Concealed Carry & Home Defense

HOOBER: Watt Dreams May Come And The Limitations Of Energy Weapons

Guns and Gear Contributor
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By Sam Hoober,

As just about anyone is probably aware, TASER-brand products (specifically the X-26/X-1) are common less-lethal weapons for police officers which have been in use for over a decade as a pain-compliance tool.

There are also civilian “stun guns” (which work differently) and, of course, the TASER Pulse, a civilian edition of their system among a number of energy weapons (including cattle prods) that are on the market.

The exact mechanism varies by device, but it all boils down to the same thing: conducting electricity into the body to compel the subject to stop doing whatever they’re doing.

It’s been suggested that TASERs and similar devices should replace pistols in police inventory and in civilian hands. After all, the idea goes, if they are less likely to kill than a gun but work why not make those accessible instead?

Why can’t we have a phaser that has a stun setting? Hell, we’re pretty close to having flying cars…


Because of the inherent limitations on weaponized electricity and on any non-lethal means of delivering trauma to a human being.

You see, wondering about whether there’s a reliably less-lethal way of defending yourself against people who might try to harm you is a worthy thing to think about. If there was a way to defend your home or self while out and about that was reliable enough, why wouldn’t you at least consider it?

Unfortunately, human physiology dictates that there is a tipping point. When a person is completely and utterly committed to fighting or hurting someone else, you have to deliver either so much trauma or a specific type of trauma to stop them.

The kind of trauma that renders another person incapable of hurting anyone else is almost always fatal to them, or requires too much of the defender. Shooting someone in the leg seems like a great idea, but shattering the bad guy’s kneecap doesn’t make them incapable of shooting back.

The inherent limitation of electricity is the amount of electric current that needs to be delivered to incapacitate someone.

If you’ve ever looked at TASER or stun gun marketing materials, you’ll notice how proudly they advertise volts. However, as many of us remember from basic science classes, voltage is akin to water pressure, but the volume of water is more akin to amperage or amps, rather than volts or watts.

A tiny bit of water at high pressure is not really a big deal, but a lot of water at high pressure – that there is a problem. So amps are really the more relevant measurement.

A TASER-brand X-26 (the law enforcement model) has an output of 50,000 volts and 2 to 4 milliamps, depending on the model. That amount of amperage is around the current needed to induce involuntary convulsions and make the muscles seize, but cannot necessarily inflict much in terms of trauma.

By contrast, most defibrillators (depending on the exact make and model) have an output somewhere between 10 to 20 milliamps, which causes involuntary contraction of the heart muscles. Muscular contractions caused by a 10 to 20 milliamp shock are violent, and can cause breathing difficulties.

Currents above 100 milliamps are often fatal, due to causing ventricular fibrillation.

So, what’s the takeaway here?

As an alternative to firearms, electrical conductance is not a very good replacement. In order to deliver enough electric shock to reliably incapacitate a subject, you have to risk injury and other severe trauma. Even the professional tools (i.e. TASERs) don’t deliver that much current, which is why they have a higher failure rate in the field than typically advertised.

Until the human animal is cured of violence, there will always be a certain number of us that are willing to do harm to their fellows regardless of anything and everything, including a high probability or even certainty of their own death.

It’s good to have non-lethal tools (a quality OC spray is highly recommended) but even capsaicin has a failure rate.

So far, there is no way to stop people from doing what they’re doing involuntarily without causing them grave harm in the process. An inconvenient truth is that firearms are arguably the best option there is, no matter how much some people want to pretend otherwise.

Sam Hoober is a hunter and shooter based in the Inland Northwest.