A “Street Sweeper” is not a recommended weapon of choice for dove hunting. It is a dangerous weapon with overwhelming kill power.
In 1994, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) classified the Sweeper (also known as a “shotgun revolver”) as a “destructive device under the National Firearms Act (“NFA”).
The NFA can be found in Title 26, Chapter 53, of the United States Code. Section 5861(d) of the NFA defines a “destructive device” as “any type of weapon … the barrel or barrels of which have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter, except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary (of Treasury) finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes …”
Such a weapon cannot lawfully possessed unless registered.
A Street Sweeper is a 12-gauge shotgun with a .729 bore, making it a destructive device.
Unregistered Destructive Device
And that brings us to Ronald White who, in October 2013, was a person of interest by law enforcement in Kansas City in a number of violent crimes. The police placed his parents’ home, located in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, under surveillance. White was known to occasionally stay with his parents. The police search the trash left outside the parents’ home, discovering marijuana and rolling papers.
Armed with this information, the police secured a valid search warrant for the parents’ residence where, in the guest bedroom, they found a duffel bag containing five firearms, magazines for the weapons, an 8-month old Amtrak ticket in White’s name, and a credit card receipt. One of the weapons in the duffel bag was a Street Sweeper and another was a Romarm Draco handgun (7.62×39).
The search in other parts of the residence discovered mail bearing White’s name.
Possession of Stolen Firearm
The ATF examined the five weapons and determined that they had been manufactured out of state and had traveled interstate. No fingerprints were found on any of the weapons, although White’s DNA was found on the trigger of one of them. The ATF’s investigation also determined that the Romarm Draco had been stolen two years earlier in Kansas City, Missouri.
The federal government secured a two-count indictment against White: 1) possession of an unregistered firearm under 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861(d), 5871, for the Street Sweeper; and 2) possession of a stolen firearm in violation 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(j), 924(a)(2).
Jury Instruction Allows Conviction Without Knowledge of Gun’s Characteristics
Before the case went to deliberations, the judge instructed the jury with respect to the five elements that constitute an unregistered firearm:
- One, on or about October 31, 2013, the defendant knowingly possessed a firearm, a Street Sweeper, Model Street Sweeper, 12 gauge shotgun, serial number SH12277;
- Two, the firearm was a shotgun having a barrel which has a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter;
- Three, the firearm is not generally recognized as suitable for sporting purposes;
- Four, the firearm was capable of operating as designed; and
- Five, the firearm was not registered to the defendant in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
The judge then instructed the jury that before they could find White guilty, they had to believe the Government had proved beyond a reasonable doubt all five elements of the offense.
White was convicted and sentenced to two concurrent 57-month prison terms.
He appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court in June 2016 upheld his conviction for possession of an unregistered firearm but reversed his possession of a stolen weapon conviction for insufficiency of evidence.
The appeals court then decided to rehear the case en banc to decide the issue of whether the unregistered firearm conviction comported with a 1994 Supreme Court decision.
On July 11, 2017, the Eighth Circuit decided that its own precedent dealing with unregistered firearms convictions ran afoul of the Supreme Court’s 1994 decision.
Knowledge of Illegal Characteristics Necessary Element
The 1994 decision in question is Staples v. United States in which the Supreme Court that “a district court must instruct the jury that knowledge of the characteristics (e.g., the core diameter of a Street Sweeper) bringing a firearm under the coverage of the National Firearms Act is a necessary element of the possession of an unregistered firearm …”
Two months after Staples, the Eighth Circuit in United States v. Barr carved out an exception to the Supreme Court precedent. The three-judge panel in Barr held that where “the characteristics of the weapon itself render it ‘quasi-suspect,’ Staples does not require proof that the defendant knew other specific characteristics which make the weapon subject to the [Firearms] Act.”
The Barr court held that in such cases “the government need only prove that the defendant possessed the ‘quasi-suspect’ weapon and observed its characteristics.”
Mens Rea Requirement
The en banc panel in White held that Barr “is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s mens rea requirement in Staples and, accordingly, Barr is overruled.”
The White decision is significant because it reinforces the primary premise of Staples that Congress, with the passage of the Firearms Act, did not intent “to make outlaws of gun owners who were wholly ignorant of the offending characteristics of their weapon.”
Staples refused to impose a “strict liability” on gun owners of unregistered firearms. Instead the Court concluded that “despite their potential for harm, guns generally can be owned in perfect innocence.”
In effect, as the Eighth Circuit pointed out in White, “gun laws must co-exist with the firmly embedded custom of lawful gun ownership in this nation.”