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?