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Court decides on when a gun is loaded, upholds conviction of Green Valley man

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Just because a weapon doesn’t have a bullet in the chamber does not mean it’s “unloaded,” the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The judges rejected arguments by a man arrested in the parking lot of a Green Valley school that the law prohibiting weapons on schools grounds is unconstitutional. The attorney for Bo Lucas Johnson said that the exception for unloaded weapons is illegally vague, making the law unenforceable.

But appellate Judge Philip Espinosa, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said his arguments defy common sense and a logical reading of the law.

According to court records, Johnson and another unnamed person got into a verbal conflict in September 2014 while on the road in separate cars.

The following day the two encountered each other in a school parking lot. When the other person walked over to Johnson’s truck, Johnson, who was handling a gun, said words to the effect of “driving like that will get you shot.”

The other person reported both the gun and the statement to a police officer assigned to the school. The officer then spoke with Johnson and examined the gun which had bullets in its magazine but none in the firing chamber.

Johnson was convicted in Green Valley Justice Court of a charge misconduct involving weapons based on a law which makes it a crime to knowingly possess a deadly weapon on school grounds.

On appeal he pointed out there is an exception when a firearm is not loaded and carried within a means of transportation under the control of an adult. He argued the law does not have a definition of “loaded,” contending that could be considered as a gun having a bullet in the chamber.

Espinosa said statutes can be overturned if they are unconstitutionally vague.

But the judge said that is limited to situations where “it does not give persons of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to learn what it prohibits and does not provide explicit instruction for those who will apply it.” More to the point, Espinosa said statutes do not have to be crafted with “absolute precision” but need instead only “convey a definite warning of the proscribed conduct.”

In this case, the judge said, the law is clear.

“That section provides people of ordinary intelligence with sufficient notice and a definite warning that deadly weapons, which (the law) expressly defines to include firearms, are not permitted on school property,” the judge wrote.

He acknowledge lawmakers did not provide a technical definition of when a gun is loaded. But he said that leaves “the commonsense ‘containing ammunition’ is the term’s most logical interpretation.”

“Because this meaning would be apparent to a person of ordinary intelligence, we conclude the phrase ‘not loaded’ is not unconstitutionally vague,” Espinosa wrote.

Johnson also was charged and convicted of threatening or intimidating conduct. But Espinosa said that conviction was upheld by a Pima County Superior Court judge and, unlike the constitutional challenge to the weapons law, the appellate court has no authority to review it.

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