In the Matter of N.T., 214 N.C. App. 136 (2011)


The trial court erred by denying the juvenile’s motion to dismiss the charge of assault by pointing a gun because an airsoft gun was not a “gun” within the meaning of G.S. 14-34, which does not penalize individuals for pointing imitation firearms at another person. The evidence showed that while another child held an “airsoft pump action imitation rifle,” the juvenile pulled the trigger and a pellet hit and injured another child. The juvenile was adjudicated delinquent for the offense of assault by pointing a gun, under G.S. 14-34. The juvenile asserted on appeal that the airsoft gun, which shot plastic pellets using a pump action mechanism, was not a “gun” for purposes of G.S. 14-34. (The parties agreed that it was neither a “firearm” nor a “pistol.”). The Court of Appeals applied “general principles of statutory construction,” consulting dictionary definitions and the treatment of the term “gun” in appellate court decisions, to conclude that the term refers to “devices ordinarily understood to be firearms.” Because the term “gun” in G.S. 14-34 is ambiguous, the “rule of lenity” requires interpreting it narrowly. The court noted that there were other offenses for which the juvenile might have been adjudicated delinquent.

Criminal Offenses
Assault by Pointing a Gun
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