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Weapon Charges: What is an Unlawful Discharge Crime?

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees most citizens the right to keep and bear firearms. However, there are some guidelines in place for how citizens are allowed to use their weapons. All states, along with local municipal governments, have certain laws and ordinances preventing people from discharging their weapons in certain circumstances. Violating these laws may lead to unlawful discharge charges.

In most cases, unlawful discharge laws prohibit any weapons being fired in certain areas or in certain circumstances, such as firing a gun from a moving vehicle, while drunk, across a highway or at an occupied building. These laws do not only regulate how you use handguns or rifles, but also crossbows, BB guns and blowguns — among other weapons.

Some local ordinances prohibit weapons from being fired anywhere within the city’s boundaries, even if you are on your own private property. There are exceptions, however, if you are at a shooting range, are firing blanks or are firing in self-defense.

You cannot be charged with unlawful discharge if you fired the weapon by accident. Prosecutors generally must be able to show you fired the weapon on purpose for the charges to stick. Keep in mind that your intent when firing does not matter. Even if you did not mean to hurt a person or property, you may still be charged with a crime.

Penalties for unlawful discharge

Unlawful discharge can be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances of the event in question. Penalties vary depending on the severity of the charges. Ordinance violations usually don’t have much associated jail time, if any. Misdemeanor charges could carry jail time of a few days to a year. Cases in which a person fired into an occupied home or any way that risked the safety of those around them could result in multiple years spent incarcerated. The charges almost always result in fines, which also escalate based on the severity of the offense.

For further guidance on unlawful discharge charges, contact skilled criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman in Reading, Pennsylvania.

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