The Michigan Supreme Court in People v. Jones discusses the inoperable gun defense for a felonious assault with a firearm charge
The Case Facts
Defendant entered a student’s dormitory room at Eastern Michigan University where he aimed a pistol at her. He later aimed a pistol at a second person who had chased him down the hallway.
Defendant was charged with two counts of felonious assault. Felonious assault is an assault with a gun, revolver, pistol, other dangerous weapon (among other specified weapons).
At a bench trial, Defendant testified that a bullet was jammed in the gun, making the gun unable to fire properly. The trial court concluded that the gun was a dangerous weapon capable of firing a bullet.
There are weapons that are dangerous per se. These are weapons that were intended for fighting or defense, such as guns, daggers, or brass knuckles. Then there are items that become dangerous weapons based on the manner the item is used.
A firearm is defined by law as, “any weapon from which a dangerous projectile may be propelled by using explosives, gas or air as a means of propulsion.”
A firearm is a per se dangerous weapon. However, a firearm is not a per se dangerous weapon if the firearm is inoperable. However, an inoperable firearm could be a dangerous weapon if it’s used in a manner that makes it a dangerous weapon.
A person cannot commit felonious assault with an inoperable gun that is not also a dangerous weapon. This case comes from The Supreme Court case of People v. Stevens, which discusses the inoperable gun defense. In that case, the Court refused to uphold a felonious assault conviction in which a person was charged after pointing a “starter pistol” at another person. The starter pistol’s firing pin was filed down so that it wouldn’t fire.
The prosecution is not required to show that a gun was loaded at the time of a felonious assault.
The Court’s Ruling
The sole issue for the Court on Appeal was whether the gun in this case was operable at the time of the assault and therefore a dangerous weapon.
The Court held the gun was a dangerous weapon. The gun was operable, and so was a dangerous weapon regardless of whether the gun was loaded or unloaded at the time of the assault. The gun was examined by an expert who concluded the gun could fire a shot.
Takeaways from the Case
We know an inoperable gun will not support a felonious assault conviction where the gun is not also used a dangerous weapon. A working gun will be a dangerous weapon whether the gun is loaded or unloaded. To be an inoperable gun, the gun must truly be unable to fire. In this case, the trial court and the Court of Appeals was not persuaded the gun may have been jammed by a bullet at the time of the assault. The inoperable gun defense works best in cases like People v. Stevens, where the gun truly cannot fire. A gun that can fire will meet the legal definition a firearm.
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This case is captioned at People v. Jones, 150 Mich. App. 440 (1986), 387 N.W.2d 875