The country’s final statewide ban on stun guns and tasers is no more.
U.S. District Court Judge William Smith struck down the state of Rhode Island’s prohibition against stun guns on Tuesday. In his ruling, Judge Smith found that the state provided “no evidence” that the ban improves public safety and thus it cannot overcome the burden it places on the constitutional rights of Rhode Island residents.
“The prohibition against the possession and use of stun guns set forth in [the stun-gun law] is an unconstitutional restriction of the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment in light of Heller,” the opinion reads. “Defendants are permanently enjoined from enforcing [state law] as related to stun guns.”
The ruling removes the remaining outlier in American regulation of the shock defense devices. Stun-gun bans have frequently been overturned by courts and repealed by legislatures in recent years following the 2016 Supreme Court decision in Caetano v. Massachusetts.
In Caetano, the Court unanimously vacated a conviction under a Massachusetts law that prohibited stun guns. While the Court did not rule on the merits of the ban directly, the brief opinion handed down by the Court said possession of modern weapons is not exempt from Constitutional protection and implied that stun guns are covered by the Second Amendment. Subsequently, dozens of localities—and as of Tuesday’s ruling, every single state—have done away with their stun-gun and taser bans.
Alan Beck, who represented the plaintiffs in the case and has successfully challenged numerous stun-gun bans across the country, told The Reload he was satisfied with the outcome of the case.
“I am overjoyed to overturn the electric arm bans of four states and several cities,” Beck said. “These rulings open the door to citizens having an effective less than lethal means of self-defense which is something which will save lives.”
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in 2019 by Michael P. O’Neil, vice president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition, and Nicola Grasso, former president of the Rhode Island Federated Sportsmen’s Association. The duo sued Attorney General Peter F. Neronha (D.) and Rhode Island State Police Superintendent James M. Manni, alleging that enforcement of the state’s ban on stun guns was a violation of the Second Amendment.
The state argued that stun guns and other electronic arms pose a public safety risk and thus their prohibition was warranted. They said stun guns could be used to commit crimes or could be mistaken for toys by children.
Judge Smith, however, was unpersuaded by those arguments.
“Although defendants suggest that the ability to disguise stun guns as other household items poses a challenge for state regulation or particular danger to children, the record is devoid of evidence demonstrating the real-world existence of this problem,” he wrote.
Judge Smith also noted the state had not sufficiently convinced the court stun guns are not legitimate defensive tools.
“It is Defendants’ burden to demonstrate that stun guns are not used for lawful purposes such as self-defense, and they failed to do so,” Judge Smith wrote.
Frank Saccoccio, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs suing Rhode Island in the case, told The Reload the ruling represented a culmination of many years of hard work.
“It’s been a couple of years coming but we finally got the absolute ban on stun guns and tasers declared unconstitutional,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get the law changed for years but the Attorney General and the state never wanted to deal with us on that. So we decided fine, it’s time we just take you to court.”
He said the ruling will ultimately allow more people to have options when it comes to self-defense. He said the ruling will help those who may not want to carry a firearm but are still interested in having a tool for personal protection.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha (D.) did not respond to a request for comment.