After a “bad altercation” with an abusive boyfriend put her in the hospital, Jaime Caetano found herself homeless and in fear for her life. She obtained multiple restraining orders against her abuser, but they proved futile. So when a friend offered her a stun gun “for self-defense against her former boy friend, Caetano accepted the weapon.
It is a good thing she did. One night after leaving work, Caetano found her ex-boyfriend waiting for her outside. He “started screaming” that she was “not gonna [expletive deleted] work at this place” any more because she “should be home with the kids” they had together. Caetano’s abuser towered over her by nearly a foot and outweighed her by close to 100 pounds. But she didn’t need physical strength to protect herself. She stood her ground, displayed the stun gun, and announced: “I’m not gonna take this anymore. . . . I don’t wanna have to use the stun gun on you, but if you don’t leave me alone, I’m gonna have to.” The gambit worked. The ex-boyfriend “got scared and he left her alone.”
Under Massachusetts law, however, stun guns are illegal.
When police later discovered the weapon, Ms. Caetano was arrested, tried, and convicted for violating the law. 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.”
Her case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s conclusion that stun guns are unsuited for militia or military use. It reasoned that law enforcement and correctional officers carry stun guns and Tasers, presumably for such purposes as nonlethal crowd control. Also, subduing members of a mob is little different from suppressing insurrections, a traditional role of the militia. Finally, several branches of the U. S. armed services equip troops with electrical stun weapons to “incapacitate a target without permanent injury or known side effects.”
The Court also reasoned that “hundreds of thousands of Tasers and stun guns have been sold to private citizens,” who may lawfully possess them in 45 States. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded with powerful language stated below:
A State’s most basic responsibility is to keep its people safe. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was either unable or unwilling to do what was necessary to protect Jaime Caetano, so she was forced to protect herself. To make matters worse, the Commonwealth chose to deploy its prosecutorial resources to prosecute and convict her of a criminal offense for arming herself with a nonlethal weapon that may well have saved her life. The Supreme Judicial Court then affirmed her conviction on the flimsiest of grounds. This Court’s grudging per curiam now sends the case back to that same court. And the consequences for Caetano may prove more tragic still, as her conviction likely bars her from ever bearing arms for self-defense. 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.
With that, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and remanded the case for further proceedings.
My opinion? Good decision. Stun guns are non-lethal use of self-defense. They shouldn’t be outlawed or classified as a dangerous weapon.
FYI, stun guns are (mostly) legal in WA State. State law only prohibits the possession of a stun gun on school property under RCW 9.41.280.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.