In an unsigned per curiam ruling Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered what might be a fatal blow to state laws that ban so-called “stun guns,” explaining that the high court “has held that ‘the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded a case involving a woman named Jaime Caetano, who was convicted for having one of the devices in her purse, in violation of the state ban. She had the stun gun for self-defense against an abusive ex-boyfriend, a situation that Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas found ironic in their concurring opinion.
“Under Massachusetts law,” Alito wrote, “Caetano’s mere possession of the stun gun that may have saved her life made her a criminal.”
The Massachusetts court held that because stun guns weren’t around at the time the Constitution was written, they are not protected by the Second Amendment. Massachusetts is one of five states that ban the devices. The other four are New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Hawaii, all states with strict gun control laws.
That argument was not only rejected by the Supreme Court, but also by Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation. In a news release, Gottlieb observed, “Just because something didn’t exist at the time the Constitution was ratified doesn’t mean it isn’t protected. By that same reasoning, no modern newspaper, online publication, or broadcast media would be protected by the First Amendment in the Bay State, and we all know that’s nonsense.”
“This ruling shows that the United States Supreme Court is not happy with lower courts ignoring the Heller and McDonald decisions affirming the individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense,” Gottlieb added.
Alito and Thomas were concerned that the per curiam ruling may not be enough to reverse Caetano’s conviction, and that could prevent her “from ever bearing arms for self-defense.” They also noted that “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.”
They asserted that the Massachusetts court had affirmed Caetano’s original conviction “on the flimsiest of grounds.”
“A State’s most basic responsibility,” Alito wrote, “is to keep its people safe. 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.”