The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us) STATE OF MICHIGAN
JENNIFER M. GRANHOLM, ATTORNEY GENERAL
Small arms ammunition primers and caps as explosives
Small arms ammunition primers and black powder ignition caps do not fall within the definition of "explosive" regulated by the Explosives Act of 1970.
Opinion No. 7020
May 25, 1999
Honorable Christopher D. Dingell
Lansing, MI 48909-7536
You have asked if small arms ammunition primers and black powder ignition caps fall within the definition of "explosive" regulated by the Explosives Act of 1970.
Information supplied with your request indicates that small arms ammunition primers are devices used to detonate the explosive in firearm cartridges. Black powder ignition caps are devices used to detonate the explosive in black powder weapons. Both of these devices are commonly understood to contain a small quantity of explosive material to serve as a detonator or detonating device for a larger quantity of explosive material which, when detonated, propels the bullet or other projectile.
The Explosives Act of 1970, 1970 PA 202, MCL 29.41 et seq; MSA 4.559(41) et seq (Act), regulates and requires a permit for the possession, storage, sale, use, and other disposition of explosives. Violations of the Act are punishable by a monetary fine and/or imprisonment. Section 15. Because the Act is a penal statute, its provisions must be strictly construed. People v Gilbert, 414 Mich 191, 211; 324 NW2d 834 (1982).
For the purposes of the Act, the Legislature has defined the term "explosive" in section 2(a), which provides in pertinent part that:
"Explosive" means blasting powder, nitroglycerine, dynamite, TNT and any other form of high explosive, blasting material, fuse other than an electric circuit breaker, detonator and other detonating agent, a chemical compound or mechanical mixture containing oxidizing or combustible units, or other ingredients, in such proportions, quantities or packing that ignition by fire, friction, concussion or other means of detonation of the compound or mixture or any part thereof may result in the sudden generation and release of highly heated gases or gaseous pressures capable of producing effects damaging or detrimental to or destructive of life, limb or property.
The first step in ascertaining legislative intent is to look to the text of the statute. Piper v Pettibone Corp, 450 Mich 565, 571; 542 NW2d 269 (1995). A clear and unambiguous statement must be enforced by the court as written according to its plain meaning. Dean v Dep't of Corrections, 453 Mich 448, 454; 556 NW2d 458 (1996). The first sentence of section 2(a) of the Act lists specific exclusions from the Act's definition of "explosive," the operative words being other than an electric circuit breaker, detonator or other detonating agent. Thus, if small arms ammunition primers and ignition caps constitute detonators or detonating agents, they are not an "explosive" under the Act.
The Act does not define detonator or other detonating agent. Where statutory terms are not defined, it is customary to consult dictionary definitions. People v Lee, 447 Mich 552, 558; 526 NW2d 882 (1994). The word "detonator" is defined as "[a]n explosive (as mercury fulminate) that is more sensitive to heat or shock than the common high explosives and is used in small quantity to detonate another explosive." Websters Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged Edition (1986), p 617. "Primer" is defined as "[a] cap or tube containing a small amount of explosive used to detonate the main explosive charge of a firearm or mine." American Heritage College Dictionary (1997), p 1087. "Percussion cap" is defined as "[a] thin metal cap containing gunpowder or another detonator that explodes on being struck." Id, p 1014. Based on these definitions, I am constrained to conclude that ammunition primers and ignition caps constitute "detonators" and, as such, are excluded from the Act's definition of "explosive."
This result is consistent with the conclusion reached in Letter Opinion of the Attorney General to Colonel John R. Plants, dated March 30, 1972, which concluded that smokeless and black gun powder do not constitute an "explosive" as defined by the Act. The opinion reasoned that, because smokeless and black gun powder were originally included in the bill's definition of "explosive," but were subsequently deleted before enactment, the Legislature must have intended to exclude these items from the definition of an "explosive" under the Act. The Legislature has not since amended the Act to include smokeless and black gun powder. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that, since the Legislature has chosen not to regulate smokeless and black gun powder, it likewise did not intend to include small arms ammunition primers and black powder ignition caps which contain smaller explosive charges used to detonate these materials.
It is my opinion, therefore, that small arms ammunition primers and black powder ignition caps do not fall within the definition of "explosive" regulated by the Explosives Act of 1970.
The Legislature is, of course, free to amend the Act if it determines that these devices should be regulated under its provisions.
JENNIFER M. GRANHOLM
STATE OF MICHIGAN