By Henry Bowman

When most people think of TASER CEWs (Conducted Electrical Weapon), they envision their use by police in gaining compliance from resistant suspects. TASERs are an additional tool in the use of force continuum and are generally considered “less lethal.” That means they fall into the same category as pepper spray, bean bag rounds or batons, in that they can be deployed even when a suspect’s actions do not meet the three criteria for legally employing lethal force . . .

For those who may not know, lethal force is justified when an aggressor displays the ability, opportunity, and intent to cause serious bodily injury or death. However, my titular question is not posed in application to police, but rather to the armed citizen.  Could using a TASER to diffuse a bad situation in which lethal force is not legally justified, land someone in hot water under the law?

Many concealed carriers I know carry pepper spray in addition to their firearm.  Some also carry a TASER.  While I know they’re not cop wanna-be’s and merely carry them as an extra means of briefly incapacitating an attacker in order to effect an escape, other’s perceptions might be skewed from that reality (think George Zimmerman). And, while TASER International sites numerous medical and scientific research studies touting the safety and low lethality of the TASER CEW, the fact remains that people do die from/while/after being tased.  Serious injuries associated with TASER employment are also a reality (see here and here).  Often, unknown pre-existing medical conditions, intoxication, habitual substance abuse, the spurious diagnosis of “excited delirium,” or falling as a result of the electric shock are blamed for injuries or deaths, as opposed to placing blame on the actual use of the TASER itself. However, in my view, that’s like saying “It’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end.”

Additionally, a recent incident has exposed how police officers, themselves, view a TASER in the hands of a suspect.  On Nov 1st, a Dallas man was shot and killed by police following a scuffle in which the man was able to disarm one of the officers of his TASER. Police yelled at the man to drop the TASER and when he instead pointed it at them, they opened fire.  As you can see, the police, knowing the man was only armed with a TASER, still believed he possessed the ability (as well as opportunity and intent) to cause them serious bodily injury or death, thus, in their assessment, justifying the use of Lethal Force.

Finally, when someone is seriously injured or killed in association with being tased by police, the officer has a very powerful and influential legal machine backing him up. The police chief, the union, the coroner, the prosecutor, and not to mention TASER International itself, all have a vested interest in seeing the officer cleared of any wrongdoing. Now, that’s not meant as a criticism of the justification of any particular event, it is merely a demonstration of the kind of legal clout that most CCWer’s lack.

So, what does adding a TASER to your kit mean for the law-abiding gun carrier who sensibly wants to avoid the “everything-looks-like-a-nail-when-all-you-have-is-a-hammer” phenomenon? It means you might perpetuate the perception that you fancy yourself as an unofficial “Johnny Law,” especially in the minds of mainstream media types, gun-grabbers, and liberal prosecutors. It means, in real terms and in the judgment of police, your TASER is a weapon capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death. It means if you employ your TASER when Lethal Force is justified, and it results in death, you may still face an enormous legal assault. However and most importantly, as a non-cop, it means if you employ your TASER when lethal force is NOT justified, yet it results in death, you will likely be charged with manslaughter, at the very least.

Personally, I’ll stick with pepper spray as my intermediate weapon.  How ‘bout you?

42 Responses to FNS-40 Contest Entry: Is Using a TASER Considered Lethal Force?

    • I agree with this wholeheartedly. While I get that it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, having too many EDC things gets rather cluttered and their utility in a crises decreases when you try to assess the threat, pick a weapon, draw the weapon, reassess the threat, and deploy the weapon.

      That, and if I’m in a situation where I am having a problem with somebody and I don’t need to kill them, I’m in a situation where I can leave. If I’m in a situation where I can’t leave, then I’m in a situation where it’s bad enough that I’m going to be killing them.

      And finally… if you’re standing before a jury and the prosecutor is showing off your bat-belt of a .45, 3 extra mags, pepper spray, a TASER, a pocket knife, a back up knife, a primary gun, a back up gun, tourniquets, first aid supplies, and whatever else, literally everybody on that jury is going to be thinking, “He’s a wanna be cop” or “What the hell is he prepared for.” Again, sure, better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, but really… if you EDC THAT much crap…. I don’t even know…

  1. Every time people talk about Tasers they always talk about how dangerous they are and how they can kill people. In reality the number of people who die as a result of a Taser is so small compared to the number of people who are shocked and don’t die.

    You know, its kinda like “assault” rifles…

    Also Tasers are not less lethal, they are less THAN lethal.

  2. Tasers are extremely safe. Normally, police are supposed to sit through training before being able to use these, at least for MP’s this is the case. Taser says that people should minimize exposure with tasers. It turns out there is an inherent risk of death caused by the Taser’s frequency… 1 in over 50,000 are at risk… That being said I volunteered to be shot with one to add to the training experience, and to have a defense of sort, should I find myself in court…

  3. The following is about doctrine, not about my personal feelings-

    Doctrine wise, the use of lethal force by police when faced with the threat of ‘less lethal’ weapons is a response to many past cases when officers have been disarmed and killed with their own firearm. This is the same problem that sparked the development of retention holsters, and in training, we are frequently reminded that there is a gun in every fight we enter, because we brought it there.

    I don’t have the statistics handy, but I’ve been given information on several occasions about the numbers of officers killed with their own guns, and the number of times that happened after the officer was rendered unconscious or otherwise physically disabled. It’s not pretty, and while the best answer is improved situational awareness, fitness, and training, it will continue to happen because no matter how strong, and skilled you are, there is always the chance you will meet someone stronger and better than that.

    Where doctrine says there is a difference between police and others being threatened with less lethal weapons or other forms of being physically disabled is that most of the time, they are used by regular folks trying to defend against an attack. If they succeed in defending themselves, it is exceedingly rare for the next step to be disarming the attacker and killing them with their own weapon.

    Similarly, if a criminal attacks someone with less lethal weapons, the expectation is that the attacker will attempt to get something from the victim (cell phone, wallet, etc.) and then leave to avoid capture by police. It is exceedingly rare for a criminal to use a less lethal weapon to attack a victim and then kill them while they are disabled. In fact, I have never heard of such a case, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or hasn’t happened.

    The only problem I can see with non-police carry of a TASER is that they are nowhere near as effective as the news makes it look. If the darts don’t both connect, it won’t work at all. If the attacker is too close, the darts won’t spread enough. If the attacker’s clothes are too thick, it might not work at all. And even if it does, as soon as the current stops, the effect ends. Then you have an attacker at your feet who is no longer physically disabled, and has to choose between running away or being very angry at you for tasing him.

    Some TASERs allow you to keep up the current by holding the trigger down- but even if you can dial 911 with your other hand, if it takes five minutes for police to arrive, and you’ve given the attacker a five minute ride while you were waiting, it won’t look pretty.

    • So legally, the TASER itself isn’t considered to present a significant threat of death or serious injury. It’s what happens after the use by criminals that may cross that line. Like I said, doctrine, but really, if someone tries to physically disable a cop, common sense indicates they mean to do serious harm.

      Just like if someone forces entry into your home while you’re there, common sense indicates they mean to do serious harm. I would never ask people to wait until they are actually killed during the home invasion robbery to use lethal force to defend themselves. I don’t even ask them to wait until they are shot or stabbed- the intent is assumed by the criminal’s first actions.

  4. I would consider a TASER as part of the less than lethal portion in the Use of Force continum. The fact is that almost everything polivce have utilized have killed people unitentionally. People have died from baton/ASP stikes, and not talking excessive force. People have died from OC spray; rare, but it does happen.

    Not having been there and only able to read what the media reports, I would say the shooting involing the man threatening police officers with a TASER was justified. It’s not that the TASER is a lethal threat; it is meant to temporarliy incapcitate the recipient. If you are incpacitated then your weapon can be taken, which does pose a lethal threat. If someone threatened me with a TASER I would not try to OC them; they would be shot.

    After all of that, no I would not carry a TASER. If I ever lived in a area where that was the only legal thing I could carry I would consider it, but thankfully I don’ have to worry about that at the moment. I also want one thing on me that feels like a gun.

    • The reason the cops shot the man is because cops are allowed and trained to move one level up the force continuum above their attacker, which means if you attack a cop with bare hands, they go for the OC, their ASP, or their TASER. If you decide to go at them with one of those, they go one level up and reach for their Glock.

      • That’s not always true. Use of Force procedures vary from department to department. Just because lethal force is authorized doesn’t mean an officer has to employ it. An officer still needs to be able to articulate why they took a particular action.

      • Dave’s right. There are no hard and fast rules to use of force, except that it be ‘reasonable.’ Just because someone tries to punch an officer doesn’t mean he has to use a weapon.

        If I am mugging someone, I have no reason to believe they will strangle me when I’ve been incapacitated. Regardless, committing a mugging renders self-defense moot.

        But a police officer who is incapacitated can expect to be killed shortly thereafter. If a suspect is running and trying to get away, that’s a butt-kickin’. But if they start using weapons, that’s another situation entirely. Pepper spray? Probably not gonna rise to deadly force in and of itself but spray + physical attack might. Tasers are dangerous because once you’re tased, you’re done for the length of the ride.

        • I don’t understand, “If a suspect is running and trying to get away, that’s a butt-kickin'” Are you saying that police officers are authorized to physically assault a person for evasion?

  5. The only reason I do not carry a Taser is they are way too big to conceal. I already have 3 pounds of gun and ammo digging into my fat, I don’t need another pound. The only things I carry are my gun, a folding knife, and a comtech stinger. I highly recommend everyone get a stinger. They are 10 bucks and go anywhere, and unlike a gun or pepper spray, you can literally walk around holding it in your hand and no one even knows or cares what it is.

    http://comtechstinger.com/

    • That is the same reason I carry a small flashlight. Seeminly harmless, but still capable of striking, plus you have a light if you’re caught in the dark. Just another tool.

      • I agree on the flashlight. I’m not aware of any laws preventing flashlight carry (and God help the Republic if there are). I keep a 5.11 ATAC with me most of the time. Bright enough (180 lumens, I think) that if you flash someone in the face, they’re not going to be seeing much for 2-5 seconds. And while my hand would probably hurt like hell, if you hit someone with it, that’s very likely to end the confrontation immediately. I had the “pain compliance” ridges used on me a whole lot when I was OpFor in the Army. Those little bastards hurt like hell, even with pretty minimal pressure.

  6. Having been tasered, I find them a very useful tool. They are a great thing for some folks.
    I’d own one, but they are so darned expensive. And those pesky ID tags they leave behind when you fire it.

  7. Excellent article that brings up several questions/ideas. First, a taser is a good defensive weapon for someone who can’t yet be (or never will be) trusted with a lethal weapon (because of suicidal tendencies or family members with mental problems).
    I think pepper spray is an ideal non-lethal backup weapon b/c of it’s multiple shots, but primarily b/c of it’s concealability and portability. A taser presents and doubles the same concealment problems as the gun.
    Lastly, as a lawyer, I’m against the legally imprecise “less-lethal”. Arguing a defensive tool is “less-lethal’ is, to me, like trying to tell a jury a woman is “less-pregnant”. “Non-lethal” , to me, implies that that intermedaite weapons, like tasers and pepper spray are NOT designed to kill, therefore, any resulting deaths are from either demonstrable misuse of the weapon or some ultra-sensitivity in the person it’s used on. (Such as a heart condition or severe asthma) “Non-lethal” should be the proper term, IMO.

  8. If some big, male thug got a hold of one and decided to attack me for my wallet, car, or personal belongings I would rightfully be in fear of my life or safety.

    -and-

    If some little, female thugette got a hold of one and decided to attack me for my wallet, car, or personal belongings I would rightfully be in fear of my life or safety.

    That argument would lead me to believe that yes they are considered lethal force.

    • Agree, ILP. The reason a criminal would use a Taser on you is to make you helpless so he can have his way with you. While he MAY only relieve you of your wallet or you car, you might wake up in Leatherface’s tanning parlor too. That’s why if a bad guy points a taser at me I’m going to point a gun at him. Cops are taught that pepper spray or a taser will disorient them as badly as a head blow with a lead pipe, and that the purpose is to take their gun and murder them with it. (in most states, using pepper spray on a cop is a felony). Hence, pull OC or a taser on a cop and odds are you WILL get shot.

  9. A very good article, but I disagree with the conclusion. I have two C2 Tasers, have been shot by an X26 Taser, have shot someone with an X26, and currently carry the X2 Taser for duty use. I’ll also been pepper sprayed several times, and have sprayed multiple suspects with police grade OC (oleoresin of capsicum AKA pepper spray). As I’ve said before, I am not Jason Bourne, but can fight though the effects of pepper spray pretty well, especially in cold weather and under overcast skies. Hot weather and bright sunlight intensifies the effects of pepper spray. I don’t ever want to be shot by a TASER again, and I was not able to fight through the effects. In my particular case, one of the probes dislodged due to heavy muscular contraction. A contact stun across the opposing shoulder blade across my spinal column re-engaged the full effect and resulted in TMI (total neuromuscular incapacitation AKA the worst pain I’ve ever felt).

    Although pepper spray can be very effective, especially against dogs, it has the following limitations:

    -short 10-15 maximum range (depending upon canister size, pressure, fullness, dispersion pattern, etc.)
    -can blow back in heavy wind
    -can be block deflected by glasses, hands, etc.
    -does not incapacitate everyone
    -decreases in effectiveness relative to weather conditions – especially during cool, overcast, and rain

    TASERS are limited as well
    -single shot – C2 / X26 / M26
    -15-35 foot range (depending upon model and cartridge used)
    -can be defeated by TASER armor, heavy clothing
    -cost: about $25 / shot $50-80 for replacement batteries

    They both have the following limitations
    -easily defeated by intermediate barriers
    -can cause injury / death due to a fall
    -both can cause eye injury – pepper spray less than 3′ application to eye, TASER by probe puncture to eye / sensitive areas
    -limited range

    The advantage to both is that they are almost universally considered to be less-lethal, a step below lethal force. TASER Intl offers replacement units to civilians (their words) when the units have been justifiably deployed and a police report has been filed. TASER has an interest in marketing their products to LEOs and non-LEOs. I don’t believe that juries consider TASERs to be lethal, and they are not considered to be lethal force when used in a reasonably defensive manner.

    My wife often carries a TASER because she does not have a CCW. I think it is the best tool for her at this time, and also works as a contact stun gun in the case of a missed shot. It isn’t perfect, but no single defensive tool is.

    • I looked into a TASER, but according to their website they will not sell 35′ models to non-LEO’s. To me it just didn’t seem worth it. If all a guy has to do to defeat my TASER is go 15.5′ away from me I just don’t see the point. It makes sense for cops to have them though, because cops are often in situations where they CAN’T leave a confrontation; they have to stay and resolve whatever issue brought them to the area. Often that means they have to arrest someone who is resisting, and being able to subdue that person without having to wrestle them is a good thing, which is where having a TASER seems like a good idea.

  10. Don’t tell California:

    Pc 22610. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person may purchase, possess, or use a stun gun…

    Yes, California must explicitly have a law saying you may have such a thing. cf. PC 22810- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person may purchase, possess, or use tear gas or any tear gas weapon for the projection or release of tear gas if the tear gas or tear gas weapon is used solely for self-defense purposes…

    Guess they ban so much, they have to pass laws clarifying what they haven’t.

  11. In Kentucky, batons are considered deadly weapons for the purpose of concealed carry. I was trained many years ago on the PR-24 Side Handle Baton, the instructors said it was to be treated as a deadly weapon. We were severely limited in the areas we were allowed to strike, basically only the long bones of the arms and legs and if a person really needed to go down, a strike to the collar bone. Hits to the head, neck,joints, and even the buttocks were prohibited.

    • While in the USAF, I had training on the PR-24. We were taught both the right way and the wrong way to use it. We were taught the wrong way to us it so we would know the consequences of a mistake. We were taught one technique where the long end is forced into the sternum with the force of a hard punch. It was a technique that was forbidden because any reasonable person would judge it as lethal force.

    • I have been trained on the PR-24, but have switched to a 26″ ASP. The PR is relatively versatile, but I only use it for demonstrations and riots these days. The PR also sucks for breaking car windows because its too damn light, knocks the side of my knee, and loves to fall out of the ring. The ASP isn’t bad, but a metal flashlight excels at crushing windows. I suppose I could just carry a window breaker, but they aren’t that much fun.

    • It is lethal force if a taser is used against an officer. Not because a taser by itself is lethal, but because it would incapacitate the officer and leave him defenseless. If someone were to use a taser on an officer you can assume they would go after the officers firearm. That is why it is justifiable.

      For the same reason, if someone threatened me with a taser and I was carrying, either open or concealed, I can articulate why I would use a firearm to defend myself. Not because the taser will kill, but I would lose control of my firearm and that will kill you.

  12. My wife is allergic to the most common active ingredient in pepper spray. A direct hit of a potent dose of pepper spray could kill her. There is not one self-defense product on the market that can be declared non-lethal.

  13. Cops’ current doctrine is that they want to be able to kill most anyone or anything (man, woman, child, dog), anywhere (in their own home, their garage, their yard or on the street), with or without a warrant, at any time, with the most threadbare of justification, because their highest mission is that they “have to go home at the end of the day.” Shooting people pointing a TASER at a cop and justifying it with legal hand-waiving is just what comes naturally to cops these days. With lethal force so easily used without consequence by cops, lighting up people with a TASER is just 10 minutes of good clean fun between donut breaks.

    “Civilians,” (aka, taxpayers paying the salaries and pensions of the aforementioned high-minded public employees) are subject to the full force of the law enforcement and prosecutor’s offices, both of whom are entirely comfortable with inventing evidence, testimony and circumstances to prosecute “civilians.” “Civilians” don’t have the power of the AG/LEO/prosecutor’s offices to invent new case law at their behest and for their convenience.

    Using self-defense tools which leave one’s actions in a grey area between lethal and non-lethal responses outside of one’s home is a dubious proposition. Outside of your home (where you’re covered by a castle doctrine or case law equivalent of same) you either had reason for pulling out a lethal weapon (“reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm”) or you didn’t. The emphasis is on he word “reasonable.” Would a jury of your “peers,” when presented with the same facts you had at the moment prior to you pulling the trigger, come to the same conclusion (that you had a reasonable fear of death or GBH) and that you were justified in responding with potentially lethal force. Annnd… as the number of cases of people killed by being lit up with a TASER mounts, sooner or later a TASER will not be considered a non-lethal weapon. The track record of people killed by TASERS will eventually be brought forward in both criminal and civil trials, (the latter first) and soon, people will start seeing a liability in using TASERS.

    TASERS, for “civilians,” in states where one can carry a gun, are in a legal grey area, even in unabashedly pro-RKBA states such as here in Wyoming. Why did you light someone up with a TASER? Did they not look right? They menaced you? Used naughty words at a raised voice? What is the objective legal standard that enables you to light someone up? A “civilian” can’t fall back on “he didn’t respect my authoratah!” as a reason for lighting someone up.

    Or (much worse, IMO) were they really threatening you with death or GBH, and… you were carrying a TASER in addition to a gun?

    OK, let’s say that you claimed reasonable fear of death or GBH. Let’s say you now pulled a gun while you had a TASER on your person. You shot the assailant. Now the DA (or in a civil trial, the attorney of the wailing mother of the poor youth who was “turning his life around”) will start asking “Why did you shoot him? He was just a kid! And you had another option on you! Why did you pull the gun when you could have pulled the TASER?”

    Yea, that’s not what I pay my lawyer to litigate.

    • Woah. Have you ever actually been tased? I would suggest that anyone known to be armed shoot in response to a TASER threat simply because it is a known tool to disarmament. I have quite literally used it to assist with handcuffing a homeless man sitting underneath a blanket with an axe handle sticking out. He wouldn’t come out from his “home” no matter how much we asked or shouted. The TASER was the perfect tool in that situation, and worked very well to handcuff that person without injury or undue risk or exposure to what appeared to be a weapon. It turns out that the axe handle was without a blade, but it was impossible to see that from our perspective.

      Someone who is tased could also floor the accelerator of a car, fall from an elevated position, or fire a round in an unknown direction if they were holding a firearm. Lethal force used when facing a TASER could very well be entirely appropriate, whether a cop on the beat or a homeowner defending his castle.

      • In my career as a EE, I’ve taken far worse shocks with far more power than a TASER. If the current had traversed across my central chest, I wouldn’t be here now.

        From my perspective, cops shouldn’t have TASERs. The abuse of this tool is becoming rather rampant.

  14. “Is Using a TASER Considered Lethal Force?” Only when it is used by a civilian. If a cop uses one, it is “a kinder and gentler way to ensure compliance with the directives of the officer.”

    Hope that helps.

  15. This past friday night I had a trigger happy Security Guard try to arrest me without proper cause. He hit me with this taser and It took 5 seconds to defeat it. I was sober. I simply balled up and swept the probes away with my right hand in one pass. I did get both probes in the belly about 8 inches apart. Im very physically fit and don’t know if that plays a role in it. He was shocked to see me stand up and look him in the eyes. I was considering owning a taser for home defense but after this experience I will stick to the 9mm. After being tased I can honestly say they are a joke.

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