(Again, for more details, please read the article.)
All the general no-stun-gun jurisdictions, plus Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, and probably Oakland and San Francisco, ban under-18-year-olds from possessing and carrying stun guns. Illinois and Maryland ban them from possessing and carrying irritant sprays. New Jersey, New York, Annapolis, Aurora (Illinois), Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. ban them from possessing and carrying either stun guns or irritant sprays, and of course guns, thus leaving under-18-year-olds entirely disarmed.
Few people would give a stun gun or irritant spray to a small child: They would rightly worry that the child will use the device irresponsibly, which likely won’t lead to death but would lead to severe and unnecessary pain, for the child himself or a playmate. They would rightly suspect that the child will be unlikely to know when he needs to use the device defensively, and unlikely to use it effectively when he does realize the need. And they would rightly suspect, especially for young enough children, that the child’s risk of being the target of violent crime is much less than an adult’s risk.
Yet it does not follow that older minors, such as 16-year-olds, should be denied such defensive tools as well. Girls age 15 to 17 are three times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than women 18 and over. Older teenagers are often victims of other crimes as well. And older teenagers are likely about as able as adults to effectively use a stun gun, and to know when the need for self-defense arises. California and Florida law, incidentally, allows minors 16 and over to possess stun guns, so long as they have a parent’s consent; many other states have no prohibitions at all on minors’ possessing stun guns.
Older teenagers are likely to be less mature than adults, and might thus be tempted to misuse stun guns and irritant sprays, for instance for juvenile pranks or for revenge. But we do have a benchmark for thinking about when teenagers should be treated as mature enough to possess such nonlethal devices: Throughout the U.S., teenagers 16 and above are routinely given access to deadly devices, despite the risk that they will misuse those devices, and despite the temptation that those devices offer for such misuse.
Those devices, of course, are cars. Car accidents involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers kill over 1500 Americans each year. These older minors are tempted to drive cars too fast, or even deliberately race them. Some such minors use their cars to further other crimes, for instance to get to and away from a robbery, or to more effectively deal drugs. (Many crimes become much harder to commit without access to a car.) Yet despite that, we are willing to run the risk, even the certainty, of death and crime to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to drive.
Minors are allowed to drive because the aggregate benefits are seen as more important than the injuries and deaths that minors’ driving causes. When minors may drive, they can much more easily hold jobs. Letting minors drive is more convenient for their parents, who no longer have to drive their older children to school or to meet friends. Letting minors drive gives the older minors more freedom to do things that they enjoy. And driving sometimes even makes minors safer from crime, for instance if the minor can drive to a nighttime job instead of walking down a dark street to and from a bus stop.
But there are also benefits to letting older minors have nonlethal defensive weapons. When minors can effectively defend themselves, they can much more easily have certain jobs, because they can be more secure when going to and from work. Letting minors have nonlethal weapons gives them more freedom to do things that they enjoy, and lets them enjoy those things more because they worry less about being attacked. And letting minors have nonlethal weapons makes them safer from crime.
And it does all this without being likely to cost 1500 lives, as driving by 16- and 17-year-olds does. At most, it might lead to some extra crime by immature older minors, something that is largely deterrable by criminal punishment for misuse of the weapons -- more so than as to cars, since most injuries involving cars are accidental and thus harder to deter, while most misuses of nonlethal weapons would likely be deliberate.
Consider also our attitudes to martial arts classes, or for that matter self-defense fighting classes (such as Krav Maga). Knowing how to fight is useful for self-defense, but, as with a nonlethal weapon, it can also be used in crime -- whether robbery, bullying, revenge, an attack on a romantic rival, or many other things that an immature 16-year-old might want to do. While manual attacks only very rarely kill, the same is true for stun gun or irritant spray attacks. And manual attacks can inflict both serious pain (though probably less than with stun guns) and lasting injury (probably more likely than with stun guns or irritant sprays).
Yet our reaction to martial arts classes or self-defense fighting class¬es is not “save them for 18-year-olds, who are mature enough to use their training wisely.” Rather, we applaud minors’ taking such classes, even when the minors are quite young.
This is partly because we think the classes are good exercise, or teach discipline. (The classes may also teach an ideology of responsibility and restraint in using martial arts techniques, but naturally some students can learn the techniques while rejecting the ideology.) But I take it we’d applaud a child’s taking classes even if the child’s purpose was expressly to learn self-defense, and even if the class was designed for that rather than for more extended learning of martial arts as sport, philosophy, or fitness training. We would recognize that self-defense is valuable enough that children should be able to learn to defend themselves even when that also teaches them to attack. Why shouldn’t the same be true, especially as to older minors, for defensive tools as well as defensive techniques?
(We might also think that children who take martial arts classes are especially likely to be “good kids” because they are willing to work hard. But the main concern I’ve heard about older minors’ possessing stun guns has to do with the minors’ lack of maturity, and willingness to use such devices in anger or as a prank. Such lack of maturity is not inconsistent with willingness to work hard.)
To be sure, these analogies are not perfect. Among other things, because nonlethal weapons are less lethal than cars it may be proper to let minors have nonlethal weapons even before they reach driving age. That is in fact the policy in most states, which put no age limit on stun guns and irritant sprays (as well as in Washington, which has deliberately set the irritant spray age limit at 14). On the other hand, my suspicion about the likely rarity of children’s misuse of nonlethal weapons is speculation, for much the same reasons as those mentioned earlier as to adults. If an increase in legal nonlethal weapon possession by 16- and 17-year-olds leads to thousands of stun gun or pepper spray pranks each year, and to very few defensive uses, the case for prohibiting such possession would be stronger (though the analysis would still have to weigh the degree to which stun gun possession deters attacks on older teenagers, and thus makes defensive uses unnecessary).
But absent such evidence, we shouldn’t dismiss older minors’ need for self-defense, just as we shouldn’t dismiss adults’ need for self-defense. And our willingness to run what are likely much greater risks by letting older minors use lethal cars should further counsel in favor of running lesser risks by letting the older minors use nonlethal weapons.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Nonlethal Weapons and the Right To Defend Life:
- More on the Right To Bear Arms and Nonlethal Weapons Bans:
- Constitutional Objections to Nonlethal Weapons Bans:
- Laws That Ban Nonlethal Weapon Possession by Felons:
- Minors with Stun Guns and Sprays, Oh My!
- Laws That Ban Both Possession or Carrying of Stun Guns and of Handguns (and Sometimes of Irritant Sprays):
- Avoiding Nonlethal-Weapon Crime as Justification for Restricting Nonlethal Weapons Even When Firearms Are Allowed:
- Why Some People May Reasonably Prefer Nonlethal Weapons Over Guns:
- Nonlethal Self-Defense, Nonlethal Weapons, and the Rights To Keep and Bear Arms, Defend Life, and Practice Religion: