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Court rules you can be convicted for shooting a gun into the air even if you can't recite the official state definition of 'gun'

The Supreme Judicial Court today upheld a man's conviction and 2 1/2-year jail sentence for illegal gun possession even though prosecutors failed to show that he knew the thing he grabbed from a friend and then fired into the air twice met the official state definition of a "gun."

In an appeal of his sentence, Francisco Marrero's lawyer argued that because prosecutors must show somebody "knowingly" had possession of a gun, that means they had to prove that Marrero knew the ins and outs of the state's gun-possession law, including the exact definition of the word "gun."

The state's highest court, being learned justices and all, did not simply whip off their collective glasses and go "Son, please," but instead crafted a detailed legal ruling that, in essence, says just that.

The court started by noting that while, yes, prosecutors must prove a defendant "knowingly" had possession of a gun, the simple definition of "gun" is pretty obvious - as opposed to the definition of a "high capacity" weapon, which requires knowing just what makes a weapon "high capacity" and that prosecutors needn't convince a jury that a defendant has been schooled on M.G.L. Chapter 140, section 121.

In this case, where Francisco Marrero was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm, illegal possession of a loaded firearm and discharging a fiream within 500 feet of a building, for an incident in Lowell in 2016, prosecutors sufficiently proved that Marrero grabbed a friend's gun at a party and then shot it into the air twice - no detailed knowledge of the Bartley-Fox Law required.

To rule otherwise, in fact, the court said, would defeat the whole purpose of the law, which is to criminalize gun possession by people without a license:

[P]roving knowledge that a firearm met the statutory definition would entail proving knowledge of the weapon's operability. See G. L. c. 140, § 121. This, in turn, often would require proof that the weapon had been discharged previously, thereby running counter to the statute's goal of criminalizing mere possession.

Marrero's lawyer also argued that prosecutors failed to prove that the shots Marrero fired were not blanks - police never found the gun itself, although they found witnesses and video.

The court rejected that theory:

The defendant argues that the discharges could have been blanks, and the weapon might have been incapable of firing an actual shot or bullet. This farfetched explanation does not negate the strong evidence that the weapon was operable. ... Here, there was sufficient evidence that the weapon met the statutory definition of a firearm.

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PDF icon Complete ruling153.11 KB

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I figured it was actually a starters pistol or a flare gun or a musket or something. Sounds like this guy didn't have a leg to stand on.

Voting closed 12

Same here. I assumed this was going to be some "innovative" application of the gun laws to something like a fireworks launcher or some homemade junk, but no, this guy had an actual, ordinary gun and tried to claim he didn't know what it was. Nice try.

Voting closed 4

Your honor, he thought it was a paint brush...

Voting closed 2

Why did Marrero's friend have a loaded gun at a party to begin with?

And why did his friend allow him to take the gun away and fire it?

Why can't the police find the weapon if it was (presumably) owned by a responsible and licensed gun owner?

All I can say is I sure feel safer already knowing that these people are out there taking such responsible care over their deadly weapons.

Voting closed 19

Why can't the police find the weapon if it was (presumably) owned by a responsible and licensed gun owner?


Voting closed 6