What is, and is not, a Firearm: As Told by the Minnesota Supreme Court
Under Minnesota law, certain individuals are barred from possessing a firearm. Included in the list of ineligible possessors are those convicted of a crime of violence. A conviction of a crime of violence carries with it a lifetime firearm ban. For more information on what constitutes a crime of violence, see our blog “What Are ‘Crimes of Violence’ in Minnesota”. A lifetime firearm ban is a serious consequence, and being an ineligible possessor of a firearm can lead to even more criminal liability including a mandatory 5 year prison sentence. While we often use the term “firearm” broadly and assume the definition to be self-explanatory, an interesting question appeared before the Minnesota Supreme Court recently, what exactly constitutes a firearm?
Minnesota Statute § 624.713, subd. 1 lists who may not possess a firearm, but fails to provide a definition for a firearm. The Minnesota Supreme Court has previously held that a BB gun does not constitute a firearm, State v Haywood, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals has stated that a paintball gun is not a firearm, State v Coauette, but neither has provided a specific definition of a firearm for purposes of Minnesota Statute § 624.713, subd. 1. A recent case provided an opportunity for the Minnesota Supreme Court to clearly state what constitutes a firearm. In State v. Glover, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a distress firearm (flare gun) is not a firearm, since a firearm is limited to instruments that are designed as weapons. In State v. Glover, appellant took part in a robbery of a local department store. When police arrested and subsequently searched appellant, a flare gun was found on his person. The State charged appellant with being an ineligible person in possession of a firearm, since he was previously convicted of a crime of violence, the State believed he was ineligible to possess a flare gun. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed with the State that a flare gun should be considered a firearm, believing that the definition of firearm was inherently limited to “weapons.” The Court defined weapon as “instruments designed for attack or defense.” Essentially, the Court reasoned that just because something may be used as a weapon, does not mean that it is a weapon. The design function and purpose of the instrument is key to determining what is, and is not, a firearm.
If you are ineligible to possess a firearm under Minnesota Statute § 624.713, possessing a flare gun, paintball gun, and/or BB gun will not get you in trouble, however, what you do while possessing those items still may.