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Posted 09/29/2022 in Criminal Defense by Colin Bell

Unlawful Discharge of a Weapon

In 2021, 258,691 Arizonans had gun licenses. An estimated 46.3% of Arizonans have guns in their homes—making Arizona’s gun ownership one of the highest in the nation. But just because Arizona is considered a gun-friendly state does not mean that gun owners can run afoul of the law. For example, Arizona law prohibits the unlawful discharge of a weapon. Let’s briefly look at what that means.

 Unlawful Discharge Statute

Under Arizona law, someone can be charged with “criminal negligence” if they fire a gun within the limits of any municipality (i.e., any city or town). That means it’s illegal to fire a weapon within all property within that city or town—unless the discharge falls under a defined exception: 

  • If you’re firing while on a properly supervised gun range
  • If you’re lawfully hunting wildlife in an area that has been recommended by Arizona’s Department of Game and Fish
  • If you are doing so to control nuisance wildlife, and you have a permit to do so
  • If you have a special permit from the municipality’s chief of police
  • If you’re more than one mile from any occupied structure
  • If you’re firing in self-defense or defense of another in imminent harm

What Does “Criminal Negligence” Mean? 

To be convicted of a crime, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant both committed a criminal act and the defendant had the requisite intent to do so. For an “unlawful discharge,” the criminal negligence standard means a defendant can have intentionally fired their weapon. But it also would cover instances where the defendant was simply “reckless” and did not intend to fire the weapon. 

All that is required to meet this standard is that a person failed to see the risk involved in their actions, and they did not act as a reasonable person should have in the given situation. 

It’s worth noting that, while intent is a required element, motive is usually not required to be convicted of a crime. But in the case of an unlawful discharge, a defendant’s motive may be a successful defense to the charge (e.g., someone was acting in self-defense). 

What Constitutes a Properly Supervised Range? 

The statute specifies what meets the standard for a properly supervised range. 

A qualified range includes any range operated by Arizona state, city, or local government or the federal government and any range that has been approved by the state, local, or federal government.

Qualified ranges include those run by a club affiliated with the National Rifle Association of America, the Amateur Trapshooting Association, the National Skeet Association or other nationally recognized shooting organizations, or any public or private school. 

Additionally, a range may be qualified if it is operated with adult supervision for shooting air or carbon dioxide gas-operated guns or for shooting in underground ranges on private or public property. 

What Are the Penalties for Violating the Statute?

Discharging a weapon in violation of the statute is a Class 6 Felony. That means if someone is convicted of the crime, they may face from four months to three years in state prison.

Previously, the charge was a misdemeanor, but it was increased to a felony in 1999. 

What Else Should Be Considered? 

In the real world, prosecutors may file multiple charges relating to the same facts. That’s true in the case of a weapon discharge: A defendant could see other charges. 

This is especially likely if the firing resulted in someone’s injury or property damage, if it was related to the commission of another crime, or if drugs or alcohol were involved. 

If the defendant fired a weapon in the presence of others, the defendant could face an assault charge. Assault charges don’t require that someone was injured; instead, it’s enough for someone to believe they could be injured. 

And a defendant could further face a charge of disorderly conduct or other charges against public order. 

In fact, the statute specifically provides that a defendant can face a disorderly conduct charge even if they fire blanks—although that’s one of the exceptions for unlawful discharge. 

So even if a defendant can’t be charged with unlawful discharge, they could still be charged with breaking the law—just a different law.

And, of course, a defendant could face a civil lawsuit relating to the incident. 

Colin Bell is a DUI and Criminal Defense attorney in Phoenix, Arizona. He is Of-Counsel with Stewart Law Group with offices throughout Arizona. The firm has helped many clients navigate the legal complexities of DUI and criminal defense.  


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Colin Bell

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