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Legal expert: Despite previous crime, campus shooter could possess a gun


(The Center Square) – Amid calls from the teachers’ unions to enact tougher gun laws, what remains unclear about a Michigan State University gunman was whether he was legally in possession.

Public records document the criminal history of the suspected gunman, 43-year-old Anthony McRae. Lawmen say on Monday night he shot and killed three university students and wounded five others near East Lansing’s downtown before taking his own life while confronted by police miles from campus.

The Michigan Department of Corrections stated that McRae pleaded guilty to possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle and was sentenced in November 2019.

The Michigan Department of Corrections lists the law broken as 750.227C.

Joe Simon, an Ann Arbor criminal defense lawyer with 35 years of experience, said a person convicted of 750.227C would not be barred from possession of a gun. Simon laid out his legal rationale in an email to The Center Square.

Simon wrote, “If the shooter was convicted of Transporting a Loaded Firearm in a vehicle under MCL 750.227c, that is a ‘high court misdemeanor’ punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than $2,500.00, or both. High court misdemeanors in Michigan follow procedures associated with felonies, as they satisfy the definition of ‘felony’ under MCL 750.7 as an offense for which the offender, on conviction, may be punished by death, or by imprisonment in state prison. A high court misdemeanor can, in fact, carry state prison time as a possibility as it exceeds a one year maximum.”

Simon explained that particular definition of felony didn’t apply to McRae’s particular situation.

“However, the two ‘Felon in Possession’ statutes – one federal and one state, each have their own definition of ‘felony’ for the purposes of those laws. Under MCL 750.224f (9)(b), ‘Felony’ means a violation of a law of this state, or of another state, or of the United States that is punishable by imprisonment for 4 years or more, or an attempt to violate such a law. This would exclude a high court misdemeanor.”

Simon continued: “The federal statute, 18 USC 922(g)(1) states ‘It shall be unlawful for any person… (1) who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year … to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce. However, 18 USC 921(a)(20)(B) defines the term ‘crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year’ and does not include — ‘any state offense classified by the laws of the state as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less.’ This would exclude a high court misdemeanor.”

Maurice Davis, a criminal defense attorney with the Davis Law Group, agreed with Simon’s analysis in an email sent to The Center Square.

Michigan State University and its Department of Public Safety did not return emails seeking comment.

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