What is a Stun Gun and What Does it Do?
Stun guns are considered one of the safest options for self-defense. While there are many non-lethal options to consider—including pepper spray, batons, alarms, and even knives—stun guns are the ones that pack the most punch to your opponent without putting them at serious risk of bodily harm.
A stun gun is a handheld device that produces a strong electric shock to use against an attacker. Either electrically charged or battery-powered, they send a blast of electricity into an assailant via the two metal prongs at the end of the stun gun. When the prongs come in contact with your attacker’s skin (see below about skin contact vs. clothing), the electricity shoots through their body, causing a great deal of pain and causing them to lose muscle control—thereby giving you ample time to escape.
The electric shock is intended to be non-lethal, but it will be incapacitating. The low amperage of the electricity shouldn’t cause any long-term damage to their bodies, but the high voltage—anywhere from 50,000 to 1 million volts—will immobilize and stun them.
The electricity acts on the neural and muscular systems, causing muscles to contract rapidly, resulting in massive energy loss that renders the attacker’s muscles unable to function properly. Depending on the strength of the shock, that can last anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes. It takes their bodies time to replenish the drained muscles enough to be able to move. The sudden drain of energy also leaves them disorientated, off balance, and confused, all of which combines to make them far more passive and easier for you, their intended victim, to escape.
With just a short contact—as little as ¼ of a second—the electricity will do its job and knock them off balance. Leave it in contact for a second or two, and they’ll experience intense pain, muscle spasms, and feel dazed. More than three seconds, and they’ll be seriously affected: loss of balance, disorientation, loss of muscle control, mental confusion, and intense pain. Essentially, the longer you leave the metal prongs in contact with their body, the longer it’ll take them to recover and the more intense the effects.
How to Use a Stun Gun
You may feel nervous when using a stun gun for the first time, but don’t be! It’s perfectly safe for you, the user, and it’s designed to only harm those who intend you harm.
Step 1: Hold it right. Make sure the prongs are pointed away from you, and place your finger on the trigger button—typically set into the side of the stun gun.
Step 2: Have it handy. If you’re going down a dark alley or an empty parking lot, keep your hand on your stun gun in your purse or pocket. You don’t want to waste valuable seconds rummaging to find your stun gun, so make sure you’ve got it in hand (though out of sight is always better, so potential attackers don’t know you have it).
Step 3: Pick a large muscle group. Chest, abdomen, back, legs, the groin, and the legs are all good areas to target, as the larger muscle groups require more energy to power and thus drain your body of energy more quickly. The larger groups are also larger targets that will be easier to aim for. However, use the electricity anywhere you can reach.
Step 4: Press and hold. Press the button quickly and hold it against your attacker’s skin or clothing for as long as necessary. Remember: 1-2 seconds will throw them off-balance, break their hold on you, and give you a moment to run; 3-5 seconds will send them to the ground and render them immobile for longer.
Step 5: Run and call the police. If your attacker is down hard (after long seconds of stunning), you may have enough time to snap a picture of their face and clothing. However, unless you’re VERY certain you have a few seconds to spare, use your time to run away and back to safety as fast as you can. Once you’re safe, call the police and give them a detailed description of your assailant. You may not have to worry about being attacked again (though you never know), but you can help protect someone else by calling the police.
It’s as simple as that!
Are Stun Guns Legal?
In 42 states, stun guns are perfectly legal for people to carry. While each state (and many specific cities) have their own laws regarding the possession, carrying, and use of stun guns and TASERs, most of the states do permit them. However, they are ONLY to be used in self-defense. If there is evidence that you used the stun gun for any other purpose, you may be criminally liable.
Six states do not permit the use of stun guns or TASERs at all:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
In Illinois, you must provide a valid copy of a Firearms or Ammunition ID Card in order to carry or use a stun gun or TASER. In Wisconsin, if you can provide a valid copy of your Concealed Carry Weapon permit, you are also permitted to own and use a stun gun or TASER.
Certain cities have banned the use of stun guns for any non-law enforcement personnel:
- Annapolis, Baltimore, Baltimore County in Maryland
- Washington D.C.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Denison/Crawford County, Iowa
Outside of the U.S., you need to be very careful to research the laws before bringing your stun gun or TASER. There are a number of countries that restrict the use of stun guns, including:
- The UK
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
Before you go out and buy a stunning device, make sure to do research to find out whether or not they’re legal in your city, county, and state.
If you plan on traveling with your stun gun, the TSA does permit non-lethal self-defense weapons like pepper spray, stun guns, and self-defense sprays. However, they must be stowed in your checked luggage, and are never permitted in your carry-on luggage.
Are Stun Guns Dangerous?
As with any weapon, even one used for self-defense, there are certain risks associated with using stun guns and TASERs. The truth is that you’re using the stun gun to pump electricity through an attacker’s body, which means they are at risk of injuries or health problems as a result of the sudden electric shock. While stun devices are designed with low amperage as a means of reducing the chance of injury, there is still a chance, however small.
According to Medical News Today, there is a chance that stun guns and TASERs can actually stop the heart, causing sudden cardiac arrest. Scientists from Indiana University’s School of Medicine discovered that applying an electric shock directly to the chest could affect the heartbeat, causing the heart to suddenly stop beating.
Their research involved eight case studies of adult males that had lost consciousness after being stunned, which proved fatal in seven of the cases. The autopsies discovered that the electric shock can cause ventricular tachycardia, leading to ventricular fibrillation and stopping normal blood flow.
The research did make it clear that the stunned males all had structural heart disease when they were shocked, which was the primary contributor to their deaths. However, the fact that so many people in the world today are at risk for heart disease means you need to be very careful how you use the stun gun, where you stun your assailant, and how long you maintain the stunning for.
An ABC article shared the results of a Canadian study, which discovered that stun guns may cause brain injuries, including seizures, confusion, and loss of consciousness. This is typically only the case when the electric shock is applied to the upper back, neck, or head.
If you’re going to stun an assailant, try your best to apply the electric shock below the chest: to their stomach, sides, groin, or thighs. That way, there is the lowest risk of causing them serious, long-term, potentially life-threatening injuries. Given that you are in a potentially life-threatening situation of your own, you may have only a split second to decide where to stun them.
Stun Gun Battery Life
Stun guns are all battery-powered, which means you’re dependent on the quality of the battery for your protection. Typically, they don’t operate on standard batteries—AA, AAA, or D—but on a built-in rechargeable unit.
Note: Some of the cheaper models will use standard batteries, but they won’t have enough power to be worth your purchase.
The average stun gun battery will last for about 50 seconds of sustained electricity production. That means you get 50 one-second pulses, 25 two-second pulses, or 10 five-second pulses. However, better-quality stun guns can last upwards of 100 seconds before needing to be charged.
Battery recharges will depend on the quality of the unit. You can expect anywhere from 50 to 200 recharges before you have to replace the rechargeable unit.
Sadly, most stun guns are built without a “battery life indicator”, which means your only way of knowing if the stun gun is low on energy is by testing it. You’ll hear and see the current weakening when the battery is running out of juice.
Charge time will vary from device to device, but the average is around 6 to 8 hours for proper recharging. If you don’t use the stun gun, you should get up to 5 or 10 years of use before the battery starts to lose power on its own. If you do use the stun gun, you should consider charging it at least once every two months.
Stun Gun vs. TASER
Stunning devices include both TASERs and stun guns, but you’ll find that despite their similarities (a personal handheld device capable of producing a lot of electricity), there are a number of important differences between the two:
Stun Gun – A stun gun is handheld and intended to be used in close proximity. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they are more cost-effective than a TASER. They are also safer—there is no risk the electricity will be passed back to you, so you can use them with greater security. They also come in a broader range of designs, everything from a baton to knuckle grips to flashlights.
TASER – TASERs are designed to be used at close range as well as at a distance. They shoot two metal probes up to 15 feet, capable of penetrating up to 2 inches of clothing to make contact with the skin. Once the probes are in contact with your attacker’s skin, they work just like the prongs of a stun gun, sending electricity shooting through their bodies.
In addition to the long-range capacity, they also are designed to be used in close quarters, with a direct contact back-up in case you miss your shot. However, if both barbs don’t hit their target, the TASER won’t work. There is also a risk that you accidentally get shocked if you touch the wires attached to the prongs. And, TASERs are also significantly more expensive than stun guns.
Do Stun Guns Work Through Clothing?
When you are being attacked, it’s very unlikely that your assailant will be bare-chested or have a lot of skin exposed (unless you’re at a beach). Most people will have to try to shock an attacker through their clothing.
The question is, will the electricity even pass through the clothing? Or, are stun guns only going to work when they touch skin?
For the stun gun or TASER to have maximum effect, it’s always best for the metal prongs to be in full contact with bare skin. That means it’s best to hit a part of their body that is exposed: arms, neck, etc.
However, even if they are clothed, you’ll find the stun gun’s prongs are designed in such a way that they poke through clothing. The barbs of a TASER are actually designed to penetrate up to 2 inches of clothing, and stun gun prongs are set at just the right angle to poke through clothing and come in contact with skin.
The stun gun will NOT work through a heavy coat, jacket, or sweater, and it may only work on denim jeans if you can ensure the prongs poke through properly. The good news is that it will work through lightweight fabric—think T-shirt material or a light windbreaker.
Your Guide to Buying a Stun Gun
When buying a stun gun, there are a few factors to take into account:
- Size – Larger stun guns can pack more power and have a larger battery pack, so they get longer battery life. However, they are also harder to carry concealed, and you may not be able to maneuver them as quickly or easily. Smaller or miniature stun guns are easier to carry and move around, but won’t offer the same battery life or power.
- Voltage – Higher voltage means more stunning power to bring down an assailant more quickly. Low-end stun guns operate at around 50,000 volts, while high-end models will get up to 20 million volts.
- Battery Life – As we mentioned above, your stun gun is dependent on the strength and lifespan of your battery. Always consider the battery life when shopping for a stun gun!
- Features – Very useful features to consider include: a disable pin, which is secured to your wrist strap and is pulled out of the stun gun if an assailant pulls it away, preventing it from being used on you; flashlights, which offer you an added measure of security; personal alarm, which sounds when you are in danger and can draw attention.
- Design – While many people opt for the simple, standard handheld design (rectangular solid), there are many options to choose from. You can buy flashlights with built-in stun guns, knuckle-grip stun guns that are easy to carry concealed, stun batons, and even knuckle duster-style devices that allow you to literally punch your enemy and shock them. Consider the various design options before buying.
Stun Gun Safety Tips
- Read the directions carefully before using!
- Always keep the prongs pointed away from your body.
- Know where your stun gun’s safety switch is, as it will help prevent accidental discharge.
- Charge your stun gun regularly.
- Avoid overcharging the battery—only leave it on the charging base for the recommended time.
- If you’re test-firing the stun gun, only use it for one second at a time.
- Practice using the on-off and safety buttons so you know how to use the stun gun when the time comes to protect yourself.
- Remember that misuse of a stun gun can lead to criminal charges being brought against you.