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Picture it: a mother of two gets off work and walks outside to find her violent ex-boyfriend, against whom she has obtained several restraining orders, waiting on her. He begins screaming at her, threatening her. This mother, fearing for her safety – a reasonable fear, based on his past behavior and current conduct – displays a stun gun. She tells him that she doesn’t want to use it, but she will if he doesn’t leave her alone. It works. The ex-boyfriend departs without further incident. Most people would describe this incident as a success: it ended without violence, and no one was hurt. So who was the criminal in this scene: the violent ex-boyfriend, threatening and intimidating the mother of his children? Or the mother, who successfully defended herself without violence? Under Massachusetts law, the answer is the mother, because mere possession of a stun gun is illegal. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140, § 131J (2014) (the “Stun Gun Ban”).
The mother in the situation described above, Jaime Caetano, was stopped by police a couple of months after this incident. She still carried the stun gun. She was arrested and ultimately convicted for violating the Stun Gun Ban. She challenged the constitutionality of the Stun Gun Ban to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (the “SJC”), which found that a stun gun is not protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore, the Stun Gun Ban was not unconstitutional.
Recently, in a brief per curiam decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the SJC and held the Massachusetts Stun Gun Ban to be unconstitutional. Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S.__ (2016). The Supreme Court’s decision examined all of the three (3) explanations the SJC gave, finding that each was inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s holdings in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008). Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote a lengthy concurrence, providing factual details of the underlying case and a more thorough analysis of existing Second Amendment law.
The Supreme Court held that Second Amendment protection extends to weapons that did not exist at the time the Second Amendment was written, whether or not such weapons are useful in warfare. In this case, that includes stun guns.