The Volokh Conspiracy

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R.I. Stun Gun Ban Struck Down


The case is O'Neil v. Neronha, decided today by Judge William E. Smith (D.R.I.); Judge Smith expresses his disapproval of D.C. v. Heller (pp. 9-10 n.7), but applies it to hold that the stun gun ban is unconstitutional. Congratulations to lawyers Alan Beck, Stephen Stamboulieh, and Frank Saccoccio on the victory.

Shortly after D.C. v. Heller was decided, stun guns were banned in seven states, D.C., the Virgin Islands, several substantial cities, and some smaller towns. (I cataloged these in Nonlethal Self-Defense, (Almost Entirely) Nonlethal Weapons, and the Rights To Keep and Bear Arms and Defend Life, 62 Stanford Law Review 199 (2009).) But in Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), the Court signaled that stun gun bans may well be unconstitutional, and lower courts and legislatures have largely heard the message.

By my count, since D.C. v. Heller stun gun bans have been invalidated or repealed in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, now Rhode Island, Wisconsin, D.C., the Virgin Islands, Overland Park (Kansas), and Annapolis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Tacoma, and in four Maryland counties (Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Harford County, and Howard County). The Illinois Supreme Court, which had held that the Second Amendment secures a right to carry guns (a matter on which courts are split), has also held that the Second Amendment likewise secures a right to carry stun guns. The logic of this opinion would also invalidate, I think, the bans on irritant sprays (such as pepper spray and mace) in some Illinois towns (see pp. 246-47 of this article).

Stun gun bans remain in effect, to my knowledge, in

  • New York, where a federal district court held that the state stun gun ban was unconstitutional, but a state trial court in a different case disagreed (yes, state courts can do that),
  • Wilmington (Delaware) and the county in which it is located (New Castle County),
  • plus some smaller towns.

Stun guns are also heavily regulated (e.g., with total bans on carrying in most places outside the home) in Connecticut and in some cities. New Jersey lawyer Dan Schmutter tells me that New Jersey likely also essentially bans carrying stun guns outside the home. For more, see this article, though the listing of restrictions in Appendix II is now out-of-date.