Air rifle lands two in jail for a year

Pump-action firearm found to be lethal-barreled

A judge sentenced two men to 12 months’ imprisonment last week for possessing a BB rifle without a firearms license. 

Codie Antonio McLaughlin admitted using the .177 Daisy Power model 880 BB/pellet rifle to shoot at wild chickens. Roland Murphy Welcome admitted using it to shoot at bottles. The incidents took place in November 2012, and neither man had a firearm license. Sentencing was delayed to last Tuesday because of arguments as to whether the air rifle was lethal-barreled. 

McLaughlin was 18 and Welcome was 22 at the time of the incident that led to their arrest and charge. 

“Case law says we must impose a penalty that has a deterrent effect,” Magistrate Valdis Foldats told the defendants. “You have to be deterred and there must be a broader message to the public that the proper sentence is one of custody.”  

The Firearms Law sets a mandatory sentence of seven years for conviction on a guilty plea. However, attorneys John Furniss and Prathna Bodden successfully argued that there were exceptional circumstances that allowed the magistrate to impose a lower sentence. 

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Some of those circumstances were set out in the facts related by Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson. 

He said two young men were walking along Fiddler’s Way in East End around 7 p.m. on Nov. 27, 2012. One heard a shot fired from behind him. Then there was a second shot and he felt something strike his back. He felt pain, but continued walking and later reported the matter to police. Mr. Ferguson said there were photographs showing the injury to the complainant’s back. 

Police investigations led them to a juvenile, who turned the air rifle over to them. It had been stolen along with a shotgun from an East End residence. 

When police questioned McLaughlin, he admitted shooting at wild chickens with the air rifle, which he had received from the juvenile.  

Welcome told police the rifle had been used “by a number of guys.” After shooting at empty bottles three times, he left the group. 

Defense attorneys said their clients had no idea that by firing the air rifle they would find themselves in court facing a serious charge that could involve such a serious offense. 

Mr. Ferguson noted that the Crown’s firearm expert indicated that the air rifle was lethal-barreled – that is, it emitted a projectile with sufficient velocity to perforate the skin or an organ, causing injury or death. 

An expert contacted by the defense indicated initially that the air rifle was not lethal-barreled. However, it was subsequently agreed that each pump gave it more power and, at its higher level, it was lethal-barreled. 

The magistrate listed reasons that led him to conclude there were exceptional circumstances affecting sentence: Possession of the air rifle was in terms of minutes, not hours or days; there was no suggestion they used it to commit another offense; they had no previous convictions for violence or firearms; they admitted their involvement; and the defendants were not aware that this type of firearm had to be licensed. 

“I think many people are not aware that it needs a license. I hope we send a message loud and clear that just because it’s a BB or pellet gun doesn’t mean that it’s not subject to the Firearms Law,” the magistrate noted. 

Both men also pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm within 40 yards of a public road. For this, they received a sentence of one month, concurrent. 

Attorneys indicated that juveniles involved in the incident were dealt with in the Youth Court. 

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