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Massachusetts Stun-Gun Prosecution Condemned

WASHINGTON (CN) - Endorsing the Second Amendment right to carry a stun gun, the Supreme Court on Monday threw out a Massachusetts law banning the weapon.

The case stems from a stun gun Jaime Caetano carried for protection. After an abusive boyfriend hospitalized the woman, and restraining orders proved ineffective, the homeless Caetano had success in fending him off only by threatening to use the stun gun.

Caetano was carrying the weapon in her purse, sitting in her car in an Ashland supermarket parking lot, when she consented to a search by police responding to a report of possible shoplifting.

Though Caetano challenged the state ban on electrical weapons as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, a judge found her guilty and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed her conviction last year.

The U.S. Supreme Court summarily reversed Monday, saying the prior decision "upholding the law contradicts this court's precedent."

In its 2015 ruling, the Massachusetts high court had said Caetano failed to show that "a stun gun is the type of weapon contemplated in 1789 as being protected by the Second Amendment."

While modern handguns are protected under the Second Amendment because "their basic function has not changed" since 1789, the Massachusetts court said stun guns fall outside the protection of the Second Amendment because they were not in common use at the time of the enactment of the Second Amendment, and are "both dangerous per se at common law and unusual."

Citing the landmark handgun precedent District of Columbia v. Heller, however, the justices in Washington found it inconsistent Monday to focus on whether stun guns were commonplace or unusual in the eighteenth century.

The 2015 decision had also focused on whether a stun gun is designed as a weapon, like "firearms, daggers, stilettos and brass knuckles," or designed as a tool but used as a weapon like "pocket knives, razors, hammers, wrenches and cutting tools."

Citing the statutory definition, the court said it is clear that a stun gun belongs to the first category.

"The record demonstrates no evidence or argument that its purpose is for anything other than bodily assault and defense," Justice Francis Spina wrote for the court.

Meanwhile the U.S. Supreme Court also sidelined analysis of stun guns' adaptability for military uses.

"Heller rejected the proposition 'that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected,'" the unsigned decision states.

Though the Supreme Court dispatched of the case in just two pages, its conservative wing expanded upon the case in an opinion concurring in judgment.

"Caetano's encounter with her violent ex-boyfriend illustrates the connection between those fundamental rights: By arming herself, Caetano was able to protect against a physical threat that restraining orders had proved useless to prevent," Justice Samuel Alito wrote, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. "And, commendably, she did so by using a weapon that posed little, if any, danger of permanently harming either herself or the father of her children."

Alito said the underlying decision both defied Heller and "does a grave disservice to vulnerable individuals like Caetano who must defend themselves because the state will not."

Suggesting "that Caetano could have simply gotten a firearm to defend herself" unnerved Alito in particular.

"A weapon is an effective means of self-defense only if one is prepared to use it, and it is presumptuous to tell Caetano she should have been ready to shoot the father of her two young children if she wanted to protect herself," the opinion states. "Courts should not be in the business of demanding that citizens use more force for self-defense than they are comfortable wielding."

"Countless people may have reservations about using deadly force, whether for moral, religious, or emotional reasons - or simply out of fear of killing the wrong person," the ruling continues. "I am not prepared to say that a state may force an individual to choose between exercising that right and following her conscience, at least where both can be accommodated by a weapon already in widespread use across the nation."

Alito also called it doubly tragic that her conviction would keep her from bearing arms for self-defense after her ownership of a nonlethal weapon "may well have saved her life" when the state failed her.

"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," the opinion concludes.

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