Even half a decade later, Leah Elizabeth Baran can recite her ex-boyfriend’s final threat.
She was nearly dead on that day in 2012 after he broke into her apartment, beat and raped her. As she struggled to escape, he banged her head on the cement again and again, then wrapped his hands around her neck until everything went black.
“His last words to me were if I go to jail, as soon as I get out, I’m coming for you and I am going to kill you,” Baran told The Washington Post. “And I believe every word of it.”
Baran called the police. The ex, Joseph Dwayne Caudill, was arrested, tried and imprisoned. Baran calculates his earliest possible release date is sometime in 2032.
She has been preparing for that day ever since the attack.
Baran, an emergency room nurse, bought a gun and practiced shooting until she could hit a small target from far away. She’s applied for a permit that would allow her to take her gun almost anywhere she goes. Her application is pending.
“She is ready, willing and able to use deadly force to defend (herself) and her home from a potentially lethal attack, if necessary and unavoidable,” her lawsuit says.
But she’d rather not kill. Baran, who described herself as a begrudging gun owner, would rather incapacitate an attacker with a Taser. But the county where she lives in Maryland makes stun gun ownership illegal for civilians. Taser International won’t even ship the device to her home, her lawsuit says.
Now she’s suing two counties in Maryland — Baltimore and Howard — to let her carry an electronic stun gun, a constitutional challenge she hopes can save her life without costing another’s.
Her argument is buoyed by a recent Supreme Court ruling that raised questions about the constitutionality of stun gun bans.
Deidre McCabe, a spokeswoman for Howard County, said the municipality doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Ellen Kobler, a Baltimore County spokeswoman, said on Thursday that attorneys there hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet, so she couldn’t comment.
But the Baltimore County attorney placed an editor’s note on the part of the code that bans stun guns. It says the county code is abrogated by the recent Supreme Court decision in Caetano v. Massachusetts.
In Baran’s lawsuit, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Maryland, she argues that shooting an attacker could save her life and ruin it at the same time.
Even if the use of force is necessary, she could be arrested and prosecuted and she’d be “at the mercy of police, prosecutors and jurors who will have weeks or months to second guess a decision to use deadly force made in seconds,” the lawsuit said.
There’s nothing to stop an injured attacker from suing — or his family from doing so if he died. She’d have to hire a lawyer and go to court and defend herself. And for the rest of her life she’d have to deal with the emotional toll of having killed a man.
A stun gun, which uses a paralyzing, painful electric shock to incapacitate a person, is a less lethal option and, for Baran, one that’s more acceptable.
The suit says depriving Baran and others of the right to carry a Taser is “inconsistent with the Second Amendment.”
When stun guns became available two decades ago, several states moved to ban them, putting them in the same category as blackjacks and brass knuckles. But the Caetano vs. Massachusetts ruling cast doubt on those laws, Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, told The Washington Post. (Volokh’s blog, The Volokh Report, is hosted by the Post.)
Still, the ruling didn’t wipe out all stun gun bans. Baran’s suit is an attempt to chip away at the law in Maryland.
“Certainly many of the jurisdictions have repealed the bans, following the court’s decision,” Volokh said. “Some of the others have seen the writing on the wall and concluded they shouldn’t defend them. … I do think these are going away, but slowly.”
George Lyon, Baran’s attorney, said he’s also sued Washington, D.C. over its stun gun ban. Lyon has been involved in several lawsuits that seek to relax gun restrictions. According to his law firm, Arsenal Attorneys, he’s a certified NRA firearms instructor and range safety officer and president of the D.C. Chapter of the Community Association for Firearms Education.
He declined to specify whether he was paid by Baran or some other person or organization.
Baran said she never saw herself as an advocate for the right to carry a weapon. But since the 2012 attack, she says learning to defend herself has eased some of her fears.
“For those years where I didn’t possess a weapon, I just was in fear constantly,” she said. “As I started learning how to protect myself safely with a weapon, I started to feel better knowing that if something did happen, I can protect myself.
“It helps decrease the fear that I’ve had everyday since that day. I was completely vulnerable. No way to help my self. No way to escape. That’s a fear you never get over.”