The Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday found the state’s total ban on civilian possession of a stun gun violates the Second Amendment.
In the 22-page ruling in Ramirez v. Commonwealth, Chief Justice Ralph Gants said the high court “reluctantly” came to the conclusion that Massachusetts’s blanket prohibition on electronic weapons couldn’t be saved as it was flawed in its wording by the legislature. The solution advanced by the court: delay the lifting of the ban by 60 days to allow legislators to craft a law that would balance the right to keep and bear arms with public safety.
“Unless and until the Legislature were to act to replace § 131J [the current stun gun law] with a revised version that would pass muster under the Second Amendment, facial invalidation of § 131J would mean that there would be no law in place preventing stun guns from being sold to or possessed by violent felons, persons convicted of domestic violence, convicted drug dealers, children, or the mentally ill,” Gants said for the court.
The case, that of Jorge Ramirez, came from a predawn traffic stop by the Revere Police Department in November 2015 over a broken tail light. Ramirez, a passenger in the vehicle, was found to have a stun gun in his pants pocket, which lead in part to his arrest and a charge for violating the Commonwealth’s electrical weapon laws. The man later challenged the legality of the charge itself, with his attorney citing a 2016 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Jaime Caetano, a Massachusetts woman appealing her conviction for carrying a stun gun. While the Justices held that, in Caetano’s case, “‘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,” Massachusetts has not acted to repeal their prohibition on stun guns and tasers.
Since then, a flood of lawsuits and pre-litigation letters has seen bans on the devices scrapped in Baltimore, New Jersey, New Orleans, Tacoma, Washington, D.C. and other cities. Litigation is pending in Hawaii and New York.
With lawmakers in Massachusetts now under a ticking clock to recast the Commonwealth’s electronic weapon laws, Senate President Harriette Chandler and House Speaker Robert DeLeo are both reportedly working on legislative fixes.