Did you know it’s actually illegal to sell, purchase or possess a stun gun in New Orleans?
It’s true; just take a gander at New Orleans Municipal Code Sec. 54-339:
It shall be unlawful for anyone knowingly to:
- Sell, manufacture, purchase, possess or carry any blackjack, sandclub, metal knuckles, switchblade knife or spring knife, iron buckle, zip gun or stungun;
- Set a spring gun; or
- Use any device or attachment of any kind designed, used or intended for use in silencing the noise of any firearm, rifle or shotgun.
The first thing you notice about this ordinance is that it is terribly written. Most obviously, the terms “stun gun” and “sand club” are each two words, not one.
Furthermore, it’s also unclear what, exactly, an “iron buckle” is. The only use of the word I’ve seen is to refer to an actual belt with a steel buckle used as a weapon – but that doesn’t make any sense, unless the city’s goal was to make it illegal to possess a belt.
Despite these errors, the ordinance makes sense for the most part. Blackjacks, which are basically small, blunt-headed clubs, were popular with criminals seeking to surreptitiously attack and rob people. They aren’t normally considered as having legitimate defensive uses. Similarly, sand clubs are basically makeshift blackjacks consisting of a bag of sand.
Indeed, the bulk of the weapons listed in the ordinance are similarly associated with criminal activity. It’s debatable whether any useful purpose is served by banning specific instrumentalities that are not generally lethal, but at least they seem sufficiently nefarious in their popular uses that society had valid reason for imposing restrictions.
This is not so with stun guns. Although it’s not unheard of for criminals to use stun guns, they’re generally kept as a non-lethal method for personal defense.
Now, although I’m a dyed-in-the-wool gun rights advocate, an oft-ignored truth is that the Second Amendment protects “arms” generally, and not just firearms. Some people simply don’t like guns, or at least prefer non-lethal weapons. It’s their right to own and use them. Likewise, one would think that governments would be less apt to limit weapons markedly less dangerous than firearms.
However, New Orleans isn’t alone in banning stun guns. Stun guns are illegal in five states and the District of Columbia, as well as in numerous counties and municipalities across the country.
Thankfully, these laws may be soon going the way of the dodo.
Just this March, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Caetano v. Massachusetts, vacating a ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts which held that the Second Amendment does not apply to stun guns. Although the Court merely attacked the reasoning below, falling short of announcing that that stun guns bans are unconstitutional per se, the per curiam decision has sent a strong message.
Concurring in the judgment, Justice Alito wrote: “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.”
Caetano has merely served to accelerate a national trend of repealing or limiting restrictions on stun guns. Alas, it has resulted in nary a peep from politicians in New Orleans, who seem to be geared more concerned with debating new gun laws (laws that would violate state preemption) than it is with allowing citizens alternate means of defending themselves.
The sloth of our local politicians has invited a challenge, and one is now forthcoming. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who blogs for the Washington Post, announced this week that the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm, is possibly looking to represent a New Orleanian who is interested in purchasing a stun gun but cannot do so legally due to the city’s ordinance.
In the wake of Caetano, a challenge to New Orleans’ law would almost certainly succeed. One hopes the Center for Individual Rights will choose to move forward.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t have to own a firearm to have some means of self-defense. The Second Amendment protects everyone, even those who refrain from using lethal weaponry. It isn’t just gun enthusiasts who have a stake in the right to keep and bear arms.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.