further giving rise to many controversies. In reply to so many deaths, Taser International accepts no blame saying that about 100,000 officers subjected themselves to taser shocks voluntarily, without coming to any harm. They claim that the deaths are due to irresponsible usage of the taser guns and not due to the guns itself.
- Though capable of passing a 50,000 volts current through the victim's body, most guns generally pass only about 1500 volts. Though this is not harmful for a normal, healthy human, a person with an artificial pacemaker may suffer serious consequences, and sometimes even death. In fact, an American study states that sometimes even weaker jolts can lead to cardiac arrests, especially if the victim suffers from heart problems.
- It is very easy to count the problems, when counted in the number of deaths. However, people hardly notice the number of people who have recovered from taser shocks. Many more people have received lasting gifts from the taser gun, and these are far more in numbers than those that have died. Also, the use of these guns eliminates the risk of people dying of stray bullets in a crossfire.
- Amnesty International Canada agrees that most taser deaths may have happened due to their improper usage. Since the officers feel that they are harmless, they may be increasingly tempted to use them frequently. Unless usage discretion is properly determined, taser guns can indeed lead to deaths.
- Stun guns, like tasers, are preferred by officers simply for their ease of use, better user control, and lesser danger to both, the officer and the target. If they are used after properly warning that if the target does not calm down, a taser gun shall be used against him, they could stand a better chance of achieving a safe end result.
- Some clinical experiments were conducted by the Cook County Hospital in Chicago to reach a conclusive report on tasers. Scientists stunned 11 pigs with the taser guns for about two hours, for two periods of 40 seconds each after every 15 second interval (Poor pigs!). All animals suffered heart rhythm problems and two died within three minutes of receiving the electricity jolt. Taser International claims that the study findings do not apply to humans, as the pigs weigh lesser. Also, they are supposed to be used with personal control. It is not expected that an officer will stun someone repeatedly for two hours, after every 15 second interval, just to keep him subdued.
There is no easy answer to this debate on the tasers' pros and cons, because it all depends on how they are used. Even a good thing can become a curse on humanity if not used wisely and with great care. So are taser guns good or bad? The answer depends on who is holding the gun, and who is being aimed at. Personally, of course no one would want to encounter one!