The U.S. Supreme Court is vacating a lower court’s finding that stun guns are not protected by the Second Amendment as valid weapons for self-defense. Late last year the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the state’s high court, upheld charges against Jaime Caetano for owning an illegal stun gun.
The Massachusetts court ruled that because stun guns were modern weapons they could be held to the “dangerous and unusual” standard as they were not in existence when the Second Amendment was drafted. The Supreme court specifically rejected the lower court’s finding, saying “Second Amendment extends…to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” The lower court will have to rehear the case.
This is in-line with other rulings that have shielded rights even as technology changes and at the same time it affirms the Heller Decision, which states that the Second Amendment applies to all weapons in common use for lawful purposes. The Supreme Court threw out the lower court’s findings on all three counts, saying that they were directly in opposition to existing Supreme Court precedent.
The court compared stun guns to other electronic technology including digital cameras, cell phones and the Internet, pointing out that people maintain freedom of speech and are not subject to warrantless searches because times have changed.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote a detailed and damning order (.pdf), pointing out that the lower court’s decision “that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment…[was] bordering on the frivolous.”
“Electronic stun guns are no more exempt from the Second Amendment’s protections, simply because they were unknown to the First Congress, than electronic communications are exempt from the First Amendment or electronic imaging devices are exempt from the Fourth Amendment.”
In the original case, a judge ruled that the defendant, Caetano, broke the law keeping a stun gun in her purse. Caetano acquired the stun gun from a friend to protect herself from her ex-boyfriend who had been harassing her. Although Caetano had multiple restraining orders against the man he continued to harass her in person at her workplace.
After she obtained the stun gun from a friend she showed it to her ex-boyfriend, who “towered over her by nearly a foot and outweighed her by close to 100 pounds.” He immediately stopped harassing her.
The Supreme Court also found that stun guns, designed not to kill but only incapacitate, could not possibly be considered “dangerous” as the stun gun posed less risk to her or boyfriend if she had been forced to use it.
“The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was either unable or unwilling to do what was necessary to protect Jaime Caetano, so she was forced to protect herself,” wrote Alito. “To make matters worse, the Commonwealth chose to deploy its prosecutorial resources to prosecute and convict her of a criminal offense for arming herself with a nonlethal weapon that may well have saved her life…if the fundamental right of self-defense does not protect Caetano, then the safety of all Americans is left to the mercy of state authorities who may be more concerned about disarming people than about keeping them safe.”