Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Supreme Court Update – Stun Gun a “Bearable Arm” Protected by the Second Amendment – Caetano v. Massachusetts

In Caetano v. Massachusetts, No. 14-10078, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous per curiam decision, reversed the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts that a stun gun is not a “bearable arm” protected by the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010).  Ms. Caetano was given a stun gun by a friend to use for protection after an altercation with her abusive ex-boyfriend landed her in the hospital. Multiple restraining orders had proved unsuccessful in keeping the boyfriend away.  The next time the boyfriend accosted her, she displayed the stun gun and he went away.

Possession of a stun gun is punishable in Massachusetts by imprisonment of 6 months to 2 1/2 years.  Ms. Caetano raised a Second Amendment claim in the trial court, but it was rejected, and she was convicted.  The SJC affirmed.  The court gave three reasons for its decision.  It first held that a stun gun could not be an arm under the Second Amendment because stun guns did not exist in 1789.  The court also decided that stun guns do not qualify for protection because they are “dangerous and unusual weapons,” unusual in part because they were not in existence when the Second Amendment was enacted.  Finally, the court ruled, stun guns are not readily adaptable for military use and only such weapons are covered.

The Supreme Court rejected all three reasons.  First, Heller clearly stated that the Second Amendment extends to arms that were not in existence at the time of the founding.  The second explanation, relying on the fact that the weapon was not in use in 1789 was really the same as the first and equally invalid.  As for the third rationale, Heller explicitly rejected the proposition that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.  Justices Alito and Thomas filed a 10-page concurrence, criticizing the SJC in more detail.

Full opinion available here.

-Barry Leiwant

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