When you think of an electrical weapon that gives your assailant a disabling zap, what’s the first word that comes to mind? If you answered stun gun or taser, that’s absolutely correct.
But, did you know that there’s a difference between the two terms and it is not merely one of branding?
Stun guns and tasers can both fall under the umbrella category of electromuscular disruption devices, but after that they vary greatly in capabilities and function.
These are differences you’ll want to know, so keep reading and I’ll tell you all about the differences between stun guns and tasers.
The biggest and most obvious difference between stun guns and tasers is their range.
Stun guns are those boxy little devices that you switch on and they project a very visible and very intimidating bright arc of electricity between the electrodes on the front of the device.
Tasers are not as spectacular, as they fire out a pair of probes with trailing wires through the front, and invisibly but audibly shock the target if they connect and stick.
Practically speaking, this means that you must be literally at contact distance with an assailant to hit them with a stun gun.
A stun gun has virtually no range or reach advantage, and even most pocket knives offer you more range than a typical stun gun.
Compare this with a taser which can give you 15 feet, 20 feet, or even further standoff distance.
When it comes to keeping yourself safe and staying out of arms reach with someone who wants to hurt or kill you, that is a huge advantage in favor of the taser.
2. Number of Uses
The number of uses, or you might say the reusability, of tasers and stun guns is also a night and day difference.
Stun guns can apply electricity as long as their power pack lasts, so every time you switch them on or depress the trigger it will activate and hopefully shock the target.
You can turn it off, turn it back on again, try again if you miss or if it was ineffective, and so forth.
This isn’t the case for tasers, which get a single shot to do the job, with a caveat.
When you pull the trigger on a taser, the cartridge at the front of the device will discharge the probes using compressed gas and then they will either connect and function normally, or they will not.
If you miss, or if one of the probes fails to connect, or if one of the trailing wires is fouled or broken, you do not get a follow-up shot unless you manually switch out the cartridge at the front of the device.
Yes, some of the most expensive taser models offer backup shot capability, meaning you’ll get two tries to dart an attacker.
Yes, you can use a taser as a stun gun (contact stun) if the cartridge is removed from the front of the device. But these are edge cases.
Ultimately, the advantages of a taser are typically limited to one shot per cartridge, and after that you’ll need to fiddle with the device to reload it or to prepare it for contact stun use.
It might sound like a small thing, and I guess it is, but Taser is actually a trademark, a brand name.
That’s the line of electromuscular disruption devices offered by Axon Enterprise, Inc..
Naturally, the word taser has come to be used generically to mean any such device that fires electrical probes, for sometimes used to refer to electric defensive weapons generally.
A stun gun, to the best of my knowledge, has always been generic and covers a broad category of such devices sold by countless manufacturers over the decades.
And, as with “taser,” stun gun is sometimes used to refer to this broad category of devices generally, whether or not they have probes.
When it comes to sheer availability, you’ll be happy to know that these electric defensive weapons are available in pretty much every state.
That being said, the over-the-counter availability can be very different.
I routinely find stun guns for sale and gas stations, department stores, sporting goods stores, and everywhere in between but you won’t typically find genuine tasers for sale like that.
Tasers are sold by an upstanding and reputable company, and are most commonly available from gun shops.
In some states, you’ll need to go through a background check process not too dissimilar to what you would endure for getting a firearm.
A few states have even more odious regulations, and mandate training courses and more before you can lay hands on a taser.
If you need such a tool for self-defense right away, the red tape surrounding the acquisition of a taser in your state might be a roadblock.
Conversely, if you have the cash, you can walk out with a stun gun right away pretty much anywhere.
5. Price Tag
There’s a huge, huge difference and the price tag between tasers and stun guns.
Stun guns have an enormous variation and overall quality, design, workmanship and quality control.
I’ve seen them go as cheap for $20 or $30, for the most questionable models, and upwards of $150 for ones that look like they might actually do what they say on the box.
Compare this with tasers and get ready for sticker shock, because they are entirely different devices engineered to a different standard.
At press time, the entry-level taser offered on the company’s website, the Pulse, has an MSRP right at $400.
Note that there’s a cheaper offering, the StrikeLight 2, that is merely a stun gun and integrated flashlight; no probes.
The high-end model, the Taser 7 CQ, comes in at an eye-watering $1,600. That is the cost of a very nice handgun or rifle!
Now, this isn’t to say that the price tag isn’t worth it, or that you are better off and we’ll get the same performance from a much cheaper stun gun.
The point is only that you were going to pay a hefty premium for the range that a taser can provide, regardless of other performance metrics.
6. Shock Duration
The shock duration of stun guns and tasers is also a highly variable metric between them.
As mentioned above, there are countless models on the market known and unknown, and most of them work on a simple on or off principle.
You have them turned on, and if they have power, as long as the electrodes are in contact with the assailant, they’re going to be taking the ride.
Compare this with a taser which typically applies electricity for a set duration every time the trigger or the activation switch is actuated.
For civilian models, most will apply a 30-second shock which will, if they work as intended, completely disable the assailant with locked-up muscles for the duration.
Police models and the aforementioned high-end civilian model apply the charge in 5-second intervals, allowing the user to judiciously apply electricity until the assailant gives up or is compliant.
But there is some variability even here…
Some stun guns might have more sophisticated circuitry which will apply electricity for a given duration every time the switch is clicked, for instance.
Whether this is good or bad, or suitable for your purposes, depends entirely on the model of device you own.
And then there’s the raw effectiveness to consider.
Even though they seem basically identical outside of the fact that one fires probes and the other does not, in my professional experience I have noticed a huge variation and the effectiveness of stun guns and tasers.
I’ve talked to lots of associates of mine that have been both tased and zapped with a stun gun, and there is no comparison.
Stun guns hurt, and some of the better ones hurt like hell, but aside from hurting, they don’t seem to inflict any genuine debilitation or cause incapacitation.
Yes, it’s entirely possible you might stick an attacker with a stun gun and it might hurt bad enough that they decide to reverse out of the situation as quickly as possible.
Then again, they might just get pissed and keep coming in which case pain deterrence alone is not going to help you.
Tasers, on the other hand, while fairly fallible compared to the spectacular successes we see floating around on the internet, do work as advertised when they do indeed work.
Most folks who get hit effectively with the probes of a taser subsequently lock up and fall over.
Assuming the probes don’t become dislodged on contact with the unforgiving ground, a civilian taser would incapacitate a target and give you time to get away.
I know it isn’t a popular opinion and there are some people that really, really like the idea of a stun gun, but they just don’t do a lot of good compared to a taser in actual use studies.
If I was going to bank on one of these devices, I’m going with the taser.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.