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Monday, May 16, 2011

Researchers Zap Industry-Funded Studies on Stun Gun Safety

May 16, 2011
Christine Young, Fair Warning

Plenty of studies suggest that the stun guns that police sometimes use to subdue suspects are safe. But a new analysis questions the credibility of at least some of that research.

That analysis, by cardiologists at the University of California, San Francisco, was based on a review of 50 published studies on Taser guns. According to a university news release, 23 of the studies either were financed by Taser International Inc., the leading maker of electrical stun guns, or were written by an author affiliated with the company.

The other 27 studies were conducted by independent researchers.

In findings delivered at a conference this month, the UC researchers said all but one of the manufacturer-backed studies said stun guns were either not harmful or not likely to be harmful. Yet among the independent assessments, only slightly more than half — 15 of the 27 studies — came to similar conclusions.

“When you look at the research, you find out a lot of the articles that are touted by police departments are funded by the company,” Dr. Byron Lee, an associate professor at the university and senior author of the study, told The New York Times.

The potential hazards of stun guns were demonstrated last week when a 43-year-old man died after being stun-gunned by deputies in Southern California’s San Bernardino County, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Deputies tried to stop the man after he allegedly ran a stop sign. Cindy Bachman, a sheriff’s department spokeswoman, said the suspect, who had no prior criminal record, had become “combative and uncooperative.” The victim’s father said he was told that his son was Tasered about eight times.

In 2009, five men in San Bernardino County and neighboring Riverside County died after being shot with stun guns, Inland News Today reports. In response, Taser issued an advisory that aiming the device at a suspect’s chest could cause an “adverse cardiac arrest.”

Truth, Not Tasers, a website that tracks stun guns deaths, says 19 people have died so far this year, and 65 were killed last year, in U.S. stun gun incidents.

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