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    Saturday, September 17, 2005

    Shock Defense/Shock Therapy: Taser (or shock) guns are advertised as a non-lethal means of subduing violent people. And yet, there are more than a few tales of people dying after being hit by them, which has made some question their safety.

    A couple of weeks ago, the New England Journal of Medicine ran this letter about Tasers and their effect on one teenager:

    An adolescent was subdued with a Taser stun gun and subsequently collapsed. Paramedics found the adolescent to be in ventricular fibrillation... and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation within two minutes after the collapse. After four shocks and the administration of epinephrine, atropine, and lidocaine, a perfusing rhythm was restored.... The adolescent made a nearly complete recovery and was discharged from the hospital several days later. This case of ventricular fibrillation after a discharge from a stun gun suggests that the availability of automated external defibrillators to law-enforcement personnel carrying stun guns should be considered.

    According to Taser's website, the guns are considered safe, nonlethal alternative. They have links to pig studies that found it requires 15-42 times the standard Taser charge to induce ventricular fibrillation (in pigs), and links to other papers attesting to its safety.

    But, it's safe to say that the pigs weren't on drugs. A person on crack or meth is likely to be more susceptible to the cardiac effects of a Taser gun, making them more lethal than a traditional gun. Which isn't to say that police officers shouldn't be able to defend themselves (and others) with deadly force if necessary - they should. But, if a weapon is advertised as nonlethal, aren't they more likely to have a lower threshold for its use? Maybe they should rethink that when it comes to Tasers.

    Which is probably why the Taser company has this definition of non-lethal in its fine print:

    Definition: Non-Lethal

    U.S. Department of Defense policy defines non-lethal weapons as "weapon systems that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment..."

    It is important to note that Department of Defense policy does not require or expect non-lethal weapons "to have a zero probability of producing fatalities or permanent injuries." Rather, non-lethal weapons are intended to significantly reduce the probability of such fatalities or injuries as compared with traditional military weapons which achieve their effects through the physical destruction of targets.

    - Joint Concept for Non-lethal Weapons
    United States Marine Corps

    Wouldn't that definition be more appropriately called "less lethal?"

    posted by Sydney on 9/17/2005 12:12:00 PM 0 comments


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