Baltimore officials are considering repealing a law that bans people from owning or using Tasers and stun guns after a federal judge intervened Thursday.
Chief Judge Catherine C. Blake of the U.S. District Court in Maryland signed an order temporarily halting part of a federal lawsuit that challenges bans on the electronic weapons in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties, pending action by the city.
Six local residents — including Leah Elizabeth Baran of Howard County and Douglas W. Hansen of Baltimore — sued local officials in late January over their right to own and carry the weapons.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said the city and plaintiffs "have agreed to wait up to 90 days to allow for potential legislative action by the City which would remove the need to move forward with the lawsuit."
Howard County lawmakers lifted a similar ban Tuesday in response to the lawsuit. Both jurisdictions, along with Baltimore County, have had longstanding restrictions on the use the stun guns, which the plaintiffs argued are necessary for self-defense as an alternative to lethal force.
Their 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.
Anne Arundel County — the first county to ban stun guns in the state — lifted its restriction in 2013.
Some warn that the stun guns can be deadly if used by untrained people. The devices use compressed nitrogen to fire two small probes attached to conducting wires. Once in contact with a person's body, the device transfers enough voltage stop the target's motor functions and inhibit muscle control without causing injury.
The effects become more pronounced the longer the device is used: A half-second jolt is startling, while a second or two can leave a person dazed. Longer than that leads to loss of balance and muscle control.
Baran and the other plaintiffs argued that unlike weapons such as batons or knives, Tasers allow individuals to apprehend an attacker at proximity.
Baran wants to be able to use a stun gun because a former boyfriend who was sentenced to prison for 30 years for sexual assault in 2014 threatened to harm her after he was released.
"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 qualification license from the Maryland State Police, but she argues a stun gun is a less lethal defense option.
The company she tried to buy a stun gun from, Taser International, won't ship one to her house because she lives in Howard County, according to the lawsuit.
Hansen, who lives in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood, also has been trained in firearms, according to the lawsuit. He is "ready, willing and able to use deadly force to defend himself and his home" but worries about the consequences, including psychological ramification and the potential to be taken into police custody and prosecuted.
George L. Lyon Jr., a lead attorney on the lawsuit, said the case aims to restore local residents' right to "an effective self-defense tool." His firm, Arsenal Attorneys, represents gun owners and the firearms industry and challenged the stun gun ban in Washington, which officials there moved to repeal last fall.
Lyon called Howard's action "long overdue" and said he hopes Baltimore officials will "take the next step and outright repeal the ban that's been in place."
"There are circumstances when deadly force might not be appropriate," Lyon said. The plaintiffs "see this as giving them another potential tool to use."
A motion was filed to dismiss the case against Howard County, following repeal there. The litigation involving Baltimore County is ongoing, Lyon said.
The laws in Baltimore and Howard County were misdemeanors that carried fines of $500 and $1,000, respectively.
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this report.