More than 225,000 officers and 120,000 U.S. citizens carry Tasers, according to a 2011 report by the University of California, San Diego, Medical Center and San Diego State University. Tasers are used by law enforcement in all 50 states as a less lethal alternative to handguns. They can be fired from 20 feet away to incapacitate an assailant, while stun guns require contact with clothing or skin to inflict pain. Despite favorable outcomes relative to handguns, Tasers still do cause bodily harm, including barbed dart injuries and trauma from falls.
Pain, Muscle Aches and Anxiety
The Taser device releases a pair of 9-millimeter barbs, attached to the gun by thin copper wires, to deliver an electrical pulse that causes involuntary muscular contractions. The effect has been described as a full-body "charley horse." People seen in emergency departments afterward for removal of the barbs usually report pain, muscle aches and anxiety. In addition, there is a risk that barbs may strike vulnerable areas such as the eyes or genitals.
Cuts, Scrapes and Trauma
Because the Taser barbs are designed to stick in skin or clothing and not fall out, they sometimes have to be removed in the emergency department. According to a March 2004 review in the “Emergency Medicine Journal,” many people need treatment for minor trauma, such as cuts and scrapes, after being "Tasered" because they usually fall to the ground. Broken bones are also possible, and there are at least 6 cases of deaths from head injuries after falls in the wake of Taser firings. Most healthy patients seen in the ER may be safely discharged after barb removal and routine evaluation.
The role of Tasers in sudden cardiac death is controversial. According to an article published in the January 2014 issue of “Circulation,” of the more than 3 million total Taser applications, there have been 12 published case reports suggesting a potential cardiac arrest link. Cases of sudden death have been associated with drug use and heart disease, but risks for individuals in these situations have not been clearly established.
Isolated reports of injuries associated with Taser use include shots to the eye and seizures after Taser shots to the head. Research is ongoing with respect to the safety and potential harm from Tasers, including effects of the duration of the jolt and effects of repeated "Tasering."
- A Report by Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Diego Medical Center, and Department of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, California: The Effect of TASER on Cardiac, Respiratory and Metabolic Physiology in Human Subjects
- American Journal of Public Health: The Effect of Less-Lethal Weapons on Injuries in Police Use-of-Force Events
- Circulation: TASER Electronic Control Devices and Cardiac Arrests: Coincidental or Causal?
- Emergency Medicine Journal: Introduction of the Taser Into British Policing. Implications for UK Emergency Departments: an Overview of Electronic Weaponry
- Journal of Forensic Sciences: Exposures to Conducted Electrical Weapons (Including TASER Devices): How Many and for How Long Are Acceptable?
- Documenta Opthalmologica: Diffuse Retinal Injury From a Non-penetrating TASER Dart
- Canadian Medical Association Journal: Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure After TASER Shot to the Head