Rhode Island's Stun Gun Ban Challenged in Federal Court

Rhode Island is one of only two states that still prohibit civilian stun gun and Taser ownership.


Rhode Island and Hawaii are the only states in the nation that prohibit the ownership of stun guns and Tasers. A new federal lawsuit filed in Rhode Island seeks to scrub the state from that list.

On Nov. 22, plaintiffs Michael O'Neil and Nicola Grasso filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island challenging the state's ban on "electronic weapons"—devices like stun guns and Tasers. O'Neil is the vice president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition and Grasso is the former president of the Rhode Island Federated Sportsman's Association. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha and Rhode Island State Police Col. James Manni are named as defendants in the suit.

O'Neil and Grasso's lawsuit argues that Rhode Island's ban on electronic weapons violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because the law is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's rulings in 2008's District of Columbia v. Heller and 2016's Caetano v. Massachusetts, as well as other rulings in state and federal cases. The lawsuit points to Heller's holding that the Second Amendment protects weapons in "common use" (about 200,000 stun guns were in private hands as of 2009) and Caetano's reaffirmation that "the Second Amendment extends… to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding" to argue against Rhode Island's ban.

Caetano dealt specifically with the question of whether stun guns are constitutionally protected weapons under the Second Amendment and whether Massachusetts had the authority to ban them. The suit was filed by Jaime Caetano, who was arrested for possessing a stun gun she obtained to protect herself from her ex-boyfriend. At the time, state law forbade private ownership of stun guns.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld Caetano's conviction by arguing that the Second Amendment doesn't protect weapons that were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment's enactment, erroneously citing the Supreme Court's language in Heller. The Supreme Court's decision in Heller had actually rejected the notion that only guns existing during the 18th century fall under Second Amendment protection as "bordering on the frivolous." This, in part, resulted in the Supreme Court unanimously deciding that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had misapplied the Heller ruling in Caetano's case. Massachusetts subsequently repealed its stun gun ban.

Rhode Island's governmental agencies appear to concede that the state's ban won't hold up in court. Sid Wordell, executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, tells WPRI that his organization recognizes that Rhode Island's electronic weapons ban makes the state an outlier nationally and that they're likely "going to have to legalize them."

Similarly, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told WPRI that he accepts that the Second Amendment protects ownership of stun guns, but expressed his belief that the state should, "be real restrictive [sic] with the persons who can carry these types of devices and where they can carry [them]," stating that he, "wouldn't want to see someone carrying a stun gun which can incapacitate people in banks and government buildings and sensitive areas."

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  1. It is like these idiots think that a taser is like a phaser from Star Trek.
    Set phasers to “wide-field stun” and everybody will just drop down unconscious in one blast.

  2. Rather than a fuzzy “in common use” rule, the bright-line rule I’d like to see is “Are they used by cops? If yes, then they’re protected by the Second Amendment.”

    1. I absolutely agree with this, if only because I’d like to legally own a grenade launcher and a tank.

      1. *snerk*

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    3. I like the converse: “If private citizens can’t have a particular weapon under the Second Amendment then the cops aren’t allowed to use them either.”

  3. To be fair, it is damn near impossible to discharge a taser in Rhode Island and not have it cross state lines.

    1. Well played.

      1. Second the motion.

  4. Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare . . . “wouldn’t want to see someone carrying a stun gun which can incapacitate people in banks and government buildings and sensitive areas.”

    See, gun control advocates, this is why technical knowledge is important.

    Stun guns don’t actually stun people. They really don’t even incapacitate them. They *hurt* and even without the pain, the muscle contractions are really uncomfortable in a way that hits you right in the subconscious. They don’t paralyze you, they don’t make you pass out. They’re not fucking phasers. You’re not going into anyplace and just knocking everyone out so you can have your way with them.

    And if you’re setting public policy based on a fallacious assumption like Steve Pare is, then you get stupid and dangerous outcomes.

    Also, ‘in common use’ is bullshit. Its a gateway to banning. All you now need to do is make something increasingly harder to get until its no longer ‘in common use’ – and then it loses that protection. That’s on top of being subject to interpretation in the first place.

    1. This!

      Also stun guns are arm length weapons and you need to make physical contact with the target. Tasers are one or two shot and then become arm length weapons. In that respect most bludgeons are far more dangerous but I doubt they’re willing to register/regulate aluminum bodied D-cell flashlights.

      1. I doubt they’re willing to register/regulate aluminum bodied D-cell flashlights.

        Akshually, when I was working as a security guard a couple of decades back, we were regulated on how large of a flashlight we were allowed to carry, because if your flashlight is large enough, you count as an armed guard and need lots more training and certification.

        Of course, they gave us the biggest flashlight possible and suggested that we could (wink, wink) use it as a weapon if necessary.

    2. If the stormtroopers have wide-angle stun guns like they shot Leia with, why don’t they (or the resistance) use those in battle, as knocking the other side out is vastly superior to a win than shooting and missing, or hitting them in the knee if the target is a good guy.

      Why not use super-powered stun guns to knock out and damage, or kill?

      Or robots with stun g

      Or many tiny robots with needles to swarm or

      Ahh nevermind.

    3. The thing is, the gun grabbers are going to keep trying no matter what the language of the law is. If an Amendment was passed tomorrow saying that all adult citizens were required to be armed at all times, the gun grabbers would be arguing that “What the authors really meant” was something that would allow them to ban guns THE NEXT DAY.

  5. What’s the penalty for bureaucrats who promulgate laws that violate the supreme law of the land again?

    1. None. There is none.

      1. Sigh. +1 for accuracy, and cleverness, but I wish it wasn’t so.

  6. >>which can incapacitate people in banks and government buildings and sensitive areas

    protect the establishment!

  7. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court … erroneously cit[ed] the Supreme Court’s language

    and when called on this “error” all resigned, right? RIGHT?!

    1. They don’t have to resign until Hihn uses them in an argument.

  8. I’m shocked that NJ does not ban stun guns.

    1. Nah, they manufacture a lot of them, so presumably the correct bribes were paid.

  9. …his organization recognizes that Rhode Island’s electronic weapons ban makes the state an outlier nationally and that they’re likely “going to have to legalize them.”

    But its members for now are going to continue to enforce what they know is an unconstitutional law.

  10. Keeping in the tradition of spending as much taxpayer money as possible in a losing effort to restrict civil rights while drawing a salary and racking up pensionable tenure, RI officials will continue their fight to the end. Presumably the Scum of the Earth (or US) have retreated to RI and HI to be barred access to these non-lethal weapons?

  11. “…stating that he, “wouldn’t want to see someone carrying a stun gun which can incapacitate people in banks and government buildings and sensitive areas.””

    Yep. Since that law against murder has completely eliminated homicide.

  12. Stun guns are for girls. What I do is I print out my own fake air gun with a 3d printer. It doesn’t kill but it hurts enough for perpetrators.

  13. Can someone explain the legal reasoning which justifies the notion of a right to a taser? It is a tool to enforce compliance. It is not a weapon for self-defense.

    No expert would train anyone to carry a taser for self-defense, instead of a firearm. And it is the right to self-defense which justifies the firearm. Who has a right to enforce compliance? Not even cops. They may have a power to do it, and they may have a duty to do it. But it is not a right. So what right is it that courts think requires tasers?

    1. “It is not a weapon for self-defense.”
      “No expert would train anyone to carry a taser for self-defense, instead of a firearm.”
      “And it is the right to self-defense which justifies the firearm.”

      Three statements which form the foundation of your complaint, and not even one of them is supported with any evidence.

      1. My complaint? I had a question. What legal reasoning justifies a supposed right to a taser? Except for not liking the basis of the question, what have you got?

        1. A taser is an arm, within the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. That is the end of the story, _if_ you respect our constitutional rights. But you don’t.

        2. If one has the right to use lethal force to defend oneself, does that somehow invalidate the right to use less-than-lethal force? Are people required to potentially kill someone when acting in self-defense?

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