photo: Jennuine Captures via Flickr

Some issues just aren’t debatable. Like cell phone use or text-messaging while driving. Yet states and municipalities continue to argue about what laws, if any, should govern these practices, despite the many stories we’ve all heard about car accidents, many fatal, that have happened because the driver was talking on a cell phone or was texting while at the wheel.

Using a stun gun (an electric shock device that deliveries an average 50,000 volts to the muscular system causing temporary paralysis) against a child is another such issue that should be nondebatable. According to Lawyers and Settlements website 211 U.S. children, some as young as 6, were zapped by stun guns between 2002 and 2005. A quick Google search shows that this number continues to grow even though children—two 14-year-olds in Chicago; two 16-year-olds, and one 15 year-old in Michigan; to name a few—have died as a result of being stunned.

There are some cases in which these devices are used which are more understandable than others, situations where a young person poses a real threat to others or themselves.

In other cases, however, you are left wondering about the adults involved, their judgments and their motivations.

Take for the example the mother who called the Ozark police because her daughter was screaming and crying, refusing to do what her mother told her to do. When an officer arrived the mother told him to use his stun gun on her. He did. Then there’s the Arkansas cop who used his stun gun on a 10-year-old girl so that he could transport her from her mother’s house to a youth shelter. Or the case of the Wayne County Michigan police being called in to an assistant principal’s office to subdue a 14-year-old who was kicking and screaming because he wouldn’t get off his Game Boy. The stun gun stopped him. (An alarming number of states now allow police patrolling schools, including elementary schools, to carry stun guns.) And in Brooklyn a 19-year-old was jolted over ten times by police.

Many of us have probably been confronted with a screaming, kicking child, either their own or someone else’s, who just can’t seem to be gotten under control. It’s a terrible place to be. In dealing with that kid—little child or teenager— the amount of rage, frustration, fear, and impotence that gets kicked up and flows through the adult in that situation could easily power a 50,000 volt stun gun. That’s why parents and caregivers physically abuse children, or in some cases why they call in the police to subdue their out-of-control child with stun guns, outlets for all that pent up fury and frustration.

But the police are even less tolerant of those high voltage emotions; and they have no tolerance for what they may see as failure, their failure: After all they were called in to take control of a potentially explosive situation, one, it appears, that they can’t control. Afraid of looking bad, of having their authority questioned, they use whatever force will subdue, and stun guns subdue.  . . .

It doesn’t help that, as urgent an issue as this is, very few municipalities or police departments have given their officers clear guidelines about using these electric shock weapons against children. When there are policies, officers are merely told to take into consideration the child’s age, size, and weight. What they are unable to evaluate, however, is the young person’s medical condition, a very crucial factor in surviving 50,000 volts.

Likewise, very few child welfare groups have studied the issue or provided guidelines. It’s a silence that is disturbing, especially considering the growing use of these weapons on youth. The National Institute of Justice has suggested that stun guns be avoided with small children (it did not define “small”); and the American College of Emergency Physicians stated that the use of stun guns against “smaller individuals” should be undertaken “judiciously.” Not much help for cops in the heat of confrontation. Equally absent is research on the long term effects on a shocked child’s physical development, and on his or her emotional development.

Supporters of the stun gun argue that it is better than the alternatives: guns, dogs, batons, pepper spray.  But like the stun gun, dogs, batons and pepper spray were once also considered alternatives to fire arms.

Not too long ago pepper spray was seen as the latest benign way to control someone. Better that than a bullet. But as is often the case, pepper spray has become overused and abused. Westchester County jail in New York State where I taught kids locked up in this adult facility has just been cited by the Department of Justice for excessive use of pepper spray on individual inmates, fired at point-blank-range in amounts allotted for crowd control. And so the stun gun goes the way of all these other alternatives especially when it comes to children.

We have stricter laws about the use of car seats for children than we do for the use of stun guns, even though we now know that a child, zapped by one of these guns, by adults who are supposedly there to protect them, can die.

Originally posted on Kids in the System