A stungun (popularly also known as a Taser, the main maker of stunguns) is a pistol-type device that shoots a pair of wires tipped with small darts towards the target. The wires carry an electric charge; when the darts hit their target, a shock is delivered as the electric circuit is completed. The original stunguns developed by Taser used gunpowder to propel the darts, but because this delivery device resulted in placing the stungun within laws that regulate conventional firearms, Taser changed the delivery system to use compressed nitrogen instead. But as you will see, this does not mean that stunguns cannot still be regulated as a weapon. Stunguns thereafter became a consumer product, beginning in the 1990s.
How Do Stun Guns Work?
Stun guns deliver a shock to the target’s muscles, temporarily disabling him. They usually stop the target with one blow or delivery; they are easy to use, and do not require contact (their range is about fifteen feet). Fatalities resulting from stun gun use are very rare. It is generally acknowledged that these devices are "nonlethal" and are used primarily for self-defense.
Will Stunguns Replace Firearms?
Taser sees its product as part of a natural evolution of firearms, predicting that "at some point it's going to seem as archaic to shoot somebody with a gun to resolve a dispute as it is to use a samurai sword today. And that really is our mission." (Doug Klint, President and General Counsel, Taser International, Inc., San Francisco Daily Journal, March 6, 2014.) Another mission is to never settle lawsuits (in civil cases brought by people who claim the police used excessive force when firing their Taser, the company regularly gets sued as well). The company will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend a case that could have settled for a few thousand. The devices have been sold to over 17,000 police agencies in the United States.
Are Stun Guns Regulated as Heavily as Firearms?
The legality of owning and carrying a stun gun will depend on state law and, in many states, local ordinances as well. When looked at as a whole, however, it’s generally easier to own, carry, and use a firearm in the United States than it is to do the same with a stun gun, whose capacity to injure and kill is vastly less than that of a firearm. Why is this so?
The short answer is that there is no National Rifle Association for stun gun owners: No well-funded and politically powerful lobby protects the rights of stun gun owners to possess and use their devices; no one seriously uses the devices to hunt, and there are no emotional, historical, or familial arguments to be made in favor of stun gun owners’ rights (when was the last time you heard someone argue for the right to use his grandfather’s antique stun gun?). By contrast to many gun owners, stun gun owners and would-be owners tend to be relatively mild—they’re the people who want a defensive weapon only, not an offensive one; they may have moral qualms about using a deadly weapon, even in self-defense; and they may not want to take the chance that a gun, purchased only for self-defense, will fall into the wrong hands and result in a suicide or an accident. These folks do not have a lobby; consequently, legislative efforts to regulate stun guns do not result in public attention and hostility.
Owning, Using, and Carrying a Stungun
Some states and localities regulate stun guns directly, with laws and ordinances that explicitly refer to them by name. But in other states, these devices are covered under the states’ general laws on gun permits and open and concealed carry laws. These states regulate “weapons,” “defensive weapons,” “offensive weapons,” “deadly or dangerous weapons,” or “dangerous instruments.” It sometimes takes a decision by an appellate court, or an opinion by a state Attorney General, to settle whether a stun gun belongs within these various classifications.
Here are some of the ways that stungun ownership may be regulated, when the state has not directly legislated on the subject.
Weapons and defensive weapons. States whose regulations refer to “any weapon” will usually apply to stun guns.
Projectile devices. Some regulations apply to devices that fire a projectile device, which covers stun guns.
Death, serious injury, or extreme pain. Some statutes regulate devices that can cause these injuries. In many states that define dangerous weapons as causing extreme pain, stunguns will be included.
Weapons readily capable of causing death or serious injury. Stun guns rarely result in death or serious injury, but juries may find differently.
Weapons capable or readily capable of causing death. Again, though stunguns rarely cause death, some opinions of state attorneys general have concluded otherwise, and place stunguns within this category.
Weapons likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. In some states, stun guns are placed within this group, despite evidence to the contrary.
Unspecified dangerous weapons, deadly weapons, or offensive weapons. Many states place stunguns within these groups.
Permits for Stunguns? How to Find Out
As you have seen, whether you need a permit for a stun gun, and whether (and where) you may carry one (openly or concealed), will depend on state and local law, and often on how your state’s judges and attorney general have placed the stun gun within the scheme of regulated weapons. To make matters more complicated, scores of American cities have enacted their own ordinances.
Some resources on the Internet purport to provide comprehensive, 50-state answers to the question of permissible ownership and use. These sites are generally commercial operations that also sell the devices, and are at least careful to warn users not to rely on the simplified answers they provide.
You may, however, be able to answer this question by simply contacting your local law enforcement office, or by going online and accessing the state website run by the agency that administers gun permits. Begin by going to Gun Laws, and read the article on gun permits and open and concealed carry for your state. Often, you’ll see a link to the state agency’s website. Call or write that agency. Your question is a legitimate one and should be readily answerable by someone in the know.
Stun Gun Laws in Selected States
In California, most people may purchase, posses, or use a stun gun, and they do not have to obtain a permit. However, you may not purchase, possess, or use a stun gun if you are a convicted felon, someone convicted of an assault under federal or any state’s laws or the laws of any country, or have a prior conviction for misusing a stun gun under Cal. Pen. Code §244.5, or addicted to any narcotic drug.
|Florida||In Florida, most people may purchase, posses (openly or concealed), or use a stun gun for self defense without obtaining a permit. However, you may not purchase, possess, or use a stun gun if you are a convicted felon, or someone convicted of a juvenile crime that would have been a felony had it been committed by an adult; or someone younger than 16 years old (except with parental consent and adult supervision).|
|Illinois||In Illinois, you must first apply for a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card before you purchase, posses, or use a stun gun. (Certain exceptions may apply if you are a law enforcement officer, a member of the armed forces, or a nonresident travelling through the state with a stun gun in a locked container.) And even with a FOID card, you may possess a stun gun only for self defense purposes.|
|North Carolina||In North Carolina, it is legal to buy a stun gun, but you may possess and use it onlyon your own premises (in your house or the surrounding property). With exceptions for certain law enforcement personnel and armed guards, it is illegal to carry a stun gun (openly or concealed) in public.|
|Ohio||In Ohio, stun guns are classified as a deadly weapon. As such, you must first apply for a concealed carry license before you carry a stun gun in public. (Certain exceptions may apply if you are, for example, a law enforcement officer.) And even with a concealed carry license, you may possess a stun gun only for self defense purposes.|
|Pennsylvania||In Pennsylvania, most people may purchase, posses (openly or concealed), or use a stun gun for self defense without obtaining a permit. However, you may not purchase, possess, or use a stun gun if you are in a class of people (convicted felon, fugitive, juvenile delinquent, etc.) who are not allowed to possess firearms in Pennsylvania.|
|Texas||In Texas, you may purchase, posses (openly or concealed), or use a stun gun for self defense without obtaining a permit.|
|Virginia||In Virginia, most people may purchase, posses, or use a stun gun for self defense without obtaining a permit. However, a convicted felon (or someone convicted of certain crimes as minor) may purchase a stun gun to use only in the person’s dwelling (and surrounding land, if applicable), but may not carry or use the weapon in public.|