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Saturday, May 03, 2008

EDITORIAL: Stunning concerns

May 3, 2008
The Kingston Whig Standard

Are electric stun guns potentially lethal? Are they more dangerous than their manufacturer and police forces let on? Definitive answers to these questions have been hard to find. So much so that it was becoming clear that medical intervention would be necessary - that doctors and researchers would have to enter into the debate.

Now they have. This week, an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal called for more independent studies into the devices. It points out that enough people have died soon after being shocked that further investigation is warranted.

More than 300 North Americans, including 20 in Canada, have died after being shot with stun guns. Sadly, it took the videotaped death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver International Airport last October to arouse wider public concern.

Determining whether or not the stun guns are as safe as the manufacturer says they are will influence how and when they are used. Initially, they were promoted as a less lethal alternative to guns. But a Canadian Press analysis of RCMP stun-gun use between 2002 and 2005 revealed that in 563 incidents, 79 per cent of the suspects were unarmed and didn't necessarily pose a high risk to officers.

Amnesty International has called for a moratorium on the use of stun guns until further studies are done. Indeed, overuse of the weapons is becoming a concern. Last month it was revealed that Vancouver transit police were zapping people who refused to pay their fares.

Public health and safety may be compromised by stun-gun use. We welcome the doctors' input.

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