A recent Minnesota Supreme Court opinion has held that an air-powered BB gun is not a “firearm” for purposes of Minnesota’s Possession of a Firearm by an Ineligible Person offense. This offense, codified in Minnesota Statute § 609.165, subd. 1b, prohibits certain convicted felons from possessing firearms. The Minnesota Court of Appeals subsequently extended this interpretation to Minnesota’s similar Possession of a Firearm by an Ineligible Person offense, codified in Minnesota Statute § 624.713, subdivision 1(2). 

Both of these statutes essentially prohibit possession of a “firearm” by certain convicted felons. However, the term “firearm” was not defined for purposes of either statute. Prior to these recent groundbreaking decisions convicted felons were being prosecuted for possessing BB guns on the basis that such weapons constituted firearms.

gun.jpgBecause the legislature had not specifically defined the term “firearm” for purposes of these criminal statutes, the Minnesota Supreme Court looked to the term’s plain and ordinary meaning for guidance. The court referenced a number of dictionary definitions for the term “firearm” that generally defined the term to encompass weapons that fire a projectile by means of gunpowder or a similar explosive charge. The court reasoned that a BB gun could not be properly categorized as a “firearm” given the plain and ordinary meaning of that term because BB guns use compressed air, rather than gunpowder, to propel projectiles. As a result, the defendants in both cases had their convictions vacated.

The importance of these decisions cannot be understated in light of the five year mandatory minimum prison sentence that generally accompanies convictions for these offenses. Due to the severe mandatory minimum sentences these offenses can carry, a person would be wise to consult a criminal defense attorney if they are facing such charges.

So, even though Ralphie’s teacher and mother were right when they said “you’ll shoot your eye out,” possession of a BB gun by a convicted felon is not a crime in the state of Minnesota

If you or a loved one are facing a criminal charge of any kind, contact The Law Office of John J. Leunig at 952-540-6800, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a free consultation. The lawyers at The Law Office of John J. Leunig provide vigorous, intelligent and personalized representation to people accused of crimes in State and Federal Court, in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and nationwide.

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