Supreme Court Overturns Stun Gun Ban in Commonwealth v Caetano
In Commonwealth v Caetano, 577 U. S. ____ (2016), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a Massachusetts court’s proffered reasons for upholding a ban on personal possession or use of a “stun gun” contradicted the Court’s prior Second Amendment holdings. The Court issued a unanimous per curium opinion.
The Facts in Commonwealth v Caetano
To protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend, Jaime Caetano accepted a stun gun from a friend. One night after leaving work, Caetano found her ex-boyfriend waiting for her outside. She displayed the stun gun, and she told her ex-boyfriend that she was prepared to use it if he did not leave her alone. He got scared and left.
Under Massachusetts law, Caetano’s possession of the stun gun was illegal. When police later discovered the weapon, she was arrested, tried, and convicted. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction, holding that a stun gun “is not the type of weapon that is eligible for Second Amendment protection” because it was “not in common use at the time of [the Second Amendment’s] enactment.”
The Court’s Decision in Commonwealth v Caetano
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Massachusetts court and remanded the case for further proceedings. In its decision, the Supreme Court rejected the three explanations provided by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to support its holding that the Second Amendment does not extend to stun guns. According to the Court, the Massachusetts court failed to properly apply its ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570 (2008).
With regard to the argument that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,” the Supreme Court held that the reasoning is inconsistent with the Court’s clear statement in Heller that the Second Amendment “extends . . . to . . . arms . . . that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”
The Supreme Court also rejected the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s holding that stun guns may be banned as “dangerous and unusual weapons.” As explained in the Court’s per curium opinion: “By equating ‘unusual’ with ‘in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,’ the court’s second explanation is the same as the first; it is inconsistent with Heller for the same reason.”
Finally, the Court dismissed the Massachusetts court’s finding that “nothing in the record to suggest that [stun guns] are readily adaptable to use in the military.” As highlighted by the justices, Heller rejected the proposition “that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.”
The Concurrence in Commonwealth v Caetano
Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Clarence Thomas joined. The concurring justices argued that the Massachusetts stun gun law was outright unconstitutional and, therefore, the case need not be remanded. “If the fundamental right of self-defense does not protect Caetano, then the safety of all Americans is left to the mercy of state authorities who may be more concerned about disarming the people than about keeping them safe,” Justice Alito wrote.
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Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.