A Shock to the System
We tend to think of electricity as a harmful force to our bodies. If lightning strikes you or you stick your finger in an electrical outlet, the current can maim or even kill you. But in smaller doses, electricity is harmless. In fact, it is one of the most essential elements in your body. You need electricity to do just about anything.
When you want to make a sandwich, for example, your brain sends electricity down a nerve cell, toward the muscles in your arm. The electrical signal tells the nerve cell to release a neurotransmitter, a communication chemical, to the muscle cells. This tells the muscles to contract or expand in just the right way to put your sandwich together. When you pick up the sandwich, the sensitive nerve cells in your hand send an electrical message to the brain, telling you what the sandwich feels like. When you bite into it, your mouth sends signals to your brain to tell you how it tastes.
There are a wide range of stun weapons in use today. The three most popular devices, the standard handheld stun gun, the Taser gun and the liquid stun gun, all have advantages and disadvantages.
In this way, the different parts of your body use electricity to communicate with one another. This is actually a lot like a telephone system or the Internet. Specific patterns of electricity are transmitted over lines to deliver recognizable messages.
Down for the Count!
Stun-gun effectiveness varies depending on the particular gun model, the attacker's body size and his determination. It also depends on how long you keep the gun on the attacker.
If you use the gun for half a second, a painful jolt will startle the attacker. If you zap him for one or two seconds, he should experience muscle spasms and become dazed. And if you zap him for more than three seconds, he will become unbalanced and disoriented and may lose muscle control. Determined attackers with a certain physiology may keep coming despite any shock.
The basic idea of a stun gun is to disrupt this communication system. Stun guns generate a high-voltage, low-amperage electrical
charge. In simple terms, this means that the charge has a lot of pressure behind it, but not that much intensity. When you press the stun gun against an attacker and hold the trigger, the charge passes into the attacker's body. Since it has a fairly high voltage, the charge will pass through heavy clothing and skin. But at around 3 milliamps, the charge is not intense enough to damage the attacker's body unless it is applied for extended periods of time.
It does dump a lot of confusing information into the attacker's nervous system, however. This causes a couple of things to happen:
The charge combines with the electrical signals from the attacker's brain. This is like running an outside current into a phone line: The original signal is mixed in with random noise, making it very difficult to decipher any messages. When these lines of communication go down, the attacker has a very hard time telling his muscles to move, and he may become confused and unbalanced. He is partially paralyzed, temporarily.
The current may be generated with a pulse frequency that mimics the body's own electrical signals. In this case, the current will tell the attacker's muscles to do a great deal of work in a short amount of time. But the signal doesn't direct the work toward any particular movement. The work doesn't do anything but deplete the attacker's energy reserves, leaving him too weak to move (ideally).
At its most basic, this is all there is to incapacitating a person with a stun gun -- you apply electricity to a person's muscles and nerves. And since there are muscles and nerves all over the body, it doesn't particularly matter where you hit an attacker.
In the next section, we'll look at the main types of stun guns and see how they dump this charge into a person's body.