Typically, a gun owner may only be liable for civil charges if their firearm is used in a crime by someone other than the legal gun owner. Criminal charges are usually only brought onto the party who committed the crime.
However, a gun owner may be subject to criminal charges if their gun is not legally registered, or if it does not follow the state’s gun laws.
What is Gun Owner Negligence?
Generally, gun owners have a basic duty to care for and store guns safely, and to avoid any reasonably foreseeable dangers.
If your gun is used in a crime or an accident you could be charged with negligence. Every state differs in their level of duty of care when it comes to gun ownership. For example, California has the strictest gun laws and states such as Texas have much more lenient rules.
In any case, in order to have a successful negligence claim the plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant:
- Owed a duty of care to the injured party;
- The duty of care was reasonably foreseeable;
- That duty was breached; and
- The injury was a result of the breached duty
There are many factors that go into determining foreseeability and breach. Again, every state will be different in how they approach gun owner negligence, but the main elements are the same nationwide.
Which Laws Protect Gun Owners?
First and foremost, the Second (2nd) Amendment to the United States Constitution allows for citizens to have guns:
“…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Subsequent laws have been passed as a result of the 2nd Amendment such as The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). This is a federal law that restricts the charges gun dealers, owners, and manufacturers can face in response to gun crimes.
The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) repealed some harsher laws provided by the Gun Control Act of 1968. Essentially, the FOPA protects law abiding gun owners and dealers from being overly harrassed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Each state has their own laws on the following:
- Types of guns are allowed;
- Quantity and types of ammunition a person may have;
- How guns and ammunition are to be stored;
- Conceal and carry rules; and
- Time period (if any) for gun purchases and transfers
Do I Need a Lawyer?
It is highly recommended that you contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately if you believe your firearm was used in a crime or was involved with any illegal activity. There are many laws put into place to protect law abiding gun owners, and an attorney will be able to navigate you through the legal process.