The Michigan Court of Appeals decided the case People v Dorling on June 13, 2013. It held that the numerous definitions of “dangerous weapon” explicitly disregard whether a gun is operational. The “firearm” used in this case was an unloaded, antique Japanese rifle from World War II and it was missing its bolt, a critical component without which it could not fire. When the police conducted a search of the individual’s home, the bolt or any ammunition for the rifle was ever found. The defendant was charged with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The Supreme Court explained that a gun that had been rendered inoperable “was not capable of propelling a dangerous projectile, and thus its use in an assault did not violate MCL 750.82,” even if the gun actually contains live rounds. People v Stevens, 409 Mich 564, 567-568; 297 NW2d 120 (1980). The same reasoning applies to this case. Despite its inoperability, the rifle constituted a “firearm” for purposes of establishing the crime of intentionally pointing or aiming without malice at another, MCL 750.233.
 
A “firearm,” except as otherwise specifically defined in the statues, shall be construed to include “any weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be propelled by using explosives, gas, or air as a means of propulsion.” The word ‘”may” within this definition of firearm is a reference to design objectives rather than present physical capabilities, making an inoperable firearm within the definition of what is considered a firearm. A firearm, however, does not include a smooth bore rifle or handgun designed and manufactured exclusively for propelling by spring, or by gas or air, BB’s not exceeding .177 caliber. The gun at issue is a firearm, though inoperable, for purposes of establishing the crime of intentionally pointing or aiming a firearm without malice at another. The rifle involved in this case is not considered a “dangerous weapon” because it “was not capable of propelling a dangerous projectile” even though it fits within the statutory definition of a firearm.
 
It is important to be aware that as defined, a firearm does not include a smooth bore rifle or handgun that uses BB’s .177 caliber or less. The difference in caliber of the gun determines whether an assault in which a gun is used is in violation of MCL 750.82, assault with a dangerous weapon. A rifle or handgun that does not exceed .177 caliber is not considered a firearm making its use in an assault not a violation of MCL 750.82. Because a rifle or handgun not exceeding .177 caliber is not a firearm, its possession does not violate MCL 750.277b, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. It is also important to be aware that a firearm that is inoperable, like the rifle at issue in this case is not considered a dangerous weapon because of its inability to propel a dangerous projectile but can still fit the definition of a firearm.
 
Hills at Law, P.C. will keep you up to date if/when the legislature further defines or changes the definition of a “firearm” or that of a “dangerous weapon.”
 
Michael D. Hills

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