Defensive Strategies

Stun Guns in Massachusetts

By Lyn Bates,
Contributing Editor

Many years ago I moved to Massachusetts, and gradually started learning about firearms, took gun lessons, got a license, bought a gun and became certified to teach other people.
Along the way, I started to learn about the―how can I put this kindly?―absurd, arcane, sometimes ridiculous laws in my new home state. I could understand what a Class A license covered, and a Class B license and an FID (Firearms ID card) covered. Pepper spray was legal, but only if you had one of those three licenses. Why did one need a license for pepper spray, a wonderfully effective defensive tool that was non-lethal, inexpensive, and easy to carry? Nobody seemed to know for sure. Answers varied from, “It might be to keep more state employees busy managing those records,” to “It must be just another way for the state to get license fees from us.”
Stun guns and Tasers were also illegal in Mass. Compared to handguns, they were definitely less lethal, less expensive and still remarkably effective. Again, nobody seemed to know why they were banned. I got used to explaining to students what was legal here by saying something like “This is Massachusetts. The laws about guns and other things you might use to protect yourself are not supposed to make sense. You need to know what is and isn’t legal, but don’t expect it to be sensible or reasonable.”
Even when gun laws in Massachusetts were modified, with many good changes made, stun guns and Tasers still remained banned.

Did anyone ever get in trouble over that ban? Yes, Jamie Caetano did. Several years ago she was given a stun gun by a friend to protect herself against her ex. Her ex showed up, she threatened him with her electronic weapon, and he went away. She called the police to report what happened, and she was arrested, because Tasers and stun guns are illegal in Massachusetts. She was convicted, her case appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court which upheld the verdict. Her case was taken to the US Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. AWARE wrote an amicus brief (with the help of a law firm in DC) for the court arguing that those non-lethal, modern weapons should be allowed. The court determined that although they were modern, the Second Amendment should still apply.
The Supreme Court decision did not automatically change the law in Massachusetts. Massachusetts dismissed Caetano’s conviction, so she was home free, but the legislature did not get around to changing the state’s law.
In 2016, two organizations, the Center for Individual Right (CIR) in Washington, DC, and Comm2A, a Massachusetts non-profit created to promote the understanding of the Second Amendment thought they might have an interesting case to take to court, making stun guns legal in Mass. Karen MacNutt, yes, the legal editor of Women & Guns and Lisa Steele, a Massachusetts lawyer on the board of AWARE helped.
CIR and Comm2A needed to put together a group of plaintiffs to pursue the case. They asked AWARE if any of us would be interested in possibly joining the legal suit, and I said yes.
The group of three plaintiffs represented different people with different needs.
The first plaintiff was a man who traveled extensively for work in and out of state. His gun license let him carry at home, but not in the places he traveled, He wanted to have a stun gun for those trips.
The second was a woman employed in a Boston hospital who “has a moral aversion to taking human life and cannot contemplate the circumstances under which she would use a firearm even in self-defense.” She wanted a Taser to carry to and from work.
The third was me. Though I have a license and carry concealed, I would really not like to have to shoot someone who was obviously on drugs or mentally ill, and would like to have the option of using a stun gun or Taser.
The suit was filed a year ago, and got some nice coverage in the Boston Herald and a paper farther West.
We are still awaiting action from the MA legislature. Things seem to be looking up. Recently a Massachusetts court dismissed a case against a man who was arrested with a stun gun. Watch this space for the final act of legislation