Chances are you’re already familiar with stun guns. Those intimidating little black boxes that, with the flick of a switch, display viciously arcing electrical current between the shiny chrome electrodes on the front.
But what exactly is a stun gun and how does it work?
A stun gun is classified as a contact-distance electroshock weapon, a device that uses a short duration high voltage but low amperage electrical discharge to inflict pain and potentially disrupt conscious muscular control in the target.
And you’ve seen these things used before, even if it was only on TV: jab the bad guy with the business end switched on and, hopefully, they go down flopping like a fish out of water.
In an ideal world, that is exactly what will happen, but practically speaking, that’s the best possible outcome and somewhat unlikely.
But, there’s a lot more you’ll want to know about stun guns so keep reading and I’ll tell you all about them.
Stun Guns are Not Tasers
To clear up one common misconception before we go any further, you should know that stun guns are not tasers, and vice versa, even though these terms are used willy-nilly by the uninitiated to refer to either category of device.
Without getting too far off on a tangent, tasers fire probes out of the front to a given distance, and then transmit the current through the trailing wires to the target.
Stun guns, on the other hand, only work at contact distance when pressed into the target.
Big difference, and now you know!
Stun Guns Inflict Pain and, Potentially, Muscular Disruption Using Electricity
The basis of a stun gun as a defensive device is they will inflict severe pain and, with a powerful model and correct application, muscular disruption on the target when the target is touched by the activated device.
They accomplished this with electricity, specifically with high voltage, low amperage electricity.
To do this, stun guns need a power source, typically a large and energy-dense battery whether or not it is rechargeable or disposable.
The current is activated and sent to the electrodes at the front of the device by an activation switch which may be momentary or constant on depending on the make and model of the device.
Stun Guns Only Work at Contact Distance
Stun guns are close-range devices. They are very close-range devices.
We’re talking bad breath-distance, here! Unless the stun gun takes the form of something with reach like a baton or club, they rarely extend very far past the user’s hand.
Accordingly, the user must literally be able to reach out and touch the assailant, and likewise the assailant will be able to reach out and touch them.
This lack of range is the chief shortcoming of the stun gun as a concept for a defensive implement.
Depending on the Model, a Stun Gun Has Only an Activation Button and Maybe a Safety
Stun guns are very simple devices. Any given stun gun is only going to consist of a power pack, the electrodes, the casing holding everything together and the activation switch that will supply electricity to the electrodes completing the circuit.
Some devices might have a safety switch or sliding cover that will prevent inadvertent activation without a deliberate input from the user.
And that’s really all there is to them, whatever shape, size, form factor, and advertiser promises might be made concerning the effectiveness of the unit.
A few models might have something like a built-in flashlight or a strobe for added utility or, supposedly, increased effectiveness but these are the exception and not the rule.
When Activated, Stun Guns Emit Highly Conspicuous Arcing
So, when you turn on a stun gun, what happens? You’ll see and hear what happens in the form of electrical arcing at the front of the device between the electrodes.
This takes the form of a blue-white or purplish arc of crackling electricity in its raw form.
You’ll definitely know that the power is flowing in the functioning device when this display is visible, and so will everyone else in the area.
The Arc Means a Stun Gun Might Be a Good Visual or Audible Deterrent
One of the advertised and purported benefits of the stun gun is that crackling arc that you, and the assailant, can see when the device is turned on.
It’s definitely intimidating, and everyone instinctively understands the hazards of electricity- especially electricity that you can now see and hear! With a little bit of luck, an assailant will perhaps think the better of whatever nefarious deed they were about to commit and tuck tail.
It will also, hopefully, give the user a much-needed psychological boost if they have to go hands-on with a bad guy.
It should be noted that, despite the ferocious appearance, the current of a stun gun doesn’t work out or leap to the target.
Again, stun guns are only contact distance defensive options.
Most Stun Guns Will Continuously Apply Current Until Switched Off
If the stun gun must be used against an attacker, as long as it’s switched on and as long as it has power it will continue to shock the target when it is in contact with them.
Instantly, this will cause intense pain. After a few seconds, the pain will be unbearable and, if the stun gun produces enough voltage, it might start to cause localized muscular disruption.
This will take away voluntary control over the affected muscle groups from the target, and can potentially deaden a limb temporarily or cause someone to crumple.
However, concerning stun guns these effects are not typical or reliable, and most of the time, stun guns work to deter an attacker simply by inflicting significant pain.
How Long Must a Stun Gun Be Applied to Guarantee Effectiveness?
For starters, there is no such thing as a guarantee in a self-defense situation.
Practically speaking, it is difficult to say because there is a huge variety of stun guns out on the market with greatly differing advertised output in terms of voltage and amperage.
Many cheaper stun guns flagrantly lie about the actual effectiveness of the unit.
Broadly, you can expect an application of a stun gun for less than a second to merely inflict substantial pain.
If you are able to hold the electrodes on the same part of the body for two to three seconds, and if you have a powerful high-quality stun gun, you can expect it to start disrupting the muscles and the local nervous system.
What is the Best Place to Target with a Stun Gun?
Because stun guns typically get results by the infliction of pain, targeting more sensitive parts of the body typically means that the assailant will feel more pain and, hopefully, decide to give up.
For this reason, you should target your stun gun to sensitive areas of the body like the deltoid, the upper shoulder on the back, the neck, and directly below or at the bottom of the rib cage on any side of the torso.
Can a Stun Gun User Be Shocked if the Target Grabs Them?
No, not generally. Because the stun gun basically wants to pass the current between the two electrodes at the front (electricity likes to take the path of least resistance) you will not be shocked by your own stun gun if you jab an attacker with it that is grabbing you or holding on to you in some other way.
Of course, there are exceptions and it is possible you could be shocked if you for instance shock the hand of the attacker that is grabbing your other arm.
Assuming you are jabbing them in the torso, you will not be shocked.
Can Stun Guns Kill?
Yes, they can. Although they are highly unlikely to, stun guns are properly classified as less-lethal weapons, not as less-than-lethal weapons or non-lethal weapons as is commonly reported.
Although the voltages are very high, stun guns are designed with low amperage meaning they’re highly unlikely to inflict any permanent injury or cause significant disruption of the nervous system that could say affect the heart or breathing of the target.
On the other hand, stress, unintended injury, pre-existing conditions, intoxication and other factors can contribute to a fatal outcome for someone that gets jabbed with a stun gun.
Nonetheless, always remember that stun guns aren’t toys, and using one in self-defense is still a significant use of force situation that you will have to account for legally and ethically!
Never, ever use your stun gun on someone or threaten someone with one unless you are in legitimate fear of injury, great bodily harm, or death.
Could a Stun Gun Set Someone on Fire?
Yes! If someone is soaked in a flammable liquid, something like gasoline, alcohol, or anything else the high-intensity electrical discharge created by a stun gun will readily serve as the source of ignition.
This is something to keep in mind not only for your own defense when it comes to articulating why you decided to use force, but also so that you don’t maybe go up in flames with them if they are already too close.
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.