Recently, we had someone contact us inquiring about the discharge-arc that is generated when you “dry-fire,” or discharge a Stun Gun into the air.  They were questioning if that electrical discharge represented “millions of volts,” arcing through the air? While that has never been something we have claimed…nor is it scientifically possible, we thought we would address this question for the more technically oriented consumer.

When you see a Conducted Energy Weapon (Stun Gun) discharge into the air…without contacting a solid target, this is known as dry-firing the device.  It is not recommended to be done for more than a second or two and some inferior products will notate that doing so at all will void the warranty of your unit.  The main reason that dry-firing is not generally encouraged is because of the stress it places on the interior circuits as well as the fact that the discharge can generate a great deal of heat at the contact points on the electrodes.

Having said that, what you see when you “dry-fire” a Stun Gun is not necessarily what you get when you actually discharge the unit into a “soft-target,” such as a human being.  Before we explain why that is the case, let’s touch on some basic science of electricity.

Shocking Information!

To help better explain the relationship between electrical current, voltage and charge, it may help to think of electricity as a water pipe.

The current is the amount of water in the pipe and would be measured in amperage.  The voltage would equate to the water pressure in the pipe and is measured in volts.  In this analogy, the charge is represented by the quantity of water that is flowing through the pipe and is measured in microcoulombs.  This water pipe analogy is commonly used throughout the Stun Gun industry, including by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in explaining the effectiveness of CEW’s.  We first published this information on our website April 05, 2018 for those of you who missed it.

Imagine a water pipe in your home.  If you set the water pressure (voltage) to the highest possible setting by fully opening the value, this means nothing if no water is in the pipe (current).  To carry or deliver the quantity of water (charge) to the spigot the valve must be open AND water must be available in the pipe.  Hence, the greater the quantity of water (charge)…the wetter you will get if you are under the spigot (the more pain you will feel!)

As explained by electrical engineering experts, voltage may “open the door,” or create the path for a charge to pass through, but it doesn’t cause any pain on its own.  If it is not coupled with a significant charge…it won’t hurt.  Now that we have a better understanding of microcoulombs and why that measurement is the most important one when evaluating Stun Guns (CEW’s)…let’s get back to the air-arcing one witnesses when “dry-firing” a Stun Gun.

Air-Arcing…Lightning on the Head of a Pin!

When a Stun Gun is dry-fired the electrical discharge rushes up one exposed electrode (pole) and since it has no place to go…it “jumps” to the other electrode (pole) as long as the discharge is high enough and the two electrodes are close enough to complete the circuit.  However, depending upon the environmental conditions that exist at the time of the dry-firing, a relatively small electrical discharge is all that is required for the air-arcing to occur.

Air density, humidity and even temperature are just some of the variables that can “regulate” how much electrical discharge is required for the air-arcing to take place.  Generally speaking, in the main and with exception, air-arcing can take place with as little as 7,000 volts and generally no more than 30,000 volts. This is because based on the variables previously cited, air-resistance can be overcome by the aforementioned voltage amounts…generating air-arcing.  Hence, no Stun Gun that is dry-fired will reflect hundreds of thousands or millions of volts during that dry-fire (air-arcing) occurrence.

However, this also does not mean that the CEW cannot (and does not) generate a far higher electrical discharge rate.  The opposite is true as well. When walking in woolen socks on a carpeted floor in the winter and you touch a door knob, you may generate between 7,000 - 20,000 volts of static-electricity under the right conditions.  Both the Stun Gun and the static-discharge described above can generate air-arcing…but the potential total discharge available is limited by completely different factors.

The Bottom Line…

In a perfect world, consumers would be well versed in the physics encapsulating the products they purchase.  Would it be beneficial for someone purchasing a new vehicle to understand the mechanical operation of the engine in the vehicle?  Certainly it would. Would such an intricate understanding be conditional for them to safely and efficiently operate the vehicle? Probably not.  As long as they know how to monitor and add lubricants, water and gas to the vehicle this should suffice.

The same can be said for most products and devices sold in the marketplace today.  Unfortunately, most marketing and advertising is “number based.” In the vehicle analogy above the consumer may want to know expected fuel mileage, horsepower, acceleration and braking rates as well as warranty length.  This is the case with Stun Guns (CEW’s) as well. Consumers fixate on generated voltage and/or amperage when the only number that really counts is microcoulombs generated.

The next time you are comparing Stun Guns look past the flashy voltage claims and look for the microcoulombs generated by the device.   At minimum, you want a CEW that generates one (1) microcoulomb or more. The higher that number is over one (1) microcoulomb the more effective (painful) the device will be.  In short…Microcoulombs are the bottom line!