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?
Stunguns 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 stungun use are very rare. It is generally acknowledged that these devices are "nonlethal" and are used primarily for self-defense.
Are Stun Guns Regulated as Heavily as Firearms?
The legality of owning and carrying a stungun 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 stungun, 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 stungun owners: No well-funded and politically powerful lobby protects the rights of stungun 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 stungun owners’ rights (when was the last time you heard someone argue for the right to use his grandfather’s antique stungun?). By contrast to many gun owners, stungun 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 stunguns do not result in public attention and hostility.
Owning, Using, and Carrying a Stungun
Some states and localities regulate stunguns 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 stungun 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 stunguns.
Projectile devices. Some regulations apply to devices that fire a projectile device, which covers stunguns.
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, stunguns 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 stungun, 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 attorneys general have placed the stungun 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 a 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 careful at least to warn users against relying 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.