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 a public area is a crime. Convictions for doing so are severe and include jail time and harsh fines.

What is the legal definition of firing a gun or other firearm in a public area?

The laws relating to removing or changing the serial number on a weapon are governed by NRS 202.253, and 202.280.

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 in or upon public streets or in places of public resort; throwing deadly missiles; duties of civil, military and peace officers; penalties.

  1. Unless a greater penalty is provided in NRS 202.287, a person, whether under the influence of liquor, a controlled substance or otherwise, who maliciously, wantonly or negligently discharges or causes to be discharged any pistol, gun or any other kind of firearm, in or upon any public street or thoroughfare, or in any theater, hall, store, hotel, saloon or any other place of public resort, or throws any deadly missile in a public place or in any place where a person might be endangered thereby, although no injury results, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
  2. All civil, military and peace officers shall be vigilant in carrying the provisions of subsection 1 into full force and effect. Any peace officer who neglects his or her duty in the arrest of any such offender is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

I’ve never heard of someone being charged with firing a gun on the street, is that really a crime?

Yes. It is true that the news seems to show a lot of stories where guns are fired on public streets, but it doesn’t seem that anyone is ever charged with a violation of NRS 202.280. However, this is generally because the firing of a gun on a public street or in a place of public resort is a minor crime compared to the crimes that are usually charged in those circumstances: Murder; Attempted Murder; Manslaughter, etc.

Nevertheless, firing a gun on a public street, or in a “place of public resort” is a crime by itself, and can be charged in conjunction with the more serious crimes that often result from such actions.

What do you mean by “place of public resort”?

In the context of this law, “place of public resort” refers to any public place. The law is intentionally vague so that prosecutors have the ability to decide when to apply it; by not defining the “public place” in more specific terms, prosecutors can look at all of the surrounding circumstances and decide whether they want to file charges.

Is there anything else I should know?

Yes, the law applies to more than just guns. NRS 202.280 applies to firearms as well as “any deadly missile”. In other words, throwing any sort of explosive device that has the ability to kill is also a violation of NRS 202.280.

NRS 202.280 is unusual in that it also imposes a duty on all civil, military and peace officers to arrest someone who violates the statute. In other words, any law enforcement officer or military officer is legally required to place under arrest anyone who violates NRS 202.280.

Why would the law require military officers to arrest violators, rather than leaving it to law enforcement?

Essentially, this duty is imposed because of the danger that is posed by someone randomly firing a gun or throwing deadly missiles in public places. NRS 202.280 specifically refers to anyone who discharges a firearm or throws a deadly missile in a public place, whether intoxicated or otherwise, and regardless of whether the violation was done intentionally, maliciously, negligently, or wantonly.

What are the possible penalties?

Violations of NRS 202.280 are charged as misdemeanors, which carry possible penalties of:

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

Are there any Defenses?

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

  • Self Defense – If you were firing the gun only because you were in imminent fear of harm to yourself or another, and using the gun is proportionate to the danger you are facing, then you can claim self defense as a defense. However, it is important to note, that you can still be charged for unintended damage caused by the bullets you fire. In other words, if you are firing a gun someone attacking you, and your bullet hits an innocent bystander, then you can be charged for the injuries to the bystander, even though the charges against you for violation of NRS 202.280 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.

Please Note: It is not a defense to claim that no one was injured by your firing of a gun or throwing of a deadly missile in a public place. The law is broken the instant the gun is fired or the missile thrown. It does not require any subsequent injury.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with Discharging a firearm in a public place?

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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