Unlawful discharge of a firearm in Texas?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “My twenty year old son was celebrating with some of his friends the other night on New Year’s Eve and decided to shoot a gun into the air several times. No one was injured, but a neighbor called the police and my son was arrested for unlawful discharge of a firearm. I am curious what penalties he might receive if he is convicted of the crime?”

No one loves their guns more than Texans. In fact, it’s estimated that 44% of Texas voters or their family members own guns. This does not mean, however, that Texas is a state of lawlessness and citizens are not expected to practice proper gun safety. In fact, Texas has very strict laws governing the proper use of a firearm. Failure to understand and follow these laws can result in criminal charges.

When can I legally discharge my firearm in Texas?

Owning a gun comes with understanding certain responsibilities, including the legal reasons you can discharge a gun. For example, you can discharge your gun if you are hunting on property expressly approved for hunting, you are lawfully defending your life or property, you are at a legal gun range, or you are performing an official duty which required the discharge of a gun.

Specific laws regarding the illegal discharge of a gun can be found in the Texas Penal Code Section 790.15 which prohibits discharging a firearm in public or on residential property under certain circumstances. For example, it is illegal to “knowingly discharge any firearm over the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway, or street or over any occupied premises; or recklessly or negligently discharges a firearm outdoors on any property used primarily as the site of a dwelling as defined in s. 776.013 or zoned exclusively for residential use.”

Under this statute, if you recklessly discharge your weapon in the corporate limits of a municipality which has a population of 100,000 or more it is a misdemeanor.

What will happen to your son if he is convicted of unlawful discharge?

In addition to the criminal misdemeanor charges your son might receive if he is convicted of unlawfully discharging his weapon, it’s also likely he will have to relinquish his rights to possess a firearm for the terms of his probation.

What can I do to help my son?

So, what can you do to help your son? The first step is to talk to a criminal defense lawyer. The good news is it is up to the state to prove that your son discharged the weapon intentionally and recklessly. To counter evidence the state provides your son’s criminal defense lawyer could argue that the discharge was not intentional or the gun fired accidentally when your son was using it lawfully.

If the prosecution has sufficient evidence against your son to prove unlawful discharge, however, your defense lawyer may suggest making a plea deal with the prosecution.

Bottom Line: 

Your son is an adult. If he is mature enough to have a gun in his possession he’s mature enough to understand the laws and use the gun responsibly. The fact he has been charged with a unlawful discharge of a gun means the state believes they have enough evidence to convict him of the crime. Talk to a criminal defense lawyer to determine the best course of action for your son.

Note: although unlawful discharge laws generally apply to persons discharging a gun, they could apply to other types of weapons. For example, it is also illegal to fire weapons from moving cars or on the highway even if the weapon is a pellet gun, BB gun, or crossbow. Additionally, more serious charges not discussed in this article may also be filed against individuals who engage in deadly conduct with a firearm.

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