The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does not protect a person’s right to possess a stun gun in public. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Caetano.
The defendant was convicted of possession of a stun gun, in violation of Massachusetts law. In 2011, Ashland police officers were investigating a shoplifting at a grocery store. The store’s manager told the cops that the defendant, who had left the store, might have been involved. The officers approached the defendant, who was sitting in a car in the parking lot. The defendant allowed the police to search her purse, which contained a stun gun. She told the police that she carried the stun gun to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend, and she was charged with criminal possession of the stun gun. The defendant waived her right to a jury trial and instead had a trial before a judge. The judge found the defendant guilty and filed the case (essentially imposing no punishment other than the guilty finding itself). The defendant appealed and argued that the Massachusetts law banning the possession of stun guns violates the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to “keep and bear Arms.” The amendment has received considerable attention recently, as the United States Supreme Court considered in 2008 and again in 2010 whether restrictive gun laws in other jurisdictions were constitutional. In a case called District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that totally banning handgun possession in the home was unconstitutional. In 2010, the Court said the Heller rule applied to the states. The defendant here relied on Heller to argue that a total ban on stun guns violated her Second Amendment rights.
The Supreme Judicial Court relied on two principles to reject the defendant’s argument. First, the Court pointed out that the defendant was not possessing the stun gun in her home for protection, which is the “core” of the Second Amendment. Second, stun guns were not weapons that were used by militias at the time the Second Amendment was enacted. In fact, as the Court pointed out, stun guns are modern inventions and are not adaptable for use in the military.
After concluding that stun guns do not enjoy Second Amendment protection, the Court turned its attention to whether the legislature had a “rational basis” for enacting a total ban on such weapons. The Court focused on the significant damage that can be inflicted by a stun gun, including general disruption of the central nervous system, and concluded that the legislature acted rationally in deciding to remove stun guns from public access.
The Court pointed out that the ban against stun guns did not restrict the defendant’s right to apply for a license to carry a firearm. Therefore, while it was illegal for the defendant to carry a stun gun, she could have possessed a much more lethal weapon – a handgun – if she had the proper license.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling will be final unless the defendant decides to file an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. Even if the defendant appeals, it is unlikely the Supreme Court will accept the case, as it only considers a fraction of the appeals that are filed.