Michigan CPL Holder in Hot Water Over Brandishing Incident in Grocery Store

by Vern Evans

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In a tense moment at a Kroger store in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the actions of Isaiah Ware, a concealed pistol licensee, have come under legal questioning and as a result, sparked a broader debate about the best way to respond in an altercation when you’re packing. The case serves as a warning to other carry permit holders or open carry practitioners on when the simple brandishing of a firearm to avoid a physical confrontation could land you in hotter water than a few thrown fists.

Here’s the backstory from Detroit’s Local 4 News: On the evening of October 5, what began as a minor collision at a self-checkout in a grocery store escalated into a situation that has landed Ware in a legal mess.

Ware, who was in the store to purchase lasagna, accidentally bumped into another shopper, Calvin Williams. The two exchanged words and as it heated up, Ware drew his firearm from its holster. Ware held the gun at his waist and never pointed it at Williams, but the sight of the gun was enough to make Williams back off and go on his way. Ware, also backed away and went to pay for his items, gun still in hand. Unfortunately, the sight of the gun also alarmed other shoppers, one of whom at least called police.

Bloomfield Township police arrived on the scene and after speaking with Ware, arrested him and charged him with felony assault with a deadly weapon.

Brandishing, not always defined under that term in legal statutes. But it is spelled out in Michigan.

According to Michigan Gun Law Armed & Educated:

Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.234e (knowingly brandishing firearm in public).

A person shall not willfully and knowingly brandish a firearm in public. This is punishable by up to 90 days imprisonment. “Brandish” means “to point, wave about, or display in a threatening manner with the intent to induce fear in another person.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.222(c).

The book goes on to explain:

a person must have “intended” to display the handgun in a threatening manner. …You must have the conscious objective or desire to display or expose your handgun in a public place and in such a way that another person would feel threatened by it. To put this directly in the terms of the brandishing statute: you must do an affirmative act that amounts to a display of your weapon and must do so with the intent to induce fear in another person.

The incident, which was captured on the store’s security cameras and was followed by a 911 call from a witness, led to Ware’s arrest, not for brandishing, a misdemeanor, but rather for felony assault with a deadly weapon, a much more severe charge.

 

Why the more severe charge? In the case of People v. Couch, Michigan Gun Law author and attorney Patrick T. Barone, writes:

In this case the Michigan Court of Appeals held that brandishing a gun, which is essentially the threat of deadly force, is itself non-deadly force…

As this case makes clear if you threaten force or deadly force (e.g., “Stop or I’ll shoot!”) and have the ability to carry out that threat, then you may be charged with felonious assault. This is especially true if your words would cause a reasonable person to fear or apprehend an immediate battery. However, if you are legally justified to use force in a situation, then you may legally threaten to use force in the same situation. Likewise, if you are justified in using deadly force in a situation, you may legally threaten the use of deadly force in the same situation…

Michigan’s Self-Defense Act provides that if a person threatens deadly force by the production of a weapon, the display or use of the weapon is not unlawful, so long as the person honestly and reasonably believed in an imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault.

The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, which has jurisdiction in the case, emphasized public safety as the key reason behind the charges, noting the concern arising from a gun being drawn in a crowded store. The incident raises questions about the criteria for “appropriate use” of a firearm in self-defense, and places a huge burden on gun owners who carry to understand, when they can legally draw their gun and when they shouldn’t.

Based on current Michigan statute, an argument can be made by prosecutors that two men, equally matched in size and age, did not offer the threshold for the introduction of a firearm into the scenario or rise to the need for deadly force, a legal requirement for a firearm to be legally brandished. Even if, as it appears in the security footage, Ware simply wanted to diffuse the situation without getting into a fight and go home and eat his dinner. The security footage also does not include audio, so it is not known, what Williams may have said or what words were exchanged that could have influenced Ware’s actions in that moment.

Ware’s attorney, Neal Brand, defends his client’s actions as nonthreatening and argues that the presence of the firearm diffused the situation, avoiding physical violence. Brand asserts that Ware acted within his rights as a CPL holder and should not be prosecuted. He believes this case challenges the rights of lawful gun owners under the Second Amendment.

The case is set to go to trial June 17, and not only explores the boundaries of self-defense laws but also serves as a critical reminder of the heavy responsibilities that come with carrying a concealed weapon. Gun owners must not only understand their legal rights but how to wisely exercise those rights, particularly in a situation where they feel threatened, but one that may not be as clearcut as someone attempting to rob them with a knife or gun.

What Do You Think?

As a gun owner, do you believe Isaiah Ware acted legally by drawing his firearm in this situation, or might there have been a better way to handle avoid the conflict? What would you do in this situation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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