The basic definition for criminal possession of a weapon is the unlawful possession of a weapon by an individual. In order to gain a better understanding of what this actually means, it may be helpful to break down the three separate definitions that make up the full meaning of the term, criminal possession of a weapon.

The first word to define is “weapon.” What exactly is a weapon? A weapon is an object that can be used to fight, injure, or cause death. Depending on the item and the circumstances, a weapon may be categorized as either a “nonlethal” or a “deadly” weapon. Some examples of both nonlethal and deadly weapons include guns, knives, pepper spray, explosives, and sometimes, even chemicals. 

The next word to define is “possession.” In law, a person is said to have possession of an object when they have immediate physical contact with it (e.g., carrying a gun), or when they have control over it (e.g., having access to a gun kept at your house). 

The last word to define is “criminal.” In this instance, the criminal element may refer to the type of weapon, the individual in possession of the weapon, or the possession itself. Typically, for a person to have criminal possession of an item, they must either know from the start that the item they possess is illegal or after discovering it is illegal, they remain in possession of it regardless. 

Additionally, state law is another factor to consider when determining whether possession of a weapon is criminal or not. In many states, certain weapons are deemed illegal and simply possessing them can lead to criminal charges. Certain people, such as felons, may also be prohibited by law from owning any type of weapon.

Furthermore, what might be illegal in one state, might not be illegal in another. Thus, the full meaning of criminal possession of a weapon does not have an absolute definition because it is based on the laws, facts, and circumstances of each case. 

When is Possession of a Weapon Illegal?

As previously mentioned, possession of a weapon can become illegal depending on the laws of a state and the persons involved. In general, some examples of when possession of a weapon might be deemed illegal are:

  • When possession of the weapon itself is illegal (e.g., sawed-off shotguns, military grade weapons that are illegal for members of the general public to possess);
  • If the person in possession is prohibited from having any weapons, such as a felon; or 
  • Where a particular area or location prohibits either possessing a specific kind of weapon or having any weapons at all. 

In any event, being charged with criminal or illegal possession of a weapon can lead to serious legal consequences. Although the resulting punishment largely depends on the laws of a state and the specific facts of a case, the majority of penalties involve serving jail time, paying fines, or being put on probation. 

Additionally, whether the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony does not matter. Both lead to a criminal conviction, meaning they will remain on a defendant’s criminal record for life.

What Weapons are Typically Found to be Illegal to Possess?

The following types of weapons are normally classified as illegal weapons

  • Switchblade knives;
  • Explosives;
  • Cane swords;
  • Metal or brass knuckles;
  • Nunchucks;
  • Guns equipped with large-capacity magazines; 
  • Camouflaging firearm containers; 
  • Chemical weapons; 
  • Any firearms that are not immediately recognizable as a gun; and
  • Various other weapons that may be listed under state statutes.

What Types of People are Usually Not Allowed to Possess a Weapon?

While this list is geared more towards people who are specifically not allowed to acquire or possess a firearm, it may also apply to criminal possession of any weapons generally:

  • Individuals who already have a prior felony conviction on their criminal record;
  • Fugitives fleeing from the law;
  • Mentally incapacitated persons; 
  • People who are dependent on certain drugs or medication;
  • Minors;
  • Persons who are prohibited from gun ownership according to a court order; and 
  • Those who did not pass a mandatory background check to obtain a firearm license.

Where is it Illegal to Possess Weapons?

Possession of a weapon may be criminal if the weapon is found in any of the following areas:

  • In a courthouse or courtroom;
  • Federal buildings, such as a post office;
  • In an airport or onboard an airplane; 
  • Public and private schools, including in the no-weapons zones that surround schools (i.e., within 1,000 feet);
  • Mental health facilities;
  • Childcare facilities (e.g., daycare);
  • Religious institutions; 
  • State wildlife preserves; and
  • Entertainment venues, such as theaters, sports stadiums, and amusement parks.

This is only a general list of locations where weapons are usually not permitted. Again, this will depend on the laws of each state and may vary. As such, there may be additional locations listed and individual states might have their own looser or stricter requirements. 

For instance, many inner cities heavily enforce bans on weapon possession due to the risks involved with having such a large population and the amount of injuries one incident can cause. On the other hand, some cities have enacted an open-carry policy, which allows a person to carry guns throughout the entire designated area, so long as they have a permit. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Possession of a Weapon Charge?

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the law of weapons possession in your area, or are facing criminal charges for possession of a weapon, you should contact a criminal defense attorney for assistance. 

An experienced attorney will be able to provide counsel about the consequences you may be facing, whether there are any potential defenses that may apply to your case, and can represent you in court. 

Finally, an attorney can also help you understand your legal rights, as well as how you can protect them.