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More Than Child’s Play: The Legal Implications Of BB Guns

More Than Child’s Play: The Legal Implications Of BB Guns

As a defense attorney, I frequently see cases involving firearms and other “deadly weapons.” When hearing that someone has been involved in a conflict with a deadly weapon, it’s easy to envision bullets flying and blood on the ground. However, it’s important to note that most cases involving a deadly weapon never involve bloodshed or the actual discharge of a firearm.

One tool that’s often overlooked is the BB gun. In the realm of firearms and deadly weapons, BB guns often escape serious consideration. However, these seemingly innocuous tools have the potential to be seen as “deadly weapons” in the eyes of the law, subject to the same legal scrutiny as conventional firearms. As enthusiasts and defenders of responsible gun ownership, it’s crucial to understand the implications of wielding a BB gun, especially in self-defense scenarios.

In addition to my law practice, my family and I also teach handgun training courses, and we often hear people say that they don’t want to have a gun. They just want to know how to use one, and if they need to scare off an intruder, they’ll resort to something like a BB gun. This is a bad idea for lots of reasons, and most readers of this publication probably know this.

However, many of you have likely heard someone say something similar, and this article will help you explain to them why using a BB gun to defend yourself may have tragic consequences. Ultimately, the use of a BB gun to defend yourself will likely require the same elements to be present as would be required to use a firearm. If any of those elements are lacking, you could be facing serious legal jeopardy.

BB gun and handcuffs on the floor.

Classifying the BB Gun

At first glance, a BB gun may seem innocuous, lacking the firepower and lethality associated with firearms. Yet, it’s crucial to recognize that, while BB guns typically propel small metal pellets at lower velocities than firearms, they can possess the capacity to cause significant injury under the right conditions.

Modern iterations of BB guns often boast considerable power, with some models capable of achieving velocities comparable to low-caliber firearms. Consider the following language from the user manual for the Springfield Armory M1 Carbine BB Rifle (PY-4662-9125):

NOT A TOY. ADULT SUPERVISION IS REQUIRED. MISUSE MAY CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY, OR DEATH. MAY BE DANGEROUS UP TO 328 YARDS (300 METERS).

The law in Indiana, where I practice, acknowledges that an object need not possess inherent lethality to be considered a deadly weapon. The way it’s used or wielded is also a factor in determining its classification.

In fact, under Indiana statute, as in many other states, something like a BB gun could be considered a deadly weapon where the manner it’s used is “readily capable of causing serious bodily injury.” Moore v. State, 137 N.E.3d 1034, 1037 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019).

Thus, in certain circumstances, a BB gun assumes the legal status of a deadly weapon, regardless of its conventional classification.

Consider a scenario where a defendant brandishes a BB gun during a confrontation, directing it toward the victim with intent to intimidate or deter some action. In such a situation, if the elements of a self-defense claim are not present, the person wielding the BB gun is likely to be charged with the crime of intimidation while drawing or using a deadly weapon, which is a felony carrying up to six years in prison in Indiana.

My hope is that, through education, you might be able to convey to others the danger of using a BB gun as a deterrent or a tool for intimidation. Just because it’s not a firearm does not mean it won’t be treated like one in the court of law. Thus, if you draw or use a BB gun, all the elements required to draw or use a firearm likely need to be present.

Furthermore, the potential for unintended consequences cannot be overlooked in cases involving BB guns. In the heat of a confrontation, the distinction between a BB gun and a conventional firearm may blur, escalating the conflict and leading to tragic outcomes stemming from misjudgment or miscalculation.

The Court’s Perspective

While traditional statutes may not explicitly enumerate BB guns as deadly weapons, courts have increasingly recognized their potential for harm and the significance of the threat they pose. Prosecutors have successfully argued that the use of a BB gun to instill fear or coercion constitutes a credible threat of violence, warranting charges commensurate with those involving conventional firearms.

If you are interested in reading a case where this has happened, you should read Moore v. State, which you can find by searching with the following case information Moore v. State, 137 N.E.3d 1034.

In that case, a mother was visiting her son (Moore), when Moore told his mother to get out of his house. When she refused to leave, he held a BB gun toward her and threatened to kill her. After a trial, Moore was found guilty of intimidation while using a deadly weapon and sentenced to three years on the intimidation charge. The conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal. While you may have no sympathy for Moore in the case above, it highlights the way in which a BB gun could be treated as a “deadly weapon” in certain contexts.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Suppressor Special 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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