Back in October, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the felony conviction of David Lee Haywood, who was sentenced to five years in prison for possessing a small BB gun, which he was prohibited from having due to a prior felony drug conviction. The Court overturned the conviction by ruling that air-powered BB guns are not a firearm for purposes of the felon-in-possession law.
Mr. Haywood was stopped by law enforcement in 2013, and during the stop, it was discovered that he was in violation of a no contact order that had been filed on behalf of the passenger in his vehicle. The subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a Walther CP99 Compact BB gun in the glove compartment. The air-powered BB gun is considered a replica of the Walther P99 Compact, which is a semi-automatic pistol.
Do the Courts Really Consider a BB Gun a Firearm?
While on trial for the firearm possession charge, the jury received instructions that according to state law, BB guns were to be considered a firearm. On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed Mr. Haywood’s conviction by relying on an armed robbery case decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1977. In that case, the defendant used a BB gun, which according to the Court, fell under the definition of a firearm pursuant to the game and fish laws.
In Mr. Haywood’s state Supreme Court case, the Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals asserting that the plain meaning or definition of a firearm does not include an air-powered BB gun. Instead, the Court held that a firearm is a weapon that uses explosive combustion and from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder.
While the Court recognized that a BB gun is still capable of causing great bodily harm or death, the same could be said of nail guns or other tools or devices that operate based on compressed air. The court further stated that the question of how to define a firearm is now best left to the Legislature.
Court’s Recent Ruling on BB Guns and Criminal Gun Possession
In November, the Minnesota Court of Appeals followed the state Supreme Court’s decision in Haywood. In State v. Lue Yang, Mr. Yang was charged with possession of a firearm by an ineligible person when law enforcement stopped him. During the search incident, the officers found a compressed air BB gun under the vehicle’s driver seat.
Mr. Yang was convicted, but on appeal before the Court of Appeals, the Court decided to extend the state Supreme Court’s reasonable and rational definition of a firearm to the ineligible persons firearm statute, which prohibits certain people from possessing firearms.
The Court found that because Mr. Yang’s BB gun was not a firearm, there was insufficient evident to support Mr. Yang’s conviction of being an ineligible person in possession of a firearm. Accordingly, the Court vacated Mr. Yang’s conviction.
Seeking Legal Advice Immediately is Critical
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime that involves weapons or firearms in Minnesota, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyer as soon as possible.
The attorneys at Gerald Miller, P.A. have significant criminal defense experience, and they have the knowledge and resources necessary to help you navigate the legal system and increase your chances for a successful outcome in your case.
At Gerald Miller, P.A., our attorneys are ready to help you in the fight to protect your legal rights. Feel free to contact us at any time, day or night as we are available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Call us today at (612) 440-3677 and schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.