BOSTON — The Massachusetts Supreme Court Tuesday overturned the state’s ban on private ownership of stun guns, ruling they are protected under the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
The decision gives the state Legislature 60 days to pass regulations on stun guns, suggesting a permitting system similar to that for owning firearms.
Massachusetts is one of five states that outright ban private ownership of stun guns, which deliver a low-power electrical shock designed to immobilize a person, and Tasers, which are used by law enforcement and fire projectiles with much greater force.
Stun guns, commercially available for less than $20, are legal in 42 states. In most cases, owners must be at least 18 years old and not have a felony record. Some states require a permit, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The stun gun ban has been in effective in Massachusetts since 2004. Gun laws in Massachusetts are among the strictest in the nation in regulating the sale, possession and use of firearms and ammunition.
“We conclude that the absolute prohibition against civilian possession of stun guns is in violation of the Second Amendment,” the justices wrote.
The case involved motorist Jorge Ramirez, who was pulled over by police in suburban Revere in November of 2015 for a broken taillight and found to have a stun gun in his pocket. Among other charges, he was arrested for illegal possession of a stun gun.
That same year the State Supreme Court upheld the stun gun ban by ruling against a woman, Jaime Caetano, who was arrested with a stun gun in 2011. She told police she needed it for self-defense against an abusive ex-boyfriend.
But the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the Caetano case, vacating the ruling and ordering further review of the law by the Massachusetts courts.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, the Massachusetts affiliate of the National Rifle Association, welcomed the state Supreme Court ruling. Besides violating the Second Amendment, he said, the state’s ban wrongly “targets law-abiding citizens” who want to protect themselves.
“In the vast majority of the country, stun guns are an over-the-counter product,” said Wallace. “The state’s ban was government overreach, plain and simple.”
Opponents of the state’s ban framed the debate around empowering victims of domestic violence, arguing stun guns offer an alternative to pepper spray and firearms.
Wallace said many people prefer a non-lethal way to defend themselves.