WSJ: Supreme Court Questions Massachusetts Stun Gun Ban

The Supreme Court on Monday indicated individuals may have a right to possess Tasers and other electric stun guns.
The justices threw out a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court holding that said the electrical weapons weren’t contemplated by the 18th century framers of the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court said state court in reviewing a state law barring ownership of stun guns had disregarded its landmark 2008 opinion, District of Columbia v. Heller, that recognized an individual right to possess handguns for self-defense in the home.
“The explanation the Massachusetts court offered for upholding the law contradicts this court’s precedent,” the high court said in an unsigned opinion.
The Massachusetts court upheld a state law banning possession of such weapons, reasoning that stun guns weren’t used at the time the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, that they were a “dangerous and unusual” weapon and not “readily adaptable to us in the military.”
The Heller case, the court noted, specifically rejected arguments that gun rights were limited to weapons in use in the 1700s or that, despite the Second Amendment’s reference to a “well-regulated militia,” need be connected to military use.
The order requires the Massachusetts court to reconsider the case with stricter attention to the Heller precedent.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the high court decision was “grudging” and hadn’t gone far enough in correcting the lower court, which had posed “a grave threat to the fundamental right of self-defense.”
Justice Alito noted the woman convicted of possessing the stun gun, Jaime Caetano, had said she needed it to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend. On one occasion, he wrote, the abuser backed off after Ms. Caetano threatened him with her weapon.
“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,” he wrote. The safety of individuals should not be “left to the mercy of state authorities who may be more concerned about disarming the people than about keeping them safe.”
Monday’s decision may be yet another reflection of the court’s new dynamic following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
The case was first considered at the justices’ private meeting of Nov. 13, and the four-month delay before its resolution suggests it had been held while a dissent was in preparation. Whether Justice Scalia had been working on an opinion of his own may not be publicly known for many years until his or other justices’ papers are released.
Justice Scalia wrote the 2008 Heller opinion, and Justice Alito wrote a follow-up decision in 2010. Both opinions were adopted by 5-4 votes along the court’s conservative-liberal divide.
One development since Justice Scalia’s death was underscored Monday: the close new alliance between Justices Alito and Thomas. The pair has been acting in lockstep, repeatedly filing two-justice dissents or concurrences asserting the court should have adopted more conservative outcomes.

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