Minnesota Supreme Court finds that a BB gun is not a firearm

The state’s high court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of a Minnesota man currently serving a five-year term on a weapons charge incurred over a CO2-powered BB pistol.

According to court documents, David Lee Haywood, 38, has been serving a half-decade term at Oak Park Heights — Minnesota’s only level five maximum security prison, since his 2014 conviction. Prohibited from possessing firearms due to a previous conviction, Haywood was arrested in downtown St. Paul in 2013 for violating a no-contact order. Following an inventory search of his vehicle, officers found a Walther CP99 Compact BB gun inside the glove compartment and charged him with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Though Haywood’s attorney challenged state law as being too vague as applied in his case, a trial court jury handed down a guilty verdict and the judge delivering a 60-month sentence as punishment. While an appeals court upheld the conviction, the Minnesota Supreme Court saw things differently and vacated the earlier rulings this week.

“Under the plain and ordinary meaning of the term ‘firearm,’ Haywood’s air-powered BB gun is not a firearm, and thus Haywood’s possession of it did not violate [state law],” Judge Natalie Hudson wrote for the majority in an 11-page ruling, citing the definitions of the word “firearm” in four different dictionaries.

“In sum, dictionaries consistently define ‘firearm’ as including only weapons that use explosive force,” wrote Hudson, pointing out that Haywood’s C99 was Co2-powered.

Prosecutors and law enforcement were troubled with the ruling, arguing that criminals with realistic-looking air guns are a threat to public safety.

“For the public’s sake, there should be a clear prohibition and serious penalties for felons who carry ‘air-powered’ guns,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told the Star Tribune. “These ‘air-powered’ guns are not yesterday’s Daisy [Red] Riders. They look identical to popular handguns, have immense firepower, and too often are involved in criminal activity or tragic events.”

Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen told The Fairbault Daily News the ruling could embolden use of such guns by criminals.

“I’m not in disagreement with the Supreme Court. It is not a real gun,” said Bohlen. “But, they can also be used to intimidate people.”

An offender search shows Haywood still in custody at Oak Park, with a release date set for next August. It is not immediately clear when he will be released following Wednesday’s ruling.