The District government will not seek to enforce the city’s stun-gun ban against three residents who challenged the law, and court records show city lawmakers are preparing legislation to lift the long-standing prohibition.
In a two-page order filed late Monday, the District agreed not to enforce a blanket city prohibition against importing, purchasing, possessing or using Taser-style weapons “for lawful self-defense in their residences.” The suspension affects only three plaintiffs — a conservative blogger, a nurse and an armed-robbery victim — and will halt litigation for 90 days.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, George L. Lyon Jr., called the order “a first step to greater Second Amendment rights for D.C. residents.” He added, “I think they have effectively conceded that the ban is unconstitutional. They did not contest my showing that my clients were likely to prevail on the merits.”
Robert Marus, a spokesman for D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D), declined to comment, saying “it would be inappropriate” while the lawsuit is pending.
But in court papers, city officials indicated the D.C. Council is moving to remove the ban in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that apparently considers electronic weapons to be protected under the Second Amendment.
The action came after the Supreme Court released an unsigned, unanimous ruling March 21 rejecting the reasoning of Massachusetts’s highest court, which had upheld a ban on possessing stun guns on grounds that the Second Amendment didn’t apply.
Instead, the high court said its landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision that struck down the District’s ban on handguns and established a constitutional right to keeping arms in one’s home for self-defense also covered weapons even if they did not have a military use and were uncommon when the amendment was enacted.
In a Sept. 6 letter from D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to Racine filed in court, Mendelson wrote, “I reviewed the memo you provided to me, and I will work with Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, to enact necessary legislative amendments to ensure the District is in compliance with the Constitution.”
Racine’s office in turn asked U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg for a stay in the case given that the “Council intends to enact legislative amendments to lift the ban.”
In a filing in the case earlier this month, District attorneys argued against dismissing the danger of such weapons, saying a 2012 study by Amnesty International found that at least 500 people in the United States had died since 2001 after being shocked by law enforcement officers with stun guns.
The city’s move to give up what legal observers say would have been an uphill battle to defend an outright ban could help it justify more limited regulations, and avoid the risk that adverse legal rulings might jeopardize the ability of governments to regulate firearms.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention group that filed an amicus brief, said it took no position on stun-gun laws at issue, but warned that Lyon’s clients’ claims if successful “could have profound effects on Second Amendment cases more broadly.”
The group said the plaintiffs’ claim that the D.C. ban was “categorically unconstitutional” because it applied to a class of arms in “common use” was overly broad.
The group also said the city ought to be able to regulate weapons subject to “intermediate scrutiny” by courts, or showing that regulations further public safety, rather than be subject to “strict scrutiny,” the highest standard, which requires government to show that a rule meets a “compelling” interest in the narrowest way possible. Appeals courts have been embracing the former in gun cases.
The plaintiffs are Crystal Wright, Traci Dean and Brendan Turner.