Pellet guns as firearms? Ontario Supreme Court to decide
OTTAWA — Is a pellet gun a firearm?
That is the question that Canada’s Supreme Court will answer after an Ottawa man’s lawyer argued that a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision has exposed owners of pellet guns purchased at sporting good stores to criminal prosecution and potentially lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences.
On Thursday, the country’s highest court agreed to hear the case of Christopher Dunn.
Dunn, 45, had his acquittal on firearms charges overturned after the court of appeal disagreed with an Ottawa judge’s ruling that the Crosman Model Pro 77 air gun Dunn was accused of brandishing in April 2010 met neither the definition of a firearm or a weapon.
According to the Criminal Code, a firearm is any barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or projectile can be discharged and is capable of causing serious bodily harm or death. But the definition of weapon is defined as anything used or intended for use in causing death or bodily injury or for the purpose of threatening or intimidating someone.
The court of appeal unanimously found that any pellet gun capable of firing a shot with a velocity capable of causing serious bodily harm met the definition of a firearm, regardless of how it was used or if it was used. It was a significant about face for the court of appeal — previously they had twice ruled an air gun was only considered a weapon if it was used to cause bodily harm or to intimidate someone.
Dunn’s lawyer, Solomon Friedman, argued that the consequences of their decision are far-ranging and of national importance.
It exposes pellet gun owners to charges of careless storage as well as other offences carrying mandatory minimum sentences, he argued.
Parliament never intended readily available pellet guns, sold in stores like Canadian Tire and Walmart, to be classified as firearms, Friedman argued.
“The Ontario Court of Appeal has created countless new “firearms owners,” all of whom are unlicensed and have never been subjected to mandatory safety training and other regulatory requirements,” Friedman, a firearms law expert, argued in court documents. “None of these individuals have been put on notice that they are entering into a highly regulated zone of conduct — firearms ownership.”
In their response, the Crown’s office argued that the court of appeal’s decision fixed a “jurisprudential glitch” that affected only a handful of cases in Ontario.
According to the Crown, the court of appeal decision “simply restored” the prevailing interpretation of a firearm that had existed in Ontario before another 2006 appeal court decision and across the rest of Canada.
A date has not yet been set for the Supreme Court hearing.
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