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Stun Guns vs. Tasers: What’s the Difference?

Stun Guns vs. Tasers: What’s the Difference?

Protecting yourself is crucial, which is why self-defense tools are so important. There are a variety of self-defense devices to choose from, and given their ability to immobilize or incapacitate threats, Tasers and stun guns are a popular choice. While these two device names are often used interchangeably, they are two different tools entirely, with different functions, applications, and regulations. To clear up the confusion between the two, we will delve into the differences between stun guns vs Tasers, and help you decide which self-defense device is best suited for keeping yourself safe and sound.

The History of Tasers and Stun Guns


The concept of the TASER dates back to 1966 when a US patent by Kunio Shimizu titled "Arrest device" was filed. It described an electrical discharge gun with a projectile connected to a wire with a pair of electrode needles for skin attachment. However, the modern TASER's development began with Jack Cover, a NASA researcher, in 1969. By 1974, Cover had completed the device, naming it TASER, an acronym derived from the book "Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle."

In 1993, Rick Smith and his brother Thomas founded the original company, Taser, and collaborated with Cover to develop a "non-firearm TASER electronic control device.” Over the years, several models and advancements were introduced, including the Taser X26 in 2003 and the X3 in 2009. In 2017, Taser rebranded itself as Axon although the term “Taser” is still a registered trademark.

Stun Guns

Stun guns, unlike TASERs, do not shoot out prongs but require direct contact with the target to deliver an electric shock. The concept of using electricity as a means of self-defense dates back to the early 20th century. The earliest stun guns were baton-like devices that required physical contact to deliver a shock. They were primarily used by law enforcement and security personnel.

The 1980s saw a surge in the popularity of stun guns as personal self-defense tools. Technological advancements allowed for the creation of smaller, more portable devices that could be easily carried by individuals. These devices used high-voltage, low-amperage electrical charges to temporarily incapacitate an assailant.

Over the years, stun guns have evolved in design and functionality. Modern stun guns come in various shapes and sizes, from baton-like devices to those resembling cell phones or flashlights. Some models even incorporate additional features like flashlights, sirens, or pepper spray.

Are Tasers and Stun Guns the Same?

While all Tasers are stun guns, not all stun guns are Tasers. Both can deliver an electric shock to an attacker, but the manner in which they do it isn’t the same. A stun gun is a small, handheld self-defense tool that must make direct contact with the target to deliver a charge and cause temporary paralysis and pain. On the other hand, a Taser offers the advantage of distance. Unlike the direct-contact requirement of stun guns, a Taser is equipped with small dart-like probes that are fired from the device. These probes are designed to penetrate clothing and embed themselves into the skin or attach to the surface. Once embedded or attached, the Taser releases electrical pulses that disrupt the target's nervous system, incapacitating them. This mechanism allows the user to neutralize a threat from several feet away, providing a safer distance between them and a potential attacker. The ability of the Taser to function from a distance, combined with the dramatic visual and auditory effects of the arcing electricity, often serves as a powerful deterrent even before the probes make contact. While both Tasers and stun guns are designed for self-defense through electric shock, stun guns require direct contact for effectiveness, whereas Tasers can incapacitate from a distance with their projectile probes.

Should I Get a Taser or a Stun Gun for Self Defense?

The best self-defense tool depends on what kind of defense you want. If you’re wanting to keep distance between yourself and your attacker, a Taser is the ideal option. They have a significant range, and reloading cartridges can be done quickly. While having a projectile device can seem daunting in the event that you are grabbed from behind, some models function as a standard stun gun as well, making it easy to hit a target if they get too close and into a difficult position. A stun gun has a smaller range, or has to make direct contact to work. Their rechargeability makes them ideal for multiple uses in a risky situation, and they provide the close-range defense you need at that moment. When it comes to stun guns vs. Tasers, one isn’t better than the other. Your self-defense needs will determine which one is more fitting for you.

The Functions

To go further in-depth into what Tasers and stun guns are, it’s important to look at their functions. Both emit an electric shock in different ways. When it comes to Tasers, some models are typically bigger than stun guns, though models like the Taser Pulse are small and compact. They hold barbed probes on the end, which fire outward when the device is discharged. These prongs can launch up to 15 feet, and will embed into the attacker’s clothing or skin. They use a high-voltage pulse to override the attacker’s nervous system and leave them incapacitated. As long as the prongs are making proper contact, the assailant is left immobile. Stun guns have exposed small prongs at the end of the device, or contact points that are hidden, which emit a high-voltage, low-amperage shock. When the device is activated after making direct contact with the attacker, the shock briefly paralyzes and causes pain to the attacker’s neuromuscular system. Like the Taser, continued contact will leave an attacker immobile, but it leaves you with a brief opening to escape.

Considerations for Safety

Tasers and stun guns have similar purposes in dealing electrical shocks to an attacker, but the safety mechanisms can differ between the two. In the debate of stun guns vs. Tasers, stun guns tend to have less of a risk of causing long-term damage to a person, as the shock they deliver is brief and focused on the point of contact. They do, however, cause pain, muscle spasms, and can potentially injure both you and your assailant.

With their long-distance range, Tasers have the potential to be safer, due to their long distance range, which can keep you out of reach of an attacker. They can hold the risk of causing serious injury to a target, though. Underlying medical issues can be a factor in the electrical pulse causing more harm than intended.

Whether it’s a stun gun or a Taser, it’s important to understand that they are a means of self defense, and should be used only when you are in a dangerous situation. The potential of serious injury, to you or the attacker, through accidental discharge, prolonged contact, or detrimental health conditions means that these devices should be used responsibly.

Rules and Regulations

Both stun guns and Tasers have varying degrees of rules and regulations, depending on where you live, but both fall under the same rules, as they are both non-lethal self defense tools. Some states will require you to be above the age of 16 or 18, or to have a permit. In others, like Hawaii and Rhode Island, stun guns and Tasers are illegal and reserved for law enforcement and security only. If you’re looking to purchase either device, consider the laws and regulations within your state and jurisdiction first and foremost. For more information refer to our guide on Taser laws by state.

Advantages and Disadvantages

When it comes to self-defense tools, both TASERs and Stun Guns have their unique strengths and weaknesses. TASERs are renowned for their effectiveness, ensuring that the target is always disabled. They come with an integrated stun gun, offering dual modes of defense, and coming equipped already with a built-in laser ensuring easy and accurate targeting. However, they come with a few drawbacks. Both the TASER unit and its ammo cartridges can be more costly than typical stun guns. Additionally, they might not be as effective against agile or evasive targets, such as attackers who are running or grabbing you from behind. There's also a risk associated with TASERs; they can be lethal, especially if the target has underlying health conditions.

On the other hand, Stun Guns are a more budget-friendly self-defense option. Many models are designed to be compact, wearable, or even resemble everyday items like flashlights or phones, ensuring discretion. Plus, they don't require projectile ammo and most models are rechargeable. However, their main drawback is that they require direct contact with the assailant, which can be riskier than disarming a threat at a distance.


Feature/Aspect TASER's Stun Guns
Effectiveness Renowned for ensuring the target is nearly always disabled. Requires direct contact, but effective when used properly.
Modes of Defense Come with an integrated stun gun, offering dual modes of defense Direct contact only
Targeting Equipped with a built-in laser for easy and accurate targeting No build-in targeting system
Design & Discretion Standard design Many models are compact, wearable, or resemble everyday items like flashlights or phones, ensuring discretion
Ammo & Recharging Requires ammo cartridges Doesn't require projectile ammo.  Most models are rechargeable
Cost Both the TASER unit and its ammo cartridges can be more costly than typical stun guns More budget-friendly
Effectiveness Against Might not be as effective against agile target, such as attackers that run around you. Requires direct contact with with assailant, which can be riskier than disarming a threat at a distance.
Risk Can be lethal, especially if the target has underlying health conditions. Requires close proximity to the assailant, increasing user risk.


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