Self-Defense, Shmelf-Defense:

In working on my article on the regulation of stun guns and irritant sprays, I came across this editorial from the Annapolis Capital, June 27, 1985:

Council Should Ban Stun Guns

Guns often fall into the wrong hands or are misused. Why make it possible for people to misuse a new technology weapon, the electric stun gun?

County Council members Carole B. Baker and David G. Boschert are proposing that the sale, possession or use of stun guns be prohibited for private citizens in Anne Arundel. We think the council should go one step further and ban the use of stun guns by on-duty police officers as well. That position is endorsed by Annapolis Police Chief John C. Schmitt. State, county and city law enforcement officers currently are not permitted to carry stun guns on duty, and we don’t think they need the weapons to perform their services or defend themselves.

A stun gun is a pocket-sized, battery-charged device that temporarily incapacitates a person with a 50,000-volt electric charge when it is pressed against the body. Though on the market only a few months, there are already reports of the device being used for purposes other than legitimate self-defense.

In February, a Maryland state trooper who was carrying a stun gun without authorization was reprimanded after he zapped an unruly (but handcuffed) woman four or five times with the device. This spring, five New York City police officers were accused of using a stun gun to torture a prisoner.

We feel that police don’t need this weapon. They already have sufficient equipment to subdue people when necessary.

We realize that in a violence-prone society, citizens need to protect themselves. We also must remember that weapons meant to protect us often are used against us. Why make crime easier for muggers and rapists? It seems the stun gun has more potential for serious injury and abuse than, for instance, chemical Mace.

The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun rights advocates shouldn’t equate stun guns with projectile weapons. Besides, any self-respecting NRA member would never depend on a stun gun for self defense.

This isn’t quite self-defense-blindness; the editorial does acknowledge that “citizens need to protect themselves.” But what does it say to explain why citizens should be denied this defensive tool? That the tool may be misused by criminals — but of course all defensive weapons can be misused by criminals.

Nor does this logic stop at stun guns, despite the nod in the direction of the legitimacy of Mace and guns. Exactly the same argument could be made against Mace and pepper spray; and of course in Maryland both then and now guns were largely unavailable for citizen self-defense in public, based precisely on the logic that the editorial reveals.

So this is the implication of the weapons control argument: It doesn’t stop at guns, but goes on to stun guns as well, and if taken to its logical conclusion (which it has been in England, Canada, New Zealand, and much of Australia, but fortunately not in the U.S.) to Mace and pepper spray as well. Never mind that people willing to violate laws against robbery or rape will likely be willing to violate laws against carrying weapons, so that weapons bans disproportionately affect the law-abiding. Never mind that the special arguments focused on the volume of gun deaths in the country — undoubtedly a serious problem, even if one thinks (as I do) that gun bans are an unsound way of dealing with it — don’t apply to stun guns or irritant sprays. Self-defense, even when acknowledged, is in practice casually sacrificed to the largely futile attempt to disarm the criminals.

It’s no accident, I think, that of the ten states in which law-abiding adults generally can’t get permits to carry guns concealed (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin), seven also ban either possessing stun guns or at least carrying them in public. (California allows stun guns, as does Delaware outside Wilmington and Maryland outside the Annapolis/Baltimore area.) The arguments for gun bans could indeed be limited to guns, and not to other weapons. But the “those weapons can be misused, and never mind their value for self-defense” philosophy is in practice not easily cabined to guns.