Increasingly, police facing stubborn lawbreakers, belligerent drunks, or violent suspects are reaching for stun guns to shock them into submission, says the Associated Press. A hospital security guard in Houston recently used a Taser on a defiant father trying to take his newborn home, sending father and daughter to the floor. Police say Tasers are valuable tools for avoiding hand-to-hand struggles that can injure officers and citizens. Small, portable and often effective when merely brandished, Tasers — which fire tiny, tethered cartridges that transmit electrical currents — have become common, with 11,500 police agencies using them.
Critics say Tasers are being used as a weapon of first resort, sometimes on frail or mentally ill people. Allen Gilbert of the American Civil Liberties Union in Vermont says, “The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable seizures, which means police can’t use excessive force when they’re taking you into custody.” Supporters of Tasers say they reduce workers’ compensation and lost time claims by police by preventing physical confrontations. Amnesty International USA has counted 250 cases in the last six years in which people died after being stunned with a Taser, but doesn’t track whether the shock caused the deaths. Manufacturer Taser International Inc. says the devices have been listed as a contributing factor in about 12 deaths.