The stun gun is one of the most popular less-lethal defense tools on the market.
They find use among law enforcement, militaries, and ordinary civilians the world over. But do stun guns work as advertised?
It might be helpful to first give a specific definition of what exactly could be considered a stun gun.
The term "stun gun" is generally applied to a handheld self-defense device that emits a high-voltage, low-amperage electrical charge. If you are not an electrical engineer, what that roughly means is that the charge is backed up by a lot of pressure, but is not terribly intense.
Since a stun gun packs a high voltage, the current is potent enough to pass through heavy clothing and skin to reach the muscles and nerves underneath. But because of its low amplitude, the charge usually can't cause significant long-term damage without prolonged exposure.
For this reason, it is a favored tool of law enforcement officials attempting to subdue suspects non-lethally, and among civilians who do not want to carry a more lethal weapon.
But how exactly can the subdue someone without causing permanent harm?
If you think back to your high school biology class, you might remember learning that the human nervous system runs on electricity. Every movement you make is caused by a series of electrical impulses running up and down your nervous system.
Say you are reading this article at a desk somewhere.
If you want to stand up to stretch your legs, your brain has to run an electrical signal down the nerve cells that control your legs. The signal orders the nerve cells to release chemicals called neurotransmitters that cause your leg muscles to contract, allowing you to stand up.
A stun gun works by interfering with these impulses.
As the gun's charge penetrates into the muscle and nervous tissue, it floods the nervous system with excess information. The charge combines with the electrical signals from the subject's brain. This causes the message to become scrambled and difficult to decipher.
With the line of communication between an attacker's brain and the rest of their body compromised, they have a hard time ordering their muscles to do anything. They may have difficulty moving, become confused, lose their balance, or even be temporarily paralyzed.
Some stun guns also integrate a pulse frequency into their design. This frequency is meant to mimic the body's own electrical signals, causing the muscles to do an excessive of intense work very quickly.
But since the current does not direct the body to move in any specific direction, all it ends up doing is immobilizing an attacker while forcing them to deplete their energy with a lot of extraneous, unfocused movement.
There are a number of variables that contribute to a stun gun's efficacy or lack thereof.
One is the size of the attacker. Another is their determination. There are documented cases of individuals who were either under the influence or psychologically compromised who have demonstrated resistance to stun gun shocks.
Another important factor is the length of exposure. On TV and in the movies, you often see someone gets knocked out cold after just barely being touched by a stun gun. Unfortunately, that is just not true.
In reality, exposure of about half a second usually results in a painful, startling jolt. If taken by surprise, this would cause most average people to recoil long enough to allow a window for escape.
After one or two seconds of exposure, muscle spasms and confusion are to be expected. After three seconds, an attacker will usually become disoriented, unbalanced, and may experience loss of muscle control.
When concerned for one's personal safety, many people may wonder why they ever opt for a stun device as their primary defense. But there are a number of valid reasons to opt for a stun gun.
Many critics would compare a stun gun disparagingly to a firearm. Their criticisms tend to ignore the issues associated with using a gun in a self-defense situation.
For one thing, despite the popular narrative of the "good guy with a gun", some firearm instructors are quick to point out that most gun owners are simply not trained to actually use their weapons effectively in a self-defense scenario.
The data seems to corroborate their claims. Research shows that using a firearm in self-defense does not reduce the rates of harm to victims.
And that is to speak nothing of the potential legal ramifications of relying on a firearm for self-defense.
It is true that there can be legal consequences any time a person uses force for self-defense. However, using a lethal weapon like a firearm carries the highest probability of would-be victim repercussions for excessive force. Not to mention that stray bullets expended in a high-stress situation can cause harm to innocents.
Contrasting these issues, a stun gun does not require specialized training to be used reliably and effectively. As it's not a projectile there is little risk of harm to bystanders. And stun guns are generally considered less-lethal devices, making charges of excessive for extremely unlikely.
The standard stun gun is of a fairly simple design. They are about the size of a flashlight, with at least one pair of exposed electrodes. The electrodes have a high voltage disparity between them, so if a human body gets caught between them, it acts as a conductor, with the electrodes dumping all of their output into the body.
Many stun gun designs come disguised as more mundane objects. Flashlights are a common choice. If you have to face down an attacker, there is a better than even chance that you will be doing it at nighttime, so having a powerful flashlight combined with a stun gun can be a great help.
We've touched upon how do stun guns work, how they would affect a potential attacker, and how to use them effectively.
When used correctly, stun guns are perhaps the most effective less-lethal means of self-defense available.
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