A Stunning Success
To the SNP Spring Conference, where a motion on Tasers awaits the attention of delegates. For those of you who have never typed "taser abuse" into Youtube these are pistol-shaped electro-shock weapons. They fire two metal probes that can penetrate up to two inches of clothing and become lodged in the skin. Ouch ! But then comes the fun bit – a 50,00-volt electric shock overrides the neurological system, contracts all the muscles in the body, and can result in burn marks and people losing control of their bodily functions. Now you’re not physically able to say “ouch” let alone “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. <p>
Little wonder then, that Tasers are legally defined in the UK as weapons of torture. That makes it illegal for UK companies to manufacture, export or import Tasers – with one exception. They can be imported into the UK for use by police forces and held by specially-trained firearms officers. <p>
I'm glad to say that SNP delegates were not debating whether the Scottish Government should use electo-shock weapons against dissidents, as happens in China for example. No, the debate was about whether or not Tasers should ever be distributed more widely, to less well trained police officers. At the heart of this debate is a simple question about the role of these potentially lethal weapons. <p>
One view, the one I subscribe to, is that Tasers can perform a useful role in disarming dangerous individuals – in other words a less lethal alternative to using a gun. That seems like a good deal to me and the small number of occasions where they have been used in Scotland have not raised particular alarm. <p>
The other view is that Tasers can provide a quick and simple way to deal with just about anyone who is being an inconvenience. This attitude seems to be widely held amongst law enforcers in the USA, Canada and elsewhere and has led to instances of police officers shocking sleeping suspects to wake them, using Tasers on suspects to avoid giving chase, examples of children being shocked by the weapons and of police officers inflicting multiple shocks on individuals. Recently a popular weblink doing the rounds showed a young man in the USA being Tasered when he was pinned to the ground by several officers. His crime? Refusing to be quiet (indeed he was yelling "don't taze me, don't taze me" as they did it). <p>
At the moment, only specially trained firearms officers in Scotland can use Tasers. In England and Wales, however, a 12 month trial is taking place, which has seen officers with little training on how to use them, being issued with Tasers. <p>
Amnesty International has concerns about the safety of Tasers, and their record of misuse where they are widely deployed. We are therefore calling for an assurance from the Scottish Government that Tasers will not be more widely deployed. You can take action here. The good news is that SNP delegates voted to support this position. That doesn't mean that the Scottish Government automatically takes the same stance, but as the SNP forms the Scottish Government, it does make it more likely.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.