March 21, 2016

Supreme Court Decides Caetano v. Massachusetts

On March 21, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Caetano v. Massachusetts, No. 14-10078, reversing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision upholding a Massachusetts law prohibiting the possession of stun guns. The Supreme Court rejected all three of the Massachusetts’ court’s explanations as inconsistent with the Court’s previous decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

A Massachusetts statute prohibits the possession of stun guns, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the statute on three grounds: stun guns were not in common usage at the time the Second Amendment was enacted, stun guns are dangerous and unusual, and stun guns are not readily adaptable to use in the military.

The Supreme Court vacated the state court decision, holding that the state court’s stated reasons for upholding the law are inconsistent with Supreme Court jurisprudence. First, the fact that stun guns were not in common usage at the time the Second Amendment was enacted is inconsistent with Heller’s holding that the Second Amendment “extends … to … arms … that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” Second, the Massachusetts’ court’s determination that stun guns are “dangerous per se at common law and unusual” because they are a “thoroughly modern invention” is inconsistent with Heller for the same reason. Third, Massachusetts’ reasoning that stun guns are not readily adaptable to the military is also rejected by Heller. The Court remanded for further proceedings “not inconsistent” with its opinion.

The Court issued its decision per curiam. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, concurred in the judgment.

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