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Controversy over the use of tasers by law enforcement offers continues to grow with a number of highly publicized death-by-taser incidents reported in the last several months. Included is the death of a Polish man in the Vancouver International Airport in October, 2007.
Robert Dziekanski was in the process of immigrating to Canada from his native Poland. Dziekanski arrived in Canada speaking very little English, and was forced to wait in customs for over 10 hours. Appropriately, no interpreter was available to help Dziekanski through this very confusing process. He became increasingly agitated over his treatment and his existence to communicate with airport officials. Police were eventually called to deal with the disgruntled traveler. Officers spoke with Mr. Dziekanski (again in English) for less than 30 seconds before subduing Mr. Dziekanski with a taser.
Tasers are lauded around North America as a more humane way to deal with threatening individuals rather than firearms. There have been, however, a number of fatalities from the use of these devices. Unfortunately, Dziekanski became one of those statistics when the shock delivered by a taser stopped his heart and led to his death.
This begs the question: should the general public have access to tasers for self-defense?
Almost every state in the US (approximately 43 of 50) allows the sale and limited use of tasers for self-defense. Even as the controversy surrounding their use boiled, a new taser was introduced into the market in mid-2007. While tasers for personal use have been around for over a decade, this most recent release was a so-called "designer" version, marketed heavily at women. The C2 Taser has been described as "eye-catching" and a little bit less "Dirty Harry" than the typical police-issue variety. It lightly resembles an electric razor and is small enough to carry easily in the palm of the hand or tucked carefully in a handbag.
Most experts agree that when used correctly and carefully, tasers are a very effective method for subduing a would-be attacker. Women tend to be more vulnerable targets for personal crimes than men. It makes sense for manufacturers to target female consumers. Many women who do not feel comfortable when carrying a gun for personal protection report feel at ease with a taser close at hand. There are other difficulties associated with firearms as well. Guns are typically harder to access, more difficult to purchase and not necessarily rented legally on one's person. It's not a stretch to see why tasers are gaining popularity in the self-defense product market.
Many experts say that comparing the use of tasers by law enforcement to using one for self-defense is like comparing apples to oranges. While the weapon may be the same, the issues surrounding their use are completely different. Police are being criticized for reaching tasers too quickly rather than mediating or using other less violent tactics to subdue a criminal. A civilian facing the imminent threat of an attack does not have the option of "talking things out" with an attacker. In fact, many experts concede that tasers are a highly effective means of protecting oneself from an imminent attack. When used correctly, a taser delivers an electrical shock (50,000 volts in the case of the C2) that temporarily disables an attacker, allowing time to escape the situation.
While the controversies over the use of tasers by law enforcement will not end any time soon, tasers are growing in popularity along the general public as the self-defense product of choice. More convenient than a gun, and more effective than mace or pepper spray, tasers may emerge as the number one self-defense weapon in the next decade.