New Court of Appeals Ruling on the Indiana Machine Gun Law
On Monday, May 8, 2023, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision in a case involving a semi-automatic handgun that was modified to function as a fully automatic weapon, ruling that the machine gun law is not unconstitutionally vague. The court stated that Indiana’s machine gun statute, located in the Indiana criminal code, provided sufficient notice to the offender that the modified weapon was in fact an automatic weapon, emphasizing that the law pertains to what the gun can do, not how or when the gun was made automatic.
To better understand this ruling, this article will examine the Indiana machine gun law, the case that led to the Court of Appeals ruling, and the arguments set forth by the defendant and the Court. However, if you have any questions about Indiana gun laws, it would be best to consult an Indiana firearms attorney. To speak with one today, call 317-857-0160 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
The Indiana Machine Gun Law
The Indiana machine gun law can be found in Indiana Code 35-47-5-8, which states that a person who knowingly and intentionally owns or possesses a machine gun commits a Level 5 felony in Indiana. Per the Indiana sentencing guidelines, this offense could carry a penalty of up to 6 years in prison and and fine of up to $10,000. However, the specific law in question in this case is actually located in Indiana Code section 35-47-2-7. This section of the law defines a “machine gun” as a weapon that “shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one (1) shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” The Indiana machine gun law goes on to state that the term “machine gun,” includes the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or a combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun, and any combination of parts from which a machine gun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
Under Indiana Code 35-47-2-7, a person who knowingly or intentionally sells, gives, or in any other manner transfers ownership or possession of a machine gun to a person under eighteen (18) years of age commits a Level 5 felony. However, enhancing circumstances can apply. For example, if the person who sells, gives, or transfers ownership of the machine gun has a prior conviction under this section, they can be charged with a Level 4 felony. In addition, if a person under eighteen (18) years of age uses the machine gun to commit murder, the person can be charged with a Level 3 felony.
York v. State of Indiana
in January 2022, IMPD executed an arrest warrant for Anthony York on felony and misdemeanor charges in another case. When they arrived at York’s apartment, Devun York and two other men came outside. While officers were waiting for Anthony to come out, they heard water running from a shower. They went inside to check if anyone was there. When inside, they saw evidence of drug use on a kitchen counter, so they exited the apartment to apply for a search warrant for drugs.
Upon receiving the search warrant, the police officers executed the search for drugs. During this search, they saw firearms and applied for another search warrant, this time for firearms. During that second search, they found a 9 mm-caliber Glock 19 pistol with a loaded magazine holding 22 rounds of live ammunition under a mattress. One of the detectives was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives liaison officer and noticed the gun had a switch installed, which converts the semi-automatic pistol to fire in a fully automatic mode. The gun belonged to Devun York, who was subsequently charged with one count of Level 5 felony possession of a machine gun and one count of Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
In court, York argued that the pistol would only fire semi-automatically with the switch removed and therefore would not be a machine gun under Indiana law. Given this, he filed a motion to dismiss, which was ultimately denied by Marion County Superior Court. York then moved to certify the court’s order for interlocutory appeal. On appeal, York argued that the facts alleged didn’t constitute a violation of the Indiana law on machine guns and that the state’s machine gun statute was unconstitutionally vague.
The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed with both arguments, stating that the Indiana law defines a machine gun as a weapon that “shoots; or can be readily restored to shoot; automatically more than one (1) shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”
York argued that his pistol is a handgun under Indiana law and the switch is classified as a firearms accessory. He also argued that because the statutory definition of “machine gun” doesn’t contain terms such as “adapt” or “convert,” but instead includes language that it can be “readily restored,” and the Legislature didn’t intend for the definition to include “devices that have been adapted or converted by accessories.”
The Court of Appeals disagreed with York’s argument. They stated that the language of the machine gun statute “focuses on what the gun can do,” specifically that it can shoot “automatically more than one (1) shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” The court’s opinion notes that forensic testing of York’s gun established that the switch converts the semi-automatic pistol to fire in a fully automatic mode.
In the end, the court upheld the lower court’s decision in the case involving York’s modified pistol, ruling that the machine gun statute is not unconstitutionally vague because it sufficiently provided notice to York that the gun was a machine gun.
Questions about the Indiana Machine Gun Law?
We can help you understand your rights when it comes to your Indiana gun laws, including questions about whether you need an Indiana handgun license or permit to buy, possess, or carry a gun. To speak with an Indiana firearms attorney call 317-857-0160 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.