Confusion over a Court of Appeals decision related to “tasers”, along with recent legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, could lead unsuspecting citizens to become accidental criminals, according to a local attorney. While it is legal for most people to have a taser until early August, people are unaware that a law meant to liberalize the use of tasers may now have the opposite effect. That law goes into effect on August 6.
Late last month, the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down Michigan’s statute banning the possession of “tasers”: devices that incapacitate an attacker with a short burst of electricity. This, coming shortly after Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill allowing individuals with a Concealed Pistol License (CPL) to carry tasers, sparked headlines around the state that anyone can now legally purchase and carry a taser in the State of Michigan. Some stores even began carrying the devices. But Fenton attorney Steven Shelton urges caution for those who would buy or carry tasers, saying that the hype around the decision has misled people about the law in Michigan.
“What the Michigan Court of Appeals held is that the existing statute—which makes it illegal for civilians to own, handle, or sell tasers under almost any circumstances—is unconstitutional,” Shelton said. “The problem is that the bill recently signed by the governor largely undoes the decision by the Court of Appeals. That bill, which has been mostly discussed as a law that legalizes tasers, potentially has the opposite effect now that the Court of Appeals has said the original statute was unconstitutional.”
The reason, he said, is that the Court of Appeals found that the existing blanket ban on tasers violated the Second Amendment. The amended statute, which takes effect August 6, reinstitutes the ban but allows an exception for people who hold a CPL. “Thus, under the new statute, tasers are once again illegal unless you go out and get a license to carry a concealed pistol,” Shelton said. “Unfortunately, people are not aware of this and many now think that they can just carry tasers around in their pockets or purses. If they do that after August 6, they will be looking at felony charges. There’s been a lot of confusion about this, and a lot of people are going to become accidental criminals if they don’t get accurate information.”
Further, he said, some prosecutors are trying to get around the Court of Appeals decision by claiming that tasers fall under the “other dangerous weapon” language of the state’s concealed weapons law. “As it stands now, there’s no law preventing you from openly carrying a taser in Michigan until August 6. But if you carry a taser in your pocket, purse, or car, you might find yourself being charged with carrying a concealed weapon,” Shelton said. “It’s not clear if the courts will agree that the concealed weapons law covers tasers, but unless you have a lot of money and are willing to risk a criminal conviction to clear up the law, you don’t want to be the defendant in a test case.”
It is also unclear whether the new ban on tasers—the one with the exception for those with a CPL—will pass Constitutional muster, he said. “The Court held that because it was an outright ban, the taser law conflicted with the Second Amendment. In its opinion, the Court acknowledged that the amended statute comes into effect on August 6, and expressly avoided making any decision about whether the new version of the statute—the version with the exception for people with concealed pistol licenses—is constitutional,” he said. “The new question would be whether this exception now allows the law to comply with the Second Amendment. It’s hard to say which way the Court would go on that question, because it’s a completely gray area. Until someone is arrested under the statute and challenges its constitutionality in court, we simply won’t know the answer.”
His advice? “If you want to carry a taser, get your CPL,” he said. “And if you’re not going to get a CPL, don’t carry a taser after August 6.”
Steven Shelton is an attorney in private practice in Fenton, Michigan. Initial consultations are always free. To schedule an appointment, contact attorney Steven Shelton on-line or by telephone at 810-750-1420.