The fundamental explanation for criminal possession of a weapon is an individual’s illegal possession of a weapon. To better understand what this means, it may be useful to break down the three separate definitions that make up the term’s whole meaning, criminal possession of a weapon.
The first term 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 object and the circumstances, a weapon may be either a “nonlethal” or a “deadly” weapon. Some nonlethal and deadly weapons examples include guns, knives, pepper spray, explosives, and sometimes, even chemicals.
The next word to define is “possession.” In law, a person is said to possess an object when they have direct physical contact with it (e.g., carrying a gun) or control 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 kind of weapon, the person in possession of the weapon, or the possession itself. Normally, for a person to have criminal possession of an item, they must know from the start that the item they possess is illegal. After discovering it is illegal, they remain in possession of it regardless.
Further, state law is another aspect to contemplate when resolving whether possession of a weapon is criminal or not. Certain weapons are considered illegal in many states. Simply owning them can lead to criminal charges. Certain individuals, such as felons, may also be restricted by law from possessing any weapon.
Furthermore, what might be illegal in one state might not be illegal in another. Therefore, the whole meaning of illegal possession of a weapon is not completely defined because it is based on each case’s laws, facts, and circumstances.
When Is Possession of a Weapon Illegal?
Possession of a weapon can become illegal depending on the laws of a state and the individuals implicated. In general, some instances when possession of a weapon might be considered illegal are:
- When possession of the weapon itself is prohibited (e.g., sawed-off shotguns, military-grade weapons that are illegal for members of the general public to own);
- If the person in possession is forbidden from having any weapons, such as a felon; or
- A particular place or area bans either possessing a specific weapon or having any weapons at all.
In any circumstance, being charged with criminal or illegal possession of a weapon can lead to severe legal consequences. Although the resultant discipline mainly depends on the laws of a state and the specific facts of a case, most punishments involve serving jail time, paying penalties, or being put on probation.
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 Commonly Found to be Unlawful to Possess?
The following kinds of weapons are generally categorized as illegal weapons:
- Switchblade knives;
- Cane swords;
- Metal or brass knuckles;
- Firearms equipped with large-capacity magazines;
- Camouflaging gun containers;
- Chemical weapons;
- Any guns that are not instantly recognizable as a firearm; and
- Miscellaneous other weapons that may be itemized under state statutes.
What Types of Individuals are Usually Not Authorized to Have a Weapon?
While this list is geared more towards individuals who are especially not entitled to obtain or own a gun, it may also apply to criminal possession of any weapons generally:
- People who already have a previous felony conviction on their criminal record;
- Criminals running from the law;
- Mentally incapacitated individuals;
- Individuals who are dependent on certain drugs or medication;
- Individuals who are forbidden from firearm ownership according to a court order; and
- Those who did not pass a mandatory background check to receive a firearm license.
Where Is it Criminal to Have Weapons?
Possession of a weapon may be criminal if the weapon is found in any of the following locations:
- In a courthouse or courtroom;
- Federal buildings, such as a post office;
- In an airport or on board 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 places where weapons are usually not allowed. The laws of each state may vary. Individual states might have more open or more stringent requirements.
For example, many inner cities laboriously implement bans on weapon possession due to the dangers of having such a large population and the number of injuries one incident can compel. On the other hand, some cities have passed an open-carry policy, which authorizes a person to carry firearms throughout the entire designated location, so long as they have a permit.
What Are the Types of Criminal Possession?
Criminal possession of a weapon generally falls into one of several categories.
The most stringent of criteria, some weapons are restricted from any form of private ownership at all, even if kept in one’s home under safe conditions. Generally, this covers military devices such as bombs, mortar, machine guns, nuclear devices, and chemical weapons. Nevertheless, this may also include possession of otherwise-legal weapons by a person forbidden by law or court order from owning them.
Carry of a Concealed Weapon
Carrying a concealed weapon is a restriction on carrying certain weapons on one’s person in such a manner that it is hidden from the view of others. Concealed carry can sometimes include somewhere in the same vehicle or close to one’s near surroundings where the weapon is readily reachable.
What Is Strict Liability vs. Specific Intent?
Though this measure varies, all weapon possession crimes follow some intent standard (mens rea). The most common is “strict liability,” meaning that there is no requirement of intent whatsoever: simply being detected by law enforcement with the weapon in question under the circumstances described in the law (possession, concealed, or open) is a crime in and of itself, with virtually no conceivable defense other than establishing the object is not an illegal weapon within the law’s meaning. Some rules permit the accused a defense to the charge that the object in question would be used for a clear set of permitted purposes, such as one’s profession.
Examples are knives harbored by a line chef en route to her job or tools held by a construction laborer or craftsman. In this circumstance, the burden of proof is often put on the accused, directing them to establish their permitted intent in court.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Possession of a Weapon Charge?
Suppose you have any questions or problems regarding the law of weapons possession in your area or are facing criminal charges for possession of a weapon. In that case, you should contact a criminal defense attorney for help.
An experienced attorney will provide counsel about the consequences you may face, whether any potential defenses may apply to your case, and represent you in court.
Finally, an attorney can also help you understand your legal rights and how you can protect them.