Weapons charges is a broad category of criminal offenses that includes offenses that address the use of weapons. Many people believe that this category means actually pulling a gun on someone or threatening someone with a knife, however weapons charges are broadly utilized to prohibit the possession of certain weapons by any person and to increase the punishment for the use or possession during other offenses.

Thus, a person may be guilty if they are in possession of a weapon or use a weapon. Because of the broadness of the category and perceived differences in the deadliness of certain weapons, the punishment for this crime varies. Depending on the type of weapon, and factors such as whether the person is a repeat offender or not, the punishment may be as severe as jail time.

What are the Elements of a Weapons Charge?

Although the right to keep and bear arms is a constitutionally protected liberty, all states have their own sets of laws to limit a person’s ability to possess certain types of weapons in certain situations. A weapons charge is a set of criminal charges that generally arise in one of two categories: possession and use.

Under the first category of possession, a defendant may be charged and convicted with a weapons charge for possessing an illegal weapon, such as an assault weapon, even though no one was hurt by or saw the weapon. Thus, it does not matter if the person did not threaten or harm someone with the weapon, the mere possession of the weapon is enough to find guilt.

Due to public policy and safety concerns, many states forbid individuals from possessing the following weapons: short barrel or sawed off shotguns, guns equipped with large-capacity magazines, guns loaded with incendiary or explosive ammunition, some types of pepper spray, brass knuckles, and switchblade knives, to name a few.

Additionally, some individuals with court orders may be forbidden to possessing or accessing any types of weapons. For instance, convicted felons are often not allowed to possess firearms under federal or state law.

Also, those that are mentally incapacitated, those who are minors, those who are forbidden to possess a weapon due to a court order, or fugitives fleeing from the law are not able to acquire or possess a firearm. Possession of a weapon charges tend to receive a less severe punishment than weapons charges that involve actual use of the weapon.

Under the second category of the use of the weapon, a person may be charged and found guilty if they use a weapon during the commission of a crime, such as such as robbery. These charges are often referred to as aggravated offenses, because as a result of the use of the weapon, the defendant may be charged and found guilty of a more serious version of a crime than they intended to commit.

For example, a sexual assault charge develops into an aggravated sexual assault when a weapon is shown or used. Most states do not require that the defendant use the weapon to injure the victim. As long as the defendant displays the weapon to frighten or intimidate the victim, then the defendant may be charged and found guilty of an aggravated offense.

Another example of an aggravated offense, is the use of a weapon in a fist fight. If a person hits someone with their bare hands, that carries a charge of battery, but if a person hits someone with a weapon, then that carries the more serious offense charge and sentence of aggravated battery.

What are Defenses to Weapons Charges?

The simplest defense to a weapons charge based on the possession of a weapon is to prove that you did not possess the weapon. For instance, if you were in a vehicle where a weapon was discovered and you were charged, a defense to a weapons charge based on possession is to argue that the weapon was in fact not yours and that you were a passenger in the vehicle, not the owner. Another defense is to prove that the weapon you possessed was not illegal. This defense is sometimes difficult to prove, but some states allow for the possession of decorative or collector weapons.

The defense for a weapons charge based on the use of the weapon may also include the defense that the weapon was not illegal. Additionally, the defenses to a charge based on the use of a weapon include defenses similar to assault charges such as self-defense.

If the defenses do not succeed, then the defendant is looking to face additional punishment, which may be one to two years in prison. If the defendant was a felon however, then the weapon charge usually carries a more severe felony range of punishment from two to ten years in prison.

So Do I Need an Attorney for a Weapons Charge?

Because of the range and severity of the punishments for weapons charges, if you are facing a weapons charge, it is in your best interest to consult a well qualified and licenses criminal defense attorney. An experience lawyer can help you defend yourself from the charges or reduce the severity of your sentence.