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Understanding Reckless Discharge of a Firearm

Shooting a gun is acceptable under limited circumstances, such as shooting practice or hunting. Outside of these situations, discharging a firearm may result in criminal charges, like those for reckless discharge of a firearm.

It’s vital to understand what exactly unlawful discharge of a firearm entails in Florida, the laws surrounding reckless discharge, and the potential penalties you might face if you are found guilty of this offense.

Defining Reckless Discharge of a Firearm

Person recklessly shooting a rifle into the sky at a drone

Generally, being reckless means committing an action with a “willful or wanton disregard” for others’ safety. Recklessness is often thought of in the context of driving, when a person operates their vehicle in a way that puts others in danger. Discharging a firearm can also be done recklessly and put others at risk of harm.

Florida law covers wrongful discharge of a firearm, including reckless shooting. Under Florida law, a person cannot knowingly discharge a firearm in any public place, including over roads and occupied premises.

Specifically, Florida law makes it illegal to recklessly or negligently discharge a firearm outdoors on any property that is primarily used as a dwelling or zoned exclusively for residential use.

Laws on the reckless discharge of a gun are typically aimed at preventing celebratory shootings. For example, it is illegal for an individual to go outside and shoot a gun in the air at the stroke of midnight on New Year's, as the bullet could come down and hurt someone.

The laws on discharging firearms serve to protect the public. The state of Florida hopes to limit reckless activity and keep others safe by making certain actions illegal.

Is Reckless Discharge a Felony? Legal Penalties

Reckless discharge of a firearm can result in criminal charges. Criminal charges can be misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the severity of the crime.

In Florida, the state statute details that an individual who knowingly and recklessly discharges a firearm commits a first-degree misdemeanor. While not as severe as a felony, a first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Under Florida law, illegal discharge of a firearm can result in a felony in two scenarios:

  1. An occupant of a vehicle that knowingly and willingly discharges a firearm from the vehicle within 1,000 of a person commits a second-degree felony.
  2. A driver or owner of any vehicle who knowingly directs another person to discharge a firearm from the vehicle commits a third-degree felony.

In Florida, a second-degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines. Consequences for a third-degree felony include prison time of no more than five years and up to $5,000 in fines.

Accidental vs. Reckless Discharge: Understanding the Difference

Discharging a firearm accidentally and discharging a firearm recklessly are two different scenarios, and the law recognizes this as well.

When an individual accidentally discharges a firearm, they’re not doing so intentionally, so they have not committed a crime. On the other hand, when a person discharges a firearm recklessly, they have done so intentionally and, therefore, committed a crime.

Getting charged with reckless, unlawful discharge of a firearm means the prosecutor must prove there was intent behind the act. If you accidentally fire a gun, it’s much more difficult for the prosecutor to get a conviction, as there was no intent behind the discharge.

Negligent vs. Aggravated vs. Reckless Discharge of a Firearm

Person surprised after accidentally shooting a gun

The discharge of a firearm may be negligent, aggravated, or reckless. First, it’s essential to understand what each of these terms mean.

Negligence is when a person has failed to exercise reasonable care to minimize potential harm or damage. When a person is negligent, it means they have not acted in the same manner a similarly situated, reasonable person would have acted.

When a crime is aggravated, it means the way in which it was committed led to or could have had more injurious consequences, typically resulting in more severe punishment. In terms of the discharge of a firearm, it usually means the firearm is discharged in a way that puts others at risk of harm.

A reckless act means doing something with disregard for others’ safety. Therefore, discharging a firearm recklessly means doing so without caring about the consequences of the wrongful act.

Aggravated and reckless sound similar, but they do differ. When a person commits an aggravated crime, like aggravated discharge of a firearm, they do so knowing they’re putting others at risk of harm. On the other hand, a person who commits a reckless crime does so intentionally but without necessarily meaning to cause anyone harm.

According to Florida law, negligent and reckless discharge of a firearm both constitute misdemeanors. Florida law does not explicitly address the aggravated discharge of a firearm like other states’ statutes, but crimes committed with aggravating factors are often considered felonies with severe punishment.

Common Defenses to Reckless Discharge Charges

If you face charges for reckless discharge of a firearm, it’s vital that you consult with a qualified defense attorney right away. An experienced lawyer can create a viable defense strategy on your behalf to help you obtain the best possible case result.

Depending on the specifics of your situation, there are several defenses your attorney can use for your case. Some of the common defenses to reckless discharge criminal charges include:

  • The discharge of the firearm was accidental and not intentional;
  • You were performing official duties at the time you discharged your firearm;
  • The discharge of the firearm did not occur in a public place or dwelling;
  • There is a lack of evidence as to who exactly discharged the firearm;
  • There is insufficient proof to show the discharge of a firearm even occurred;
  • It can’t be shown the accused weapon was the weapon used in the incident;
  • There is no evidence the weapon was discharged knowingly and willingly;
  • Law enforcement violated your constitutional rights and/or
  • You were using a firearm for self-defense or defense of property, as you reasonably felt like you or your property were in danger or risk of harm.

When you allow a skilled lawyer to offer a defense, you’re giving yourself a greater opportunity to reach a beneficial outcome in your case. Based on the circumstances, this could mean many things, including the state dropping or reducing your charges, receiving less severe penalties, or winning your case altogether.

Impact of Reckless Discharge on Firearm Rights

3 jail cells holding people accused of reckless discharge of a firearm

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, which means that U.S. citizens and residents have the right to purchase and own weapons. While federal and state laws allow individuals to own guns, not everyone retains these rights.

First and foremost, to purchase a firearm in Florida, you must meet specific requirements, e.g., being at least 21 years of age and passing a background check. The purpose of a background check is to look into a potential gun owner’s background and past and ensure they have the right to own a weapon.

Under federal and state law, individuals who have been convicted of a felony cannot own firearms. Additionally, individuals who are considered “violent career criminals” under Florida law do not have the right to own firearms.

Individuals with a violent or criminal past lose their civil rights upon conviction. Civil rights include owning firearms, voting, holding public office, or serving on a jury. The only way to overcome this is to have rights restored.

Individuals wishing to regain their rights must petition the state’s Office of Executive Clemency. To have firearms rights restored in Florida, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • At least eight years have passed since you completed your sentence(s);
  • You’ve completed all sentences, including conditions of supervision like parole;
  • There is no outstanding restitution for the victim of any crime, including civil court judgments and
  • You have no outstanding financial liabilities that cost over $1,000 from any conviction or violation.

However, it’s important to note that felons convicted in federal, out-of-state, or military courts are not eligible to apply.

You may not have had your firearm rights taken away, depending on your situation. It’s important to consult with an attorney to better understand what rights you have or don’t have based on your past. If you do have the opportunity to potentially restore your rights, a lawyer can assist you.

Seeking Legal Advice for Reckless Discharge Cases 

If you are facing legal issues involving the reckless discharge of a firearm, it’s critical that you seek guidance from a St. Petersburg weapons charges attorney. A lawyer can help you understand the charges against you and potential penalties, craft a strong defense, and fight to protect your rights.

The Denson Firm has extensive experience representing clients facing weapons charges and is ready to help you fight yours. Contact us today to schedule your consultation with a skilled Florida criminal defense lawyer.

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