The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that Second Amendment does include stun guns, in a ruling issued on Monday.
In the short per curiam (“by the Court”) opinion in Caetano v. Massachusetts, the Court set aside a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, rejecting the arguments offered for allowing the state to ban possession or use of stun guns as in conflict with the Second Amendment.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion supporting the self-defense rights of Jamie Caetano, the Boston woman whose conviction was the basis for the case.
The State of Massachusetts now has the choice of dropping the conviction against Caetano, or coming back to try new arguments to support their ban.
Self-defense against an abusive ex-boyfriend
As described in Alito and Thomas’ concurrence, Caetano was hospitalized after a “bad altercation” with an abusive live-in boyfriend, who was also the father of her children. She had obtained multiple restraining orders against him, but they had “proved futile” and she was “in fear for her life.” Caetano was nearly a foot shorter than her ex-boyfriend and he outweighed her by nearly 100 pounds. A friend offered her a stun gun for self-defense and she accepted it.
One night when her ex-boyfriend threatened Caetano after she left work, she was able to scare him off by showing him the stun gun and telling him, “I’m not gonna take this anymore…I don’t wanna have to [use the stun gun on] you, but if you don’t leave me alone, I’m gonna have to.”
In a later investigation for shoplifting, police questioned Caetano as a suspected accomplice. While searching Caetano’s car with her permission, they discovered the stun gun and arrested her for violation of a Massachusetts law that bans electrical weapons.
Court reasserts Second Amendment rights
In both the main opinion and Alito and Thomas’ concurrence, the Court pushes back on the Massachusetts’ court’s attempt to limit the “individual rights” protected under the Second Amendment.
The arguments that stun guns were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment, that they were “dangerous and unusual weapons,” and were not “readily adaptable to use in the military,” were completely rejected as in conflict with the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.
Heller was the 2008 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment includes protects for individuals to have guns for self-defense, at least in the home. That right was ruled to apply nationwide in McDonald v. Chicago, through application of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Wrote the Court, “This is inconsistent with Heller’s clear statement that the Second Amendment ‘extends…to…arms…that were not in existence at the time of the founding,'” and the mere fact of being “a thoroughly modern invention” does not mean that stun guns are “unusual.” Furthermore, “Heller rejected the proposition ‘that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.'”
Alito and Thomas’ concurrence praised Caetano for asserting her rights to protect herself.
Caetano’s encounter with her violent ex-boyfriend illustrates the connection between those fundamental rights: By arming herself, Caetano was able to protect against a physical threat that restraining orders had proved useless to prevent. 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.
The concurrence was sharp in its criticism of the Massachusetts court, saying that its decision “does a grave disservice to vulnerable individuals like Caetano who must defend themselves because the State will not.”
Strike against liberal anti-gun talking points
Heller was lauded by gun rights advocates for its clear enunciation of how the Second Amendment provides rights to individuals. The Caetano decision further bolsters that case precedent in a critical moment for the Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and with a presidential election looming in the fall.
Before Heller, gun control advocates tried — and failed — to hamstring the Second Amendment by arguing that the only gun rights protected were those necessary to maintain a “well regulated militia.” Even now, it’s a favored liberal talking point to claim that the Second Amendment should only apply to those weapons available more than two centuries ago when our Founding Fathers were gathered around a table in Philadelphia.
Star Wars actor Mark Hamill recently posted several tweets using this type of argument:
Don't get me wrong, as a strong supporter of the 2nd Ammendment-I believe in every American's right to own a musket. https://t.co/AyEdrwad5N
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) March 20, 2016
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) March 21, 2016
Fortunately for Americans who value their individual rights, a guy best known for defending himself with a light saber isn’t the final arbiter of how our freedoms are defined.
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