So it’s official. Taser guns can and do kill. Today a joint Queensland Criminal Justice Commission and Queensland Police review into the death of 39-year-old Antonio Galeano, who was shot 28 times by police with a Taser gun and who subsequently died of a heart attack, confirms what the critics of Taser guns have said all along — that these are lethal weapons and that their use should be strictly controlled or banned.

According to The Australian this morning, the CJC/Police review notes that the “possibility of Taser use causing or contributing to death is possible and cannot be ruled out”. Such a finding is not earth-shattering in itself; Amnesty International released a report in December last year that linked almost 350 deaths in the US to the use of Taser guns, but it is the first official statement in any Australian jurisdiction about the lethal capacity of Taser guns.

Taser guns are used more often than the media and law enforcement agencies report. They are, for example, used in prison systems around Australia. I am personally aware of their use in the Tasmanian prison system, and they are also used in Western Australian prisons.

The UN Committee Against Torture, in a statement in November 2007, said:  “The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use.”

In 1989 Australia became a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture and in July this year the Rudd government signed the Optional Protocol that allows for UN inspections of prisons and detention centres. Attorney-General Robert McClelland is under pressure now to create a crime of torture to ensure Australian compliance with the convention. If he does so, might the use of Taser guns by law enforcement and prison officials be outlawed?

There is an urgent need for the Rudd government to take national leadership on the issue of Taser guns. At the moment each state and territory has different rules, prisons are a black hole and people are dying or suffering long-term injury as a result of this weapon being too readily available to too many.