Written by Greg Ellifritz
The recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has provoked a national discussion about the best ways to keep our children safe. Everyone has their own ideas about what needs to be done. The approaches range from an outright firearms ban to better mental health screening in schools. Others suggest placing more police officers in schools and arming teachers. The reality of the matter is that none of these single interventions will completely guarantee a child’s safety. Absolute safety can’t be guaranteed in a free society. The best we can do is to improve the odds that we can prevent a shooting or more rapidly intervene in an incident that isn’t prevented.
The more tools and tactics we have to combat the problem, the better our chances for success.
A couple days ago, I got a phone call from Doug Vance, the vice-president of Vance Outdoors. Doug manages law enforcement sales for one of the largest gun stores in the central Ohio area. Vance’s has exclusive LE distribution licenses in Ohio for several firearms brands. They also have the state bid contract for Winchester ammunition and Taser electronic control devices.
Doug informed me that Taser had just changed its policy and will be selling Tasers previously only available to law enforcement agencies to schools wanting another defense option for teachers.
The policy was only enacted last week and authorizes Taser distributors to sell the LE restricted units to school districts. The authorization only extends to school districts (not individual teachers) and requires that the school staff be trained by a certified Taser instructor before the units are issued.
I took my first Taser instructor course in the year 2000. I’ve taken instructor updates since then and even repeated the entire instructor certification program just last year. Having been instructor-certified for more than 12 years and having taken plenty of Taser “hits”, I can knowledgeably speak about the technology.
Taser sells several devices to the “civilian” market and at least two different units to law enforcement agencies. The “civilian” Tasers are slightly less powerful, have a shorter range, and cycle differently than the LE versions. The civilian Tasers (named the C-2 and X-26C) work fairly well against violent threats. The LE versions (X-2 and X-26) work better.
A Taser is different technology than a stun gun. For those unfamiliar with the product, the Taser fires two darts which are attached by thin wires to the Taser unit. The darts travel 10-25 feet (depending on unit and cartridge) and then stick into the skin or clothing of the criminal you shoot. An electrical current is delivered through the wires which causes all of the skeletal muscles (not the heart or smooth muscles in the digestive tract) to contract. The muscular contractions continue multiple times every second and generally cause the person shot to fall to the ground and lose voluntary motor control.
This is different technology than used by a stun gun (which requires direct contact and only causes pain). Having been hit with several different stun guns and every Taser device made, I can attest that the Taser is much more effective.
It doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes the darts miss, are caught in clothing, or don’t separate enough to adequately incapacitate a criminal. That’s why cops are taught to deploy the Taser in a life threatening situation only when they have another officer present to provide “lethal force cover” with a firearm if the Taser fails. The Taser has been somewhat controversial in that several hundred people have died after being “Tased” by police in the last 10 years. None of the deaths has been directly attributed to the Taser, but the correlation remains. Most of the research conducted on the device has concluded that it is safe and effective.
I don’t think that having a Taser in school is the ultimate solution to school violence. If I was facing a school shooter with a gun, I would much prefer to have my firearm for protection. With that said, if the choice is between being armed with a Taser and being unarmed, I’ll choose the Taser every time.
In a direct, face-to-face confrontation with a school shooter, a teacher armed with a Taser is likely to lose. But that doesn’t mean that a Taser is useless. Most school shooters are very distracted. They are moving quickly and looking for victims to kill. It would be entirely possible that school staff could move in from behind the shooter and take him down with the Taser without being shot.
The Taser also provides an option for barricaded teachers in a lockdown situation. Having a teacher positioned to ambush a shooter with a Taser if he breaches the locked door is a much better option than having a bunch of elementary school students throwing books as a sole means of defense.
We must also remember that school violence isn’t limited to firearms. Take a look at the recent events in China where a deranged man stabbed 22 school children. A Taser may be very useful in a rampaging knife or impact weapon attack.
It’s no secret that I advocate having armed security in schools as the most effective deterrent and response to school violence. I don’t personally believe that it makes a difference whether those armed protectors are cops, soldiers, teachers, or parent volunteers. As long as they have been properly trained and are mentally prepared to respond, I think it’s probably the most effective option available. Better mental health treatment, enhanced education for school staff, and better lockdown procedures are also crucial if we want to stop the shooter. No single intervention is likely to be effective.
I also recognize that all of these solutions are both costly and politically polarizing. It’s unrealistic to expect that every school district can reasonably implement my suggestions. If armed security is rejected for any reason, I think that the Taser is an option that should be considered. If you were placed in the unfortunate position of having to defend a bunch of children from a murderous killer, I’d bet you would much rather use a Taser than your fingernails. I applaud Taser for making that option available for school staff.