The Minnesota Court of Appeals held up a statute that defines BB guns as firearms when it comes to prohibited persons. The decision comes as bad news for defendant David Lee Haywood, 37, who was found guilty of possessing a firearm and now faces a five-year sentence.
Police searched Haywood’s car after discovering that he was in violation of a no-contact order with a passenger during a 2013 traffic stop. A compact air pistol was found in his glove compartment. Haywood was previously convicted of felony drug possession and was therefore not allowed to own any firearms or airguns in Minnesota.
Haywood’s airgun, an Umarex Walther CP99 Compact, uses CO2 cartridges to shoot .177-caliber BBs. The appellate court ruling follows previous decisions maintaining that airguns, when in the possession of felons, are no different then firearms.
The jury was instructed to treat the airgun as a firearm during deliberation. Normally state law makes an exception to the definition of firearm specifically for BB guns and airguns firing a projectile smaller that .18-caliber.
“It doesn’t matter if you bought a BB gun at Wal-Mart or a handgun at a gun shop,” said special assistant state public defender Grant Gibeau, reports the Star Tribune. “Regardless of motive or intent, if you aren’t allowed to possess a firearm, you will end up going to prison.”
“Because a BB gun is a ‘firearm’ within the meaning of prohibited possession of a firearm ,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Michelle Ann Larkin, “the district court did not err by denying Haywood’s motion to dismiss the charge under the statute or by instructing the jury that a BB gun is a firearm under Minnesota law.”
“And because the term ‘firearm’…has developed a reasonably definite meaning under caselaw, the district court did not err by refusing to dismiss the charge on due-process grounds,” said Larkin in closing.
Minnesota courts upheld the state’s “airguns can be guns” statute in two other appeals dating back to 2006 and 1977. Airguns are also considered firearms if they’re used in the commission of a crime, such as a robbery or drive-by shooting.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has agreed to hear Haywood’s case based on his attorney’s claim that the previous cases were not correctly decided. While the appeals court held that the law was applied fairly, the supreme court may have something else to say about the state’s potentially-conflicting laws.
The last case the state supreme court heard on this policy was in 1977, where the court upheld the legislation based on the definition of “firearm” set by the Minnesota Department of Fish and Wildlife.