D.C. lawmakers are moving to repeal a ban on ownership of stun guns after residents challenged the law’s constitutionality in a federal lawsuit.
Attorneys representing the city agreed this week to a stipulation that allows the three D.C. residents who filed the lawsuit to obtain and possess Tasers in their homes.
The lawsuit will be placed on hold while the D.C. Council considers legislation that would make it legal for residents to possess and carry stun guns and also do away with the city’s requirement that people register pepper spray with the Metropolitan Police Department.
Stun guns are banned in five states as well as numerous cities and municipalities, though such laws are likely to come under increased scrutiny as Second Amendment supporters broaden their attacks on regulations that limit self-defense options.
Attorney George Lyon, who is representing the three residents challenging the law, filed the lawsuit this summer after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling brought into question the legality of a Massachusetts ban on stun gun ownership.
Mr. Lyon said the Supreme Court ruling, which threw out a Massachusetts court ruling upholding a woman’s criminal conviction for carrying a stun gun in violation of state law, “made it pretty clear that it’s going to be difficult to justify prohibiting owning a Taser or a stun gun.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson agreed with the assessment and introduced legislation to do away with the city’s stun gun ban on Sept. 20.
“We have a complete ban on stun guns right now, and I think it’s reasonable to expect that the ban would not hold up,” Mr. Mendelson said.
A spokesman for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine declined to discuss the reason why the city opted to pursue legislation over litigation, noting that the lawsuit is still pending.
On Monday U.S. District Judge James Boasberg issued an order in the case stating that “the parties have worked out an agreement to accommodate the named plaintiffs while the Council for the District of Columbia enacts new legislation relevant to this case.”
As part of the agreement, the District admits no liability or wrongdoing, and the three plaintiffs in the case — a conservative blogger, an armed robbery victim and a nurse who works night shifts — will be allowed to obtain and possess Tasers at their homes while the legislation is debated.
“The city made no attempt to defend the constitutionality of the law,” Mr. Lyon said.
Legislation introduced by Mr. Mendelson and Kenyan McDuffie, chairman of the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee, would make possession of a stun gun legal to those over the age of 18 and use of the devices legal only “in the exercise of reasonable force in defense of person or property.” It also would require venders who sell more than five stun guns or self-defense spray canisters a year to register with police.
As it’s currently written, Mr. Lyon said he would not have any objections to the proposal.
“If the bill is substantially restricted, we will have something to fight about,” the attorney said.
As the bill works its way through the legislative process, Mr. Mendelson said he’s unsure whether D.C. police or the city attorney general will “be comfortable” with the current draft or suggest changes.
“The bill goes very far toward deregulating stun guns,” the council leader said, noting there is no requirement to register a device with police. “My view is that stun guns are not lethal in the same way firearms are. Therefore, a regulatory scheme similar to firearms is more difficult to rationalize.”
The District’s firearms laws are considered among the strictest in the country, with gun owners required to register their weapons with police and take training courses. To obtain a concealed carry permit, handgun owners must demonstrate a “good reason” in order to qualify.
The Supreme Court’s March ruling did not overturn the Massachusetts ban on stun guns outright. But Second Amendment advocates say it did lay the groundwork for challenges to other bans of nonlethal items meant for self-defense.
The ruling rejected the arguments invoked by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in which judges ruled that stun guns were not protected under the Second Amendment because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment.” The case was sent back to the lower court, where the charges were eventually dropped.
Since then the District’s ban on stun guns isn’t the only law to come under fire — a gun rights group in August filed a federal lawsuit challenging a New Jersey law that bans private individuals from owning the devices.
“If you have a gun in your home, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to have a stun gun in your home,” said attorney Stephen Stamboulieh, who filed the case in New Jersey. “Why are you going to limit me to only lethal self-defense?”
Mr. Stamboulieh said he intends to help residents challenge stun gun bans in the remainder of states and municipalities that ban ownership of the devices — including New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“People should be able to carry what they want to carry,” he said.