Caetano v. Massachusetts,
577 U.S. ___ (2016)

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Justia Opinion Summary

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a Massachusetts law prohibiting the possession of stun guns after examining “whether a stun gun is the type of weapon contemplated by Congress in 1789 as being protected by the Second Amendment.” The court explained that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,” that stun guns are “dangerous per se at common law and unusual,” and that “nothing in the record to suggest that [stun guns] are readily adaptable to use in the military.” The U.S. Supreme Court, per curiam, vacated, reiterating that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” and that it has rejected the proposition “that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.”

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

JAIME CAETANO v. MASSACHUSETTS

on petition for writ of certiorari to the supreme judicial court of massachusetts

No. 14–10078. Decided March 21, 2016

Per Curiam.

The Court has held that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570, 582 (2008) , and that this “ Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States,” McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742, 750 (2010) . In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a Massachusetts law prohibiting the possession of stun guns after examining “whether a stun gun is the type of weapon contemplated by Congress in 1789 as being protected by the Second Amendment.” 470 Mass. 774, 777, 26 N. E. 3d 688, 691 (2015).

The court offered three explanations to support its holding that the Second Amendment does not extend to stun guns. First, the court explained that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment.” Id., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 693. This is inconsistent with Heller’s clear statement that the Second Amendment “extends . . . to . . . arms . . . that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” 554 U. S., at 582.

The court next asked whether stun guns are “dangerous per se at common law and unusual,” 470 Mass., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 694, in an attempt to apply one “important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms,” Heller, 554 U. S., at 627; see ibid. (referring to “the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’ ”). In so doing, the court concluded that stun guns are “unusual” because they are “a thoroughly modern invention.” 470 Mass., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 693–694. By equating “unusual” with “in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,” the court’s second explanation is the same as the first; it is inconsistent with Heller for the same reason.

Finally, the court used “a contemporary lens” and found “nothing in the record to suggest that [stun guns] are readily adaptable to use in the military.” 470 Mass., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 694. But Heller rejected the proposition “that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.” 554 U. S., at 624–625.

For these three reasons, the explanation the Massachusetts court offered for upholding the law contradicts this Court’s precedent. Consequently, the petition for a writ of certiorari and the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis are granted. The judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Primary Holding

The Second Amendment covers all weapons that may be defined as "bearable arms," even if they did not exist when the Bill of Rights was drafted and are not commonly used in warfare.

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