TEAR GAS BOMBS AND SIMILAR WAEPONS
Anyone who has seen Television and Movie Crime Dramas has probably seen the police use tear gas or similar weapons to cause the evacuation of a building. While it may seem almost comical when seen on a screen, tear gas is a very serious weaponized chemical, and when used illegally carries harsh penalties.
What is the legal definition of illegally using a tear gas bomb or similar weapon?
The laws relating to removing or changing the serial number on a weapon are governed by NRS 202.370 through 202.440.
NRS 202.370 – Definitions.
As used in NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive:
- “Shell,” “cartridge” or “bomb” includes all shells, cartridges or bombs capable of being discharged or exploded, when such discharge or explosions will cause or permit the release or emission of tear gas.
- “Tear gas” includes all liquid, gaseous or solid substances intended to produce temporary physical discomfort or permanent injury through being vaporized or otherwise dispersed in the air. The term does not include a liquid, gaseous or solid substance whose active ingredient is composed of natural substances or products derived from natural substances which cause no permanent injury through being vaporized or otherwise dispersed in the air.
- “Weapon designed for the use of such shell, cartridge or bomb” includes all revolvers, pistols, fountain pen guns, billies, riot guns or other form of device, portable or fixed, intended for the projection or release of tear gas except those regularly manufactured and sold for use with firearm ammunition.
NRS 202.375 – Applicability of NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive, to small weapons containing “CS” tear gas and to certain law enforcement, correctional and military personnel.
- The provisions of NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive, do not apply to the sale or purchase by any adult, or the possession or use by any person, including a minor but not including a convicted person as defined in NRS 179C.010, of any form of:
- Cartridge which contains not more than 2 fluid ounces in volume of “CS” tear gas that may be propelled by air or another gas, but not an explosive, in the form of an aerosol spray; or
- Weapon designed for the use of such a cartridge which does not exceed that size,
- and which is designed and intended for use as an instrument of self defense.
- A seller, before delivering to a purchaser a cartridge or weapon which may be sold pursuant to subsection 1, must record and maintain for not less than 2 years the name and address of the purchaser and the brand name, model number or type, and serial number if there is one, of the weapon or cartridge, or both.
- The provisions of NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive, do not prohibit police departments or regular salaried peace officers thereof, sheriffs and their regular salaried deputies, the Director, deputy director and superintendents of, and guards employed by, the Department of Corrections, personnel of the Nevada Highway Patrol or the military or naval forces of this state or of the United States from purchasing, possessing or transporting any shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons for official use in the discharge of their duties.
- As used in this section, “CS” tear gas means a crystalline powder containing ortho-chlorobenzalmalononitrile.
NRS 202.380 – Sale or possession of tear gas bombs or weapons which are not permitted under NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive; penalties.
- A person, other than a convicted person, who within this state knowingly sells or offers for sale, possesses or transports any form of shell, cartridge or bomb containing or capable of emitting tear gas, or any weapon designed for the use of such shell, cartridge or bomb, except as permitted under the provisions of NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
- A convicted person who owns or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control any form of shell, cartridge or bomb containing or capable of emitting tear gas, or any weapon designed for the use of such a shell, cartridge or bomb, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of 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.
- As used in this section, the term “convicted person” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 179C.010.
NRS 202.390 – Weapon to bear name of manufacturer and serial number; penalty for removal.
- Each tear gas weapon sold, transported or possessed under the authority of NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive, shall bear the name of the manufacturer and a serial number applied by the manufacturer.
- No person shall change, alter, remove or obliterate the name of the manufacturer, the serial number or any other mark of identification on any tear gas weapon. Possession of any such weapon upon which the same shall have been changed, altered, removed or obliterated, shall be presumptive evidence that such possessor has changed, altered, removed or obliterated the same.
- Any person who violates any of the provisions of this section is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
NRS 202.400 – Permit for possession, transportation and use in protective system to be issued by sheriff.
- The sheriff of any county may issue a permit for the possession and transportation of such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons to any applicant who submits proof that good cause exists for the issuance of the permit.
- The permit may also allow the applicant to install, maintain and operate a protective system involving the use of such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons in any place which is accurately and completely described in the application for the permit.
NRS 202.410 – Application for permits: Contents.
- All applications for such permits shall:
- Be filed in writing;
- Be signed by the applicant if an individual, or by a member or officer qualified to sign if the applicant is a firm or corporation; and
- State the name, business in which engaged, business address, a full description of the place or vehicle in which such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons are to be transported, kept, installed or maintained.
- If such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons are to be used in connection with or to constitute a protective system, the application shall also contain the name of the person who is to install such protective system.
NRS 202.420 – Inspection of permits.
Every person, firm or corporation to whom a permit is issued shall either carry the same upon his or her person or keep the same in the place described in the permit. The permit shall be open to inspection by any peace officer or other person designated by the authority issuing the permit.
NRS 202.430 – Revocation of permits.
Permits issued in accordance with NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive, may be revoked by the issuing authority at any time when it shall appear that the need for the possession or transportation of such shells, cartridges, bombs, weapons, or protective system involving the use of the same, has ceased, or that the holder of the permit has engaged in an unlawful business or occupation or has wrongfully made use of such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons or the permit issued.
NRS 202.440 – License for retail sale of bombs or weapons; conditions.
The sheriff of any county may also grant licenses in a form to be prescribed by the sheriff, effective for not more than 1 year from the date of issuance, to permit the sale at retail, at the place specified in the license, of such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons, and to permit the installation and maintenance of protective systems involving the use of such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons, subject to the following conditions, upon breach of any of which the license shall be subject to forfeiture:
- Such business shall be carried on only in the building designated in the license.
- Such license or certified copy thereof must be displayed on the premises in a place where it may easily be read.
- No such shell, cartridge, bomb or weapon shall be delivered to any person not authorized to possess or transport the same under the provisions of NRS 202.370 to 202.440, inclusive. No protective system involving the use of such shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons shall be installed, nor shall supplies be sold for the maintenance of such system, unless the licensee has personal knowledge of the existence of a valid permit for the operation of such system.
- A complete record must be kept of sales made under the authority of the license, showing the name and address of the purchaser, the quantity and description of the articles purchased, together with the serial number, if any, the number and date of issue of the purchaser’s permit, and the signature of the purchaser or purchasing agent. No sale shall be made unless the permit authorizing possession and transportation of shells, cartridges, bombs or weapons is displayed to the seller and the information herein required is copied therefrom. This record shall be open to the inspection of any peace officer or other person designated by the sheriff.
What exactly does it mean by a “tear gas bomb”?
There are really 3 parts to a “tear gas bomb” that must be understood:
- The “gas”;
- The “canister” that the gas is contained in; and
- The “gun” that projects the canister.
Okay, so what is “tear gas”?
“Tear gas” is a catch-all term used to describe any substance, whether gas, liquid, or solid which can be vaporized and, when ingested in its vaporized form, causes physical discomfort or permanent injury.
“Tear gas” is usually applied to a vaporized substance that is used to decapacitate or disable people because of the physical discomfort involved. However, for the purposes of NRS 202.370-202.440, any type of biological weapon that can be vaporized to cause pain or injury can be considered “tear gas.” The definition is intentionally broad and allows prosecutors to associate “tear gas” with such commonly known substances as:
- “Mustard gas” – which essentially causes chemical burns where it comes in contact with your body. It does not act immediately and causes intense itching and skin irritation which eventually turns to pus-filled blisters. Mustard gas can also cause severe damage to the eyes and lungs. It has also been linked to increased risk of cancer.
- “Chlorine gas” – Reacts with water to form hydrochloric acid, which is destructive to living tissue, and can therefore be extremely lethal.
- “Agent Orange” – a Chemical designed to both cause health issues and to devastate the agricultural environment. Agent Orange has been linked to genetic deformities which often pass on to the next generation.
- Nerve agents – which cause convulsions, involuntary urination and defecation, and will lead to death by asphyxiation with enough exposure. The chemicals disrupt the body’s ability to communicate with itself, which leads to loss of control over the respiratory system.
This is by no means an exhaustive list as any substance that can be vaporized to cause discomfort, pain, injury or death can be considered a tear gas, but it does provide the most well-known forms of gaseous weapons.
What do you mean by “canister”?
Basically, the “canister” aspect is simply the means to contain the tear gas. It can refer to any form of ‘shell,’ ‘cartridge,’ ‘bomb,’ or ‘canister,’ which can be propelled in some way, and then either explodes, breaks apart, or otherwise opens up after it has been propelled to its target, allowing for the release of the gas.
In its simplest terms, this is simply the means to hold the substance in place.
Okay, and the “gun” part seems straightforward.
For the most part, it is. The “gun” aspect is broadly defined to include any means of projection or propelling of the canister. However, it also includes any sort of device that can be used to propel the vaporized gas itself directly from the gun or other device.
Okay, but wouldn’t this mean that “pepper spray” would be considered a tear gas?
That is a great question, because, in theory, “pepper spray” could be considered a tear gas. However, the legislature created an exception to “tear gas” when writing the law to allow for any natural substance that does not cause permanent injury.
“Pepper spray” is named such because it is made from the active compound in spicy peppers, capsaicin. Since it is therefore a natural compound, and it does not cause permanent damage, it is not technically a “tear gas.”
There is also another form of gas, which is technically a “tear gas,” but can be owned or possessed, in very small quantities, by anyone for use as a self-defense mechanism.
0-Chlorobenzylidenemalononitrite, commonly called “CS gas” can be in the possession of anyone but ex-convicts, as defined in NRS 179C.010, so long as:
- The cartridge can only hold up to 2 fluid ounces of volume;
- The cartridge propels the “CS gas” by air or another gas in the form of an aerosol spray; and
- The purpose of the “CS gas” is for self-defense.
Please Note: The purpose of the need for the gas to be propelled in an aerosol spray is to prohibit the ability to have 2-ounce canisters used in an explosive device. Consequently, any canister that propels the “CS gas” using an explosion of any kind (which would include the use of guns and similar devices) is prohibited.
Please Also Note: Anyone selling “CS gas” canisters must record the sale and keep those records for at least 2 years. The records must contain:
- The name of the purchaser;
- The address of the purchaser;
- The brand name of the weapon and/or cartridge;
- The model number of the weapon and/or cartridge;
- The type of the weapon and/or cartridge;
- The serial number, if there is one, of the weapon and/or cartridge;
If the seller does not make such a record, they are breaking the law. Because of this requirement, there is also a requirement that any tear gas weapon that is manufactured must bear the name of the manufacturer and contain a serial number.
Is anyone allowed to have “tear gas”?
Yes. It is possible to get a permit for the possession and use of tear gas in “protective systems.” In order to get such a permit, you must submit an application to the sheriff in your county showing that good cause exists for needing the “protective system.” Given the extreme nature of tear gas, these permits are rare.
The application for such a permit must:
- Be filed in writing;
- Be signed by either the individual requesting the permit or by a qualified officer or agent of the firm or corporation seeking the permit; and
- Describe the specific location where the protective system will be installed, including:
- The name of the building or business if there is one;
- The address of the building;
- A complete and specific description of the place where the system will be installed;
- A complete and specific description of the place or vehicle where the canisters or cartridges will be transported, kept, or maintained;
- The name of the person who will be installing the system.
If the permit is granted, then you may install and maintain a protective system involving the use of tear gas cartridges. However, the system can only be installed in whatever location is specifically described in the application for the permit.
Permits may be issued with specific expiration dates, or may require renewal after a designated time period.
Also, the sheriff has the ability to revoke any permit if it is determined that there is no longer a need for the protective system, or if the holder of the permit has engaged in any illegal activity or has misused the cartridges in any way.
Please Note: Anyone who obtains a permit to install such a protective system must carry the permit on his or her person, or must keep it in the place described in the permit. The permit shall be open to inspection by any law enforcement officer or other authority designated in the permit.
So, then it is possible to sell tear gas and related weapons?
It is possible so long as you are licensed to do so. Once again, in order to legally sell tear gas, cartridges, or tear gas related weapons, you must obtain a license from the sheriff. Such licenses are only valid for up to 1 year, and must specifically state the location where the retail sales are to take place.
Any license for the sale of tear gas and related items is subject to forfeiture at any time if the following guidelines are not being strictly adhered to:
- Business can only be conducted in the location specifically stated on the license;
- The license must be displayed on the premises, and must be placed in such a way that it can easily be viewed and inspected;
- There can be no sale to anyone that has not been properly proven to be allowed to possess the tear gas;
- No installation of a tear gas protective system unless the licensee as personal knowledge that a valid permit exists for the installation;
- A complete record of all sales must be kept and readily available for inspection, and must include:
- The name of the purchaser;
- The address of the purchaser;
- The serial number, if possible, of the canister or weapon;
- The number of the purchaser’s permit;
- The date of issue of the purchaser’s permit; and
- The signature of the purchaser.
Please Note: The licensee must personally view the permit before making any sale.
What are the possible penalties?
Anyone who sells or possess tear gas, a tear gas bomb, or a tear gas weapon without a license is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, which carries with it a possible penalty of:
- Up to 1 year in jail; and
- Possible fines up to $2,000.
If an ex-convict is found to sell or possess tear gas, a tear gas bomb, or a tear gas weapon without a license, then they can be charged with a category B felony, and if convicted, will be facing:
- Between 1 and 6 years in a Nevada State Prison; and/or
- Possible fines up to $5,000.
In the case of permittees or licensees, if any provision of the laws relating to tear gas is violated, then they are subject to revocation of the permit or license, and may also be facing the charges listed above.
Are there any Defenses?
Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:
- Law Enforcement/Military Officer – The laws relating to tear gas do not apply to any law enforcement agency or branch of the United States, so long as the officer is acting within the scope of their official duties. In other words, a police officer using tear gas as part of a disabling a criminal or criminals, is not violating the laws relating to tear gas, while one who installs a protective system in his or her house without a permit is. If you are a member of any law enforcement agency, a peace officer, or a member of the military, and you have been charged for using or possessing tear gas within the scope of your official duties, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Self Defense Use – While not a perfect defense, if you can show that the canister of tear gas that you possess contains less than 2 ounces of “CS gas,” and propels it as an aerosol spray, then you are not in violation of any of the tear gas laws. However, this defense is not available to ex-convicts as they are not permitted to possess any amount of tear gas.
- 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 violations of the tear gas laws?
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.