Don't think pellet guns can kill? Think again

There have been times in the past when a criminal will use something like a pellet gun–one that looks like a real firearm, but still a pellet gun–to try and commit a crime, only to get shot by an armed citizen or a police officer.

Someone will invariably claim that lethal force wasn’t warranted because it wasn’t a real gun.

Now, that’s kind of irrelevant in the heat of the moment. If it looks enough like a real firearm that a reasonable person would be in fear of their life, that’s good enough.

But even without that, pellet guns can actually kill, as a recent incident in Alabama shows us.

A 25-year-old Birmingham woman found dead in an intersection on the city’s eastside was shot with a pellet gun, authorities said Monday.

Asia Monique Johnson was found unresponsive Friday night in the 7100 block of First Avenue North. Her death was initially believed to be unclassified, but an autopsy later showed she sustained a fatal wound from a pellet gun.

Officers responded at 7:46 p.m. Friday to a 911 call reported an unresponsive woman. East Precinct officers arrived to find the wounded Johnson, and Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service attempted CPR but to no avail.

Johnson was pronounced dead on the scene at 8:19 p.m.

Sgt. Monica Law said no suspects are in custody.

Now, let’s start by saying this is an awful tragedy. That’s something we know.

What we don’t know, however, can fill volumes. Was this some kind of accident, where the person shooting the pellet gun wasn’t trying to hit her but did so anyway? Or was this an intentional act that, perhaps, did far more than anyone imagined?

The truth is that a lot of people don’t think of pellet guns as weapons. They see them as toys.

Yet as this case clearly illustrates, they can kill. They’re often used for small game hunting, for example, and while there’s a big difference between a squirrel and a person, that doesn’t mean something appropriate for killing small animals won’t kill a big one.

And there are plenty of air rifles that can kill larger game such as hogs or deer. That means plenty that could take a human life.

Again, there’s a lot we don’t know. We do know that Johnson was killed by a pellet gun. That means someone pulled a trigger and took a human life. That’s homicide. It might not have been intentional, but they still killed her.

As such, my hope is that the police figure out who did it and the guilty parties get brought to justice. This just shouldn’t happen.

It should also serve as a reminder to the would-be thugs who think using a pellet gun will keep them from serious trouble. A pellet gun can still get you shot and pulling that trigger can still get you a murder charge. It’s no shield from prosecution or stiff penalties, nor should it be.

So if you’re someone so inclined, take up knitting instead. You’ll live a longer and happier life.