Monthly Archives: October 2009

Quote Of The Day

We all know youths who have changed for the better. When I was a lawyer in Cody, the court sometimes appointed me to represent juvenile offenders, and parents who knew of my history often asked for help with their children. I once handled the case of an 18-year-old who stole a car and drove it to Seattle. I later hired him as chief of staff for my Senate office, and he turned out to be one of the most able of the people I put in that job.

I was lucky that the bullets I stole from a hardware store as a teenager and fired from my .22-caliber rifle never struck anyone. I was fortunate that the fires I set never hurt anyone. I heard my wake-up call and listened — and I went on to have many opportunities to serve my country and my community.

When a young person is sent “up the river,” we need to remember that all rivers can change course.

Former Senator Alan Simpson (R., Wy) on the upcoming Supreme Court arguments on the Constitutionality of life imprisonment for youths convicted of crimes that don’t involve death

Risk and Compliance

For the first time today, TASER international has acknowledged that the use of their electro-compliance device has a higher risk to the health of the restrainee than they have advertised

Taser: Don’t shoot stun gun at chest

First time company has suggested there is any risk from its stun guns

AP – updated 8:23 a.m. PT, Wed., Oct . 21, 2009

PHOENIX – Taser International is advising police agencies across the nation not to shoot its stun guns at a suspect’s chest.

The Arizona-based company says such action poses a risk — albeit extremely low — of an “adverse cardiac event.”

The advisory was issued in an Oct. 12 training bulletin. It marks the first time that Taser has suggested there is any risk of a cardiac arrest related to the use of its 50,000-volt stun guns, The Arizona Republic reported.
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Taser officials said Tuesday the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. They said the advisory means only that law-enforcement agencies can avoid controversy if their officers aim at areas other than the chest.

Critics called it a stunning reversal for the company.

We have all of course seen or heard of such incidents as the intransigent elderly woman who was TASED a few months ago in Texas (and many other similar incidents involving the elderly or emotionally disturbed); and most famously of course, of Rodney King, who continued resisting arrest after multiple TASER hits (which is why the officers began beating him. What started as an attempt to physically restrain a violent and intoxicated offender, turned into an emotional free for all).

Less frequently, we hear of someone experiencing cardiac or respiratory arrest, seizures, or nervous system damage from the use of the TASER.

Civil liberties activists have claimed that TASERs have directly caused the death of at least 350 people this decade; and that unjustified use of the TASER device is rampant, with thousands of effective cases of police brutality every year.

I take those claims with a hefty grain of salt.

Unfortunately, it IS clear that there have been a not insignificant number of deaths, either directly or indirectly caused by TASER usage; and that the risks of TASER usage are in fact much higher than law enforcement agencies and individual officers have been trained, or led to believe.

Because of these risks, those same civil liberties activists have called for the TASER device to be banned.

For years, TASER international has utterly denied the possibility of any elevated risk of death or serious injury involved in the use of the TASER.

Today, for the first time, the company acknowledged those risks; but in response suggested something I believe is ridiculous, counterproductive, and may even be harmful. In order to avoid liability, they are advising law enforcement agencies to train their officers to avoid shooting restrainees in the chest…

This is patently ridiculous.

First, the TASER is most effective when shot into the chest. The TASER device works by disrupting neuromuscular co-ordination, and hits outside of center mass are far less effective at causing systemic disruption. Other areas simply do not have the concentrations of nerve and muscle junctions that allow for effective immobilization.

When targeting peripheral areas of the body, effective immobilization may be limited to the localized area of the hit, or to one side of the body. Even hits to the abdomen or pelvis are far less effective in immobilization, (especially on larger restrainees) though they are exceptionally painful.

It is entirely possible (though very difficult) to fight through a TASER hit to a peripheral area, whereas it is nearly impossible to do so with a chest hit (unless you are physically huge, or very high).

It is also standard tactical doctrine for all projectile weapons training to aim for center mass; and it’s damn near impossible to hit a limb in a stressful situation. You don’t want to train officers to shoot for other targets under stress, it will just cause more problems.

Even after the department training officers and lawyers dutifully pass on the message from TASER; officers will, RIGHTLY, ignore this warning.

If you’re going to restrict TASER usage to targeting peripheral areas of the body, you might as well ban their use entirely.

I believe banning TASERs would be a huge mistake, as would changing the targeting area for the device; but clearly something needs to change.

The problem with TASERs isn’t their risks; it’s their doctrine for use.

I’ve been a law enforcement trainer myself, and I’ve been through various less-lethal force training courses, including TASERs. I’ve been TASED several times, and have had several other electro-compliance devices demonstrated on me (to great effect).

Officers are trained to view TASERs as, and to use them as, a less harmful compliance option than direct physical contact; with less risk to both the officer, and the restrainee. The TASER is viewed as a less risky, and less harmful option in the continuum of force.

While the less risk to the officer part is true, the risk of great harm to the restrainee is very high. Much higher than that of chemical compliance techniques, and as high as PROPERLY EXECUTED physical restraint and compliance techniques

Improperly executed physical restraint and compliance techniques, unfortunately present nearly as high a risk of fatality as a shooting; and with much greater risk to the officer. Without extensive training, continuing practice, and exceptional strength and physical fitness; it is very difficult for officers to maintain proper physical restraint and compliance techniques. Even with proper technique, the risk to the officer remains much higher than non-contact restraint and compliance techniques.

It is these issues, which in fact prompted much of the development of less-lethal force technologies; including chemical restraints, and electro-compliance devices like the TASER.

So where does this leave us? Where does this leave law enforcement officers; who are simply looking for a way to effectively restrain subjects, with less risk to the officer, and the subject.

This improper perception of risk has created an environment; especially in smaller law enforcement organizations, with lower training budgets and more permissive attitudes towards the continuum of force; where TASER use is not considered serious.

In general, many officers would prefer to use the TASER than other means of enforcing physical compliance; because it presents the least risk to them, and the most compliant restrainee.

Combined this false perception of low risk, with a more permissive attitude, and the undoubted advantages to the officer; and it is understandable why in many jurisdictions it seems that taser usage is out of control, and suspects are being TASEd almost casually.

The use of the TASER should be understood to be (and officers should be trained to this effect) 1/2 step below the use of a firearm in the continuum of force. Officers should be trained in a more realistic assessment of the risks and dangers of the TASER (and other electro-compliance devices).

Additionally, TASER use in the line of duty, should be reviewed with the same diligence as the discharge of a firearm.

I don’t want to take the TASER away from officers, as it is a useful and excellent tool that in general DOES increase the safety of both the officer, and the restrainee.

What I want, is for officers, and agencies, to understand, and take the risks and impact of TASER usage more seriously.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Memo To Libertarians: Unite Or Die


Over at United Liberty, Crystal Gross argues that Libertarians (and libertarians) need to back off from their doctrinaire attitudes:

[M]y day-to-day experience with card-carrying members of the Libertarian Party indicates a considerably different perspective on the libertarian philosophy: “Live and let live … or else.”

Why would members of a “Party Of Principle” with the aforementioned philosophy exclude other people from their little club because they disagree on a few matters? Why is a platform more important than a fresh idea? Why is youthful intellectual curiosity discouraged among a group of people who profess to want YOU to THINK?

The more “radical” Libertarians — the biggest L’s among us — play a major role in the advancement of the Party in the future. Unfortunately, the readiness and enthusiasm with which they attack their own people distracts them from constructive efforts which only they are capable of carrying out. Like attacking politicians and bringing about actual change.


It’s high-time Radical Libertarians backed off. Otherwise, you’re going to have a lot of room in that tent.

Of course, as some of us know all too well, purging of the insufficiently orthodox is something that’s as common to libertarians as the sun coming up in the morning.

But, Crystal has a point here.

Considering that libertarians are such an extreme political minority, it seems incredibly stupid to kick people out of the movement for being insufficiently orthodox on, say, the Non-Aggression pledge, when there are so many other battles where we could unite with others — including, in some cases, Republicans and Democrats — who agree with us on specific issues.

It’s largely the reason that the Libertarian Party, nearly 40 years after it’s founding is a non-entity in American politics, and why the most effective libertarian organizations are groups like The Cato Institute who see the value in reaching out beyond the relatively small echo chamber of libertarian debating societies.

There’s room for the radicals and the moderates in the fight for liberty, and if we don’t unite we’re destined to lose

Is An Individual Health Insurance Mandate Constitutional ?

Over at Findlaw, Cornell University Law Professor Michael Dorf criticizes the libertarian argument that a government requirement that every citizen purchase health insurance is unconstitutional:

A federal statute that was already in effect in 1994 provides that “all citizens shall have . . . an obligation to serve as jurors when summoned for that purpose.” To be sure, the mechanisms used to assemble a pool of prospective jurors enable some people to slip through the cracks, but then, that surely would also be true of the individual mandate to obtain health insurance. No law can be perfectly enforced. The important point here is that jury duty, like draft registration, serves as a precedent for the imposition by the federal government of an affirmative duty on citizens.

The difference, of course, between a jury duty mandate or the draft and a law requiring every citizen to purchase health insurance is that both of these obligations of citizens predate the drafting of the Constitution and therefore it’s simply illogical to say that they are barred by the Constitution today, or that the Framer’s contemplated that in allowing the state to compel people to serve on juries, the were opening the door to a whole host of mandates that, if enforced would make freedom a mockery.

Since there doesn’t seem to be much precedent in Federal law, though, Dorf quickly moves on to state law:

Consider that states may impose an affirmative obligation of vaccination on residents. Even in an era when the Supreme Court was otherwise vigorously enforcing libertarian constitutional principles, in 1905, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the Court rejected a constitutional challenge to mandatory vaccination.If the government interest in public health is sufficient to overcome libertarian objections to injections into the very bodies of citizens, then surely the public health interest–which is, at bottom, what is at stake in the health insurance reform bills–should suffice to require Americans to buy health insurance or else pay a tax.

Again, it’s clear that Dorf makes the mistake here of finding an exception and turning into a rule. The important thing to note about Jacobson is that it dealt with mandatory vaccination of children for smallpox which was, until defeated by aggressive vaccination, a highly contagious, virulent disease with a high rate of mortality. Which there is a long argument on both sides of the mandatory vaccination issue, the argument in favor is certainly stronger when it involves combating the spread of a disease that poses such a severe risk to public health when balanced against the individual liberty interest in not getting vaccinated. It’s by no means clear, for example, that the result would be the same if the disease in question were something far less threatening to public health, like the seasonal flu.

Unless Dorf can make the argument that lack of health insurance poses an imminent threat to public health on a par with a smallpox epidemic, the Jacobson precedent would seem inapplicable.

The question of the Constitutionality of a health insurance mandate was addressed in a Washington Post Op-Ed by lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey and their argument bears repeating:

The Constitution assigns only limited, enumerated powers to Congress and none, including the power to regulate interstate commerce or to impose taxes, would support a federal mandate requiring anyone who is otherwise without health insurance to buy it.

Although the Supreme Court has interpreted Congress’s commerce power expansively, this type of mandate would not pass muster even under the most aggressive commerce clause cases. In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the court upheld a federal law regulating the national wheat markets. The law was drawn so broadly that wheat grown for consumption on individual farms also was regulated. Even though this rule reached purely local (rather than interstate) activity, the court reasoned that the consumption of homegrown wheat by individual farms would, in the aggregate, have a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce, and so was within Congress’s reach.

The court reaffirmed this rationale in 2005 in Gonzales v. Raich, when it validated Congress’s authority to regulate the home cultivation of marijuana for personal use. In doing so, however, the justices emphasized that — as in the wheat case — “the activities regulated by the [Controlled Substances Act] are quintessentially economic.” That simply would not be true with regard to an individual health insurance mandate.

The otherwise uninsured would be required to buy coverage, not because they were even tangentially engaged in the “production, distribution or consumption of commodities,” but for no other reason than that people without health insurance exist. The federal government does not have the power to regulate Americans simply because they are there. Significantly, in two key cases, United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000), the Supreme Court specifically rejected the proposition that the commerce clause allowed Congress to regulate noneconomic activities merely because, through a chain of causal effects, they might have an economic impact. These decisions reflect judicial recognition that the commerce clause is not infinitely elastic and that, by enumerating its powers, the framers denied Congress the type of general police power that is freely exercised by the states.

That’s the question that Dorf fails to answer — where in Article I Section 8 is Congress authorized to pass this mandate ?

The fact that he doesn’t address it suggests that there isn’t really an answer in the affirmative.

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