Supreme Court Opens Door to Protections for Stun Guns

A current flows through the tip of a stun gun. On March 21, the U.S. Supreme Court reordered the highest court in Massachusetts to reconsider the state's ban on stun guns after it upheld the conviction of Jaime Caetano, who was arrested in 2011 for possessing a stun gun in a supermarket parking lot. Texas.713/Flickr

In what gun rights activists consider a victory, the U.S. Supreme Court has paved the way for stun guns, which are designed to incapacitate using electric current rather than bullets, to be protected under the Second Amendment.

The court did not issue a definitive ruling on the constitutionality of stun gun use and ownership, and it is possible it may eventually rule that these weapons are not protected. But the justices did ask Massachusetts's highest court to reconsider its ruling that stun guns deserve no such protection.

The case involved Jaime Caetano of Massachusetts who was arrested in 2011 for possession of a stun gun. Her attorneys argued that she needed the device as protection against a violent and abusive former boyfriend.

In Commonwealth v. Caetano, the highest court of Massachusetts last March upheld Caetano's conviction, saying residents don't have a constitutional right to own Tasers and other kinds of stun guns. The state's Supreme Judicial Court said the Second Amendment doesn't protect the possession of stun guns because they are "thoroughly modern" inventions not realized in 1789, when Congress passed the amendment, The Boston Globe reported last year.

The Second Amendment states there is a "right of the people to keep and bear arms." Federal gun laws establish the minimum requirements for gun possession and sales nationwide; most states also have their own gun laws. In the 2008 landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court struck down the district's ban on handgun ownership and ruled the Constitution gives citizens the right to possess firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense.

In an unsigned opinion, the justices on Monday said the Massachusetts ruling was inconsistent with the Supreme Court's precedents, including Heller, which was written by the late Antonin Scalia, whose death this winter was a blow to the court's conservative majority. President Barack Obama has nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to replace Scalia. His nomination, while widely applauded—including by many Republicans who see him as a moderate—is opposed by the National Rifle Association.