If you’ve ever been curious about the effectiveness of stun guns, you’re not alone. But you might also be surprised to know how many of your friends carry this non-lethal self-defense tool. They are easy to get, affordable, and currently legal to own just about everywhere in the U.S.
As of January 2019, stun guns are illegal in only three states and restricted in five others (meaning you need a license in those states). In any unrestricted state, you can go to just about any gun show and find a vendor selling stun guns, pepper sprays, personal alarms, and self-defense items.
If you do a Google search, you’ll get dozens of seller links in the blink of an eye. More gun shops are beginning to stock them as well. But there’s nothing quite like getting your hands on one in person and hearing that jolting SNAP of the arc when you squeeze the trigger.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the different types, legality, features, and how to use them.
Stun Gun vs. Taser
There’s a difference between the stun gun and the Taser. Taser is a bit of a misnomer because the latter refers to Taser International—the company that manufactures a specific brand. It has become a common name for a device that could fire the electrodes out of the device, making it effective for targets up to 15 feet away.
Both fall into the category of electroshock devices, but a NASA scientist first developed the Taser in 1969. It originally used gunpowder to fire the electrodes.
The main difference between the two is distance. The Taser device fires the electrodes, but they remain attached by wires attached to the battery. The Taser device doesn’t require the weapon to make direct contact with the target. Police-grade Tasers can fire up to 30 feet away, whereas civilian models are typically good only up to 15 feet.
The other big difference is pulsation. The stun gun has a trigger or switch that must be continuously pressed. The Taser device has a pulsating effect where it delivers the shock repeatedly and repeats the cycle for up to 30 seconds.
The Taser device disrupts the central nervous system, while the stun gun is designed to cause localized pain.
For civilians, stun guns are the more popular choice—mainly because of the price. Small, handheld stun guns are available starting at around $20, while Tasers are often upwards of $1,000 to start.
Are Stun Guns Legal?
If you’re in law enforcement, it’s not even a question. Stun guns and Tasers are legal in all 50 states. However, if you are a civilian, it’s a different story in some places (here’s a list of stun gun laws and their restrictions in various U.S. states and counties).
The list has changed dramatically in the last several years in favor of making them legal to carry in most places. They are legal in 47 states but not in Hawaii, New York, and Rhode Island.
In addition, some states, like Illinois, require a concealed-carry permit or firearms license to own a stun gun. The other restricted states include Connecticut, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Certain metropolitan areas also either have a restriction or prohibit them entirely. Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, MD, have banned them entirely.
In any case, because the laws are always subject to change, it’s a good idea to check with local law enforcement in your area before purchasing a stun gun or carrying one openly.
And before you get on a plane, check the restrictions on where you’re going before you board. Electroshock devices are generally allowed in checked baggage but not carry-on.
Stun Gun Features and Types
There is an impressive variety of stun guns available on the market (including wholesale stun guns available through authorized dealers). Many of them come as a stun gun and flashlight combo. Some of the more popular types are:
Batons: These come in many sizes, shapes, and materials. Many steel batons have a knobby end, useful for breaking glass or as a club to be used against an attacker. The flashlight on some models is multi-mode: a flashlight, sometimes in three brightness levels, an SOS mode, and a strobe mode to momentarily confuse the attacker.
Other batons have electrode strips along the sides if the attacker attempts to take it away from you.
Disguised: These are meant to deceive your attacker, increasing the element of surprise. Among the types masquerading as common objects: Lipstick, cell phones, keychains and keyfobs, and flashlights.
A favorite among older people is the stun cane. Disguised as an ordinary walking cane, this model does more than act like a cattle prod. Many are equipped with additional electrodes around the lower 12-18 inches. If an attacker tries to grab the cane, a quick squeeze of the trigger will change his mind.
An important feature to look for is a disable pin. These are usually attached to a wrist strap. The idea is to have the strap around your wrist, and if your attacker manages to take your stun gun away, the disable pin attached to your wrist strap disables the device. At best, all your attacker has now is a non-shocking flashlight.
Voltage and Current
There is significant debate about the voltage, amperage, and other ratings of stun guns. The reality is that most of the debate is irrelevant. Here’s what you need to know.
Many sources say that the manufacturers greatly exaggerate the voltage of stun guns because there’s no effective way to measure them. This is true to a degree. But it can be calculated based on the battery source’s output capacity and the coil’s number of turns.
The most common analogy used in the electrical field to understand electricity is to compare it to a water system. Voltage is like the amount of water pressure the pump can deliver. Think of it as “pushing power.”
Current is represented by water flow and how much of it is. Pressure alone does nothing until water flows. How much water flows depends on how much pressure is pushing it. In the same way, the voltage does nothing until the current flows. It’s the flowing water that does the work, and it’s the current that does the work to shock an attacker.
A third important factor in this example is the size of the hose. With a higher pressure (smaller hose), you’ll have less water, but it can squirt farther from the end of the hose. In a stun gun, the higher voltage (pressure) allows electricity to jump farther, but you won’t have as much current (flow) because of the higher resistance (smaller hose).
So, what does it all mean? The voltage/current discussion can be boiled down in a very simplistic way to this. A higher voltage may give an arc the ability to jump farther or to go through more clothing than a lower voltage. The current that flows into the attacker matters, and it’s regulated to be no more than 5 mA (5/1000ths of one Ampere).
A sustained current over 5 mA flowing through a human can be lethal, but many other factors are at play. Every person has different resistance, and some have a higher tolerance than others.
How to Use a Stun Gun
Again, opinions may vary on the best way to use a stun gun for self-defense, but most experts will agree on a few key points.
- First things first. If your attacker has a gun and wants your money, give it to him. Real guns trump stun guns—always.
- Aim for bare skin when possible. If the assailant has on a jacket, go for the neck, ears, face, or any bare skin you can find.
- Press, squeeze, repeat. Drive the weapon into the attacker while squeezing the trigger. Stay engaged and be prepared to move with them.
- Maintain the shock for 4-5 seconds before releasing the trigger. Let up for only a split second and repeat.
- Use disorientation. Disorientation begins at around 4 to 5 seconds for most people. Use that time to trip, gouge, scream, etc., while looking for a way out.
- If you have a baton-type stun gun, you can use that in between shocks on soft targets like the face and neck.
Do You Need to Protect Yourself?
The sound and flashing arc of electroshock weapons can strongly deter some attackers. But remember that a stun gun is not a complete self-defense system. It should be combined with other common-sense ways to stay safe.
For additional survival tips, check out our articles on survival tools.