A felon caught with a BB gun in his possession during a traffic stop will face a harsher sentence after the Minnesota Court of Appeals classified the item as a firearm. The decision isn’t too surprising, as the state’s two appellate courts have repeatedly classified a BB gun as a firearm.
The latest case involves David Lee Haywood, who was ordered not to possess a firearm as a result of a 2005 felony drug conviction. He was later pulled over by police in 2013, and they discovered a BB gun in his glove compartment during the traffic stop. He was found guilty of felony possession of a firearm and received a mandatory minimum five year sentence for possessing the gun.
“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. “Regardless of motive or intent, if you aren’t allowed to possess a firearm, you will end up going to prison.”
Police were legally allowed to search Haywood’s vehicle after discovering that he violated a no-contact order filed on behalf of a woman who was in the vehicle at the time of the traffic stop.
During jury instructions for his trial on the weapon charge, the court reminded jury members that previous rulings had established that a BB gun was classified as a firearm
Classification as a Firearm
The original ruling dates back to a 1977 state Supreme Court ruling in which a BB gun was used during an armed robbery. The BB gun fit the definition of a firearm under fish and game laws, according to the court.
Similar cases have been challenging the original ruling ever since. In 2006, the same court ruled that a BB gun used during a drive-by-shooting by a suspect who was not allowed to possess a firearm should be classified as such. The justices did, however, ask the Legislature to come up with a more comprehensive definition of the term “firearm.”
Legislative representatives have not yet provided such a definition, so Haywood’s defense attorney argued that a BB gun should not be classified as a firearm because it cannot be discharged with explosive force. These cases exist because the defendants have previous charges that prevent them from possessing a firearm. Anyone else can still purchase them for personal use from places such as Only BB Guns without incurring any charges.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi did not agree with the defense’s assessment of modern BB guns.
“Many BB guns are made to replicate popular firearms,” he said. “It’s a dangerous situation for the public and law enforcement. The guns can kill people.”
Related source: Star-Tribune