Adam 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