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SCOTUS: 2nd Amendment extends to stun guns

Jaime Caetano v. Massachusetts, USSC No. 14-10078, 2016WL1078932 (per curiam), vacating Commonwealth v. Caetano, 470 Mass. 774, 26 N.E.2d 688 (2015); SCOTUSblog page (including links to briefs and commentary)

Jaime Caetano obtained a stun gun in order to protect herself from an abusive boyfriend. When she was prosecuted for violating a Massachusetts statute that prohibited the possession of stun guns, she argued that the law violated her 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled against her. SCOTUS, in one fell swoop, granted her cert petition and reversed. Here is the meat of its two-page per curiam opinion:

The [Massachusetts] court offered three explanations to support its holding that the Second Amendment does not extend to stun guns. First, the court explained that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment.” 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.” 554 U.S., at 582.

The court next asked whether stun guns are “dangerous per se at common law and unusual,” 470 Mass., at 781, 26, 18 N.E.3d 654 N.E.3d, at 694, in an attempt to apply one “important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms,” 554 U.S., at 627; see ibid (referring to “the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’ ”). In so doing, the court concluded that stun guns are “unusual” because they are “a thoroughly modern invention.” 470 Mass., at 781, 26, 18 N.E.3d 654 N.E.3d, at 693–694. By equating “unusual” with “in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,” the court’s second explanation is the same as the first; it is inconsistent with Heller for the same reason.

Finally, the court used “a contemporary lens” and found “nothing in the record to suggest that [stun guns] are readily adaptable to use in the military.” 470 Mass., at 781, 26, 18 N.E.3d 654 N.E.3d, at 694. But Heller rejected the proposition “that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.” 554 U.S., at 624–625.

A lengthy concurrence filed by Alito and joined by Thomas gets excited about Caetano’s right to defend herself: “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 the people than about keeping them safe.”  Otherwise it doesn’t add much substance to the majority opinion. As you may know, Wis. Stat. §941.295 generally prohibits the possession of a stun gun.  Also, click SCOTUSblog for a helpful analysis of the state of the law regarding a person’s right to possess a gun for self defense.

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