When is a Gun not a Gun?

Saturday, April 13, 2013
Hi-Point .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol

A firearm is still a firearm under the law even if it no longer works, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.


The court came to this conclusion after hearing an appeal from Steven Dotson, who was arrested after assaulting a woman and threatening her with a Hi-Point .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol.


Dotson, who had five previous felony convictions for burglary, strangulation, domestic battery and other crimes, was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to 15 years in prison.


Dotson’s appeal rested on the argument that the gun he was using no longer worked. His defense included testimony from a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives expert who said the weapon could not have fired due to corrosion and missing parts.


Because of the damage, Dotson said the gun’s “design has been so altered that the original purpose for which it was intended no longer exists.”


A three-judge panel disagreed with Dotson and affirmed the conviction. In the words of Judge Richard Posner, “The gun in this case, although in bad condition, neither was redesigned to be something other than a gun nor is so badly damaged that it can no longer be regarded as a weapon designed to fire bullets. And just as a very ill person can look entirely normal on the outside, the outward appearance of the defendant’s gun is normal.

Designed to be a gun, never redesigned to be something else, not so dilapidated as to be beyond repair, the gun fits the statutory definition and the judgment must therefore be…AFFIRMED.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Felon's Damaged Gun Raises Definition Issues (by Joseph Celentino, Courthouse News Service)

United States v. Steve Dotson (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)


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