Stun-gun Use Again Under Scrutiny in U.S. and England

By Matthew Harwood

The use of stun guns is again a point of debate after three high-profile incidents over the past week, one involving the nephew of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Early Saturday morning, Northumbria Police in England fired two Taser stun-gun shots at fugitive gunman Raoul Moat—the 37-year-old bouncer and ex-convict who went on a rampage starting July 3, shooting his ex-girlfriend and killing her boyfriend.

Late Friday, police surrounded Moat, beginning a six-hour stand-off during which Moat held a sawed-off shotgun to his neck and head area. As police circled Moat and tried to coax him to give up, officers reportedly pounced on him and used stun guns in an attempt to subdue him, but Moat shot and killed himself. 

Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the British police watchdog, has launched an investigation into the events surrounding Moat's death and how police handled the situation, including the use of Tasers. According to the Guardian, IPCC "will ask if the 50,000-volt charges from the stun gun prompted the former bouncer to fire his shotgun on himself after a six-hour confrontation with police."

Northumbria Police, according to the Telegraph, have refused to provide specifics on the Tasers' use. Northumbria Police's Acting Chief Constable Sue Sim said Saturday, however, that the Taser shots "did not prevent his death."

(For more SM coverage of stun guns, see "Appeals Court Finds Taser-Wielding Police Officer Used Excessive Force During Traffic Stop" and a review of "Taser Electronic Control Devices and Sudden In-Custody Death: Separating Evidence From Conjecture," by Howard E. Williams.)

The involvement of Tasers in the fatal conclusion to Moat's week-long manhunt has rekindled the debate about stun guns.

"Human Rights charity Amnesty International has raised concerns about the safety of Tasers and considers them to be potentially lethal as well as open to abuse," reports the Telegraph. "However Taser International, which manufactures and distributes them in the UK, said they reduce injuries and save lives by providing police forces with a safer alternative to traditional firearms."


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