By Michael Hill
He was shopping for a stun gun for his wife for self-defense on Taser.com and ready to buy when the website blocked the sale because New Jersey does not allow its civilians to own or possess stun guns and tasers — a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“I was somewhat shocked that, again, I had been denied a fundamental right that I believe every American should have,” said plaintiff Mark Cheeseman.
Cheeseman and the New Jersey Second Amendment Society sued the Garden State, claiming the ban violates the constitutional right to bear arms. New Jersey argued the U.S. Supreme Court permits states to regulate weapons which state Assemblyman Raj Mukherji has tried to do with his firearms bills that have been vetoed.
“I don’t know why anyone other than law enforcement officers need to have stun guns,” Mukherji said.
But three months after the filing of the lawsuit, New Jersey was talking settlement and consent decree because the nation’s highest court months earlier had ruled in favor of a Massachusetts homeless woman prosecuted for using a taser to ward off her ex in a domestic abuse case after court orders failed to protect her. Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “A state’s most basic responsibility is to keep its people safe…” Alito said “arming herself with a nonlethal weapon … may well have saved her life.”
Alito wrote, “If the fundamental right of self-defense does not protect [Jaime] 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,” he said.
Gun rights advocates say that in the consent decree, New Jersey — a state with some of the toughest gun laws in America — made a huge admission.
In the order a federal judge signed on Tuesday, New Jersey agreed its ban “would likely not pass constitutional muster and … concede that the … statute banning electronic arms in New Jersey is unconstitutional.”
Stun guns here though remain illegal for six months to “allow the state of New Jersey 180 days to institute new laws, rules or regulations ‘that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with public safety and the Second Amendment,’ on the possession and/or carrying of electronic arms or ‘stun guns.'”
“I think it’s a really big deal. To answer your question about other states, what we’ve done is as soon as this was entered by the judge in this case, we immediately filed it in our New York case,” said Alexander Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society.
The state Attorney General’s Office says it’s undertaking a study of potential stun gun regulations.
“I think that our philosophy, our regulations when it comes to stun guns should be similar to our approach to gun safety overall, which is as restrictive as possible,” Mukherji said.
“But if that does happen, does occur, we will be suing them again and they will be paying our legal fees again,” said attorney Stephen Stamboulieh.
For now, lawmakers and gun rights advocates are watching to see how New Jersey will regulate stun guns given constitutional protection.