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Laws That Ban Both Possession or Carrying of Stun Guns and of Handguns (and Sometimes of Irritant Sprays):

(As before, see the full article for more.)

In ten to twelve states, even law-abiding adults generally can't get licenses to carry concealed handguns. In those states and for those people, stun guns would be the most effective available defensive weapon. In fact, in California and Delaware (except Wilmington), stun guns may indeed be carried even though handguns generally cannot be.

But in the no-stun-gun no-handgun-carry jurisdictions -- Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Annapolis, Baltimore, the Virgin Islands, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington -- law-abiding citizens are entirely denied the most effective defensive weapons in public. And noncitizens and nonresidents in Massachusetts are denied such weapons, as well as irritant sprays, both in public and at home.

Even in those no-stun-gun jurisdictions (Michigan, Akron, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and South Bend) where handgun carry licenses are generally available, 18-to-20-year-olds are nonetheless not allowed to get such licenses. They are therefore likewise denied both firearms and stun guns in public places. Yet 18-to-20-year-old women need defensive weapons more than most adults do: The average 18-to-24-year-old woman's risk of being raped is 5 times greater than the risk for the average woman age 25 and above.

Legislatures that ban both carrying stun guns and carrying handguns can at least say they are worried about the criminal uses of weapons generally, not just about the rare situations where a stun gun would be misused but a handgun would not be. And indeed stun guns can be used both for crime and for self-defense.

But this is likewise true for the criminal law justification of self-defense: Allowing lethal self-defense lets some deliberate murderers (or people guilty of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter) get away with their crimes by falsely claiming self-defense. The killer is alive, and able to claim he was reacting to a threat from the victim. The victim is dead, and can't rebut the killer's claim. The killer doesn't have to prove the victim had a weapon, since it is enough for him to claim that the victim said something threatening and reached for his pocket. And the prosecution has to disprove the killer's claims beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sometimes the jury will see through the killer's false claims of self-defense, and conclude the claims are false beyond a reasonable doubt. But sometimes it won't, and the killer will be acquitted. And sometimes a killer will be emboldened to kill by the possibility that he might get away on a self-defense theory. The self-defense defense is thus crime-enabling as well as defense-enabling.

So are irritant sprays, which are now legal nearly everywhere in the United States (of course with the narrow exceptions noted above), though they are indeed sometimes used by criminals. So are the skills taught in fighting classes, whether the classes focus on street fighting (such as Krav Maga), Asian martial arts, or boxing. Someone trained in these things can use the skills for crime -- whether robbing someone or just beating someone up -- as well as for lawful self-defense. (Some of the classes also provide physical fitness and recreation, but some, such as Krav Maga, are focused chiefly on self-defense.) Yet these classes are not only lawful, but generally seen as socially valuable.

Among other things, we expect that criminals will already have plenty of tools -- often deadly ones, such as guns and knives -- for committing crimes. The marginal benefit to criminals of fighting skills is thus comparatively small. But the marginal benefit to law-abiding citizens of such skills is quite large, especially if the citizens are barred by law from carrying deadly weapons.

Stun guns and irritant sprays are in this respect much like fighting skills. Such weapons might be more effective than mere unarmed combat for committing crimes. But they are likewise more effective for self-defense. And for some people -- such as the weak, the disabled, or those whose work or family commitments keep them from taking classes -- unarmed self-defense is just not much of an option, while stun guns are.

It seems to me, then, that stun guns and irritant sprays should likewise be allowed. The law rightly values self-defense, which should include effective self-defense. Nonlethal defensive weapons dramatically facilitate self-defense. They also facilitate crime, but comparatively slightly (again, because criminals have access to many other tools, both highly deadly, such as guns and knives, and less deadly, such as blunt weapons), and at a lower level of harm than lethal weapons such as guns and knives. The protection they offer to law-abiding citizens should justify allowing them, despite the modest risk of crime they pose.

alkali (mail):
"The protection [nonlethal defensive weapons] offer to law-abiding citizens should justify allowing them, despite the modest risk of crime they pose."

The conclusion you reach here seems awfully, well, conclusory: in essence, "I conclude that the social benefits of permitting these weapons outweigh the social costs."

I understand that it would be really good for someone who is about to become a crime victim to be able to defend themselves using pepper spray. I also understand that it would be really bad for someone to become a crime victim of someone using pepper spray, and it's also pretty bad for someone to accidentally injure themselves using pepper spray. But you can't do a cost-benefit analysis on that set of facts. (You can resolve the issue some other way; e.g., the right of self-defense should trump, but then you are doing something other than cost-benefit analysis.)

(FWIW, I don't personally have an issue with permitting the sale of irritant sprays, or with banning such sales; I've lived in places that have had different rules on that. I'm just arguing about the analysis here.)
4.17.2009 1:12pm
Oren:
Just as a factual matter, in MA, police departments never deny pepper-spray-LTCs to qualified citizens. Having to pay $25 for the privilege is asinine, to be sure, but it's not like the handgun-LTCs where getting the license is not assured.
4.17.2009 1:14pm
LoopFiasco:
In Illinois, at least in Chicago, you have to have a FOID card to possess a stun-gun. How is a stun-gun even remotely close to being a firearm? It doesn't fire anything (unlike a taser which at least shoots barbs) and is hardly ever used by criminals to say, rob a business or car-jack a car. Not with all those actual guns on the streets.

I realize in Chicago nobody follows the rules anyway, but technically - a girl carrying a stun gun in her purse (without a FOID card) is committing the felony offense of aggravated unlawful use of weapon. (aggravated because it is concealed on their person).

Seriously. Stupid.
4.17.2009 2:30pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
EV:

Your analysis is well crafted for rational and intelligent people. Good luck trying to convince the legislatures of those states that they need to let people defend themselves. In my opinion this is all about politics, and racial politics at that. Let's face it, the typical crime situation is a white person being preyed upon by a black or Hispanic robber, or in the case of women-- sexual assault. The numbers from National Crime Victimization Surveys make this abundantly clear. Thus when defensive weapons are used we have a strong potential for injury or death to a minority group member. Then all sorts of people and organizations will jump into action-- NAACP, ACLU, SPLC, La Raza etc. Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton might show up too. Legislators know this and thus they don't look kindly on self defense.

I'm not saying this is the sole explanation, but it is a factor.
4.17.2009 3:02pm
Fact Checker:
Let's face it, the typical crime situation is a white person being preyed upon by a black or Hispanic robber

You sir, are nothing but a racist who doesn't even have real statistics to back him up. The "typical" crime situation (if you want to break it down by race) is victimization by someone of the same race. Most people are victims of criminals in their own neighborhoods, who generally happen to be the same race as them.
4.17.2009 3:40pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Fact Checker:

You can see an analysis of inter-racial crime here that uses NCVS data. Ninety percent of the inter-racial crimes are committed by blacks against whites. You are correct in that I left off the modifier "inter-racial" in my original post, but it's the inter-racial crimes that get the publicity, look at the Duke University rape hoax. It's true that by denying people the means of self defense probably hurts black people even more, but black-on-black crime is not going to bring out the likes of Al Sharpton to create a fuss. It's a white person using lethal force against a black criminal that gets publicity. Look at the Bernard Goetz case in New York City. There was a similar incident on (I think) the Long Island Railroad where a black person shot a white robber. Compare and contrast. This incident got no publicity except as a footnote to the Goetz case.
4.17.2009 4:09pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Fact Checker:

Look at Table 42 in the 2005 NCVS report here. Let's look at sexual assault, which is the kind of crime where self defense would be of help. In 2005 there were a total of 141,910 sexual assaults on white women (extrapolated to the general population from the survey sample). In 53% of the cases, the perpetrator was non-white (blacks plus Hispanics) and 44% white. Thus for sexual assault a majority of the attackers were non-white. By contrast zero percent (number in sample too small to extrapolate) of the sexual assaults on black women came from whites. Now tell me that the defensive use of weapons to ward off rapes is not going to involve many instances of force used against non-white perpetrators with the potential for publicity.

To repeat, I'm not saying this is the sole or even the major reason for the anti self defense attitudes of legislators. But I think it's one we can't ignore.

Go check the facts, fact checker.
4.17.2009 4:30pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

Look at Table 42 in the 2005 NCVS report here. Let's look at sexual assault, which is the kind of crime where self defense would be of help. In 2005 there were a total of 141,910 sexual assaults on white women (extrapolated to the general population from the survey sample).

Why is there little outrage with feminists over this?
4.17.2009 9:58pm
R7 (mail):
For someone who calls himself "fact checker", it is quite interesting that he resorts to irrational arguments.
4.17.2009 11:11pm
A. Non E. Mouse (mail):
I had a faculty member talk to me about a frightening concern--a man who had a conviction for raping a young teen girl was taking his self defense class (college class) and learning things he could use to abduct, subdue, and hold his future victims. He asked me what he should do.

Since there was no expressed specific intent to harm self or others or the general public, it didn't fall under the mandatory reporter law I'm under as a counselor and QMHP.

I advised the faculty member to speak to our provost to inform her of what he was going to do, then contact the man's parole officer and inform him of the situation. Leave it up to the PO. Keep at least private notes stored forever, to document faculty's actions forever, in case of future lawsuit or problems.

Do you think that was OK advice? I was tiptoeing a delicate balance of trying to respect the privacy rights of the student, not triggering a lynch mob/witch hunt social dynamic, yet taking reasonable action to resolve the concern in the interests of the public.
4.17.2009 11:14pm
theobromophile (www):
Why is there little outrage with feminists over this?

Hey, this feminist is outraged, and thinks that restrictions upon self-defence weapons hurt us much more than they ever hurt men. (Sexual dimorphism cannot be legislated nor wished away, much as we might like a different world.)

The more progressive feminists are too concerned about discussing the intersectionality of oppression to actually figure out how to help women. It's amazing how few left-leaning feminists really push self-defence courses, gun ownership, or anything that empowers women to not have to deal with these situations to begin with.
4.18.2009 1:21am
Al Reasin (mail) (www):
So what are the laws on carrying a flare pistol?
4.18.2009 6:54am
pintler:

I had a faculty member talk to me about a frightening concern--a man who had a conviction for raping a young teen girl was taking his self defense class (college class) and learning things he could use to abduct, subdue, and hold his future victims. He asked me what he should do.


I'm not sure what the regulatory situation is - public, private, regular course, afterhours type of course, or what, but all the classes I know of have a prereq of 'good character'. People w/ criminal records, or who give bad vibes to the instructor aren't welcome.

Unfortunately for the prospects of keeping crooks ignorant, jail tends to be finishing school. I have seen video, shot with a telephoto from a prison watchtower, of inmates role playing officer and arrestee, practicing techniques to turn the tables on the arresting officer. I hope the video was provided to the parole board.
4.18.2009 11:03am
LarryA (mail) (www):
It's amazing how few left-leaning feminists really push self-defense courses, gun ownership, or anything that empowers women to not have to deal with these situations to begin with.
Women who can deal with their own situations don't need the assistance of left-leaning feminists.
4.19.2009 12:35am
A. Zarkov (mail):
One of the problems we have is the governments in many cities, such as New York and Chicago, want a monopoly on the use of force. They don't want citizens to defend themselves as many in government and the media think of self defense a form of vigilantism.

When Bernard Goetz used a handgun to fend off his attackers on a New York subway, the local press immediately branded him as "The Subway Vigilante." They also misrepresented what happened and did their best to turn public opinion against him. A vigilante is someone seeks to avenge crime or act in place of law enforcement. That's a far cry from someone acting in self defense. Almost all the New York elite institutions pounced on Goetz. The media, the police brass, the NAACP (but not CORE who supported him) and of course government officials such as Representative Floyd Flake (appropriate name!), and C. Vernon Mason. Al Sharpton got in his licks too.

In the movie Death Wish starring Charles Bronson, the protagonist Paul Kersey is also called a "vigilante." But if you watch the film closely, Kersey presents himself to criminals as a target of opportunity. He only reacts to their attacks. Over and over again we see government and the media doing their best to confuse self defense and vigilantism.
4.19.2009 1:44am

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