Debate over Prop 2 Taser ban heats up

If the proposition passes, all Taser use in Columbia will be illegal.
Spencer Pearson / Graphic Designer

Columbia citizens will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 2, legislation to ban Taser use for everyone, including law enforcement officers, during the upcoming Nov. 2 election.

Proposition 2, which has been pushed by People for a Taser-Free Columbia, would make Taser use illegal in Columbia. Citizens would still be able to own Tasers, but not use them. Memphis, Tenn., San Francisco and Las Vegas, N.M., are among other cities that have adopted similar policies.

“Proposition 2 is about the Taser being unsafe for anyone,” said Catherine Parke, spokeswoman for a People for a Taser-Free Columbia, a non-profit grassroots organization. “That’s the way the argument has been structured. We’re saying take them away from everybody.”

Parke said Taser International, one of the largest Taser manufacturing companies, issued an advisory warning in October 2009 saying not to shoot the Taser into the chest or heart area.

“When solid evidence appeared that Tasers are unreliable, unpredictable, uncertain in their affects and hence unsafe, the issue of controlling Tasers no longer was relevant and sufficient,” Parke said. “The need to ban their use by everyone became imperative with regard to public safety.”

Parke said her organization’s main concern with using Tasers is its members feel there are so many uncertainties about the effects of Tasers and the people receiving the discharges.

Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Haden said the benefits of law enforcement using Tasers far outweigh the risks involved.

“We live in 2010 now and there is a lot of new technology that arises every day, and we want law enforcement to utilize that technology just like the rest of the world,” she said. “If it were killing people, Taser International would be out of business.”

According to a December 2008 report by Amnesty International, eight deaths occurred from CED usage from June 2001 to Aug. 31, 2008. Its research was gathered based on autopsy reports, information from families of the deceased or their attorneys, media reports, official investigations and other data.

Amnesty International said in a news release that claims that Tasers are safe do not hold up under scrutiny.

Haden said CPD has incorporated the advisories set out by Taser International into its training.

She said people will say a subject has a medical problem after the deployment of a Taser, but it is usually because the subject has an underlying medical problem and is not the fault of the Taser.

“I honestly think that the group proposing this made a big mistake, strategically,” Haden said. “I think there’s a lot of people out there who don’t want their rights infringed upon.”

Haden said she does not think Proposition 2 will pass and encourages voters to look at CPD’s website for more information about Tasers. She said CPD’s policy pertaining to Tasers is more restrictive compared to other policies nation-wide.

“The fact of the matter is, Tasers resolve situations more peacefully,” she said.

Dan Viets, president of the Mid-Missouri Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the chapter has not taken a specific stance on the potential Taser ban.

“Just because a weapon is covered by the second amendment does not mean the government cannot regulate it,” Viets said. “There is no doubt that this Taser initiative is constitutional."

Viets said Columbia already has put restrictions on when guns can be used and he thinks a prosecutor would not file charges against someone who used a gun or a Taser in self-defense.

“If somebody is threatening your physical well-being, then yes, you can use a Taser or gun in true self-defense,” he said. “The second amendment does not prevent the government from enacting reasonable regulations just like the ones we have on guns.”

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