An accidental discharge of a firearm occurs when a firearm fires at a time that is not intended by the user of the gun. This can happen for various reasons, including mechanical malfunctions or failures. It can also happen due to the user’s inexperience, lack of training, or negligence.

Accidental discharge commonly occurs in situations where guns are present, such as:

Accidental discharge is sometimes called by other names, such as “unintentional discharge” or “negligent discharge” (though these names might imply slightly different situations).

Depending on the facts of the situation, injury or harm caused by unintentional discharge can lead to legal consequences and sometimes criminal penalties. 

How is Accidental or Negligent Discharge Proven?

In order to be held liable for any type of violation in relation to an accidental firearm discharge, there usually needs to be some element of negligence present. Hence, legal charges are typically described as “negligent discharge”. Proof of negligent discharge will usually require that:

  • The person fired the gun intentionally
  • The act was done in a negligent or grossly negligent manner
  • The act could have caused injury or death to another person

An example of firing a gun in a “negligent manner” would be where a person does not following firing rules at a gun range.

State laws covering negligent or accidental discharge may differ with respects to many factors. These include:

  • Whether other people were actually in the vicinity
  • The type of gun involved (for instance, whether it was a BB gun or airsoft gun)
  • The person’s experience or training level 

What are the Legal Penalties for Accidental Discharge Crimes? Are There any Defenses?

Depending on state laws, accidental discharge may result in misdemeanor or felony charges. More minor misdemeanor charges can result in up to a year in a jail facility and some possible criminal fines. More serious felony charges (such as firing into a crowd in public) can result in longer sentences and higher criminal fines.

Defenses to accidental discharge crimes include malfunctions based on a product defect, as well as lack of evidence for the elements of proof described above. Lastly, there may be separate laws for accidental or negligent discharge for cases involving military personnel.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Accidental Discharge Legal Issues?

Accidental discharge and negligent discharge cases can involve a complex mix of criminal and gun laws. You may need to hire a criminal defense lawyer in your area if you need help with a firearm case. Your lawyer can provide you with advice, representation, and guidance for your case.