The Iowa Supreme Court restored a conviction against a woman charged with illegally carrying a stun gun without a weapons permit. Iowa residents and visitors must have a permit if they carry a stun gun, whether or not the unit even works.
The court found that Taquala Howse, 25, broke the law when she was caught shoplifting with a non-functioning stun gun in her purse. The police discovered the stun gun after a cursory search. Carrying a “dangerous weapon” without a permit is an aggravated misdemeanor in Iowa.
Iowa law states that “any portable device or weapon directing an electric current, impulse, wave, or beam that produces a high-voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person” is a dangerous weapon.
Initially, the defense argued that the non-functioning stun gun did not constitute a dangerous weapon. Witnesses for the state failed to convince the court that the defendant’s stun gun could harm anyone and the charges were thrown out.
The prosecution appealed, arguing that it doesn’t matter if the stun gun could harm someone, the threat of harm is enough for it to be considered a dangerous weapon, and that it still met the legal definition of a dangerous weapon. The higher court agreed, saying that a person has no way of knowing if a stun gun is functional.
Iowa has a clear case history of treating all guns as if they were loaded, legally speaking, and the court applied the same standards to the stun gun. Just like a broken firearm, a non-functioning stun gun can still be used to threaten bodily harm.
“A gun in the hands of a robber and pointed at the victim causes fear of death or injury and is so intended,” explains an earlier 1966 ruling. “The law does not contemplate that a victim under such circumstances must inquire if the gun is loaded.”
Additionally, the stun gun, although non-working, still met the description of a dangerous weapon in accordance with state law.
“We hold that a stun gun, even if inoperable, is per se a dangerous weapon under the definition of Iowa Code,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Bruce Zager. “We vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the district court.”
“This is consistent with our approach in other path three or per se dangerous weapon cases,” wrote Zager.
“It’s disappointing but it’s a fair reading of the statute, so I can respect the decision,” said Howse’s attorney, John Audlehelm to the Des Moines Register. Audlehelm said that this case still proves that Iowa needs clearer statutes when it comes to weapons.
House was identified after shoplifting from a Walmart store in Waterloo, Iowa, in 2013. Police arrested her after matching her to a description. Howse was originally found guilty at a bench trial before her appeal.