Jacek Stramski |

The Supreme Court recently clarified the antique firearm exception to Florida’s “felon-in-possession” statute. The exception excludes antique firearms from the general probition on possessing firearms by convicted felons who have not had their civil rights restored. State v. Weeks (SC14-1856). The Court rejected a challenge to statute on the basis that the definition of “antique firearm” was impermissibly vague, and held that the definition’s focus on the ignition or firing system made it sufficiently clear what firearms are excluded from the prohibition.

Weeks was charged with being a felon-in-possession of a firearm, in violation of section 790.23, Florida Statutes, after a law enforcement officer found a black powder muzzleloading rifle with a scope and a percussion cap ignition system in his possession. There was no dispute that, aside from the scope, the rifle was effectively a replica of an antique.

As the Court pointed out, the felon-in-possession statute “makes it a second-degree felony for a convicted felon to ‘own or to have in his or her care, custody, possession, or control any firearm,’ unless his or her ‘civil rights and firearm authority have been restored.’” Section 790.23(1)(a), (2), (3), Florida Statutes (2012). The definition of firearm excludes “an antique firearm unless the antique firearm is used in the commission of a crime.” Section 790.001(6), Florida Statutes. An antique firearm is defined in turn as “any firearm manufactured in or before 1918 (including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar early type of ignition system) or replica thereof, whether actually manufactured before or after the year 1918, and also any firearm using fixed ammunition manufactured in or before 1918, for which ammunition is no longer manufactured in the United States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.” Section 790.001(1), Florida Statutes.

Following a conviction, Weeks appealed. The First District rejected the state’s argument that because the firearm had a scope that was not available in 1918, it could not be considered a replica. Weeks v. State, 146 So.3d 81 (1st DCA 2014). The DCA ruled that because common usage of the statutorily undefined term “replica” does not require an exact copy, the felon-in-possession statute did not provide a person of common knowledge sufficient notice of what firearms are covered by the prohibition, and that therefore it was unconstitutional on vagueness grounds.

The Supreme Court rejected the vagueness argument, though it upheld the reversal of the conviction. The Court held that “a ‘replica’ of an ‘antique firearm’ under the statutory definition is reasonably construed as emphasizing the type of firing system of the replica antique firearm as its distinctive feature.” Because the firearm at issue had the type of primitive firing system covered by the definition of “antique firearm,” the reversal of the conviction was approved.

A prior article covering the case is available here.

The Antique Firearm Exception to Florida’s Felon-in-Possession Statute

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