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Is it a crime to discharge an air gun into an occupied property?

On Behalf of | Nov 17, 2023 | Criminal law

In North Carolina, firing a gun at any property – such as a building, vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, or any other enclosed structure – is a crime. It’s reckless behavior that endangers the lives of those inside the structure, and a conviction for the offense leads to severe penalties.

But what if a person used an air gun? There are misconceptions about air guns being nothing more than toys, but their pellets can still cause injury even at lower velocities.

Is it still a crime if a person fired upon an occupied enclosure with an air gun?

Velocity is a determining factor

According to North Carolina law, any barreled weapon capable of discharging shots, bullets, pellets or other missiles with a muzzle velocity of at least 600 feet per second will count.

This is notable, as some air guns – specifically, those marketed as hunting guns for varmint – can easily reach muzzle velocities of up to 900 feet per second.

The penalties for firing at occupied property

The offense of shooting into occupied property is a Class E felony if the air gun is discharged into an occupied building, structure or enclosure. A conviction for this offense leads to up to seven years of imprisonment.

It becomes a Class D felony instead if a person fires an air gun at an occupied dwelling or vehicle that is in operation. Up to 17 years of imprisonment awaits anyone convicted of this offense.

But if the air gun shot manages to cause serious bodily injury, the offense is a Class C felony. The maximum punishment for a conviction of this offense is imprisonment for up to 19 years.

Yes, it’s a crime to fire upon an occupied structure with an air rifle, as long as the gun’s velocity is above 600. Those facing charges should remember that if their air gun causes an injury or if they shoot at a home, the penalties they face on conviction will be more severe.