A “Stunning” Result? The Supreme Court Examines the Scope of the Second Amendment
By: Curtis M. Graham, Esq.
The United States Supreme Court recently had occasion to examine the reach of Second Amendment protection in the case of Caetano v. Massachusetts, which was decided on March 21, 2016. Specifically, the question posed to the Court was whether the Second Amendment’s “right to keep and bear arms” extends to private citizens’ possession of stun guns.
The facts of Caetano were largely undisputed. A woman who lived in Massachusetts (Caetano) began carrying a stun gun with her for self-defense against an abusive former boyfriend. The stun gun was found by law enforcement officers when Caetano gave them consent to search her purse after a shoplifting incident (the officers had identified Caetano as a potential accomplice to the shoplifting). She was eventually arrested for violating a Massachusetts state law banning citizens from possessing an electrical weapon. It was this statute the Supreme Court was asked to judge the validity of.
The lower court rejected Caetano’s constitutional argument, holding that a “stun gun is not the type of weapon that is eligible for Second Amendment protection” because stun guns (a) “were not in common use at the time of the Amendment’s enactment, (b) are not “readily adaptable to use in the military,” and (c) should be banned because of the “historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” Each of these contentions was rejected by the Supreme Court, and the Court unanimously found that Massachusetts erred in upholding its law prohibiting the possession of stun guns. Accordingly, Caetano’s conviction was vacated.
The Court clearly stated that the Second Amendment extends to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, “even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” Additionally, relevant precedent has rejected the argument that “only those weapons useful in warfare” are protected by the Second Amendment. It should be noted that the opinion in Caetano did not categorically declare bans on stun guns to be unconstitutional. Thus, what happens in the states still having statutory restrictions on citizen stun gun possession remains to be seen (this list includes New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and Rhode Island).
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Curtis M. Graham – MRR Lexington