The Supreme Court vacated a lower court's ruling that upheld a Massachusetts ban on the carry of stun guns in a unanimous ruling on Monday.
The justices ordered the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to rehear Caetano v. Massachusetts, reasserting two key gun rights rulings. The Massachusetts court had ruled against Jaime Caetano after she was convicted of carrying a stun gun she had acquired to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend. The court reasoned that stun guns “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment” and, therefore, not protected by the amendment.
The Supreme Court rebuked the lower court for straying from the precedent set by the high court in both District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. In Heller, the court established that Second Amendment protections extend to arms that did not exist at the time of the founding. In McDonald, the court extended that standard to the state level.
The Supreme Court ordered the Massachusetts court to rule in a manner consistent with the high court's precedents when it rehears the case.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas issued a separate but concurring opinion on the case. They accused the lower court of openly defying the precedents set by the high court. "The lower court’s ill treatment of Heller cannot stand," the concurring opinion said. "The reasoning of the Massachusetts court poses a grave threat to the fundamental right of self-defense."
Alito and Thomas criticized their colleagues’ decision to send the case back to the lower court rather than deciding the case themselves. "A State’s most basic responsibility is to keep its people safe," they said. "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. To make matters worse, the Commonwealth chose to deploy its prosecutorial resources to prosecute and convict her of a criminal offense for arming herself with a nonlethal weapon that may well have saved her life."
"The Supreme Judicial Court then affirmed her conviction on the flimsiest of grounds. This Court’s grudging per curiam now sends the case back to that same court. And the consequences for Caetano may prove more tragic still, as her conviction likely bars her from ever bearing arms for self defense."
"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."
Though Thomas and Alito were unsatisfied with the court's actions, gun rights activists still viewed the unanimous opinion as a good sign.
Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, a group that often brings legal challenges against gun laws, said the ruling demonstrated the high court's displeasure with lower courts that strayed from the standards it has set in previous gun cases.
"This ruling shows that the United States Supreme Court is not happy with lower courts ignoring the Heller and McDonald decisions affirming the individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense," Gottlieb said. "It is also an important ruling because the gun in question is a modern type and was used in public outside the home."