Court Monitor

5 Years in Jail for Having a BB Gun!

The annual sales of BB or pellet guns total $3.2 million each year. Some are Christmas presents to boys, as in the classic movie "A Christmas Story" (1983), where all the boy wanted for Christmas was a BB gun.

State laws vary about the rights of teenagers to have BB guns, which do not use gunpowder in their operation. Some states like Pennsylvania require parental supervision when a child uses BB guns. One safety hazard of a BB gun, as featured in the movie, is when a BB gun is fired at a flat surface such that the BB then ricochets back unexpectedly. Thousands of injuries do result from the use of BB guns, but there are only a handful of deaths annually, making it less violent than a real firearm.

The National Rifle Association observes that BB guns can be a good way to teach youngsters about firearm safety. But gun-control types have been pushing to classify a BB gun as a firearm, and a Minnesota man is being sent to jail for 5 years for having a BB gun in his glove compartment.

New Jersey and Rhode Island classify all "non-powder guns," which include BB guns, as though they are real firearms. Five additional states, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, and North Dakota, define some types of non-powder guns either as firearms or as "dangerous weapons." A total of 13 states have minimum age requirements on who may possess or use a BB gun.

The legislature in Minnesota, a state where hunting is popular, is unlikely to extend strict gun control to BB guns. But judicial supremacy there has done what its legislature would not: redefine a BB gun as a firearm and thereby subject the possession of a mere BB gun to the full panoply of restrictions that apply to firearms, such as mandatory minimum prison sentences for its possession by anyone with a criminal record. Some Second Amendment groups have welcomed enactment of mandatory minimum prison sentences for firearm possession by felons, as a strategy of keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals while warding off gun control for law-abiding citizens.

A mere traffic stop in 2013 of David Lee Haywood, who had a felony drug conviction on his record, resulted in the discovery by police of a BB gun, a Walther CP99 Compact .177 caliber, in his glove compartment. Many people would not consider a BB gun to be a "firearm," but the trial judge instructed the jury that: "[a] BB gun is a firearm under Minnesota law," and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed this judge-made statement of law on appeal. State v. Haywood, 2015 Minn. App. LEXIS 77 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2015).

The result is incredibly harsh for Haywood: a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison merely for possessing, as a convicted felon, a BB gun without any proof of intent to misuse it. Haywood will seek review of this decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court.