The US Supreme Court has vacated a Massachusetts court ruling that had declared stun guns and other non-lethal weapons are not protected under the Second Amendment.
The high court’s ruling was a win for owners of such weapons, although the court – technically — did not overturn the law.
The case involved Massachusetts resident Jaime Caetano, a single mother who started carrying a stun gun for protection after her ex-boyfriend injured her so badly she ended up in the hospital. When police discovered that Caetano was carrying the weapon, she was arrested for violating a state law that bans private ownership. Her attorneys filed a lawsuit and when they lost at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, they took their case to the US Supreme Court.
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The Supreme Court issued a page and a half unanimous ruling calling the Massachusetts court’s decision “inconsistent” with the Supreme Court’s Heller decision protecting individual gun rights. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Massachusetts court for “further proceedings.”
But Justice Samuel Alito, with Justice Clarence Thomas joining him, said the court should have overturned the law. Their 10-page opinion raised the prospect that the law would have been overturned if Justice Antonin Scalia had not died. The court currently has only eight members.
“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,” Alito wrote.
Alito in his Monday opinion added that the Massachusetts court’s “reasoning defies our decision in Heller, which rejected as ‘bordering on the frivolous’ the argument ‘that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment.’
“While stun guns were not in existence at the end of the 18th century, the same is true for the weapons most commonly used today for self-defense, namely, revolvers and semiautomatic pistols,” Alito noted. “Revolvers were virtually unknown until well into the 19th century, and semiautomatic pistols were not invented until near the end of that century.”
Alito criticized the Massachusetts law for making it difficult for residents to protect themselves.
“By arming herself, Caetano was able to protect against a physical threat that restraining orders had proved useless to prevent,” Alito and Thomas wrote. And, commendably, she did so by using a weapon that posed little, if any, danger of permanently harming either herself or the father of her children.”
“Under Massachusetts law, however, Caetano’s mere possession of the stun gun that may have saved her life made her a criminal.”
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