Saturday, April 25, 2009

Guns (sorta): The Right to Bear Tasers?

Law professor Eugene Volokh is writing an interesting article arguing that stun gun and irritant spray bans should be unconstitutional, either under the various state RKBA provisions or an incorporated-against-the-states 2nd Amendment. The article is slated to appear next year in the Stanford Law Review (check out the series of posts discussing the subject on The Volokh Conspiracy). It doesn't really claim that these less-lethal weapons are preferable to firearms for self-defense. but instead puts forth some reasons that people might prefer using a Taser or pepper spray instead of a SIG.

Most surprising is the fact that some states ban stun guns while allowing possession of firearms, and even shall-issue CCW(!). The opposite approach is present here in Florida, where it's legal to carry self-defense irritant sprays and nonlethal electric devices without a concealed weapons permit (Fla. Stat. 790.01(4)).

In broad terms, Volokh's argument makes a lot of sense - there just isn't much reason to have these kinds of less-lethal bans when firearms are allowed. Yet I can see some dangers with the end consequences of the argument, though. One is that if Tasers and the like are lumped in with "arms" according to the sundry state RKBA provisions or the 2nd Amendment itself, then some of the pro-gun control folks may claim that restricting firearms is constitutionally okay, since there are still "arms" available for self-defense.

This sort of treatment has been applied to other constitutional rights, such as when the government regulates speech on the public sidewalk - in that case, courts do look at whether alternate channels of communication are available. Thus, it's not hard to extrapolate the Florida example into an onerous two-tier system, where less-lethal weapons are available but actual firearms are heavily restricted.

The problem here is that electric defense devices and irritant sprays are far inferior to firearms for self-defense. James Rummel goes over the most pertinent reasons at Hell in a Handbasket (among them - spotty reliability of a lithium ion battery/irritant cartridge that is left unused for months or years at a time, limited standoff range available with today's devices, and limited capabilities against multiple attackers), but I thought a more visceral demonstration would be helpful.

The following video comes from Taser's own promotional videos:

That's right, if you ever get attacked by more than one criminal, Taser's own training video advises you to engage in melee combat with one of the thugs - and that's if you're lucky enough to have the criminals sequentially attack as in the video, and not all at once. I can't believe anyone would choose a Taser over a handgun after seeing the above video, particularly if they are confined to a wheelchair or must protect small children who may not be able to drop everything and run away at a moment's notice. The same goes with other non-firearm weapons - whether knife, baton, spray, or whatever gadget, they all assume certain things about the defender that might not be true.

In contrast, firearms are a mature technology that provides overwhelming force multiplication. They are, to paraphrase Jeff Cooper's "Art of the Rifle," the symbol of things as they ought to be. A 90-year old 1911 pistol works on the same principles and will defend you just as well as the latest handguns. It will do so on a windy day, or in the rain, against one criminal or three. It will do so even if you are a pregnant mother or paralyzed from the waist down. With minor maintenance, both the pistol and its ammunition can last years, even decades of inactivity.

That's not to say training can be ignored when using a firearm for defense. The 20/20 video from a couple weeks ago showed how important training is. But think about the alternative - would pepper spray or a Taser have provided the student CCW with even a ghost of a chance? I heartily agree that less-lethal weapons should be free of government restriction, but not at the expense of the true self-defense tools.


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