Expert: Stun guns are far from being a ‘nonlethal’ alternative to bullets

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by Paul Kleyman

San Francisco – In the wake of public outcry over the latest police shooting, of Mario Woods, an unarmed African American, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has revived his previous call to equip his officers with electronic stun guns, also called electronic control weapons (ECWs). With similar cases in Chicago, New York and Miami, New America Media’s Paul Kleyman interviewed Aram James, a leading opponent of ECWs, about their risks.

A police officer holds a Taser, also known as a stun gun or ECW.
A police officer holds a Taser, also known as a stun gun or ECW.

James, a former public defender in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, spent over 25 years in the public defender system. Now in private law practice, he is a consultant and advocate opposing the use of Tasers. Following are excerpts from the interview.

Paul Kleyman: You’ve been critical of arguments that ECWs are a nonlethal or less lethal alternative to guns. What are the myths you’ve raised regarding Tasers?

Aram James: That Tasers save lives is the first myth. That’s a lie. That Tasers can be used as a substitute for deadly force – that’s not true; that’s not accurate. A 2011 Department of Justice (DOJ) report found that over 200 Americans have died after being shocked by Tasers, and the advocacy group Truth Not Tasers has documented over 900 deaths from them since 2004.

They are the most likely of the intermediate-force weapons, which Tasers were designed as, to kill. Other intermediate-force weapons would be pepper spray, batons, take-downs, verbal commands, canines etc.

They are the most likely of the intermediate-force weapons, which Tasers were designed as, to kill.

Paul Kleyman: That same DOJ report says several police departments have seen reduced injuries by using ECWs as a “less lethal” weapon. What’s your response?

Aram James: The issue is appropriate use. People have said, “Well, Mr. James, wouldn’t you rather be shot by a Taser than a gun?” And I say, of course, but that’s a red herring.

If you have a knife or gun, I’m not going to use a Taser to stop you. At that point a police officer needs to have a gun.

Alternatively, it’s the most lethal intermediate weapon to use with people who are unarmed. A recent study by the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic makes it very clear that research on Tasers undercuts arguments for adopting them.

It’s the most lethal intermediate weapon to use with people who are unarmed.

If you talk to law enforcement officers who know Tasers, you don’t take a Taser to a gunfight. Tasers are effective about 70 percent of the time in dart mode and 60 percent of the time directly applied to the body.

So, if I have a knife or a gun in a range close enough to use it against a police officer, you absolutely do not use a Taser. The training is shoot center mass to kill.

Paul Kleyman: So who are police using ECWs on?

Aram James: A 2014 study from the Nebraska ACLU said that three quarters of Taser blasts they included were used on vulnerable populations. Over and over again studies have shown that disproportionately Tasers are used on young African Americans, Hispanics, the mentally ill, elders and other groups at high risk for injury. Documented cases there included a 9-year-old boy and a 63-year-old man who was confused.

In 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported that local police officers used Tasers on minorities 87 percent of the time. The paper followed up two years later with an analysis of over 1,000 incidents, showing almost all were unarmed. And Houston police used Tasers over 120 times on people with mental illness.

In Riviera Beach, Florida, on July 8, 2013, Tony Brown fell and hit his head, putting him on life support, after police shot him with a Taser. – Photo: Palm Beach Post
In Riviera Beach, Florida, on July 8, 2013, Tony Brown fell and hit his head, putting him on life support, after police shot him with a Taser. – Photo: Palm Beach Post

Studies also show that many of the most serious injuries or deaths have occurred when officers inappropriately tased someone repeatedly or with a continuous charge.

Paul Kleyman: How did you get involved with this issue?

Aram James: I first got involved in 2003, with the Coalition for Justice and Accountability in San Jose. It came into existence shortly after the murder of a mentally-ill San Jose citizen, Cau Bich Tran. Police shot her in her kitchen seconds after they entered and saw her holding what turned out to be a vegetable peeler.

Members of the coalition, including me, initially supported the use of Tasers, believing they’d save lives, having bought the propaganda and the deceptive ad campaign put out by the major manufacturer, Taser International.

But we learned that’s simply not true. The company has also lost lawsuits stemming from injuries or deaths when police used Tasers, also believing their claims.

Paul Kleyman: How are Tasers used in police training?

Aram James: Exposure to Taser blasts used to be a mandatory part of ECW training. But the [nonprofit] Police Executive Research Forum came out with a model policy a few years ago, saying there’s too much injury to use Tasers in training situations with officers.

And the U.S. military has done the same. Their “Electronic Control Weapon Guideline” states, “Agencies should be aware that exposure to ECW application during training could result in injury to personnel and is not recommended.”

So my question is, if law enforcement knows ECWs are too risky to use even in very controlled training circumstances, why the heck would they want to use it on unarmed citizens in uncontrolled street situations?

The question I would put to [Police Chief] Greg Suhr is, are you willing to use these on your own officers in controlled settings to show that they’re safe? If he’s telling the truth, he’s going to say, “No, we’re not going to do that.”

If law enforcement knows ECWs are too risky to use even in very controlled training circumstances, why the heck would they want to use it on unarmed citizens in uncontrolled street situations?

Bottom line: They’re not safe to use on unarmed people, and they’re not safe for police to use against armed suspects.

Paul Kleyman: What are appropriate uses of ECWs?

Aram James: None in my view. The alternative, more community police, is the key. When police officers are walking the beat and know people in their communities and their vulnerabilities, they’re much less likely to use force in those circumstances.

Community policing, crisis intervention training – a lot of departments have a small percentage of their officers who have been properly trained in crisis interventions. Getting police out of their cars into the communities, walking the beat, riding their bicycles, walking the neighborhood – there’s plenty there to look at in terms of how we can do community policing in a much more effective and constitutional fashion.

Paul Kleyman, director of the Ethnic Elders Newsbeat at New America Media, spent 20 years as editor of Aging Today, the newspaper of the American Society on Aging. He can be reached on Facebook. This story first appeared on New America Media.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Every person not use of the gun any time and only use for our protection while education is the process by which the behaviors of the individuals are shaped in positive manner. It is the method to bring the change in the individuals. We can develop our talent through education.

  2. In countries as Sweden the police are trained to deescalate a negative situation. In America they are trained to take any given situation into outer space instantly! Do as we say and do it immediately or be riddle with bullets, 25 shots for a mentally challenged man in San Francisco, Amadu Diallo shot fifty times reaching for his wallet a young man in New York city car is riddle with over ninety bullets for the demure innocent little Angelic police officer's were afraid for their lives if your that afraid it's egregious to me this line of employment is not for you! Chicago thugs in blue execute a young man they lie and claim he lunged at them and was shot once erase a burger king video tape of the offence these criminals with a license to murder all fall inline and tell the same dastardly lie as the mayor and district attorney try to sweep this blatant murder under the carpet! The racist police officer empties his gun into a 17 year old while on the ground with 16 bullets this is pure unadulterated Hate!!!!!! And not one police officer comes to his aide this job completely dehumanizes you I simply would not want it!

  3. He is right that tasers are not a substitute for bullets; they are a substitute for being beaten with a baton. Police like tasers because _most_ of the time the suspect is captured without any injuries, whereas a person beaten with a baton will likely have bruises, contusions, and maybe even broken bones.

  4. The hard-left Marxists who infect our federal government plus the MSM media prostitutes who protect them will gleefully lie, falsify, fabricate, slander, libel, deceive, delude, bribe, and treasonably betray the free citizens of the United States..

    Second Amendment foes lying about gun control – The Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting. The Second Amendment has nothing to do with personal self-defense.Firearms are our constitutionally mandated safeguard against tyranny by a powerful federal government. Only dictators, tyrants, despots, totalitarians, and those who want to control and ultimately to enslave you support gun control.

    No matter what any president, senator, congressman, or hard-left mainstream media prostitutes tell you concerning the statist utopian fantasy of safety and security through further gun control: They are lying. If their lips are moving, they are lying about gun control. These despots truly hate America..

    These tyrants hate freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, and private property. But the reality is that our citizens’ ownership of firearms serves as a concrete deterrent against despotism. They are demanding to hold the absolute power of life and death over you and your family. Ask the six million Jewws, and the other five million murdered martyrs who perished in the Nazzi death camps, how being disarmed by a powerful tyranny ended any chances of fighting back. Ask the murdered martyrs of the Warsaw Ghetto about gun control.

    Their single agenda is to control you after you are disarmed. When the people who want to control you hold the absolute power of life and death over your family, you have been enslaved. The hard-left Marxist and Islamists who infect our federal government plus the MSM media prostitutes who protect them will gleefully lie, falsify, fabricate, slander, libel, deceive, delude, bribe, and treasonably betray the free citizens of the United States into becoming an unarmed population. Unarmed populations have been treated as slaves and chattel since the dawn of history.

    Will we stand our ground, maintaining our constitutionally guaranteed Second Amendment rights, fighting those who would enslave us?

    American Thinker

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