A BB Gun is a Firearm... Somehow...

Hey there ho there, average happy Minnesota citizen. You are blissfully unaware of the pronouncements of your nearest Court of Appeals 3-person panel of judges, because… well, you are wise, and have a happy full life, and it’s only nerds like us who read this stuff. But this one, THIS puppy, you might want to sit down and consider.

Every now and again, words that we use every day with common clearly-understood meanings become freighted, complex, and important, all in ways that might mystify an otherwise smart young fella or lady. Today’s word, getting all lawyered-up out of its common meaning: “Firearm.”


In our innocence (ignorance?), we understand the word ‘firearm’ to mean a device that, when operated within the guidelines provided in the owner’s manual for said item, could propel a serious hunk of metal through your ass. Or your chest cavity. Or your temple, if the operator was sufficiently salty. That firearm might be utilized unintentionally, yet cause the same damage; for that reason, we treat those items with great care. We also understand that firearms can get your butt locked up, with special laws applying to their use or possession. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect that the BB pistol Johnny got from his grandma through the mail, or the replica 30/30 that Ray saved up to buy at the local Ben Franklin could be an enhancer for a drive-by shooting. NEVER.

In 1977 in Minnesota, that definition got changed and recently, by golly, that very precedent carried the day again, for a fellow carrying an item that could: (1) only take out someone’s eye, if fired with immaculate accuracy or horrific bad luck, or both, and/or (2) annoy the hell out of someone with a pellet to the tush. The defendant in this case had a prior conviction for possessing narcotics, which rated at Second Degree when he was arrested; as a predicate felon (and no argument here, he WAS a felon, and boy did that matter!), his arrest while he had the BB gun on his person means he gets to sit in a prison – on our dimes, please recall – for forty months of a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence. Insanity, for my money; only a lingual gymnast of incredible flexibility could so interpret the term “firearm” so broadly, and with such draconian effect.

Please note, we have some awfully thoughtful appellate court judges in Minnesota. But on this score, I do believe we are leaving the realm of logic for the land of feel-good policing and sentencing rules. Search your instincts: does the error of this man’s judgment – handling a BB gun where folks could see him – really merit a 40-month sojourn with the dragoons? If not, consider assisting your local state representative see the light of reason. We can change this interpretation, all it takes is a new statute redefining what really frightens us.