Shocking Developments: The Status of Stun Guns

Let me start this out by saying that I am not a proponent of stun guns for responsibly armed citizens. People have justified and promoted their use by citizens by arguing that “law enforcement officers carry them, so they should be enough for everyone else.” True, many officers carry stun guns as part of their daily equipment, but those stun guns are not the officers’ primary weapons; they are less-than-lethal options when lethal force might not be necessary to control certain individuals.

Can you imagine a police officer or sheriff’s deputy carrying an electronic control device but not a sidearm? My position is that it makes little sense for you to intentionally plan to respond to a violent, imminent threat to your life with a limited and lower level of response. In fact, opting for one might cause you to face the same legal implications as choosing a firearm, and you likely will not avoid any costs or consequences.

Choices Defined

Let’s define “stun gun” before we go any further. Statute law in my home state of Michigan calls it “a portable device that uses electro-muscular disruption technology and is intended to be used as a defensive device capable of temporarily incapacitating or immobilizing a person by the direction or emission of conducted energy.”

“Stun gun” is a more manageable term, but we need to understand what is covered by it. I have found that many people who discuss their intention to obtain one for personal protection have not researched deeply into the matter. Stun guns’ shortcomings are manifest: Even the law-enforcement-style dart-and-wire devices suffer from several serious limitations as self-defense weapons. They have only one “shot” and they have limited range and penetration.

The police-style dart-and-wire devices are almost all manufactured by the TASER company; they are as effective as stun guns and they are as expensive as good handguns.

There are a great number of “contact” devices on the market, many of them at prices under $100. The problem is, they might work on the neighbor’s dog, but they are not as effective on an enraged — or deranged — human. The police-style dart-and-wire devices are almost all manufactured by the TASER company; they are as effective as stun guns and they are as expensive as good handguns. It is at about this point in most discussions that it becomes obvious that the person’s interest in a stun gun is more pecuniary than practical; when they learn that a good one is expensive, many quickly lose interest. That’s putting a low value on their lives, and I recommend to those folks that they spend some time seriously considering their safety and their commitment to taking responsibility for their own security.

The underlying issue these people display is a lack of commitment or a superficial interest in taking responsibility for themselves. In addition to saving a few dollars, many have expressed to me that getting a stun gun would be “less hassle” than a firearm and they “just don’t want to deal with it.” With this lackadaisical attitude, I seriously doubt that they will put in the necessary time and effort to plan, train and prepare to secure themselves and their loved ones.

As an instructor and trainer, I review the foundational aspects of mindset and commitment with these individuals and recommend that they do some soul-searching before selecting the mix of passive and active strategies they want to employ. Some people do not want to face the reality that they might have to fight; I recommend that they make some clear decisions, but whatever they decide, they need to not delude themselves. As a lawyer, I explain the legal status of the ownership and use of stun guns, which is often not much different from firearms.

“In fact, I respect those few who, after serious reflection, have decided to obtain a stun gun rather than a firearm because they have honestly examined themselves and their values, beliefs and abilities. ”

“In fact, I respect those few who, after serious reflection, have decided to obtain a stun gun rather than a firearm because they have honestly examined themselves and their values, beliefs and abilities. ”

Right for Some

Is there anyone who is committed, has seriously considered all the factors and still wants to go the stun gun route? Yes. I have met several, had excellent conversations with them and helped guide them on their paths toward personal responsibility. As an instructor in personal protection and concealed carry classes for almost 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that, while few, there are these serious individuals and, as an instructor, I need to be able to assist them and not be dismissive because I disagree with their choices. We all have the same objective.

In fact, I respect those few who, after serious reflection, have decided to obtain a stun gun rather than a firearm because they have carefully and honestly examined themselves and their values, beliefs and abilities. I have found them more insightful and self-aware than many others. Whether it is for moral, religious or emotional beliefs, or just an honest assessment of their own personalities, a few people reach the determination that they do not believe they could take another life, even if it means losing their own. But they do not want to be victims and are not passive people.

Usually a reluctance or hesitancy to commit to the use of a firearm for personal protection is a training issue that can be addressed and overcome by familiarity and practice.

Many of us in the training field are “all or nothing” and teach that, “If you are not fully committed to using a firearm, you should not carry one because it will likely be used against you,” or some form of that position. Usually a reluctance or hesitancy to commit to the use of a firearm for personal protection is a training issue that can be addressed and overcome by familiarity and practice. But there are a few who have definitively decided they will use something less than lethal, even fully understanding the limitations. We need to allow for those who have — with full reflection — reached their personal endpoint somewhere between “all” and “nothing.”

The most unexpected thing I learned from a couple of people of this bent is that they believed they would fight more ferociously if they did not think they would kill their attacker. They were convinced that if they had a lethal-force weapon, part of their mind would be focused on not using it to its potential and therefore would not be fully committed. However, the law does not make their choice any simpler than if they chose a sidearm.

In Court

It has been very controversial whether or not people have the right to stun guns and whether they are covered under the 2nd Amendment. Does “keep and bear arms” include stun guns? This has been debated on the streets, in the legislatures and in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court recently weighed in on the question.

In Caetano v. Massachusetts, in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed a Massachusetts high court decision upholding the state’s ban on stun guns. The court held that the state’s argument that it could ban stun guns because they did not exist at the time the 2nd Amendment was written did not hold water and was inconsistent with the landmark Supreme Court decision in D.C. v. Heller. It also considered stun guns to be “arms.” (The Supreme Court did not miss the idiocy of the state saying it would be acceptable for Jaime Caetano to shoot her attacker but not to stun him.) Justice Samuel Alito also accurately pointed out that “a weapon is an effective means of self-defense only if one is prepared to use it.”

The Supreme Court did not declare the Massachusetts law unconstitutional but reversed the lower court’s ruling because it did not offer any proper justification for it. Caetano, who used the threat of a stun gun to stop an imminent attack by a former boyfriend and was charged with a felony for possession of an illegal weapon, was completely exonerated and the case against her dismissed.

The less effective choice still requires the person to obtain a concealed carry license to carry the stun gun, and its use has the same requirements and limitations as the use of a firearm.

In Michigan, in 2012, the Court of Appeals struck down that state’s stun gun ban. The same occurred in Connecticut in 2014. This has led to more general interest in obtaining and using stun guns, sometimes in place of firearms. Except for those limited examples and the few people I discussed earlier, I believe this is misdirected.

In my home state, you will not achieve any relief or “less hassle” by choosing a stun gun over a firearm. The less effective choice still requires the person to obtain a concealed carry license to carry the stun gun, and its use has the same requirements and limitations as the use of a firearm. You cannot display, threaten to use or actually use a stun gun on another person unless you face a threat of imminent death or grievous bodily harm — the same standard for the use of deadly force.

For the vast majority, I believe that a stun gun is not a truly viable alternative to a firearm, despite its increase in popularity. A responsibly armed citizen should be trained and prepared to respond to a violent threat to innocent life with an appropriate level of lethal force. He or she should want every possible advantage over the attacker — never a “fair fight.” Choosing a stun gun, with its inherent limitations in range, penetration and sometimes even lack of more than one “shot,” places any individual at a serious disadvantage in any potentially violent encounter. The best method to address a reluctance or discomfort with firearms use is with increased training and familiarity, not moving to a less-effective and limited device.

Categories