March 18, 2010

Tasers only legal under strict circumstances

— Yes -- they do come in pink, blue, silver or black. And yes, they are readily available and able to be purchased in Maine.

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Inspector of Police David Chick of the Lewiston Police Department shows off one of the department's tasers Thursday July 7, 2007.

But despite what some people may believe, Maine does have very tight restrictions and regulations in place regarding the use of Tasers.

You could very well find a neatly wrapped Taser present under your tree or stuffed in your stocking this year, but you better think long and hard before you set out to use it.

Electronic weapons, commonly known as Tasers, are available for citizens to own, but the restrictions regarding how they can be used are very stringent. Just because one owns a bright orange hunter's vest certainly doesn't mean that one can hunt whenever the mood strikes.

Similarly, just because one receives a Taser as a present, one cannot use it to ''shock'' anyone that they see fit.

According to Maine law, criminal use of an electronic weapon is a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Criminal use is defined as a person ''intentionally, knowingly or recklessly using an electronic weapon upon any other person.''

The law is specific -- an electronic weapon may be used by a law enforcement officer, corrections officer or corrections supervisor engaged in the line of public duty.

A Taser can be used by any other individual only when that person reasonably believes that it is necessary to thwart unlawful deadly force against that person or another, or upon an individual committing or about to commit a kidnapping or robbery, or when an intruder has broken into a person's home.

Again, use of a Taser by a citizen is restricted to those rare circumstances where a citizen is legally justified in using deadly force.

Tasers were first sold for public use in 1994. In the 13 years that have followed, many states have taken steps to rein in their use and create a balance between proper use of a an effective defense weapon, and protecting the safety and welfare of its citizens.

Tasers do serve their purpose. They work through neuromuscular incapacitation -- they cause the involuntary stimulation of both the sensory nerves and the motor nerves, rendering an individual incapacitated.

Tasers are an effective tool for law enforcement and as such, their use has become much more frequent. The use of a baton is not always effective on a larger offender and may not render the individual immobile. Baton use can also be viewed as excessive force at times.

A Taser allows an officer to detain offenders and safely restrain them. A Taser may be a step away from having to use a gun -- a step away from an individual potentially losing his or her life.

Tasers are an effective tool for individuals who reasonably fear for their lives.

Persons who have finally left an abusive home, whose lives were repeatedly threatened, can take comfort in knowing that if they or their child are in imminent danger, they will be able to defend themselves without having to take a life.

Handguns in homes with children, if not under lock and key, are not a good mix. A Taser offers a safer alternative for those extreme cases.

But potential buyers should know that the use of a Taser upon another person is a crime unless the user is faced with circumstances where the use of deadly force is authorized.

While we can make light of the ease by which Tasers are obtained, we cannot make light of the way they are to be used.

— Special to the Press Herald

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