Metro

Mass. high court upholds state’s ban on stun guns

SJC says new weapon not covered by 2nd Amendment

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled Monday that the state can continue to ban ownership of stun guns because people do not have a Second Amendment right to own them.

“We hold that a stun gun is not the type of weapon that is eligible for Second Amendment protection,’’ Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina wrote for the unanimous court.

The court said it was up to the Legislature to determine whether they would be allowed.

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“We acknowledge that stun guns may have value for purposes of self-defense, but because they are not protected by the Second Amendment and because a rational basis exists for their prohibition, the lawfulness of their possession and use is a matter for the Legislature,” the court said.

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The Second Amendment says the people have a “right to keep and bear arms.” Recent US Supreme Court decisions have interpreted the amendment to mean that people have a right to possess guns for purposes such as self-defense within the home.

The Massachusetts court said the Second Amendment protections did not apply to stun guns because, among other reasons, they were “thoroughly modern” inventions that were not in common use at the time the Second Amendment was enacted in 1789.

The court’s ruling came in the case of Commonwealth v. Caetano. Jaime Caetano, who was arrested in an Ashland supermarket parking lot in 2011 for having a stun gun, said it was necessary to protect herself against an abusive boyfriend and challenged the constitutionality of the stun gun ban.

The court said, “The Legislature rationally could ban [the use of stun guns] in the interest of public health, safety, or welfare.” It said the Legislature could reasonably have acted to remove “from public access devices that can incapacitate, injure, or kill a person by disrupting the central nervous system with minimal detection.”

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The device that Caetano possessed was a black electronic device with two metal prongs and a switch. When it was turned on, an electrical current appeared between the prongs, the court said. The court noted that such devices can deliver charges of up to 50,000 volts.

“Finally,” the court noted, “neither the legislative ban on stun guns nor our decision affects the defendant’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Barring any cause for disqualification, the defendant could have applied for a license to carry a firearm. In addition, again barring any disqualification, possession of mace or pepper spray for self-defense no longer requires a license. We hold only that the defendant’s weapon of choice, the stun gun, is not protected by the Second Amendment.”

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.