House OKs legislation legalizing stun gun possession, use

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House voted Tuesday to let Michigan residents over the age of 18 possess and use stun guns for defense.  

The legislation would lift part of the state’s ban on the use of portable electric devices designed to injure, kill or temporarily incapacitate. 

The legislation was inspired by Detroit-area residents who approached northern Michigan State Rep. Michele Hoitenga looking a non-lethal method of self defense, said Hoitenga, the Manton Republican who sponsored the bill. 

In this Sept. 25, 2012 file photo, Cherry Hill Township Police Officer Patrick Higgins takes part in a taser training session in Gloucester Township, N.J.

"For somebody who does not want to conceal carry, this is something that allows them a non-lethal form of self-protection," Hoitenga said. 

An exception already exists under current law that allows law enforcement and residents with a concealed pistol license to use Tasers, the brand name for a specific type of device that shoots two prongs up to 15 feet that disrupt the signal between the brain and muscle to incapacitate a person, according to a Michigan House analysis of the legislation.

A stun gun instead requires physical contact for up to three to five seconds to create enough pain to “disrupt muscle control and disable a target," according to the analysis.

"It's just a quick zap that would stun them temporarily and probably hopefully make them stop," Hoitenga said. 

Both devices, under current and proposed law, could only be used in self-defense. 

People who used the device for reasons other than self-defense would be guilty of an up to two-year misdemeanor and a $2,000 fine. 

Proponents of the bill believe the possession and use of stun guns is protected under the Second Amendment. That belief appears to have been largely upheld by recent higher court decisions, with the exception of a federal district ruling last year that found “some restrictions” are still permissible under the Second Amendment, according a House analysis of the legislation. 

The analysis noted that state police, who testified in opposition to the bill, argue Michigan’s current law does not violate the state or federal constitutions because of the exceptions for Tasers. The Michigan Sheriffs Association also opposed to the bill. 

The legislation would allow convicted felons and people untrained in using a stun gun to use it, a concern for the agency, said Lt. Brian Oleksyk, a public information officer for State Police's First District. The legislation also fails to address other areas affected by the legalization of stun guns, such as laws governing concealed carry and transportation of the device. 

"In order to utilize that you have to be close to somebody," Oleksyk said. A perpetrator "could also turn that stun gun on the victim and use it as another weapon on them,” he said.

Hoitenga said she supports state police agencies, but said they "do intend to oppose anything that includes self-defense items."

"I do hope I can have a talk with the governor prior to her signing or vetoing so she can know exactly who brought this forward," Hoitenga said.