Pepper Spray vs Stun Gun: Which is Better?


Pepper spray and stun guns are different in function, range, and use case. You will learn about these differences in this article.

I have written many articles about pepper spray, but I needed to do some research to understand how stun guns work. This is what I learned.

Pepper sprays provide standoff distance by shooting a chemical irritant. For close contact self-defense, stun guns deliver electroshock at an arms length.

Pepper Spray or Stun Gun: Which One Should You Choose?

Pepper spray and stun guns are both effective non-lethal self-defense tools. However, they are very different in function and use case.

  • Pepper spray is great at incapacitating one or more attackers from a distance. Stopping attackers before they get close is the primary benefit of pepper spray.
  • Stun guns are highly effective at incapacitating one very close attacker. They are close proximity electroshock weapons. If you think you will need to defend yourself from a single very close attacker, then a stun gun is the better tool.

Stun Guns and Tasers Are Different

Cop Shooting Man with Taser

Stun guns and tasers are both electroshock weapons. However, stun guns and tasers deliver electricity in different ways.

Stun Guns are a short range electroshock weapon. Stun guns produce electricity between two metal prongs at the end of a handheld device. They don’t shoot projectiles.

Tasers shoot two dart-like projectiles that deliver electroshock. This allows for several feet of distance between a user and a target. Tasers are aimed and fired just like a handgun.

Because stun guns and tasers differ in function and range, they are considered two distinct weapon types.

How Pepper Spray and Stun Guns Differ

Mode of ActionEffective RangeIncapacitation TimeMaximum Effect Time
Pepper SprayChemical Irritation10 to 20 Feet10 to 120 MinutesInstant
Stun GunElectroshockArm LengthSeconds5 Seconds

Benefits of Pepper Spray

  • Distance: Most pepper sprays have at least a 10 foot range. A pepper spray’s standoff range keeps a defender away from an attacker’s hands, feet, and non-projectile weapons.
  • Multiple Threat Stopper: Unlike stun guns, pepper sprays can easily stop multiple threats. A pepper spray the size of a stun gun can stop 5+ attackers.
  • Long Incapacitation Time: Pepper spray’s effects take a long time to wear off. Even a tiny amount of pepper spray in the eyes will force eyelids closed for several minutes. That’s plenty of time to run away to safety.
  • Small Size: Pepper sprays are generally much smaller than stun guns. There are pepper sprays about the size of a roll of quarters that can stop 3 or more attackers. This is 2 to 4 times smaller than highly rated stun guns. If comfort and concealment are very important to you, then a pepper spray is the better option.

Drawbacks of Pepper Spray

  • Direct Face Contact: Pepper spray must directly hitting the eyes, nose, and mouth for maximum effect. A fast moving attacker might be able to dodge the incoming spray. Also, a glasses wearing target will have some protection against eye exposure.
  • Cross-Contamination: A person exposed to pepper spray can spread it to another person. This can happen if an attacker grabs and wrestles a defender after getting sprayed. Pepper spray is best used when the target is too far away to get a hold of his victim.
  • Wind Blow Back: Pepper spray can be moved by wind. It can move the spray away from an attacker’s face. Wind can blow pepper spray back onto a defender. Pepper gels are not moved by wind as easily as pepper sprays. If you live in a windy area, then carry a pepper gel instead of a pepper spray.
  • Immune Targets: A small number of people get little or no negative reaction from pepper spray exposure.
  • Expiration Date: All pepper sprays lose compression over time. Manufactures put use by dates on their pepper sprays. Replace your pepper spray before the expiration date.

Benefits of Stun Guns

  • Large Contact Areas: Unlike pepper spray, stun guns are effective on multiple body areas. These include the shoulders, upper hip, and below rib cage. Even if these areas can’t be touched during an assault, a stun gun will cause great pain anywhere it’s applied.
  • Built in Flashlight: Most stun guns, including highly rated and effective models, have built in flashlights. These built in flashlights provide two great benefits. It allows a stun gun illuminate an area and an attacker. This extra visibility in a dark area allows a defender to decide between fight or flight and to see a viable escape path. Additionally, a built in flashlight allows a stun gun to be disguised as a flight light. An attacker who is fooled by a disguised stun gun is unlikely to pay attention to it and be more vulnerable to getting shocked.
  • Intimidating Noise and Electrical Arc: Activated stun guns make a crackle sound and a bright electrical arc. It is better to surprise an attacker with a stun gun shock. However, there can be situations where intimidation can stop an assault before it begins. For example, an aggressively approaching dog might back down when seeing and hearing electricity.
  • Low Self-Harm Risk: Unlike pepper sprays, stun guns are not vulnerable to wind blow back or cross-contamination. Also, the electrical current will not travel through an attacker and into a defender even if they are touching. Furthermore, some stun guns have shock plates on their sides that will shock someone trying to take the stun gun away.

Drawbacks of Stun Guns

  • Long Time for Maximum Effect: It takes 5 seconds of direct contact to maximize a stun guns effects. That’s how long it takes to stun gun to cause confusion and disorientation in an attacker. 5 seconds might not sound like a long time, but it’s plenty of time for a defender to get serious and permanent bodily harm.
  • Short Range: Stun gun can only be deployed at an arms length. This leaves a defender vulnerable to being grabbed, thrown, or tackled. This short deployment distance is more of a downside to those with below average arm lengths. If an attacker’s arms are substantially longer than a defender’s arms, then an attacker can punch a defender’s face and totally avoid a stun gun shock. There are long stun gun rods that provide more reach for stun gun users. However, these long rods are inconvenient to carry and conceal in public.
  • Short Incapacitation Time: Even with a good strong shock, stun gun’s effects can last only a few seconds. This might not be enough time to run away. If an attacker can run faster and farther than a defender, he might be able to chase his victim down.
  • Larger Size: Stun guns are larger than pepper sprays. Their larger size makes stun guns less convenient to carry and conceal in public. You could carry a stun gun off-body in a bag. However, an off-body stun gun is slower to deploy than an on person stun gun. A stun gun in a bag might be difficult to find when it’s needed. Also, a bag can be taken which would leave a defender weaponless.
  • Battery Management: Like all portable electronics, stun guns rely on battery power. Batteries can fail because of low charge. A stun gun user should regularly check the battery to insure it’s charged.

Pepper Spray is Usually Better Than a Stun Gun

Pepper spray’s longer range compared to a stun gun makes it a better option. At an arms length from a target, pepper spray can still be used. At this distance, a pepper spray user needs to avoid cross-contamination and getting assaulted by an attacker.

A pepper spray and stun gun can be carried and used together. If you do this, use pepper with your dominant hand to insure accuracy. Also, practice drawing the stun gun with your weak hand so it feels easy and natural.

Andrew Jordan

I’m a lifelong native of Memphis, TN. Shooting drills especially with 22LR are one of my passions. My concealed carry permit application was submitted on my 21st birthday. The P10C is my EDC pistol. I invented the patented 15 round 5.56 stripper clip. You can also find me on the “Concealed Carry Andrew” Youtube channel.

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