The nature of guns and other firearms makes them very dangerous in public areas. Consequently, the Legislature has determined that firing a gun or other firearm in an area where someone could be injured or killed by a stray bullet is a crime. The stereotypical “drive-by” shooting is the perfect example of this as it often involves a vehicle driving by a house or other vehicle while the occupants fire at or into the house or other vehicle. Convictions for doing so are severe and include jail time and harsh fines.

What is the legal definition of firing a gun at or into a building or vehicle?

The laws relating to removing or changing the serial number on a weapon are governed by NRS 202.253, and 202.285.

NRS 202.253 – Definitions.

As used in NRS 202.253 to 202.369, inclusive:

  1. “Explosive of incendiary device” means any explosive or incendiary device material or substance that has been constructed, altered, packaged or arranged in such a manner that its ordinary use would cause destruction or injury to life or property.
  2. “Firearm” means any device designed to be used as a weapon from which a projectile may be expelled through the barrel by the force of any explosion or other form of combustion.
  3. “Firearm capable of being concealed upon the person” applies to and includes all firearms having a barrel less than 12 inches in length.
  4. “Motor vehicle” means every vehicle that is self-propelled.

NRS 202.280 – Discharging firearm at or into structure, vehicle, aircraft or watercraft; penalties.

  1. A person who willfully and maliciously discharges a firearm at or into any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse, or other building, tent, vessel, aircraft, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer or house trailer, railroad locomotive, car or tender:
    1. If it has been abandoned, is guilty of a misdemeanor unless a greater penalty is provided in NRS 202.287.
    2. If it is occupied, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term or not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both fine and imprisonment.
  2. Whenever a firearm is so discharged at or into any vessel, aircraft, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer or house trailer, railroad locomotive, car or tender, in motion or at rest, and it cannot with reasonably certainty be ascertained in what county the crime was committed, the offender may be arrested and tried in any county through which the vessel, aircraft, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer or house trailer, locomotive or railroad car may have run on the trip during which the firearm was discharged at or into.

I understand why it would be illegal to fire a gun at a person, but why would it be illegal to fire a gun at a building or a vehicle?

The first thing that needs to be understood about NRS 202.285 is that it applies to any kind of building, structure, or vehicle, including:

  • Housing of any kind (houses, apartments, condominiums, etc.);
  • Shop, warehouse, store, or other building;
  • Other structures including a barn, stable, or tent;
  • Vehicles of any kind (cars, trucks, vans, obviously, but also trailers, semi-trailers, house trailers, watercrafts, aircrafts, etc.);
  • Railroad cars or other locomotives.

The purpose of prohibiting firing a gun into a building, structure or vehicle should be fairly obvious: It is often difficult or impossible to know if there are any people inside a building, and it is similarly impossible to know how the vehicle or structure will react when a gun is fired into it. The bullet may ricochet and hit someone, a piece of the vehicle may fly off and injure someone, the vehicle may be holding some kind of explosive material, etc.

What if there are no people in the building or vehicle?

It is completely irrelevant whether anyone is in the building or vehicle. In fact, does not even matter if the bullets hit the building or vehicle. The crime is committed as soon as a gun is fired at the building or vehicle.

Please Note: Since the crime is committed as soon as a bullet is fired at a building or vehicle, prosecutors can charge separate crimes for each bullet fired.

Okay, but what if it was unintentional?

Notice that the law prohibits firing at or into a building or vehicle maliciously. What this means is that you must have intentionally fired at or into the building or vehicle and that you intended to do some kind of damage. It does not mean that you were attempting to injure a person, but only that you intended to do some kind of damage, even if only to the property itself.

What are the possible penalties?

The penalties for firing at a building or vehicle depend on whether the building or vehicle was abandoned at the time that the gun was fired.

If the building or vehicle has been abandoned, then you will be charged with a misdemeanor and will be facing:

  • Up to 6 months in jail; and/or
  • Possible fines up to $1,000.

Please Note: For the purposes of this Statute, “abandoned” does not mean “unoccupied” In other words, just because there is no one inside the building or vehicle at the time you fired at it does not mean that you won’t be charged with the more extreme version of the crime. “Abandoned” means that the building or vehicle has fallen completely out of use.

If the building or vehicle has not been abandoned, then the prosecutor will likely charge you with a category B felony, and you will be facing:

  • Between 1 and 6 years in a Nevada State Prison: and/or
  • Possible fines up to $5,000.

Also Note: If the person firing the gun is doing so from a building or vehicle, and the shooting takes place in a populated area, then prosecutors will charge the similar violation of “firing from a building or vehicle” which imposes greater penalties (for a more detailed explanation, please click here).

Are there any Defenses?

Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:

  • Not fired at a building or vehicle – This is an intent crime, meaning that if you were firing a gun in an open field, and the bullet happened to travel far enough that it eventually hit a building or vehicle, then you cannot be prosecuted under NRS 202.285. If, the bullet hits a person, however, this will not be a defense against the charges that may arise therefrom.
  • Not malicious – As noted above, if the gun was fired accidentally, then there was no malicious intent. This would also apply if the gun were not fired at a building intentionally because there can be no malicious intent without the intent. If your attorney can show that you had no desire to fire the gun, that you did not intend to fire the gun at or into the building or vehicle, or that you had no desire to cause any damage, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
  • Self-defense – Self-defense is a common and well-known defense. It provides that a person is allowed to use reasonable and appropriate force to defend themselves or others from immediate harm or death. If your attorney can show that you were fearful of imminent harm or death, and that the firing of the gun was a reasonable and necessary form of self-defense, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
  • Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with Firing a gun at a building or vehicle?

As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.

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