Ocean City Eyes Taser Ban

OCEAN CITY – Fearing that electronic Tasers would start showing up on the Boardwalk or throughout the resort, the City Council moved forward a new ordinance prohibiting the sale or possession of such devices.

Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year that would allow the sale of electronic devices, such as Tasers, to anyone over the age of 18, who took the necessary steps in acquiring the device.

Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said that to acquire a Taser, all people must do is watch a short video provided by the manufacturer, citing the process is far easier and quicker than it is to acquire a handgun.

“The way Taser (the manufacturing company) is presenting it is that the charge would enable someone to incapacitate someone and have 30-seconds to escape,” said DiPino, “but the problem I have with that, is that it is more likely to be used against citizens and police officers.”

DiPino said that the bill allows for municipalities or counties to pass stricter guidelines concerning possession citing that the new ordinance created by City Solicitor Guy Ayres was similar to ordinances that have passed in or are on the table in Howard and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City.

“These weapons are dangerous enough in the hands of police,” said Ayres, “as there’s a number of lawsuits in the country involving police using these, but if you allow the general public to have access to these and have them sold in any store, that could create a huge problem as people have died from these things before.”

The council voted to move the ordinance forward to first reading next Monday, but wanted to discuss the matter further on the police commission level.

The tripping point in the conversation was over possession of the devices, although everyone seemed to agree that the sale of these devices on the island was a bad idea.

“I don’t want them sold on the Boardwalk, or at individual retail stores, and though I’m an NRA member, and I believe in protecting your home, I have a bit of a problem with possession of these Tasers in public,” said Councilman Lloyd Martin.

Councilman Doug Cymek, who owns a private detective company and has been permitted by the Maryland State Police to carry a handgun for 37 years, argued that when in the right hands, the Tasers are useful.

“When someone draws a weapon, whether it’s a Taser or a gun, it’s a very serious decision, said Cymek, “but if the Maryland State Police has gone through the process to approve someone to carry that weapon, I think the person should have the prerogative to decide what they want to carry.”

Ayres said that the lack of knowledge about these devices make them just as dangerous as being in the wrong hands.

“A Taser gives people the false sense that you can just zap someone with one of these things, and the person will be fine,” said Ayres, “but in reality, these things cause a lot of damage and have killed people.”

Councilman Joe Hall thought that possession of the Tasers might be valuable to business owners who might choose to carry the devices in the late-night hours after their business closes.

“My idea is that store owners who are leaving at night carrying large sums of money might want to carry a Taser rather than a handgun. I think there’s a proper utilization of these,” said Hall.

Yet, Councilwoman Mary Knight seemed to have a problem with anyone in Ocean City having access to these devices.

“I believe in the second amendment, but this really concerns me, because I know that if I have a gun and shoot you in the leg, you won’t die, but if I have a Taser and someone has a pacemaker or open heart surgery and I tase them, it could kill them,” said Knight. “So I’m against anyone having them, especially when our police officers don’t even have them.”

Ayres said that allowing possession in the resort wouldn’t stop people from buying the weapons outside the resort and bringing them into town. He did note, however, that if the council wanted to allow a special exception for a group of people, such as Maryland State Police permit holding gun owners, that it could be added to the ordinance.

The law that would allow the sale and possession of these weapons goes into effect on July 1, and the council decided to move the ordinance forward, in hopes of getting something set in stone prior to the aforementioned date.

“These things are getting to a price point where they could be an impulse buy,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic, “I saw one of the Internet the other day for $199 with a laser sight on it, and I’ve seen them for $249, too, and I’m sure it won’t be long before a company comes along and sells them for less.”

DiPino said that the devices can be useful to law enforcement, but noted that extensive training needs to take place before utilization of the devices, citing the fact that there is a vigorous process in order to be deemed worthy or able to carry a gun, but there is no such process for Taser possession.

“If I held up the personal device, you might think that it is a cell phone, as the personal ones look much different from the ones used by law enforcement that resemble a handgun,” she said.

Although DiPino is an advocate of her department getting access to a few of the devices, she is not in favor of the entire fleet of police officers carrying Tasers.

“Sometimes, just the threat of being tased is enough to calm a situation,” said DiPino.