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A Recipe for Disaster: School Cops Are Being Armed with 50,000-Volt Tasers

Tasers aren't 'nonlethal'; they've killed hundreds. With younger people being especially vulnerable to the Taser's shock, the risks could be very deadly.

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Some have argued that pigs aren't reliable testing subjects. ("In my modeling, I prefer to use humans," Dr. Jeffry Ho, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. ) This includes Taser International's co-founder, Rick Smith, who has argued that pigs weigh less than 100 pounds and "have a very different physiology from humans," according to CBC News -- an argument that would seem to undermine the company's own research techniques.

In March 2005, a report by the (rather bizarrely named) Human Effects Center of Excellence at Brooks Air Force Base, which tests "nonlethal" weapon technology, found "a large margin of safety with the 'normal X26 operating output' in the case of large children and adults," according to Amnesty.

The study's authors, who based their research primarily on data provided to them by Taser International, also reviewed other studies, including "tests investigating the effects of Tasers on the hearts of pigs weighing between 30 and 117 kilograms (66 and 258 pounds)."

They found that the more a pig weighed, the less potential risk there was for internal injury. "These tests have been interpreted to conclude that smaller individuals (e.g. children) may be more susceptible to adverse effects from Taser shocks," according to Amnesty.

In 2007, the U.K.'s Defense Scientific Advisory Council Sub-Committee on the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons (DOMILL) concluded that although there is "very limited information globally on the relative vulnerability of children to Tasers," existing data suggest that "the safety factor for induction of ventricular fibrillation by Taser discharge in children at the younger (i.e. smaller) range of the pediatric population may be lower compared with that in the adult population."

In other words, the smaller the child, the less voltage it takes to hurt them.

"Until more research is undertaken to clarify the vulnerability of children to Taser currents," the study concluded, "children and persons of small stature should be considered at possible greater risk than adults."

Playing With Fire

Reports of children who have died after being tasered may mainly tell the stories of teenagers, but, along with an apparent misunderstanding of the sheer force of Tasers and stun guns (at least if the Take Your Children to Work Day fracas is any indication), the already heavy-handed approach to students as young as 7 in some schools suggests that arming police officers with Tasers might invite dangerous scenarios.

Take, for example, police in Avon Park, Fla., who handcuffed and arrested a 7-year-old girl named Desre'e Watson, when she threw a tantrum in her kindergarten class. Or cops in Detroit this past June, who handcuffed a fourth-grade special-ed student to the door of his principal's office for four hours.

If teachers, administrators and police have resorted to such measures to get a handle on unruly children, won't adding Tasers to the equation up the risk factor?

In an era that sees students standing in line to go through metal detectors before homeroom, there's no question that weapons in school require reliable school security. Arming school security officers with "nonlethal" weapons might seem to be a good solution. That is, if Tasers actually fit the bill.

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special Coverage. http://twitter.com/LilianaSegura