Arizona court decides gun is legally 'loaded' even with an empty chamber

A unanimous three-judge panel upheld the conviction on an appeal of an Arizona man who argued state law is vague on what constitutes an unloaded weapon.

The Arizona Court of Appeals decided last week to uphold a weapon charge brought against Bo Lucas Johnson, who was arrested for making what was interpreted to be a threatening statement while handling a gun inside his vehicle in a school parking lot.

Johnson’s appeal argued the state’s law on misconduct with a weapon that is not loaded and carried inside a vehicle is unclear, and thus unenforceable since he had a magazine in the pistol, but nothing chambered.

“The superior court concluded that the word ‘loaded’ means ‘containing ammunition,’ and we agree,” said Appeals Court Judge Philip Espinosa for the majority, falling back on a 2016 Pima County court ruling in Johnson’s case.

Johnson’s conviction involved a September 2014 altercation after a two-day running argument with another individual on the road. Encountering each other at an area school parking lot on the second day, the person Johnson was arguing with approached his truck and heard Johnson, who was in his vehicle handling a gun, say something to the effect of “driving like that will get you shot.”

The other person called the police that lead to an initial three-count charge on Johnson and ultimate conviction on two of them in a Green Valley Justice Court.

Johnson appealed, saying Arizona’s law was unconstitutionally vague when compared to Utah and California, which specifies if a gun is loaded or not to include chambered rounds.

To this, Espinosa held the language of Arizona’s law “provides people of ordinary intelligence with sufficient notice and a definite warning that deadly weapons, which [the statute] expressly defines to include firearms, are not permitted on school property.”

While acknowledging other states have chosen to give their own definition of what constitutes a “loaded” firearm, the panel noted the Arizona Legislature did not and thus the “common sense ‘containing ammunition’ is the term’s most logical interpretation,” therefore concluding Arizona’s law is not unconstitutionally vague.

Johnson may continue his appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

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