Are more regulations needed on potentially lethal stun guns and TASERs?

Ohio has few limits on these self-defense products

The market for non-firearms self-defense products is growing and increasingly women are being targeted by companies selling stun guns, TASER, pepper spray and other products.

“The ladies need to be empowered. They’re the ones who are preyed upon by the male population who are bigger and stronger,” said John Thyne, owner of Peabody Sports, a Warren County gun shop.

But easily available and lightly-regulated self-defense tools like stun guns and TASERs raise concerns they could be used by criminals to incapacitate or even kill victims. TASERs, technically known as “conducted electrical weapons,” are widely used by law enforcement to subdue suspects, some of whom have died after being shocked.

“I really don’t think that civilians should have them,” said Jennifer Thorne, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. “It certainly concerns me that weapons that can be fatal are being marketed as non-lethal.”

Thorne said stronger safety regulations are needed, including rules that people with a history of violence cannot buy stun guns or TASERs. Both products are readily available online and can be bought at retail shops in Ohio with no background check or limits on ownership.

David Nance, CEO for SABRE, which sells stun guns, pepper spray and other self-defense products, said it isn’t fair to single out self-defense products for increased regulation.

“That’s an issue with anything from a butter knife to a firearm,” Nance said. “I don’t think we should not allow citizens to protect themselves just because the bad guy might get them.”

Increasingly, however, jurisdictions across the country are tightening regulations on self-defense products. Several states — Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, as well as Washington, D.C. — have banned the possession and use of stun guns and TASERs by civilians, according to Illinois and Michigan require a license to own one.

This newspaper decided to examine the regulation of self-defense products in the wake of changes being made to Ohio’s gun laws. Beginning March 21, businesses can still ban guns from their property but concealed-carry permit holders will be allowed to lock handguns in their cars while at work.

The state has few regulations at all over stun guns and other self-defense products.

“Ohio law does not specifically regulate the ownership, purchase or use of TASERs or stun guns,” said Jonathan Fulkerson, deputy chief counsel for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “Ohio’s deadly weapon definition requires that a thing be capable of inflicting death for it to be a deadly weapon. There is a dispute about whether stun guns are capable of inflicting death.”

That means there are no limits on where the devices can be carried, including places like courthouses, school zones or bars. Fulkerson said.

RELATED: CCW Expansion is latest effort to broaden gun laws in OhioDeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said a person can be criminally charged or sued civilly if a stun gun or TASER is used in a way that violates Ohio law.

The FBI does not keep track of how often stun guns or TASERs are used in crimes.

Lethal weapons?

People often use the terms stun gun and TASER interchangeably but the TASER is not a stun gun and no law enforcement agency in the country uses stun guns, said Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for TASER International, which manufactures and sells products for the civilian, military and law enforcement market.

Both stun guns and TASERs deliver a shock, but the stun gun has to be touching the body while the TASER shoots two darts, attached by tiny wires to the weapon, that must hit the person to deliver the shock. The stun gun simply causes pain, while the TASER incapacitates the person, rendering him incapable of any coordinated action while the electrical current is being delivered, Tuttle said.

Such shocks can be lethal, or at least a factor in someone’s death.

The Washington Post in November 2015 said 48 people nationwide had died since January of that year after being shocked with a TASER. However, the link between use of the TASER and the deaths was unclear, according to the newspaper. Other “factors mentioned among the causes of death were excited delirium, methamphetamine or PCP intoxication, hypertensive heart disease, coronary artery disease, and cocaine toxicity.”

In one recent case, a federal judge in California approved an agreement for the U.S. government to pay $1 million to the children of Anastasio Hernandez, a Mexican man who died after being shocked with a TASER by immigration authorities attempting to detain him at the border. An “autopsy found numerous factors contributed to a fatal heart attack, including methamphetamine intoxication, heart disease, the TASER shocks, the physical exertion and restraints,” the San Diego Union Tribune reported.

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice studied deaths that occurred after “electro muscular disruption” by TASERs and similar devices, referred to in the report by the acronym CED for “conducted energy devices.”

“There is no conclusive medical evidence in the current body of research literature that indicates a high risk of serious injury or death to humans from the direct or indirect cardiovascular or metabolic effects of short-term CED exposure in healthy, normal, non-stressed, non-intoxicated persons,” the report said.

But the report also warned that the physiologic effects of prolonged or repeated exposure are not fully understood and that the devices should not be used for more than 15 seconds on a person.

Tuttle said TASERs have been “misused and out of training protocols in a small number of events.”

No use of force device is risk free, Tuttle said, but when used properly TASERs are one of the most effective tools available to law enforcement to halt “potentially violent situations that may pose a safety risk to an officer, suspect or innocent citizens.”

“We continue to stand by the independent, peer-reviewed medical studies that have shown that the TASER weapons are generally safe and effective,” he said.

‘I’m not sure of them’

The TASER was invented decades ago by physicist Jack Cover, who in naming it referenced the Tom Swift science fiction novels, adding a middle initial to the fictional character’s name and adopting the device’s acronym from “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.”

The TASER is far more expensive than a stun gun, at about $300 for the civilian model. A variety of companies make the stun gun, which can be found for prices as low as $10 online.

Nance said consumers can be fooled by impossibly high claims about stun gun voltage, which isn’t even a real measure of the device’s ability to cause pain.

Nance said the government should step in and start regulating claims if manufacturers do not do it voluntarily. He said untrue claims may give consumers a false sense of security about a stun gun’s ability to stop an attacker.

Dale Borts, a federally licensed gun dealer in Dayton who sells TASERs, said he doesn’t trust the claims made about stun guns and when he tested one by shocking himself, he was not incapacitated.

“I’ve never (sold) stun guns because I’m not sure of them,” Borts said.

Nance said pepper spray offers an advantage over the stun gun for self defense. Pepper spray can be fired at an attacker from a distance and can incapacitate someone for a longer period of time than a stun gun, he said.

“You can take somebody to the ground with a stun gun, but I would not rely on that,” Nance said. “Pepper spray, you’re going to slam their eyes closed at a distance.”

Types of civilian non-firearm self-defense weapons in North America

  • Air power weapons firing pepper projectiles, paintballs and beanbags
  • Lighting Devices
  • Pepper sprays
  • Knives
  • Batons
  • Stun guns
  • TASERs
  • Animal repellants


Key manufacturers of civilian, non-firearm self-defense weapons

  • LRAD Corp.
  • TASER International Inc.
  • SABRE Security Equipment Corp.
  • Pepperball Technologies, Inc.
  • AMTEC Less Lethal
  • Safariland Group
  • Piexon AG
  • Kimber Mfg. Inc.
  • Oxley Group
  • Arma USA, Inc.
  • Salt Supply Co.


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