Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Paperclips in Wall Sockets

Once, when I was a kid enamored with electronics, I incorrectly wired a high-voltage power supply. The net result of my soldering iron faux pas was that when I flipped a switch, I got to fly across the room. When I picked myself up, all my hair was standing on end and I stank of ozone. This particularly tingling memory bubbled up after reading this story on MSNBC:
Earlier this month, the International Association of Chiefs of Police urged caution and offered guidelines for using stun guns, including training programs for police.

It's against this backdrop, and the fact that its stock price fell by two thirds after a record high last year, that Taser International has launched a campaign to sell Tasers to civilians. It has come out with a much smaller yet more powerful civilian stun gun and is building a national dealer network, starting with Davidson's Inc., a major gun distributor that's the first to carry Taser's civilian model.
While I'm as much in favor of non-lethal self-defense options as the next guy, I'm going to have to give Tasers a bit more thought. Here's the rationale for my reservations...the laws regarding self-defense haven't exactly kept up with technology.

Without going into details [and this is NOT legal advice!!!] self-defense law is based on the "gravest extreme," that is, you have to believe that your life, or the lives of others, is threatened before you can use potentially lethal force to protect yourself (or others). That determination of whether your life is at risk is probably one of the hardest decisions a person will ever have to make, and it has to be made under the worst possible conditions.

Let's table that for a minute and look at what comprises "lethal force." There are the obvious ones — gun, knife, bludgeon. We know if we employ a gun or a knife or a baseball bat to defend ourselves, we're using potentially lethal force in our behalf. But Tasers, billed as "less lethal" alternatives (or "non-lethal" alternatives by the uninformed...sadly including some police administrators), seem to me to be in a legal gray area for civilians.

People do die from jolts of electricity across their hearts from alternative weapons — more than 100 this year from these "less-lethal" hits. That's why, at a recent trade show, I passed on the "opportunity" to get a free Taser hit...wouldn't that look great on my tombstone: "He wanted to kinow what it felt like..."

To me [and, again, I am NOT a self-defense lawyer!!!] this makes the Taser the equivalent of my 1911 .45 — a weapon that may only be used when I am in fear for my life. I totally understand that when I hold that big chunk of .45 in my hand that if I pull the trigger, the results will be cataclysmic — at least for the person in front of the muzzle — and the legal consequences dire for me.

But what happens if the person is holding a "less-lethal" weapon? Does that mean there is a less-demanding decision-making process before pulling the trigger...after all, it's not like shooting or stabbing a person, is it? Might a person be more inclined to fire a "less" or "non" lethal weapon that a demonstrably lethal weapon like a gun?

And if the person popped by a Taser dies, and the shooter had not yet met the preconditions for using lethal force, has the shooter commited manslaughter or some flavor of homicide? What are the legal ramifications of civilian use of less/non lethal weapons?

i would prefer not to be the crash-test dummy for that day in court!

I understand the implusle not to do permanent harm or kill another human being. However, if I am forced into a "gravest extreme" situation, the on-going health of my attacker is the least of my concerns. My goal is ALWAYS to make the attack stop; to get myself out of that gravest extreme situation as quickly as possible. To accomplish that, I want a tool with a proven record of doing exactly that. I'm going to wait awhile before switching over to phasers!


Anonymous said...

The other obvious question, Michael, is: When "civilian" Tasers inevitably fall into criminal hands, will my use of a handgun against a Taser-armed badguy put me in legal jeopardy?

Michael Bane said...

There's a question for your favorite legal expert!

I gotta say that if you point a handgun-shaped object at me that can knock me into the twilight zone and potentially stop my heart from beating, I'm going to feel that my life is in jeaprody and respond accordingly.


Anonymous said...

Not to mention that you have no idea what the attacker's intentions are once he has you incapasitated. He may simply rob you or kidnap and kill you some place more convenient. I don't think I would wait to find out.

Anonymous said...

Why not address this as a letter to taser and CC-oh- the WSJ, G&A, the NRA etc?

Michael Bane said...

In my various and sundry legalities of self-defense classes, it was pointed out that "intent" don't buy you any slack. "Shooting to wound" is exactly the same as "shootiing to kill" — you have discharged a potentially lethal weapon at a person.