Tasers Safe? New Study Sparks More Debate

Still, Lutes says even this subset is likely safe from serious health consequences. "The jury is still out on that, but given the large size of the study, [Tasers] are probably safe in this subset of individuals.

"[Tasers] are a weapon. It's not designed as a medical device, and they will save people in certain situations where they may have been shot."

A 'Cop Out' for Cops?

Recent events involving Tasers have polarized public opinion on the devices. Last month, University of Florida student Andrew Meyer received a "Tase" by police during his arrest for disturbing the peace while asking a question during a speech by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., at the university.

And another Taser incident last month -- this one involving Ohio woman Heidi Gill, whose multiple shocks with a Taser were caught on a police cruiser video camera -- also came under heavy public scrutiny.

The cases also caught the attention of Amnesty International. Jared Feuer, the organization's southern regional director in Atlanta, says that while AI's medical experts are reviewing the new study before a formal position is adopted, the conclusion that the devices pose little risk could be a dangerous assumption.

"The John Kerry situation is a perfect example in which a Taser is providing an alternative to negotiation," Feuer says.

"Yes, police forces and law enforcement personnel need to have these tools to preserve public safety and their own safety," he continues. "But our concern is that the technology has really outpaced policy, and we haven't yet gotten a handle on the full use of Tasers, their risks and how they should be used."

Feuer adds that since Tasers were approved for use by police officers, Taser use has been followed by the death of the person receiving the shock in 277 instances. He also maintains that the weapons are mostly used on unarmed perpetrators, and in most cases there is no imminent threat to the officer or bystanders.

Still, those who support police Taser use note that this option is preferable to a number of alternatives, such as a physical struggle, pepper spray, handheld weapons such as a baton or flashlight -- or even bullets.

If there is any point on which all agree, it is that Tasers are weapons -- ones that should be used only in appropriate situations.

"These are not 100 percent safe," study investigator Bozeman says. "These are weapons and must be treated as such."

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