Loaded Means Loaded

From State v. Dor (N.H. May 7, 2013):

On May 8, 2012, police searched the defendant’s vehicle and found a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol adjacent to a loaded magazine in the vehicle’s glove compartment. The pistol did not have a cartridge in the chamber or a magazine in the magazine well.

The State charged the defendant with a class A misdemeanor for “knowingly carry[ing] a loaded pistol as defined in RSA 159:4 in a vehicle without a valid license….” … RSA 159:4 provides, in pertinent part:

No person shall carry a loaded pistol or revolver in any vehicle or concealed upon his person, except in his dwelling, house or place of business, without a valid license…. A loaded pistol or revolver shall include any pistol or revolver with a magazine, cylinder, chamber or clip in which there are loaded cartridges.

The defendant argues that “with” in the second sentence should be interpreted narrowly as “joined to,” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2626 (unabridged ed. 2002), so that a “loaded pistol or revolver” encompasses only a firearm that contains one or more cartridges. The State counters that “with” should be interpreted broadly as “denoting nearness, agreement, or connection,” Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus 625 (1990), so that a “loaded pistol or revolver” encompasses a firearm that contains no cartridges but is located near a loaded magazine or clip.

The court ruled for the defendant, in my view quite correctly. In the process, it also had a bit of constitutional analysis:

Furthermore, we reject the State’s reading of RSA 159:4 because it could render the statute unconstitutionally vague. A criminal statute is void for vagueness when it forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of ordinary intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application. Under the State’s reading, a person of ordinary intelligence would have to guess at how “near” a pistol or revolver must be to a loaded magazine or clip to constitute a violation of RSA 159:4. In contrast, interpreting a “loaded pistol or revolver” as a pistol or revolver containing a cartridge in any position from which it can be fired eliminates the uncertainty: a pistol or revolver either contains a cartridge in such a position or it does not….

[I]n this country, ownership and use of standard pistols and revolvers is not only widespread and generally accepted as lawful, but also implicates constitutional rights, see U.S. CONST. amends. II, XIV; N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 2–a. [Footnote: See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 635–36 (2008); McDonald v. City of Chicago, Ill., 130 S.Ct. 3020, 3026 (2010); see also Kachalsky v. County of Westchester, 701 F.3d 81, 89 (2d Cir.2012) (“What we know from [Heller and McDonald] is that Second Amendment guarantees are at their zenith within the home. What we do not know is the scope of that right beyond the home and the standards for determining when and how the right can be regulated by a government.” (citation omitted)); Hightower v. City of Boston, 693 F.3d 61, 73 (1st Cir. 2012) (concluding that “the government may regulate the carrying of concealed weapons outside of the home”); Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933, 942 (7th Cir. 2012) (stating that “[t]he Supreme Court has decided that the [Second Amendment] confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside”).]

For these reasons, we interpret RSA 159:4 narrowly so as to set forth a clear demarcation between that conduct which is allowed and that which is prohibited. Cf. [Staples v. United States, 511 U.S. 600, 614 (1994)] (“If we were to accept as a general rule the Government’s suggestion that dangerous and regulated items place their owners under an obligation to inquire at their peril into compliance with regulations, we would undoubtedly reach some untoward results.”); Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, 455 U.S. 489, 499 (1982) (“[P]erhaps the most important factor affecting the clarity that the Constitution demands of a law is whether it threatens to inhibit the exercise of constitutionally protected rights.”).

I like it.