By Chuck Madurski
On Tuesday, December 27, 2005, Michigan’s Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion that reversed a 29 year old opinion and changed Michigan from a Curio and Relic (C&R) only state to one in which the citizens could now purchase and possess any transferable machine gun or suppressor. The entire opinion is centered on Michigan Law MCL (Michigan Combined Laws) 750.224 which reads in part: 750.224 Weapons; manufacture, sale, or possession as felony; exceptions; “muffler” or “silencer” defined. Sec. 224. (1) A person shall not manufacture, sell, offer for sale, or possess any of the following:
- A machine gun or firearm that shoots or is designed to shoot automatically more than 1 shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.
- A muffler or silencer.
- A bomb or bombshell.
- A blackjack, slingshot, billy, metallic knuckles, sand club, sand bag, or bludgeon.
- A device, weapon, cartridge, container, or contrivance designed to render a person temporarily or permanently disabled by the ejection, release, or emission of a gas or other substance.
(2) A person who violates subsection (1) is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or a fine of not more than $2,500, or both. (3) Subsection (1) does not apply to any of the following:
- A self-defense spray device as defined in section 224d.
- A person manufacturing firearms, explosives, or munitions of war by virtue of a contract with a department of the government of the United States.
- A person licensed by the secretary of the treasury of the United States or the secretary’s delegate to manufacture, sell, or possess a machine gun, or a device, weapon, cartridge, container, or contrivance described in subsection (1).
(4) As used in this chapter, “muffler” or “silencer” means 1 or more of the following:
- A device for muffling, silencing, or deadening the report of a firearm.
- A combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a muffler or silencer.
- A part, designed or redesigned, and intended only for use in assembling or fabricating a muffler or silencer.
History: 1931, Act 328, Eff. Sept. 18, 1931; – CL 1948, 750.224; – Am. 1959, Act 175, Eff. Mar. 19, 1960; – Am. 1978, Act 564, Imd. Eff. Dec. 29, 1978; – Am. 1980, Act 346, Eff. Mar. 31, 1981; – Am. 1990, Act 321, Eff. Mar. 28, 1991; – Am. 1991, Act 33, Imd. Eff. June 10, 1991. Subsection (3)(c) above regarding individuals, deals with the exceptions to the basic law. Prior to the new opinion, former Attorney General Frank Kelly had ruled that only individuals who were literally licensed by the Secretary of Treasury could possess (or sell, etc.) the prohibited items. This was typically understood to be some kind of FFL. For the non-dealer, this meant a Federal Curio & Relic collector’s license. An AG opinion in Michigan works much like a US Supreme Court ruling in that the “official” interpretation of the law is set down. In order to request an official opinion in Michigan, the request must be submitted by an elected representative or state Senator. Mike Sessa, a C&R machine gun owner and founder of Gun Owners of Macomb County, was the main driving force for this change. Working with state Rep. Leon Drolet, a Republican and a friend of his, the two worked long and hard to get the language right for the requested ruling. Some patience was needed too in waiting for the political climate to be favorable in the state for the request to be submitted. The new opinion concentrates on the requirement for a license and whether the process followed for an approved ATF Form 4 is an acceptable, and legal, substitute. Page 4 of the opinion says in part: “In light of this federal regulatory background, it must next be determined whether this federal approval process culminates in the issuance of a “license” for purposes of the exception to the prohibition on the possession of a machine gun found in MCL 750.224.” Indeed, in the AG’s opinion, it does, for on page 5 the AG says: “Although the application and registration scheme provided for under the federal laws and regulations discussed above do not result in the issuance of a document labeled “license,” the Form 4 application and resulting approval process bears all the hallmarks of licensure. The permission granted by the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to transfer and possess a machine gun is the official authority required in order to avoid the federal proscription. Absent such approval, a person possessing a machine gun would be subject to serious sanctions, including prosecution and incarceration under both federal and state law. See 18 USC 924 and MCL 750.224(2).” Translation for non-lawyers might say, “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, it’s a duck!” Interestingly, to leave no doubt regarding his intent, AG Cox even included a copy of the ATF Form 4 in the attachments to the opinion. Further, since Sec. 224 subsection (1)(b) of the listed prohibited items defines suppressors, and the exceptions subsection (3)(c) includes any “contrivance described in subsection (1), then it is logical to believe that suppressors will be legal to purchase and possess too. Unfortunately, short barreled rifles (SBR) and short barreled shotguns (SBS) are covered in Michigan Law under a different section (750.224b) and are not part of this new deal. Though, C&R SBR and SBS weapons were, and are, allowed prior to this new opinion. As of January 4, 2006, AG Cox has forwarded all pertinent information to ATF for their attorneys to review and evaluate. Already several Form 4s have been submitted and checks have been cashed by ATF. Sessa contacted Ken Houchens at ATF regarding the status of his Form 4 and the situation in Michigan and was told that ATF would likely hold these forms awaiting final approval rather than kicking them back while the ATF and Michigan State AG’s Office resolve any questions. This is a good example of how one determined individual, with lots of help from friends, can make a considerable difference regarding gun laws and their application. Sessa is humble about his part and is quick to spread the accolades around preferring to refer to himself as more of a facilitator. Ideas were exchanged over the course of about a year and a half on this project with many interested parties believing this would never work out. However, refusing to take “No” for an answer, and refusing to listen to the nay-sayers warning not to rock the boat too much, Sessa boldly called Rep. Drolet and set things in motion with the resulting positive outcome. The Attorney General’s opinion is number 7183 and is available at the Michigan AG’s website at the following URL: http://www.ag.state.mi.us/opinion/datafiles/2000s/op10259.htm.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N9 (June 2006)|