Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha is defending the state’s ban on stun guns and Tasers in a new court filing that claims the devices aren’t “the type of weapons associated with ‘core’ Second Amendment rights.” The brief by the AG is part of a case called O’Neil v. Neronha, which was brought last year by two Rhode Island residents hoping to legally purchase stun guns, but cannot thanks to Rhode Island law.
In the most recent filing, Neronha acknowledges that stun guns “may constitute bearable arms within the meaning of the Second Amendment,” but argues that under an intermediate standard of judicial review, the state’s ban on stun guns should be allowed to stand, since (according to the AG) the ban doesn’t implicate the “core” purpose of the Second Amendment; self-defense in the home. In fact, Neronha claims that carrying a “bearable arm” outside the home also falls outside of the core purpose of the Second Amendment, and therefore the state’s ban on stun guns should be upheld under the lower standard of review.
Back in 2012, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of stun guns in a case called Caetano v. Massachusetts, and the court unanimously pointed out that, according to the Heller decision, the Second Amendment applies on its face to “to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” In other words, just because stun guns weren’t around in 1791 when the Second Amendment was ratified doesn’t mean they aren’t protected by that amendment to the Constitution.
Neronha ignores pretty much everything the Supreme Court had to say about stun guns and bearable arms in his attempt to defend Rhode Island’s ban on the items. The AG claims that, even if Rhode Islanders have the right to possess a stun gun, that doesn’t mean they actually have the right to use one. Neronha also says that the lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on stun guns should not encompass any laws dealing with Tasers or “electronic arms,” since those are not actually mentioned in the statute that’s being challenged.
The AG may be correct about the language of the statute not applying to Tasers, which are defined as firearms under Rhode Island law, but he’s still off-base in his assertion that the ban on stun guns should be upheld. Since the Caetano decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, a number of states around the country, including Massachusetts, have dropped their bans on the possession and use of stun guns, but Rhode Island has failed to follow the clear guidance by the Supreme Court in favor of continuing to prohibit the ownership and use of these items for self-defense. Hopefully the federal court that’s hearing the O’Neil case will see through the smokescreen put up by the Rhode Island Attorney General, and come to the common sense conclusion that the state’s ban on stun guns cannot be allowed to stand.