A WINE salesman pulled out what appeared to be a .44 Magnum after a spat with another motorist, a court heard.
But the travelling salesman’s imitation weapon turned out to be a cigarette lighter.
Leon Higginson, of The Ridgeway, South Shields, brandished the fake gun when he clashed with motorist Stephen Thompson in Stockton-on-Tees, in April.
Terrified Mr Thompson and his girlfriend, Gladys Ndangoh, thought the 33-year-old was going to shoot them, and fled the scene, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Higginson escaped a jail sentence, despite Judge Howard Crowson telling him: “I had intended to send you to prison today.”
The judge added that Higginson would normally have been jailed for such a firearms offence, but he would struggle to cope in prison and was no real risk to the community.
He accepted that Higginson was suffering from depression after the end of a relationship, and should not have been working when the drama unfolded on April 18.
Andrew Finlay, mitigating, said: “He accepts what he did was wrong and a stupid thing to do, and describes himself as just flipping for a few seconds.
“He wishes to say how sorry he is. It was his mental state at the time which really brought about this offence.
“He pointed the gun for a couple of seconds at most, thought better of it, and did not seek to prolong the incident.”
Higginson admitted possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, and was given a 12- month suspended sentence.
Judge Crowson told him: “What I see is a man at the end of his tether, under enormous stress, and reacting very badly to it. I have taken an exceptional course. Don’t let me down.
“Anyone who uses firearms, causing people to fear immediate violence, should expect prison. It would be very difficult to find another case where I would do that.”