Be Aware of Changes to the Firearms Chapter of Michigan’s Penal Code

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Aug. 5, 2015

The Michigan Penal Code was recently amended and these changes will have an impact on school weapons policies. In addition to adding a definition for the term “brandish,” which had not been previously defined in statute, the Legislature has also redefined the term “firearm,” as well as created a classification of weapons known as “pneumatic guns,” which are now considered “weapons” for purposes of the weapon-free school zone laws.

Individuals who carry guns as a matter of course, whether openly or concealed, have always had to take care to avoid purposely “brandishing” their weapon in public. Previously, the only guidance as to what constituted “brandishing” came from a 2002 Attorney General Opinion. With the recent enactment of PA 26, brandishing is now officially defined to mean “to point, wave about, or display in a threatening manner with the intent to induce fear in another person” (MCL 750.222(c)). The prior Attorney General Opinion concerning brandishing specifically indicated that carrying a firearm holstered and in plain view (commonly called “open carrying”), without more, does not constitute brandishing in and of itself. However, this leaves open the question of whether or not an individual who is legally concealing a handgun, such as under a jacket, but later pulls back the jacket to reveal the firearm might now be considered to have “brandished” it per the statute.

The prior definition of the term “firearm” included all weapons that propelled a dangerous projectile by gas or air. This term has now been redefined to include only those weapons that are designed (or can be converted) to expel a projectile by action of an explosive (MCL 750.222(e)). The new “pneumatic gun” definition now encompasses those guns that expel BBs or pellets by spring, gas or air; this includes paintball guns (MCL 750.222(g)). Having carved out a very specific definition for guns that utilize springs, gas or air to launch certain projectiles, the Legislature has now specifically added pneumatic guns to the list of weapons for which an individual is prohibited from carrying “with unlawful intent” (MCL 750.226). Likewise, possession of a pneumatic gun in furtherance of a crime is now specifically addressed and is punishable with up to a two-year felony charge for first-time offenders (MCL 750.227b(2)).

Finally, be advised that pneumatic guns have now been added to the list of “weapons” that are banned from school property under the weapon-free school zone law (MCL 750.237a(6)(d)). Hence, if your school policies listed the various items that constitute a “weapon” within the meaning of the statute, those policies will need to be updated to include “pneumatic guns” in addition to those items already considered as such by law (pistol or other firearm, dagger, dirk, razor, stiletto or knife having a blade of over three inches long, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument).

These changes do not affect the current interpretation of Michigan’s open carry laws, which, according to the Michigan Court of Appeals, allows individuals who hold Concealed Pistol Licenses to openly carry a handgun on school grounds. Note that these individuals would still be banned from possessing (openly or otherwise) paintball guns or BB guns.

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