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« Caetano v. Massachusetts (part 1) | Main | Doctors As Gun Control Agents »

Caetano v. Massachusetts (part 2)

Supreme Court Protects Armed Women
Caetano Case Overlooked by Media

Part II

by Alan Korwin
The Uninvited Ombudsman (

In Part I, we saw how the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a Massachusetts decision holding a women guilty for defending herself against a brutal boyfriend, after orders of protection proved "useless."


Unspeakable Legal Abuse

Under Massachusetts law however, even though Jaime may have saved her life, her possession of the stun device was illegal, so when police found it later she (not the guy) was arrested, tried and convicted.

To make it stick, the local courts bent over backwards, inventing the argument that, because stun guns didn’t exist in 1791 when the Bill of Rights was ratified, it wasn’t “eligible for Second Amendment protection.” They had unwritten what the Supreme Court had written. She was imprisoned.

The Supreme Court had to take this case to prevent inferior courts from removing the scrotum from SCOTUS. That's partially why it’s unanimous—the lower court was thumbing its nose at the system. (You can almost hear the liberal Justice's bemoaning, ‘Why’d it have to be guns?’)

vulnerable individuals like Caetano
who must defend themselves
because the State will not.

“This reasoning defies our decision in Heller, which rejected as ‘bordering on the frivolous,’ the argument ‘that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment.’ The decision below also does a grave disservice to vulnerable individuals like Caetano who must defend themselves because the State will not,” Justice Alito wrote, slapping them in his concurrence.

Years of history between this woman and her abusive partner are outlined in the 12-page decision. In typical elitist fashion, while state law denies non-lethal stun guns to the public, it grants them to the king’s men, also called officials and peace officers.

Massachusetts argued further that Caetano must be guilty because stun guns fall within the “traditional prohibition against carrying dangerous and unusual weapons.” But, as SCOTUS notes, “Although the Supreme Judicial Court [of Mass.] professed to apply Heller, each step of its analysis defied Heller’s reasoning.” There was no limit to that lower court’s hubris—Heller emphatically rejected accepting only arms in existence in the 18th century: “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.” Massachusetts just ignored the rule of law, and cited an unrelated case.

SCOTUS emphasized that “the Second Amendment accordingly guarantees the right to carry weapons ‘typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,’” and that this “is true for the weapons most commonly used today for self-defense, namely, revolvers and semiautomatic pistols.” Front page news. "SCOTUS Declares: Top Self-Defense Weapons Are Revolvers And Semi-Autos!" More crickets.

Electronic stun guns are no more exempt from the Second Amendment’s protections, simply because they were unknown to the First Congress, than electronic communications are exempt from the First Amendment, or electronic imaging devices are exempt from the Fourth Amendment.

When Massachusetts tried to justify its assault on the right to bear stun guns, using a “dangerous and unusual” ploy, the High Court saw right though it and would have none of that either. First, as they point out, it is a conjunctive test, both conditions must apply, and the state’s effort to apply them separately had to fail. But more to the point, as Alito writes, “If Heller tells us anything, it is that firearms cannot be categorically prohibited just because they are dangerous.” The case notes that “virtually every covered arm would qualify as ‘dangerous.’” So you can see what that lower court was trying to do—outlaw everything—and why the Supreme Court had to step in and slap some sense into them.

Piling it on, the Massachusetts court also tried to ban stun guns saying they had no usefulness in warfare. The Supreme Court dissolved that by listing all the militia uses the devices have in suppressing insurrections and riots (a constitutional function, they note) and listing branches of the armed services that have requisitions and training for stun weapons to “incapacitate a target without permanent injury or known side effects” (with fascinating reading at the many links they provide).

The lower court’s argument that guns outnumber stun weapons is brushed aside as pointless drivel, and besides, “Otherwise, a State would be free to ban all weapons except handguns, because “handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home... While less popular than handguns, stun guns are widely owned and accepted as a legitimate means of self-defense across the country. Massachusetts’ categorical ban of such weapons therefore violates the Second Amendment.”

“The reasoning of the Massachusetts court
poses a grave threat to the
fundamental right of self-defense.”

The conclusion is too good to paraphrase (citations omitted):

The Supreme Judicial Court suggested that Caetano could have simply gotten a firearm to defend herself. But the right to bear other weapons is “no answer” to a ban on the possession of protected arms. Moreover, a weapon is an effective means of self-defense only if one is prepared to use it, and it is presumptuous to tell Caetano she should have been ready to shoot the father of her two young children if she wanted to protect herself.

Courts should not be in the business of demanding that citizens use more force for self-defense than they are comfortable wielding.

Countless people may have reservations about using deadly force, whether for moral, religious, or emotional reasons—or simply out of fear of killing the wrong person. I am not prepared to say that a State may force an individual to choose between exercising that right and following her conscience, at least where both can be accommodated by a weapon already in widespread use across the Nation.

A State’s most basic responsibility is to keep its people safe. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was either unable or unwilling to do what was necessary to protect Jaime Caetano, so she was forced to protect herself.

To make matters worse, the Commonwealth chose to deploy its prosecutorial resources to prosecute and convict her of a criminal offense for arming herself with a nonlethal weapon that may well have saved her life. The Supreme Judicial Court then affirmed her conviction on the flimsiest of grounds.

This Court’s grudging per curiam now sends the case back to that same court. And the consequences for Caetano may prove more tragic still, as her conviction likely bars her from ever bearing arms for self-defense.

If the fundamental right of self-defense does not protect Caetano, then the safety of all Americans is left to the mercy of state authorities who may be more concerned about disarming the people than about keeping them safe.

If it's about guns and it's in the "news," it's probably 100% wrong. Unless it's not there at all.



An excellent read. Now I'm wondering how this can be applied in other states. CA as example.

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About the Author

  • Freelance writer Alan Korwin is a founder and past president of the Arizona Book Publishing Association. With his wife Cheryl he operates Bloomfield Press, the largest producer and distributor of gun-law books in the country. Here writing as "The Uninvited Ombudsman," Alan covers the day's stories as they ought to read. Read more.

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