Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Less-Than-Lethal Weapon for Every Home?

Today's NY Times has an op ed piece that ponders, in the context of the US Supreme Court's recent decision against Washington DC's handgun ban, the legal implications of current and increasing availabilities of less-than-lethal weapons. To be frank, I'm not interested in writing about the author's argument.

I only have one reason for my disinterest and it's this: If law enforcement's widespread application of tasers in recent years has shown us anything, it's that less-than-lethal-weaponry isn't necessarily less-than-lethal. When StarTrek-level stun technology is ten to fifteen years in sight, I'll be more interested in an editorial like this one.

Instead of mulling over the potentially diminishing relevance of a Supreme Court decision, why not consider how the decision will change the application of law in communities likely impacted. Better yet, why not take up the legal aspects of current police usage of not-so-less-than-lethal technology? Right now, police actually are overusing tasers, and in some countries might be using them illegally. Why not examine this and any potential parallels or orthogonality to US law?

I'm not trying to insult the author (who has some pretty amazing credentials BTW), or saying that his topic isn't interesting. To be sure, the piece has some comments that aren't to be missed. I'm with one commenter; I'll take my large barking dog over a gun, taser, or dizzying-flashlight any day.

But there are more immediate aspects of the emergence of so-called less-than-lethal technologies that need wide public discussion (
e.g., overuse, fatalities, legal wrangling with medical examiners, disproportionate use against minorities, etc.). A newspaper column could be a great starting point for such discourse.

Reading this editorial reminded me of being in a college humanities class filled with children who've known only privilege debating the morality of things like tough drug laws, public housing, and family planning. It's a legal and philosophical exercise that is very far from application. Yet, there it is in the prestigious op ed section of the NY Times. For me, that's more an indictment of the Times than of the author.

PostBlog: I just noticed that Excited Delirium smartly addresses this editorial's blind faith in the effectiveness of tasers. Definitely worth a click-through.