The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a Massachusetts court ruling that stun guns are not covered by the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of the right to bear arms, siding with a woman who said she carried one as protection against an abusive former boyfriend.
The court, in an unsigned ruling with no dissents, ruled in favor of Jaime Caetano, who in 2011 was arrested for possession of a stun gun in violation of a state law banning such weapons. The ruling provided a victory, at least temporarily, for gun rights advocates.
The justices decided that a March 2015 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling was inconsistent with a 2008 Supreme Court decision declaring an individual right to bear arms. That 5-4 ruling in the case District of Columbia v. Heller left open many questions about the extent of the individual right, the firearms covered and when government regulations would stand.
Monday's decision did not further clarify the standards of the Heller ruling, yet it signaled that lower courts should not look narrowly at the weapons covered.
The justices objected to the Massachusetts court's approach of considering the dispute through a "contemporary lens" and that it stated that stun guns would not have been the type of weapon Congress envisioned in 1789 when it passed the Constitution's Second Amendment declaring a right to bear arms.
The amendment was ratified in 1791 as part of the Constitution's Bill of Rights.
Caetano said she carried the stun gun for self-defense because her former partner was violent and abusive.
Caetano's lawyers had argued that stun guns should be considered "arms" under the Second Amendment and that the Massachusetts law went too far in banning them.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Massachusetts high court for further proceedings. The justices noted that the Heller decision rejected the proposition "that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected."
Gun rights are one of the most divisive issues for the high court, and the justices have in recent years been reluctant to take up state disputes.
In Monday’s case, the justices took issue with the finding of the Massachusetts court that stun guns are “unusual” because they are a “thoroughly modern invention.”
The court is down to eight justices, rather than its usual nine. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February, wrote the Heller decision.