Updated 3/21 at 2 p.m. PDT: The U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that reversed a Massachusetts court ruling that upheld a ban on stun guns in that state could have far-reaching implications, and so could the high court’s decision to let stand an appeals court ruling on a Colorado case that prohibits guns in post offices and their parking lots.
The unsigned per curiam ruling, which may be read here beginning at page 14, which spans less than two pages, noted that the high court “has held that ‘the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas wrote a 10-page concurrence that contains some blistering language reminiscent of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. In their concurrence, written by Alito, they observed, “While less popular than handguns, stun guns are widely owned and accepted as a legitimate means of self-defense across the country. Massachusetts’ categorical ban of such weapons therefore violates the Second Amendment.”
The two justices quickly added, “The lower court’s ill treatment of Heller cannot stand. The reasoning of the Massachusetts court poses a grave threat to the fundamental right of self-defense.”
Ironically, they note, “Under Massachusetts law…Caetano’s mere possession of the stun gun that may have saved her life made her a criminal.”
The Colorado case has ramifications of its own, especially in the rural West, where people in small, gun-friendly communities must get their mail at the post office because there may be no home delivery. This decision does not even allow citizens to leave guns in their vehicles on post office property while conducting business in the building.
But it is the Massachusetts case that is getting most of the attention from the mainstream press. The high court did not nullify the Bay State ban, but it raised questions about how the state court upheld the law. The case involves a woman named Jaime Caetano, who was arrested for carrying a “stun gun” in her purse in 2011, claiming it was for defense against an abusive ex-boyfriend.
Newspaper accounts at the time said Caetano had been assaulted by the ex-boyfriend. Allegedly, when she showed him the device at one point, he fled.
Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that bans stun guns. The others are New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Hawaii, all states with tough gun control laws.
Today’s decision suggested that the Massachusetts ban may not pass the smell test on the right to keep and bear arms under the 2008 Heller ruling, authored by Scalia. The court, according to USA Today, said the state’s “reasons for upholding the law conflicted” with that ruling.
The Second Amendment Foundation was out quickly with a statement applauding the high court’s action.
“This ruling shows that the United States Supreme Court is not happy with lower courts ignoring the Heller and McDonald decisions affirming the individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “It is also an important ruling because the gun in question is a modern type and was used in public outside the home.
“Just because something didn’t exist at the time the Constitution was ratified doesn’t mean it isn’t protected,” he noted. “By that same reasoning, no modern newspaper, online publication, or broadcast media would be protected by the First Amendment in the Bay State, and we all know that’s nonsense.”
In their concurring opinion, Alito and Thomas were concerned that the ruling may not be enough to reverse Caetano’s conviction, and that could prevent her “from ever bearing arms for self-defense.” They also noted that “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.”
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