A Taser is a type of gun. It is similar in appearance to a conventional gun, having a handle, squeezable trigger, and a blunt barrel. Instead of firing bullets, however, a Taser incapacitates someone for a short time by the use of electricity. Tasers are most often used by security forces, including police, to quell disturbances without causing injury to the people involved.
The Taser gun is one of three types of weapons that are known collectively as stun guns. The other two devices are known as the hand held stun gun and the liquid stun gun. As their name implies, these weapons are designed to be a non-lethal defense, rather than an offensive weapon capable of causing deadly injury.
Stun guns like the Taser operate by disrupting the electrical flow of signals through nerve cells. This electrical flow drives the ability of the muscles to respond to commands from the brain, and allows information that the body receives from the outside world (i.e., touch, taste, smell) to be communicated to the brain. The disruption of the nerve cells is achieved by the generation of an electrical charge by the Taser that has a high voltage and low amperage. Put another way, the electrical charge has a great deal of pressure, but is not intense. The pressure of the charge allows the charge to penetrate into the body, even though several layers of clothing. In order for it to be effective, the person must be close, even in direct contact, with the electrodes of the Taser. Because the electrical charge is not intense, the brief surge of electricity is not powerful enough to physically damage the person's body.
Inside the body, however, the electricity is powerful enough to temporarily disable the nervous system. This occurs when the added charge mixes with the electrical impulses flowing through the nerve cells. The added electricity overwhelms the meaningful signals, making it impossible for the brain to interpret the signals from the nerve cells. Confusion, difficulty in balance, and muscle paralysis results.
Only about one-quarter of a second is required to incapacitate someone. Once the electrical swamping of the nerve impulses has abated—within a few seconds to a minute—recovery is complete with no adverse effects. Tests have shown that even heart pacemakers are not affected by Tasers.
The electrical signal from a Taser can be generated as a single burst, or in rapid pulses. If the pulses are similar to the frequency of the natural pulses that occur within the nerve cells, then the muscles are stimulated to contract and relax. However, there is no coordination behind the work, since the connections between the muscles and the brain have been disrupted. The muscles will become depleted of energy and tired. Even when the normal electrical rthyhm is restored, the muscles often remain too tired to respond for a short period.
Because a Taser acts on muscles, and as there are muscles all over the body, a Taser applied almost anywhere over the body can cause total immobilization.
Stun guns, including the Taser, consist of a transformer, oscillator, capacitor, and electrodes. The transformer generates the voltage; typically between 20,000 and 150,000 volts. The oscillator introduces the pulsations in the electrical charge. The charge is built up in the capacitor, which releases the charge to the electrodes. It is the electrodes that send the charge into the body, when the electricity bridges the gap between the oppositely charged electrodes.
In a Taser, the electrodes are not fixed in position. Instead, they are positioned on the ends of two long pieces of conducting wire. When a trigger is pulled, a release of compressed gas expels the electrodes out from the gun. In addition, the electrodes have barbs on them, so that they can stick to clothing. This design of the Taser allows a charge to be transferred to someone who is 15 to 20 feet away. Hand-to-hand contact, in this instance, is not necessary. The disadvantage of this design is that only one shot is possible before the electrodes have to rewind, and a new compressed gas cartridge loaded into the gun. Some models of Taser have the attached electrodes, so that if the flying electrodes miss the target, the shooter can move in and try to touch the subject with the stationary electrodes to deliver the stunning dose of electricity.