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.

Disrupting the System

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.