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A 200,000-volt model runs about $20. A little more than $100 buys one million volts.

This week, a 13-year-old Catholic secondary-school student was caught at school with a powerful stun gun in his backpack.

The device is similar to those carried by Toronto police officers - although much more powerful.

"This kind of thing is not very common at all," Constable Wendy Drummond said. "[A stun gun is a]prohibited weapon; it's illegal to import them. But obviously there are ways for this to happen."

One of those ways is the Internet - a bustling market for such weapons exists online to cater to customers in the United States, where stun guns are legal in all but a handful of states.

Because stun guns are illegal in Canada, most online retailers make it a policy to state on their websites that they do not ship internationally, or to American states where the guns are restricted.

However, there appear to be several online loopholes for Canadians intent on getting their hands on the weapons.

On a Web forum for weapon aficionados, one user posts from Montreal asking for ways to purchase a stun gun. A short while later, another user points to a number of sellers on websites such as eBay. While the sellers publicly say they won't ship internationally, the user notes, it's worth e-mailing privately and asking anyway.

"YOU WOULD BE SURPRIZED who will ship to where you want the stun guns shipped to," the user writes.

Stun guns are wildly popular in some parts of the United States. Some stores offer various colours, styles and finishes. Others sell guns as small as a pack of cigarettes. Some U.S. stores sell guns with up to a million volts.

Along with inflicting a lot of pain, stun guns are designed to overwhelm a person's ability to control their muscles. As a result, someone hit by the weapon will usually suffer spasms and take several minutes to recover.

The stun gun found in the 13-year-old Toronto boy's backpack differs from those carried by Toronto police, which are designed mainly to restrict muscle control, rendering a person incapacitated, Constable Drummond said.

The higher-voltage stun guns, however, are "pain compliance" devices - in layman's terms, they're designed to hurt.

According to police spokesman Mark Pugash officers have found the devices useful not only for incapacitating, but also as a deterrent - simply pulling one out has an immediate effect.

"The more I talk to officers, the more they tell me that they're now at the point where they don't have to use them," he said.