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Self-Defense Item 101: What Is a Stun Gun?

what is a stun gun

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Stun guns are contact weapons that use electrical energy to inflict pain and incapacitate an opponent. They are part of the family of electroshock weapons, which refers to all weapons that use electricity to render someone immobile.

If you’re considering a stun gun for personal protection, it is essential to understand how they function and how they differ from other electroshock weapons. The legality and regulation of electroshock weapons may also vary depending on your local jurisdiction.

Protect Yourself and Your Family with an Effective Stun Gun

What Is a Stun Gun and How Does It Work?

Stun guns are an excellent alternative to firearms, giving people access to an extra personal defense and de-escalation tool.

Most stun guns function using the same basic principle: a trigger or a button and a set of electrodes, through which electricity flows upon pressing the trigger, creating bright electrical arcs, and a distinctive, loud buzzing noise. Often the noise and appearance of a stun gun are enough to intimidate opponents and deter an attack.

holding high voltage stun gun

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As contact weapons, the electrodes must touch the target for several seconds to be effective. The electrical discharge shocks and immobilizes the target, inflicting debilitating pain and buying you enough time to escape from the threat.

Stun guns and their larger relatives, stun batons, trace their origins back to the cattle prod. They possess the same basic construction, design, and usage. Many models also double as flashlights, making them an essential tactical tool.

A typical stun gun delivers high voltage but low amperage, producing anywhere between 30,000 to several million volts, but no more than three to five milliamps.

When choosing a stun gun, it is essential to understand exactly what voltage and amperage do. If we use a plumbing analogy comparing electrical flow to water flow, amperage is equivalent to the quantity of water flowing through a pipe. In contrast, voltage is comparable to the pressure pushing the water through the pipe.

More amperage means more electricity flowing through the target, causing more pain and overloading the target’s nervous system more effectively.

More voltage generates a brighter and louder electric arc, increasing the stun gun’s effectiveness through clothing and reducing the exposure time, so fewer seconds are needed to apply the stun gun to the target until achieving the desired effect.

Stun guns differ from other types of electroshock weapons, such as conducted energy weapons (CEWs). A CEW or shooting stun gun is a ranged weapon, often carried by law enforcement officers and security agents, designed to accept cartridges allowing it to fire a pair of electrodes at the intended target at distances of 15 to 35 feet. Most CEWs can also function as stun guns by removing the cartridge and pressing the trigger.

holding high voltage stun gun

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Legality of Stun Guns

At the federal level, the 2016 Supreme Court case, Caetano v. Massachusetts, built upon the famous 2008 case DC v. Heller by stating the protection extended to arms “not in existence at the time of the founding.”

Although the decision did not explicitly strike the ban down—and, indeed, a few states still impose bans on stun guns—it strongly suggested stun guns are constitutionally protected under the Second Amendment.

The ATF does not consider electroshock weapons to be firearms, as long as they do not employ the energy of an explosion, such as gunpowder, to propel a projectile. As contact weapons, typical stun guns fall outside of that definition, so they are not regulated as firearms and are generally legal to purchase, own, and carry by any adult in the United States.

However, laws and regulations at the state and local levels may differ. Consult a list of stun gun laws by state to determine whether they are regulated or banned in your area.

Safety Concerns

Although stun guns are certainly less likely than firearms to inflict death or grievous bodily harm, they are not non-lethal. The term “non-lethal” is misleading, suggesting stun guns cannot kill.

All electroshock weapons can induce medical issues and potentially become lethal weapons, depending on the target and the circumstances of their use. Their lethality significantly increases when used on targets suffering from mental or cardiovascular medical conditions.

In 2005, a Chicago teenager sustained ventricular fibrillation after a stun gun discharge from a Chicago police officer. Although the teenager has since made a complete recovery, the paramedics on the scene had to administer CPR and doses of epinephrine, atropine, and lidocaine to save his life.

The Bottom Line

As with other weapons, carrying a stun gun for personal protection is a serious responsibility. You should only use a stun gun in a self-defense situation and only if there is no other way to avoid or escape the danger.

At The Home Security Superstore, we are dedicated to providing our customers with the best self-defense, personal protection, and home security equipment for the lowest prices possible.

If you have questions about any of our products, call us at 1-800-616-5305.   


Does my stun gun have an expiration date?

Stun guns typically have a shelf life of about five years, but it’s important you check the label and user manual. If your self-defense weapon has expired, it’s time you ordered a new one. 

Should I invest in a stun gun or stun baton?

When it comes to choosing a self-defense item, what matters most is your comfortability and safety. Choose whichever option that will protect you most effectively in any scenario. 

Do I need a license to own a stun gun?

Since a stun gun is not considered a firearm, you do not need a permit to own a stun gun in most states, but you should check with your local laws and regulations before investing in one. 

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