Is Now The Time For Less-Lethal Weapons?

600px-Raysun_X-1_img_2865Adam Lanza’s butchery at Sandy Hook was the catalyst for a commonly fractured American response:  a demand for gun laws, cries against constitutional infringement, and the frantic nationwide purchases of more firearms. Owning a gun will guarantee the same risks to the right-minded or the criminally insane, and still violence turns like a stubborn gear. If the cycle of violence cannot be broken, can it be lessened with weapons that are less than lethal? And would we feel safer in such a world? As new technologies become available, these are questions that need to be answered.

For years, cops and soldiers have tried devices that minimize deadly force. Pepper spray, stun batons, Tasers, rubber projectiles, stun grenades, bean bag guns, tear gas, sound waves, and even foul-smelling odors can subdue criminals and control crowds. They allow for protection and apprehension when lethal force is unwarranted. Admittedly, there is some risk to those on the receiving end of a less-than-lethal device. Between 2001 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice noted:

334 people have died after being subjected to a Taser discharge by state or local law enforcement officers. Medical examiners concluded that the use of a Taser contributed to or caused at least 50 of these fatalities. The remaining 284 fatalities were largely attributed to other factors such as drug intoxication.”¹

But in most cases of using a less-than-lethal weapon, bloodshed is removed from the equation.

Imagine a future where the gun market is flooded with less-lethal weaponry. People guard their homes with stun devices. Prison guards use heat machines and stun batons to capture a violent individual. In airports and federal buildings, automated devices are triggered to take down an armed intruder. Remotely operated drones patrol a university and report to campus police. Robots roam the school halls to check for unidentified visitors.

Fanciful fiction? Not to the consumer. Less-lethal weapons are an alternative to premiums on specific arms. Notes a Feb. 1 article in the Hartford Courant, “Some gun owners would avoid the high rates by purchasing less-lethal weapons, decreasing over time the number of rapid-fire weapons and their accessories in America.” Even without legislation, that puts a dent in marketing the “Barbie” guns—AR-15-type armaments with multiple attachments, customizations, and large-capacity magazines. Those are the types of lawn-mower guns that have turned movie theaters and classrooms into slaughterhouses.

The widespread use of less-lethal devices could change how an aggressor thinks about violence, especially if more people carry the means to neutralize him. And as this kind of safe hardware is introduced, society spends more time learning about gun safety. Family and mental health workers spend more time with those who truly need assistance. Technology may not be the only answer to a progressive nation, but it can help reduce the body count. It’s that simple. These are only concepts, but they must inspire hope, and with it the impetus for change.

¹ U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Evaluation and Inspections Division, “Review of the Department of Justice’s Use of Less-Lethal Weapons”. May 2009


One Comment Add yours

  1. Katy England says:

    But the problem with this is that less-than-lethal force is never appropriate for a lethal force situation.

    Additionally, you aren’t factoring in the cost of training so the average person can be proficient in weapons such as a TASER (yes, I know it’s stupid they spell it all caps). Cartridges for such weapons can run you up to $25 to $50 a apiece. Can you imagine trying to train with that, when firing off a practice round can cost that much?

    And then there is the failure rate for such weapons. I can only speak for electronic devices, but you need a complete circuit that spreads over a large mass to cause incapacitation . The type of clothing the person it wearing, how close they are to you all factor in. Someone wearing a heavy coat, someone able to avoid one of the probes, or just plain missing renders the weapon useless until you reload, which considering the range you need to be at to even shoot it (15 feet) probably means no reloading.

    Things like pepper spray and bean bag weapons all rely on pain compliance (i.e. it hurts a lot so the bad person stops doing the bad thing). But that only works if the bad person is in a state that can even register pain. Someone on drugs or having a mental crisis may not register pain or respond to pain in a way we would expect.

    Under law, deadly force can be met with deadly force. Speak to any law enforcement officer – they would not have met Lanza with a less-than-lethal weapon, because he was using a lethal one. Non deadly options are for crowd control and dealing with unruly, non-compliant people. I know they’re working on methods to make less than lethal a more viable option, but really until you can stop a threat quickly it doesn’t really work.

    PS – I love your blog! I love reading your posts! I love having interesting conversations!

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