When it comes to self-defense, guns, knives, and pepper spray get most of the attention. But Tasers are an effective option with unique capabilities, one that has been overlooked by civilians for quite a while.
With increased awareness of their effectiveness and a growingly permissive legal attitude towards them in most states, they are seeing a huge groundswell of interest among defensively-minded civilians.
Though taser laws are hardly consistent across the land, you’ll still see similar legal concepts pop up again and again.
If you have any interest in owning a taser for self-defense, you’ll need to know what these concepts are. Keep reading and I’ll give you an overview of the taser laws you can expect to see in the US.
Are Tasers Legal Throughout the US?
Very nearly. As of press time, 49 of 50 states allow civilians to possess and use tasers for self-defense in at least some capacity.
This makes them a viable option for defense in the home, at a place of business, and much of the time in any public place where a person has a legal, lawful right to be.
I’m in the process of writing about taser laws for each state, and will update the below table with links as they are getting published:
What States Don’t Allow Civilian Possession of Tasers?
Presently Rhode Island, and this is owing to a technicality of sorts. Rhode Island has laws on the books that utterly ban the possession of Tasers and similar weapons from civilian hands.
However, a federal court decision that took place in 2019 ruled that the state ban was totally unconstitutional.
But don’t celebrate yet; that Supreme Court decision itself was contested by the state government, and as of this article’s publishing, every single one of these statutes banning the possession of tasers by civilians is, ostensibly, still in effect and still enforceable if any local or state police wanted to push the issue.
Accordingly, the manufacturer of the most popular taser devices on the market will not ship them to the state and you generally don’t see them for sale even in places where firearms and other self-defense implements are sold.
Tasers Can Also Be Restricted at the Local Level
Something else to consider is that even though 49 of the 50 US states allow folks to buy, possess, and carry tasers in at least some capacity, the same cannot be said for every county and city in each of these otherwise permissive states.
That’s right: Local laws, of one kind or another, might contravene the state-level laws and in most cases will still absolutely apply to your possession or carry of the device!
Regrettably, most statewide preemption laws (meaning the state reserves the right to overrule municipal laws) concerning weapons don’t apply to tasers. Typically, they just apply to firearms and knives.
This means that if you live, work, or regularly travel through a county or city where tasers are banned or heavily restricted even the most permissive state laws aren’t really going to help you.
This is something you’ll have to investigate for yourself depending on where you live, so make sure to check out our state-by-state deep dive on taser laws here on Survival Sullivan.
Are Stun Guns and Tasers the Same Thing?
No, practically speaking. Stun guns and tasers are two types of weapons that fit broadly under the same umbrella category of electric weapons.
Stun guns have electrodes that transmit the electricity fixed to the front of the device, and in use, they are switched on and then jammed into an attacker directly.
Tasers, on the other hand, fire a pair of darts or probes that have wires trailing back to the launching unit. Electricity flows through these wires, between the probes, and then back to the unit completing the circuit and shocking the target.
Both use electricity to inflict pain and cause debilitation, but functionally they are quite different.
How are Tasers Defined in Law?
Further complicating matters is the fact that tasers do not have a unified definition from state to state…
Some states define “tasers” and “stun guns” under the umbrella term of stun gun.
Others have a definition that includes both tasers and stun guns alike, while still others use a generic term like electroshock weapon, electrical incapacitation device, or some other softened legalese for the definition that might apply to one, the other, both, or to any device capable of shocking a person in use as a weapon- whether or not it is designed to!
Most troubling, some states still don’t have a specific definition in their statutes for these devices at all! Once more, you’ll have to look this up for yourself but our exhaustive guide on the subject can help…
Is a Taser Legally Considered a Weapon?
Broadly, yes, but if you want to get into strict legal definitions, again, it depends on the state.
You might find tasers, stun guns, and related devices defined under statutes covering various kinds of weapons, or you might not. But I would remind all readers that anything can be used and found to be a weapon depending on the manner of its use.
Whether or not the device is explicitly legal in your possession, in the state, or in your municipality, if it is used to inflict harm, injury, great bodily injury or death on someone, it can legally be ruled a weapon and subject to all of the relevant statutes before the use of weapons.
It sounds pedantic, and it is, but I press the point because it’s critical that you understand that tasers are not toys. They are, in fact, weapons and should only be used accordingly.
How Old Do You Need to Be to Own a Taser?
Typically 18 or older, although there are quite a few states that allow underage people to own a taser with their parents’ permission, such as Florida. A few states mandate that you must be 21 years old or older in order to possess and carry a taser, Hawaii being one example.
This can make tasers an especially good option for folks who are too young to legally carry a firearm for self-defense or, in more restrictive areas, even a substantial knife.
Can People Be Prohibited from Owning a Firearm Own a Taser?
Typically not. In the vast majority of states, anyone who is prohibited from possessing a firearm for any reason, under state or federal law, is not allowed to possess a taser.
However, this is not the case everywhere. Some states might allow a person who has lost their rights to possess or carry a firearm for self-defense to possess a taser at their home or place of business legally.
However, this typically comes with other stipulations such as when the device is being transported to or from the home and place of business it must be securely encased.
Do You Need a Concealed Weapons Permit to Carry a Taser?
Sometimes, but not usually. For most states where tasers are legal, especially the states that are far more permissive with their interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, it is legal to carry a taser in public anywhere that you may legally, lawfully go with no permit required.
Note that much of the time this means that you can carry it concealed if you want to, but it pays to check the fine print of your state statutes before you commit. Concealing any weapon in an unlawful manner entails serious charges, so it’s not something you want to get wrong!
Do You Need to Undergo a Background Check to Buy a Taser?
Sometimes, though this is often a requirement of the state or sometimes required by the dealer of the taser device.
The most popular brand of taser on the market, sold by Axon, keeps a database of all legal buyers since the devices are serialized and discharge a type of tracking confetti that will help them identify unlawful users when coordinating with law enforcement.
Though a dealer may or may not require a background check to sell you the device, your personal info will be recorded and transmitted to the manufacturer at the very least. Note that some states mandate by law a background check and waiting period prior to acquiring a taser.
Is Training Required to Purchase, Own, or Carry a Taser?
Sometimes, but usually not. Hawaii is one infamous state that requires all prospective purchasers undergo both a background check and mandatory training in the use, operation and carry of a taser before it can legally be acquired in the first place.
This is definitely not the norm, and most states don’t require any kind of training whatsoever for either purchase or carry.
As always, I strongly recommend all prospective users of such devices seek out and undergo training voluntarily not only so you’ll be safer with your device but also so you’ll be better prepared to use it in defense of yourself or someone else when the chips are down.
Can Tasers Be Carried Places Where Other Weapons Can’t?
Often, yes. In many states tasers aren’t even properly categorized as weapons (unless used accordingly in an incident) or at least as weapons subject to the same restrictions that knives, guns, and so forth are.
This means it is probably completely legal for you to carry your taser into places that serve alcohol on premises or other kinds of private or public property where other weapons are restricted.
That being said, there are some places that your taser can never go and it’s always a bad idea to carry them into any government building like a courthouse or post office and similar areas.
Likewise, you cannot carry your taser into the restricted area of an airport or other installation beyond a security checkpoint, so don’t even try it!
Again, make sure you check out the relevant laws of your state in the table above covering taser laws for more details. That can at least tell you what to expect when it comes to restricted areas before you purchase and start carrying it…
When Can You Use a Taser on Someone?
The only time that you should use a Taser is in legitimate instances of self-defense. Specifically, when you or someone else are facing an imminent threat of injury or death because an assailant is using unlawful force against you.
Said another way, you should never, ever, use your taser as a prank, use it to settle an argument, use it because someone insulted you, or use it for any other purpose whatsoever outside of legitimate practice or training. That, or self-defense training; nothing else!
To the uninitiated, tasers are thought of as completely non-lethal devices but that just is not reality as we will learn in the very next section.
If You Use a Taser in Defense, is it Considered Deadly Force?
It can be, and the legal presumption concerning the level of force tasers produce depends somewhat on the laws of the state and legal precedents in that state.
Here’s what you need to know above everything else: a taser is not non-lethal.
A taser is less-lethal, a term meaning it is less likely to be lethal but not less-than-lethal. I know, it sounds like semantics again, but this is a crucially important distinction.
The fact of the matter is that people have died or suffered serious bodily injury because they were tased. Sometimes there were extenuating circumstances that contributed to their injury or death upon being tased, but other times there weren’t.
Anytime you zap someone with enough electricity that it can interfere with major muscle groups there exists a significant possibility of harm although the manufacturers of these devices will of course assure you that they are tiny.
Accordingly, when you deploy your taser against someone even under ideal circumstances there’s a non-zero chance that they could be killed or suffer crippling injury.
That is adequate under legal scrutiny for tasers to be considered deadly force, or at least be considered deadly force according to the outcome of the event.
What Kind of Attack Justifies the Use of a Taser?
Because of the dangerous nature of tasers, it is imperative that you only use your taser in self-defense when the level of force they produce is proportional to the unlawful force being used against you.
If someone insults you, pushes you, or is just harassing you, you had better think twice before you whip out that taser. If someone is punching or kicking you, or if you suspect you’ll be truly beaten within an inch of your life you can likely justify the use of the taser.
Of course, you can certainly justify tasing someone if they have any deadly weapon of any kind, be it a gun, club, knife, or something else.
I’ll leave you with this: whatever the state statutes might say about a taser and however they might classify them, tasing someone is always serious business and the responsibility for the outcome of its deployment will rest on you.
Make sure you buff up your self-defense IQ and that you learn how to handle yourself in a fight; that’s the only way a taser will be a good component of your self-defense strategy.
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.