Should Tasers Be Banned?

This may be a bit far afield for UN Dispatch. But hey, it’s Friday afternoon and I have a chip on my shoulder. 

Here’s the story. Two days ago, a 17 year old fan of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team ran onto the field in the middle of play, waving his towel with seemingly gleeful abandon. Security gave chase. But he was doing a pretty good job evading them until one officer whipped out his Taser.  The kid hit the ground immediately and was promptly arrested.  The video’s been something of an internet sensation. Here it is.

In an editorial today, The New York Times takes this to be a teachable moment about Tasers.

Having a powerful weapon doesn’t mean you fire it with abandon. One fear about Tasers, which cause jolts of extreme pain and involuntary muscle contractions, but seldom kill, is that officers use them too readily. They should resort to Tasers if they are in danger and out of other options, not because they’re frustrated. [emphasis mine]

I agree with the sentiment of the editorial.  But the fact is, Tasers do kill.  And they kill more often than we realize.  A 2008 study by Amnesty International found that 351 people have been killed by police tasers since 2001.  In Arlington, Virginia — over the river from where I live — police have used tasers four times since January 1st this year. In two of those cases, the Taser victim was killed.   In other words, Tasers have a kill rate of 50% in Arlington, VA.  That’s far from “seldom.”  It’s time to get rid of the fiction that these are less than lethal weapons.