The Minnesota State Supreme Court agreed last week to review a criminal case and determine whether or not airguns should be considered as firearms under the law? The case involves one David Lee Haywood, who was convicted of a drug possession back in 2005. In 2013, Haywood was arrested and charged by the Ramsey County authorities for being an ineligible person carrying a firearm. The pistol he was carrying was a BB-gun, designed to replicate a Walther P99 handgun. The toy gun, which does have an orange-tipped muzzle, is one of many available from Umarex, which sells an impressive line of airguns which look like the ′real McCoy′. Haywood was convicted of the illegal carry charge and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. So should airguns be considered the same as firearms?

Not your daddy′s ′Red Ryder′? Airguns have come a long way in recent years. But, even back in the 17th Century, airguns were used for hunting deer. The first pneumatic gun is believed to have been from 1580, which used bellows to fill an air tank located in the stock of the rifle. Perhaps the most famous airgun of the era was the Girandoni air rifle. The Austrian army incorporated them into their ranks and were used during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a .51-caliber weapon that held 22 rounds in a ′high capacity′ magazine. A detachable air tank, or reservoir, was filled using a hand pump. It took some 1,500 strokes of the pump to fill the reservoir with enough air to fire 30 rounds. Since the air tank was detachable, one soldier could carry several tanks into battle and with quick reloading, could easily put out a rate of fire of about 22 rounds per minute. This deadly weapon was carried and used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, though theirs was a .46 caliber rifle. They had the impact of a modern pistol round, such as a 9mm or .45APC.

By the late 19th Century, airguns had become popular in the civilian world as manufacturing technology enabled mass production. Daisy Outdoor Products was founded in 1888 and built and sold windmills. They had a sales gimmick of giving a free airgun with every windmill sold. I wonder what today′s ′green power′ people would say to that? Most airguns sold during the late 19th through the 20th Centuries were of the smaller .177 and .22 caliber BBs and pellets. They generally come in three flavors, spring-powered, pneumatic, either using a single-stroke or multi-stroke pump, or using a detachable CO2 tank.
We usually see lever-action air rifles powered by spring-pistons. These tend to be smoothbore, .177 caliber BB guns. A charge of air is compressed in the piston by the spring′s tension. Believe it or not, you can achieve muzzle velocities in the 800 to 1,250 feet-per-second range, enough force to go supersonic! Pneumatic airguns are generally filled by way of a hand pump, much like the airguns of old, or by a modern substitute such as an air compressor or even a diver′s air tank. Some of these types can be adjusted, a multi-stroke versus a single-stroke compression, allowing for additional velocity and striking power. We see many of these in competitive shooting applications.

Perhaps the most popular flavor are those using detachable CO2 tanks, or cartridges. The cartridges tend to be disposable, though some larger ones can be recharged. Some CO2 airguns also have refillable reservoirs which are charged from a large CO2 tank. Paintball guns, for example, tend to be this type. These weapons can be single-shot, semi-automatic and even full-auto! Most pistol-style airguns tend to use the small, disposable CO2 cartridges, usually loaded into the handgrip of the gun.

Airgun ammunition has come a long way, too! In addition to the .177 caliber BB, typically made of steel with a copper plating, and the .22 caliber pellet, we also have a wide range of darts, arrows, larger plastic ′BBs′, such as those used in AirSoft guns, as well as odder calibers. AirSoft ammunition tends to be in the 6-8mm range in diameter. These guns have much lower velocities, usually in the 300 to 500 ft/sec range. One of the hottest airguns on the market today is ′The Texan′ manufactured by AirForce. This is a single-shot, .45 caliber rifle that packs plenty of punch, propelling a lead bullet at some 1,000 ft/sec, delivery a kinetic impact of 500 foot-pounds! More than enough to bring down game animals like boars or deer.

The laws governing airguns do vary from state to state in America, as well as worldwide. While most countries, as well as states and local communities, do allow the ownership and use of airguns, even when they ban ′firearms′, there has been a move to place additional restrictions on airguns. Many jurisdictions ban the use of targeting lasers on airguns, as well as restrictions on velocities and ammunition. In the United States, airguns must have an orange muzzle tip as part of a federal law. However, these can be easily removed and the law does allow this for airguns used ′theatrically′, such as on TV shows, screen and stage, and I′m sure there must be some permit procedure for that exception.

How will the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota review this case involving convicted felon, David Lee Haywood? Hard to say. I am curious as to whether or not the pistol he was caught carrying still had its orange muzzle tip on it? If he had removed it, making his replica Walther P99 look like a real handgun, then my guess is that he is in big trouble. On the wider issuer of whether or not airguns should be treated the same as firearms legally by the courts, that is a sticky question? Obviously, airguns can be dangerous. They do serve as excellent training for firearms safety and for teaching the basic principles of shooting. Airguns can cause bodily harm, even kill. Whether you want one just for plinking paper targets or tin cans, or for dealing with vermin and varmints, a good airgun is all you really need. The high-powered variety of airguns can even be used for self-defense. I suspect that Mr. Haywood is going to serve out his sentence.