Taser devices are getting popular, but are they safe?

By Trey Paul - bio | email

When you think of a stun gun or a Taser device, you probably think about the tool used by police officers. But these days it's becoming more and more popular for them to be used by anyone.

They're easy to get, but are they safe?

Conducted Electronic Device (CED) is the more formal name for the popular Taser. Horry County Sgt. Robert Kegler says the personal protection device is becoming more popular.

"I believe that they are getting a bit trendier," he said. "People do talk about having Taser parties."

Those parties cater to women, and are much like a Tupperware or Mary Kay party.

"We go into a home, a restaurant - I can even do it at my home," said Kimberly Nida, who hosts Taser parties in Florence.

Nida says she gets up to 100 requests a year  for the Taser civilian model, and has already sold six this month.

"I have 100 people that would love to buy one now," she said. "The only problem is the price."

At $349 plus tax, the price tag can be prohibitive.

We wanted to learn a little more about the TASER device and other types of CEDs. One WMBF News reporter volunteered to take a hit from a Taser, but was not allowed. Both the Horry County Police and the Myrtle Beach Police cited safety reasons.

"We also don't have the ability to get a medical history to see if there is anything in your background that may affect you," Kegler explained.

So, it's a fair question: Could a CED kill you?

"We don't have sufficient information," said Dr. Geoffrey Alpert. "We do know that many of the deaths that have occurred throughout the country are when suspects have been hit with CEDs through extended periods of time."

Alpert, who teaches criminology classes at the University of South Carolina, has studied CEDs for five years and just wrapped up a three-year study, concluding CEDs were a very helpful tool for police officers to reduce injury to themselves and criminals, but it has a high potential for abuse.

Through his study, Alpert found data collected by researchers with the National Institute of Justice that show there is no medical evidence that proves a CED will kill you.

"I'm not going to tell you it can kill you or can't," Alpert said. "We know it's killed pigs. We know that it has been related to deaths with humans but the medical research is inconclusive."

The Grand Strand Regional Medical Center's ER director Dr. John Molnar noted, however, "If it's used improperly, all bets are off."

Molnar says there's no known medical research that directly links CEDs to death.

According to data gathered from researchers with Amnesty International, since 2001 there have been 357 people that have died after being hit with a CED, but they say there is no evidence that the CED actually killed any of them.

"I know in most of the cases where that's occurred there's been other confounding factors," Molnar said. "Drugs on board, cocaine, different things that would be more likely to affect the heart than a Taser."

If you're considering buying a CED, whether it be a Taser or another brand, you might want to do your homework for other reasons.

"In the wrong hands, and if you don't have the training, who's to say what could happen," said MBPD Officer Don Miller, who trains officers to use Tasers.

If you buy a civilian model, like the Taser C2, before the device is activated, you have to pass an identification, verification, and felony background check. Then you're given a unique code that you enter into the device to activate it.

Whenever you deploy at Taser C2, the cartridge emits 20-30 small pieces of serialized confetti that identify the owner, like leaving 20-30 business cards at the scene of a crime.

"I think with the proper training and all the research and technology that Taser put into this product, I think it's a very safe product," Miller commented.

A TASER device may be a safe, but we weren't sure about the other brands or the ones that you could buy at a flea market.

"They're not available at flea markets," Miller said. "You can't get them."

Not only did our hidden cameras find them at the Myrtle Beach Flea Market, we bought what was called a "heavy duty stun gun."

The clerk couldn't tell us where she got it, or how powerful it was, and there was also no contact information for the company, so we showed it to HCPD Officer Chuck McLendon, who is also a Taser instructor. He said he wouldn't buy it.

"I don't know enough about that product to say it's good or bad," he said. "But the fact there's no contact information on it, no kind of training with it. To me, it's just not worth it."

McLendon says all civilian Taser models shoot 50,000 volts, and because South Carolina says the devices aren't considered weapons (because CEDs are activated by compressed nitrogen), anyone can buy one.

"I think there should be some type of law against it, put in place that restricts it," McLendon said. "But that's really not my decision to make though."

In eight other states a Taser device is considered a prohibited weapon and can only be used by law enforcement officers. Canada has the same the laws.

Bottom line, if you decide to get one, be responsible, be careful, know the law, and know what you're doing.

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