Taser Guns Come Under Fire

Jan. 30, 2005-- -- A police officer from Rock Hill, S.C., was reprimanded for using a Taser to subdue a 75-year-old woman who was distraught and refused to leave a nursing home because she could not find a sick friend.

Miami-Dade police zapped 12-year-old Silvana Gomez with 50,000 volts after she was caught cutting school.

Taser control advocates say these kinds of incidents are becoming all too common, as the electronic devices become more pervasive in communities and police stations across the country.

If Taser International and some advocates within law enforcement have their way, every cop in the country will carry one.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney is a big advocate for Tasers.

"There's at least four to six incidents that, had that officer not had the, the Taser, he or she would have been left with no choice but to use their, their Glock and, and shoot and possibly kill," Timoney said.

Justified? Or Excessive Use of Force?

But the use of stun guns is prompting a very heated debate.

Jennifer Marshal believes she was hardly a threat when she was zapped during a traffic stop.

"This officer had not had a chance to use his new toy," she said. "And basically decided to try it out on a, a small person who had no witnesses."

Timoney says such incidents happen due to poor training.

"If you wind up Tasering a 75-year-old woman or a 6-year-old child, I have real problems with that," Timoney said.

He believes that when Tasers are used prudently, there are no stray bullets to worry about and each dart is numbered, so the shooting officer is accountable for each use.

But how safe is it to zap someone with 50,000 volts?

Dr. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International, says he doesn't know how Tasers will impact patients who have cardiac problems, epilepsy or mulitple sclerosis.

"We simply don't have definitive studies of any of those things," Schulz said.

Though dozens of people have died after being Tasered, their maker, Taser International, insists the stun gun is never the cause. They say fatalities come from pre-existing heart problems or people on drugs.

Amnesty International disagrees.

"At the very least, Taser ought to support extensive, independent medical tests that can prove once and for all whether or not there are dangers," said Schulz. "We don't want people walking around 'tasing' one another with 50,000 volt shocks. These are not fun and games."

In the meantime, with a click of the mouse and $400, residents of 44 states can legally buy their own Taser right from their living room -- which, Timoney admits, may not be a good idea.

"You can picture gang members or something like that using this as a form of torture," Timoney said.

The Securities and Exchange Commision recently launched an inquiry into the company's safety claims, causing the stock to plummet. In response, shareholders filed a class-action lawsuit against Taser International. The company says it is cooperating fully and that it stands by its actions.