In a bizarre decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court determined that a disassembled shotgun with missing parts is a firearm. State v. Stone is the case. Mr. Stone was ineligible to possess a firearm being previously convicted of a crime of violence (importantly, some drug possession offenses are considered a crime of violence in Minnesota).
One of the notches on the bizarre side of this opinion is Chief Justice Gildea joined in the dissent. It was a 4-3 decision in favor of determining a disassembled shotgun with missing parts a firearm, which typically means that the most conservative justices would be part of the majority. The retiring chief justice fits that bill. When she dissents and sides with the defense on a criminal defense issue, then all you really can do is throw your hands up and wonder – what is going on here?
We can sit here and hem-and-haw about the finer legal points of the opinion. That “firearm” is not defined in the statute, which the legislature may change in coming years in response to this opinion. We can discuss that the prosecution focused on the design of a device as a weapon matters, not whether it is operable or complete. We can discuss that the Minnesota Supreme Court previously considered an air-powered BB gun not a firearm in State v. Haywood. We could go down the analysis of the court looking at the possession of the firearm instead of its use. But, it is all just mental gymnastics to get to the end of the majority’s nineteen-page opinion that determined a gun in pieces, with missing pieces, a firearm.
The Minnesota crime lab (BCA – Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) needed a bolt and washer from a similar firearm to fully assemble and successfully fire the shotgun in this case. In the two-paragraph dissent, Justice Thissen highlights that the legislature prohibits people who have been convicted of a crime of violence from possessing a firearm because of the concern that the firearm can be used as a weapon and hurt someone. A person that has some of the parts of a firearm, with missing parts needed to sufficiently use the weapon as designed, does not possess a firearm.
It will be interesting to see if the legislature creates a definition of “firearm” for the offense – ineligible to possess a firearm. Or, if they will let this nonsensical opinion stand. With favorable law changes this year for the defense, you can hope that things will continue to change for the better. Until then, do not possess disassembled guns that do not work, if you are not supposed to be possessing firearms.
Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense lawyer and DWI attorney in Minnesota. Super Lawyers named him Super Lawyer the past two years and a Rising Star the previous six years. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School for the past six years. DWI Lawyer Woodbury MN, Criminal Defense Attorney Minneapolis MN, Felony Defense Lawyer Minnesota.