Two prongs shaped like fishhooks hit you first. They are connected to fine wires, and deliver an electrical current through your body that makes every muscle contract. In an instant, you lose all control.
That is what happens when a Taser is deployed. Taser is actually an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle. Tom Swift was the hero of a series of science fiction and adventure novels aimed at youths. The novels emphasized science, invention, and technology and anticipated many inventions that eventually came to pass.
Tasers are also known as ECDs (electronic control devices) or CEWs (conducted electrical weapons). The five-second charge generated by a Taser ECD can be more than 5,000 volts, compared with 110 volts from a typical wall socket.
More dangerous, right? According to Taser International, the manufacturer of the devices used most often by law enforcement, the answer is no. That’s because the charge is low current and pulsed, instead of the continuous high current from electrical outlets. Exposure to high-voltage, low-current shocks — such as a static discharge on a dry day — are far less dangerous. Static shocks regularly exceed 30,000 volts, yet they deliver very low amounts of electric charge, and static shocks directly cause injuries.
The Taser works by mimicking and interfering with the electrical signals used by the human body to communicate between the brain and the muscles. It is like static on the telephone lines within the body. The Taser probes carry fine wires that deliver the prongs into the neural network, overwhelming the normal nerve traffic, causing involuntary muscle contractions and impairment of motor skills.
The impairment is temporary. In the video he produced for YouTube in a successful bid to get Town Meeting to approve funding for Tasers in May 2011, Stoughton Police Chief Paul Shastany demonstrates being “Tased.”
Two police officers help Shastany as he groans and falls to the floor. But a short while later, he says he is fine, and is able to stand and speak.
“I was completely under the control of the Taser,” he said. “It’s an incredible, incredible feeling. This is the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
The pain caused by the prongs that penetrate the clothing and then the skin has been described as being hit by a fishhook.
The Taser used by Stoughton police is the X2 model, which has an effective range of up to 25 feet and can be deployed twice without reloading the nitrogen cartridges that propel the prongs.
Some Taser models have a “drive stun” capability that allows the weapon to be held against the target without firing the projectiles and is intended to cause pain without incapacitating the target.