Prompted by lawsuit, Howard County votes to lift electronic weapons ban

Howard County lawmakers lifted a ban on electronic weapons Tuesday in response to a federal lawsuit that challenges the county’s longstanding restrictions on the use and sale of Tasers and stun guns.

After a nearly hour-long closed-door session to discuss the lawsuit, the council voted 4-1 to lift the ban, which was proposed as emergency legislation on a fast-track legislative schedule. An attempt to table the bill failed.

Casting the lone opposition vote, Councilwoman Jen Terrasa said the repeal was a “mistake” because financial costs linked to the lawsuit did not justify expediting the repeal without full transparency and considering safety measures related to Tasers.

“I haven’t heard anything that I believe makes this appropriate for emergency legislation,” Terrasa said.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland in late January, Leah Baran, a Marriottsville resident, sued Howard and Baltimore counties as well as Baltimore City — which all had electronic weapons bans at the time — for the right to carry a stun gun.

Baran’s argument is bolstered by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in March 2016 that questioned the constitutionality of stun gun bans and suggested that Second Amendment protections applied to electronic weapons. The decision did not declare stun gun bans wholly unconstitutional; instead, the court rejected the arguments of a Massachusetts court for upholding the ban.

Although Howard’s ban was enshrined in county law, local police did not fully enforce it.

In April 2016, Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner barred his officers from bringing criminal charges against individuals for violating the county’s stun gun ban.

In a training bulletin, the department indicated the Supreme Court’s decision suggested officers should not charge individuals for violating the stun gun ban, which carries a misdemeanor offense with a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months.

Baran’s lawsuit argued Tasers are essential for self-defense. Unlike weapons like batons or knives, Tasers allow individuals to apprehend an attacker at a close proximity.

Anne Arundel County — the first county to ban stun guns in the state — lifted its restriction in 2013.

In 2014, a Howard County Circuit Court judge sentenced Baran’s former boyfriend, Joseph Dwayne Caudill, to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting Baran in 2012 in her Marriottsville home.

Baran said Caudill threatened to harm her after he was released from prison.

“When he says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it,” Baran said. “Going to jail won’t change that.”

Baran is trained to use firearms and has a handgun qualifications license from Maryland State Police. She argues using a Taser is a less lethal defense option than using a gun.

The company she tried to buy a Taser from, Taser International, won’t ship one to her house because she lives in Howard County, according to the lawsuit.

Baran also worries about the psychological impact of using deadly force against an attacker. She said she left her job as an emergency room nurse after the 2012 attack because of her physical injuries.

“I think a lot slower and you can’t be like that in the ER. You have to be on top of your game and I wasn’t. I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Baran said.

George Lyon, Baran’s attorney, said Howard’s repeal is “long overdue.” Lyon has been involved in challenging the stun gun ban in Washington, D.C., and his law firm, Arsenal Attorneys, represents gun owners and the firearms industry.

“Howard County residents should be able to have the tools necessary to protect themselves and their families including Tasers and stun guns,” Lyon wrote in a statement.

This story has been updated.

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