Taser ban proponents call for last 'ShOctober'

The group believes the weapons do not decrease handgun use by police.
Lily Tinker-Fortel, of People for a Taser-Free Columbia, speaks in favor Proposition 2 at a press conference Wednesday. Several members of the group spoke to rally support for the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot that would ban Taser use in Columbia.

Members of a group that seeks to ban Taser use in Columbia made final rallying calls Thursday for the passage of Proposition 2, a local measure on the Nov. 2 ballot to ban the weapons’ use.

Speaking in front of a bright orange banner that said, “Columbia’s last ShOctober!?” and yellow campaign signs that said, “Yes! 2 Taser FREE Columbia,” 11 members of People for a Taser-Free Columbia called on residents to approve the measure.

Proposition 2 would make it a misdemeanor to use or threaten to use a Taser against anyone in the city limits of Columbia. It would still be legal to buy, sell and own Tasers in the city.

The Columbia Police Department began using Tasers after the passage of Proposition L in 2005.

Columbia resident David Finke came to the gathering as both part of the group and the mid-Missouri chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He said FOR favored the proposition in the interests of nonviolence.

“Our organization seeks nonviolent alternatives to conflict and we do not believe that more weapons are the answers,” he said.

Gene Robinson, an MU professor emeritus of community development, was one of several speakers who said they worried neither Taser nor CPD were keeping accurate statistics on the use of Tasers and their effects and that such data is not readily available to the public.

“My big concern in terms of Proposition 2 has to do with transparency and research,” he said. “I’m concerned, like I was about racial profiling and 'driving while black' (that) if you don’t have the data, people try to get away with murder.”

Robinson praised CPD Chief Ken Burton for attending several meetings with community members to discuss the proposed ban and the impact it would have on the police force but said despite Burton’s assurances, police officers were using Tasers instead of handguns in lethal force situations.

“At the critical point of whether it will be lethal or non-lethal — that was judgment he said he could make — he made the decision that it should be non-lethal," he said. "That means in place of a gun, because you use a gun in lethal context.”

Group member Lily Tinker-Fortel, an organizer with Grass Roots Organizing in Columbia, said the ban is necessary because police and city officials have not proven why the department needs Tasers since the passage of Proposition L and that many incidents involving Tasers that have appeared in the news have caused Columbians to question their necessity.

“The burden of proof falls on City Council and on law enforcement to show us that these weapons are necessary, that the supposed benefits, (of) which we see none, outweigh the financial and other costs, which are significant,” she said. “They have failed at this task.”

She said though Tasers' physiological effects are still being studied, the effect they have on the community has already been seen in distrust between police officers and residents of certain parts of the city, a problem she said the ban could fix.

“Tasers do not decrease gun use, and we know that they decrease trust,” she said.

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