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Gun-rights advocates sue for right to own stun guns, Tasers; currently illegal in R.I.

M26 Taser (United States military/WikiCommons)

Two gun-rights advocates are challenging a state law banning the sale and possession of stun guns and Tasers as an infringement on their rights to bear arms under the Second Amendment.

Michael P. O’Neil, vice president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition, and Nicola Grasso, former president of the Rhode Island Federated Sportsmen’s Association, late last month sued Attorney General Peter F. Neronha and Rhode Island State Police Col. James M. Manni in their official capacities over a state law barring the possession and attempted use of stun guns and electric arms.

Alleged violators face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, as well as the confiscation of their weapons.

O’Neil and Grasso argue in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that stun guns; Tasers, which shoot out darts that deliver an electric shock; and other electric arms represent a non-lethal and more effective way to incapacitate would-be assailants.

“They incapacitate for a minute and a half and give someone the opportunity to run away,” said Frank Saccoccio, president of the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition, who is part of the legal team representing the men.

Knives require too close proximity to a potential attacker and pepper spray often proves ineffective on highly intoxicated or agitated individuals, the men assert. Tasers can be deployed at 15 feet away and can subdue an attacker with a strike to any part of the body, they say.

O’Neil and Grasso have asked the federal court to declare the law unconstitutional and issue an order prohibiting its enforcement.

Both men say they have clean records, have never been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. They say, too, that they would purchase a stun gun or Taser for self defense if it was legal under Rhode Island law.

“They’re licensed to carry a firearm but they can’t carry a Taser,” Saccoccio said. Tasers are legal for use by law enforcement in all 50 states and can be legally owned by civilians in all states, except Hawaii and Rhode Island, with various restrictions.

Saccoccio said they were forced to take legal action after the state House of Representatives failed to pass legislation legalizing possession of electric arms last session, despite wide support after the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association raised concerns.

Sid Wordell, executive director of the Police Chiefs’ Association, said the association recognizes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2016 vacating a woman’s conviction in Massachusetts for carrying a stun gun in self defense against an allegedly abusive ex-boyfriend. The high court held that, according to precedent, “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.

“Wordell said the association testified that its members, like Massachusetts, felt that there should be a licensing process to own and carry.

“This would require permitting like conceal carry of a gun. Which would require a background check to keep individuals who are subject to red flag orders, domestic orders and felons from possessing stun guns/tasers,” Wordell wrote in an email. He added: “Further we believe they shouldn’t be possessed by anyone under the age of 21 nor having been convicted of a violent crime.

“He said, too, that the association supported increased penalties if someone uses the stun gun or Taser against a uniformed police officer and left the appropriate sentencing to state lawmakers.

The state police declined comment.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Neronha’s office did not immediately return an email seeking comment.


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