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Imagine an effective ranged stun gun that renders an opponent unconscious is built in the near future and is easily produced. It works like this:

  1. for most people if shot they will be knocked unconscious for anywhere between 2 hours and 18 hours, depending on power level of the gun
    • It can harm or kill certain vulnerable people, the elderly, extremely infirm, those with certain rarer heart conditions etc. However, it is rare that it is lethal (they're far safer then modern stun weapons), and generally anyone that faces lethal danger is obviously infirm so someone likely knows if their firing on someone who will be in danger.
    • Proper medical treatment for those who have a bad reaction to stun blast will usually ensure they recover with little if any long term harm so long as they get treatment within the next 30 minutes. Proper stun weapon usage involves checking pulse of anyone shot as soon as safe to detect irregular pulse as a sign of a negative reaction.
  2. Once the stun ends the person will wake up groggy and with a massive headache. Their muscles will be sore as if over used. However, they will recover within a day or so with no permanent harm
    • Drugs exist to minimize the pain if administered before or immediately after revival, but discomfort always occurs.
  3. Modern medicine can detect that someone was stunned within the last day. If someone dies while stunned an autopsy usually can detect that they had been recently stunned if the body is well preserved.
  4. Stun guns can be detected by high-energy sensors. So the equivalent of metal detectors can be used to scan for them before someone enters a building.
  5. Stun guns have a range comparable to modern pistols or slightly lower; however, in the future pistol ranges are also slightly longer, meaning that pistols still out distance stun weapons by a bit. However effective accuracy ranges are nearly the same for most people, since accuracy has more to do with human skill in aiming then the weapons range. Rifles have a significant range advantage over stun guns.
    • stun rifles have been built but they give only slightly increased range and so are rarely used over stun-pistols; the lack of maneuverability of a longer rifle relative to a pistol counteracts the slight increased range.
  6. Stun shots do not ricochet or fire through metal objects as well (they tend to 'stun' the first solid object hit) They do have a slight area of effect though, anywhere immediately next to the blast radius may get a lower stun that will knock them out briefly or just numb and leave their body as if their limbs fell asleep if on the outer edge. They tend to short circuit and damage electronics struck by them that aren't protected against such blasts.
    • This means that stun guns are generally safer to use in populated areas, they are far less likely to hit anyone other then intended targets.
  7. It is easy to tell if a gun is lethal or a stun gun. Many people are aware of the low lethality of stun guns. There have been incidents of people in fights charging someone armed with stun guns to try to disarm or hurt them because they weren't afraid of being stunned, leading to arguments that stun guns are less effective at defense because they lack intimidation factor.
  8. a stun gun is relatively quiet weapons. While it makes a distinctive sound that someone near by may recognize it is not nearly as loud or reverberate/echo the way a gunshot does. It's also easy to not place it. However, the shot individual may make a sound when shot (during the half second of surprise before they go unconscious they may respond with a startled response to being shot, depending on how they respond to shock) and when he falls also
  9. In terms of defenses a thick plastic(or other non-conductive substance) vest can partially protect against stunner fire by avoiding direct absorbing the blast. but they would still feel the effect of being close to the radius of the blast, either briefly incapacitated or simply left numb and woozy depending on power of the stunner that hit them. I imagine this can be built into Kevlar vests to get a two for one protection, but the vests would restrict movement a little more then modern vests, due to the need for thickness. Multiple shots to the vest could still incapacitate a cop, as could absorbing most of the blast to unprotected areas like legs or head.

Obviously these weapons are less lethal then a gun, and presumably some places that make conceal carry of a gun illegal will allow stun guns. However, it can be quite painful to be shot, so they are still an assault. Furthermore, once someone is stunned it's relatively easy to kill them at leisure if someone chooses to do so, so criminals can still use them as effectively-lethal weapons if they choose to.

I'm wondering how will societies respond in regulating all weapons, both the stun variety and regular guns with the presence of stun guns. When will stun guns be allowed and when are they forbidden, is a carry permit allowed, and when is it legal to shoot someone (ie when are they considered a credible enough threat that a painful but safe blow to remove the threat is allowed).

I imagine the owning and use of regular guns may be further restricted, as stun guns seem to fit many of the justifications for a regular pistol (for defense) making some feel that there is no need for the more lethal alternative. What effect will these have on regular lethal gun ownership and use?

Since different parts of the world have different policy on gun use I would appreciate answers that consider these different policies. What will the rules be in countries/states that currently have more lax gun laws, what will they be in places with strict laws etc.

This question is primarily focused on how the rules of ownership and use effect civilians, and possible bodyguards, hunters and similar. I will post a different question for policy and military use. I'm trying to set the ground rules for weapon use in this world. Any interesting social ramification I would love to know as fodder for follow up question as well if anyone wishes to leave a comment about them.

edit: since everyone asks stun guns are quite effective compared to tasers. Their range is much longer then a taser, they are more effective at incapacitating an opponent, tasers can misfire easily, and do it much faster, it takes time for an opponent to go down to a taser and during that time the officer has to stand in the open waiting for it to work. They are less lethal. Most important, tasers can be fired only once, stun guns can manage dozens of shots quickly after each other, so you can fire even if your not certain to hit someone or be used to take out more then on assailant at a time.

In short, unless your an idiot you don't try to use a taser in a gun fight. You can use a stun gun in a gun fight, with only a slight disadvantage compared to a gun (slightly lower effective range, can't shot through objects to hit someone behind as well), but your stun shot is more likely to take someone out immediately if hit compared to a bullet and can be partially effective if you hit very close to them without hitting them.

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    $\begingroup$ Aren't these basically just like existing tasers? $\endgroup$ – Erik Oct 19 '15 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik existing tasers are far more lethal and with far less range. Their also fire once and forget weapons. They are both far less useful and also far more likely to kill. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Oct 19 '15 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ How loud is this stun gun? $\endgroup$ – Avernium Oct 19 '15 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Avernium A very good question which I hadn't thought of. Lets say it's not as loud as a gun. A distinctive 'zap' sound to someone very close, but doesn't reverberate over long distances $\endgroup$ – dsollen Oct 19 '15 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ How does the impact area affect the length or effectiveness of the stun? Does a shot to the finger have the same effect as a shot to the chest? $\endgroup$ – Avernium Oct 19 '15 at 15:43
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They will be regulated similarly to lethal weapons worldwide, but they will have an impact on existing lethal weapon laws.

Now your world has long-range, relatively safe, reliable incapacitation. Since there is already a separate question addressing usage among the police, let’s focus on civilian usage.

This will revolutionize self defense for a single reason: this stun gun is more effective than a firearm. In a self-defense situation, you want to remove the threat of danger as quickly as possible. With a lethal weapon, some skill or luck is required by the user (often in emotionally jarring and high-adrenaline scenarios) to effectively neutralize the threat. With this stun gun, you simply need to fire in the general vicinity of your target to have the desired effect. For the general populace, this means a stun gun is more effective in self defense, safer to keep around the house, and free of the moral quandary of killing.

However, don’t let the non-lethality fool you. These weapons open up a scary new situation: there is a now a simple way to render someone “safely” unconscious. This will pose major concerns among the populace because it creates an effective abduction technique in which the victim is incapable of defending themselves or even screaming to alert others nearby. The potential for electrical damage is also a big concern. Depending on the range of the weapon, it becomes a cheap way to perpetrate very problematic and expensive vandalism with no way to catch the offender. As a result of these issues, they will still see heavy regulation and may even be more heavily regulated than lethal guns.

With this kind of option on the table for self-defense, it will be easier for gun-control activists to push legislation that limits the sale of lethal firearms, but it’s unlikely to be effective everywhere. As always, countries with prevalent hunting cultures or constitutionally guaranteed access to firearms will still have a lot of pushback.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for pointing out wonderful new possibilities for mayhem :-D $\endgroup$ – Patches Oct 19 '15 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ So, any thoughts on when it's legal to fire the weapon for self defense? Obviousy you can use it more freely then a lethal gun, but how would law handle determining when use of it was justified vs being an assult? Would laws have varying degree of punishment from "clearly used just to harass" to "user believed there was a threat but clearly overreacted" to "situation almost justified use of weapon, but maybe he fired a little too son, lets slap him on the wrist only" etc? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Oct 19 '15 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen Since you're able to sidestep problems with justifying deadly force, I think the legal model you want to look at will be something like pepper spray. I suspect it might be a little more stringent, but it would follow similar guidelines for acceptable legal use. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Oct 19 '15 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen, self-defense in many jurisdictions is a defense after the fact. Having discharged a stun weapon with an intent to disable your target is still an assault, especially considering that unwanted touching is usually sufficient. Point being that the facts would have to be reviewed, and the police ultimately have to detain the user until a decision can be made - that is, if the police are involved. I'd bet this world would have licensing and registration of stun weapons. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Oct 19 '15 at 18:56
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How this would be regulated would be vastly different between countries. To get an idea of how a particular country would go, look at it's current weapons regulations, and its current self defense laws.

For instance, Britain and Japan would probably ban it. Woe betide you if you fight off a mugger in London. You'll likely go to jail for assault.

The US, on the other hand, likely wouldn't regulate it at all at the federal level, though certain state and/or cities in the US would (NY city, for example).

People who campaign for more gun control may, in places like the US, use its existence to argue for more restrictive gun control. But, I don't think this will change much except in those places that are already on the cusp of enacting said gun control.

See, the key thing you're looking for is not the practical nature of this stun weapon; but the prevailing attitudes, and the direction of change in the prevailing attitudes, towards individuals being empowered in the way that owning a weapon empowers the individual. Those places that distrust empowered individuals will likely ban it, since what you describe is an effective weapon. Those places that trust empowered individuals won't.

It's hard to do a deeper analysis than that without knowing which specific countries you're looking for; for each given country, it's a pretty sizable analysis of culture, historical precedent, social mood, and current law.

Update for US only

I think you might see the gun control people make the argument that you don't "need" a gun now because of this stun gun. I also think it wouldn't go very far. They've made that argument before (you don't need it because police), and I don't think they have the guts to support what would really make that position effective -- supporting the explicit right to carry the stun gun open or concealed. In fact, I think you'd just as likely see them propose anti-stun gun regulations instead, painting a picture of "road rage" and "zombie cars" as people stun each other on the freeway.

Broadly, the current social mood is in favor of self defense, and in favor of individual ownership of weapons. That said, you may see an even more stark split between the broader US, trending freer, and some jurisdictions that are clinging to their gun control - like NYC and Connecticut. So, you might see some north-east states, and possibly California, use the stun gun to go more restrictive. On the other hand, recent gun control there has only passed barely, and with much opposition. And it'd have to withstand a constitutional challenge. So, I guess the answer is, "they'll try".

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  • $\begingroup$ If I had to pick just one I would say United States, as my home and best place to write about. But I'm open to different rules in different areas, I was more trying to get a feel for how to justify whatever laws I want for given locations (to further plot by appropriately restricting or allowing the weapons) and the variance between them ;) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Oct 19 '15 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen I updated my answer with more thoughts on the US. $\endgroup$ – Patches Oct 19 '15 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ I could imagine for the US that NRA-fans might argue: I am all the time in the danger of being stunned by some random guy who need not fear consequences - so now I'll need a lethal weapon even more, just to give him some fear of consequences ... $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 19 '15 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ In the mid 1980s when concealed carry laws were being proposed in Texas and Louisiana, gun-control fanatics forecasted a return to the Wild West, with daily shoot-outs in the street. Naturally, that didn't happen. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 6 '18 at 2:00
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When you ask a question like that, a key question is what weapons laws are already in place. If the (concealed or unconcealed) carry of handguns is legal, one can argue that this is a "lesser included case." If carrying of guns is illegal, making stunners legal would go against precedent.

Consider the tear gas pistols which are sold in places without the U.S. 2nd amendment.

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