Gun violence in Illinois has steadily been at an all-time high, and in response, Illinois lawmakers have created stricter firearms and weapons laws. These regulations broaden the scope of conduct that would otherwise be lawful and includes items that would not otherwise be characterized as a weapon under normal circumstances. As a result, individuals who think they are complying with the law, may find themselves facing serious charges for having either a gun or a “weapon” in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Illinois has numerous statutes criminalizing the acts of owning, possessing, carrying and using a firearm or “weapon.” Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, the penalties under these statutes can carry lengthy prison sentences. It is important to understand the charge you might be facing, and work with an attorney who is experienced in these types of cases. In Illinois, the most common firearm and weapons charges include unlawful use of a weapon, reckless discharge of a firearm, and aggravated discharge of a firearm.
Unlawful Use of a Weapon
This particular statute criminalizes a broad array of conduct and objects. Under this statute, a weapon includes a bludgeon, black-jack, slug-shot, sand-club, sand-bag, brass knuckles, a throwing star and switchblade. Additionally, the statute criminalizes the carrying or possessing a dagger, dirk, billy, dangerous knife, razor, stiletto, broken bottle or other piece of glass, stun gun or taser, or any other similarly dangerous or deadly weapon. Technically, the statute requires an intent to use the above listed items unlawfully against another person, however, the statute does criminalize conduct where there is no intention of using the item unlawfully against another person. For example, an individual can be charged under the same statute for merely carrying a firearm in a public place, whether on their person or in their car, that is either not broken down into a non-functioning state, is immediately accessible, is loaded and not locked in a case, or is not carried in accordance with the firearm concealed carry act. Based on the language of the statute, if you have a loaded gun in your vehicle that you carry for personal protection, then you could be charged for unlawful use of a weapon. The penalties for this offense range from a Class A misdemeanor (less than one year in county jail) to a Class X felony (6 to 30 years in the state penitentiary). The class of offense will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case, including the type and number of weapons involved, the location of the arrest or offense, and will also depend on an individual’s criminal background.
Reckless Discharge of a Firearm
Reckless discharge of a firearm involves the discharging of a firearm in a reckless manner that endangers the live of another. The statute does not require a showing of intent. Thus, the State does not have to prove that the individual intended to harm anyone at the time the firearm was discharged. The State is only required to show that the accused fired the gun without regard for the safety or well-being of others. Additionally, an individual could be held accountable under the statute if he or she was driving and the passenger fired the gun. The statute does not apply, however, to police officers or other law enforcement agents that may have fired their weapons in the lawful exercise of their duties. Reckless discharge of a firearm is a Class 4 felony (1 to 3 years in the state penitentiary).
Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm
There are specific circumstances in which a charge for reckless discharge of a firearm is elevated to a charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm. A person commits the offense of aggravated discharge of a firearm in one of three ways—firing at or into a building, firing at another person, and firing into a vehicle. Unlike reckless discharge, aggravated discharge requires the State to prove intent or knowledge. For example, when a person shoots at or into a building, the State must prove that he or she knowingly or intentionally fired the gun and did so knowing that the building was occupied or at least should have reasonably known that the building was occupied. The same is true if a person shoots in the direction of a vehicle. Under this situation, the State must prove that he or she intentionally or knowingly fired the gun and did so knowing that there was someone in the vehicle, or at least should have reasonably known that someone was in the vehicle when the gun was fired. Aggravated discharge of a firearm is a felony offense, specifically a Class 1 felony (4 to 25 years in the state penitentiary). There are factors, however, that elevate the penalty to a Class X felony (6 to 30 years). These factors depend on the location of the offense (e.g., was the gun fired within 1,000 feet of a school or park) and who was directly or indirectly affected by the shooting (e.g., law enforcement, paramedics, teachers, etc.).
If you or a loved one are facing a firearm or weapons charges, it is important to consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney who will thoroughly review all of the evidence, identify all potential issues with the State’s case, and devise an aggressive defense strategy to help fight any of firearm or weapons charges.