The right to self defense is one of the most basic and fundamental human rights. If somebody is threatening you, your life, or your property, you have the right to defend yourself using force when necessary. In the United States, that right is protected, in part, by the Second Amendment. But when most people think of the right to bear arms, they think in terms of firearms only. Presumably, this is what led the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to enact an ill-advised ban on stun guns.
This ban came under fire when a homeless woman, Jaime Caetano, was faced with a very real threat from an abusive and violent ex-boyfriend who had beaten her so badly she had to be hospitalized. Lacking the means to purchase a gun, however, she opted to get a much less lethal and costly option that allowed her to feel safe and secure from the menace the ex had become.
This purchase led her afoul of the draconian rules against stun guns and she was thrust into a lengthy court battle. Presumably, the intent behind the law was to protect citizens from the dangers of stun guns. While those dangers can be argued at length, the point is that the initial intent of the law had the exact opposite effect: It left people like Caetano more vulnerable to attack from potential threats such as her ex.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts upheld the law, stating that a stun gun “is not the type of weapon that is eligible for Second Amendment protection.” They argued that because stun guns had not yet been invented when the Bill of Rights was penned, it could not be afforded the same status as other forms of personal protection.
This ruling flew in the face of the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision, which very explicitly stated the opposite. So when the ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court on March 21, it didn’t take long for the justices to vacate the ruling and kick it right back down to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, with the request that they fix their own ruling.
Not one of the justices dissented, not even the four liberal ones, and the two most conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, even implied that they would have gone further if necessary, by declaring the law flatly unconstitutional, vacating not only the lower court’s ruling but also removing the ban entirely.
“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,” Alito wrote. “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 … 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 people than about keeping them safe.”