Firearms & Weapons Offences

Firearms & Weapons Offences

If you have firearms in your possession – whether for recreational or other purposes – you likely know that their use, registration, storage, and handling are all subject to various laws and regulations. These are contained in the Criminal Code and Firearms Act.

In my previous role as a crown prosecutor, I spent several years in the special prosecutions branch where I was selected to join the organized crime unit. I was then the first and only designated firearms crown for Alberta. In this role, I assisted and taught defence lawyers, prosecutors and the police about weapons offences and firearms investigations. My experience and knowledge of weapons and firearms offences is unparalleled. 

Because of this, I am in a unique position to defend against any weapons or firearms charges you might be facing.

If you have firearms in your possession – whether for recreational or other purposes – you likely know that their use, registration, storage, and handling are all subject to various laws and regulations. These are contained in the Criminal Code and Firearms Act.

Although there are many different firearms and weapons related offences, there are several common ones that form the bulk of the charges of this type. I have listed and described these below.

Unsafe Storage of a Firearm

This offence involves the crown proving that you contravened one of the Firearms Act regulations respecting the storage, handling, transportation, shipping, display, advertising or mail-order sales of firearms and restricted weapons.

Often these charges arise from circumstances where you have unintentionally contravened the Firearms Act and need advice on how to proceed; I can help you deal with these types of situations. You may have, for example, forgotten to put a trigger lock on and are now facing this type of charge. Oftentimes, people who have never been in trouble with the law unintentionally end up with firearms offences.

In many situations, I will be able to provide context to the crown of the circumstances that led to the charge. I can also advise you on courses of action you can take that will help me to negotiate crown on why they should withdraw or resolve the charge. Oftentimes, these types of charges, when standalone, do not need to go to trial. 

Careless Use of a Firearm

You can be convicted of this offence if, without lawful excuse, you use, carry, handle, transport, or store a firearm, a prohibited weapon, a restricted weapon, a prohibited device or any ammunition or prohibited ammunition in a careless manner, or without reasonable precautions for the safety of others.

Oftentimes this offence may arise out of a mere accident on the part of the handler. Charges of this nature are sometimes laid without the full context of the situation. This is where my expertise in negotiating with the crown will be particularly useful. In the best-case scenario, I may be able to convince the crown to withdraw your charge altogether.  

If your matter does go to trial, I will argue every defence available to you. For example, the crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were careless with your firearm in the specific circumstances of your case. My job will be to analyze all the evidence the crown has against you and argue why this was not the case in your situation. I will also ensure that your rights were adhered to. For example, if a search or seizure was performed of your vehicle or house, there may be Charter issues. Depending on how the police conducted their search, and whether they were authorized to, I may be able argue that the evidence is not admissible. In circumstances where your rights were not respected, you may have remedies available to you. 

Unauthorized Possession of a Firearm

You can be found guilty of an offence if you possess a prohibited firearm or restricted firearm without a license and a registration certificate, or if you possess a non-restricted firearm without a license. 

Depending on the circumstances of your case, there may be certain specific defences available to you, as there are exceptions as to when or how you can lawfully possess an unauthorized firearm. For example, if you come into possession of a prohibited firearm lawfully and, within a reasonable period afterwards, obtain a license and registration certificate for it, you cannot be found guilty of this offence. However, the police may have charged you because they think you waited too long to obtain these documents.

It will be my job to analyze the evidence of your situation to see if any of these exceptions apply to you. In some instances, I will be able to negotiate with the crown about your charge. 

I also have had success defending these types of charges at trial. For example, the element of “possession” is often a contentious factor at trial. To be found guilty of a possession-related firearms offence, it is not necessary that you actually have a gun on you. Rather, the Criminal Code establishes that there can be “constructive” possession, meaning that the law considers you to have possession where any of the following are true:

  • The firearm is actually found on you.
  • The firearm is found on your property, or in your immediate vicinity, when you know it is a firearm, and you also have some sort of control over it.
  • You knowingly place the firearm in the possession or custody of another person to hold it for you, but you continue to have some measure of control over the firearm.
  • You place the firearm in a location that you do not own, but you keep it there for your own use or benefit or that of another person, and you still retain some degree of control over the firearm. 

If you are not actually found with a firearm, then the crown will have to establish constructive possession based on one of these other scenarios. From a defence perspective, this provides many opportunities to defend against the crown’s case. Depending on where and how the police found the firearm, this might be an area of defence for you. I am a lot of experience in arguing against possession charges.

Discharging a Firearm

The Criminal Code describes several offences that can occur in relation to discharging a firearm. These include:

  • Discharging with intent to wound, maim, disfigure, endanger the life/prevent the arrest of a person.
  • Recklessness in discharging a firearm.

In many cases that I’ve seen, discharging a firearm is a complete accident, and can happen to almost anyone – even the most careful of people. In these scenarios, I have been successful in the past in resolving these charges for my clients without them receiving a criminal conviction. 

In cases where it was not an overt accident, a successful defence is still possible. The crown is tasked with proving that you were either reckless in your discharge of the firearm, or that you had specific intention. 

There are several ways you might be able to rebut these hurdles, such as testifying to your state of mind, or testifying to the specific actions you took to ensure you were handling your firearm properly. Whatever your circumstance, I will explore every avenue in your defence.

Possession of a Weapon for a Purpose Dangerous

This offence involves the crown proving that you were in possession of a weapon or imitation weapon, but with the added element that the purpose for which you held the firearm was dangerous to the public peace, or else was for the purposes of committing an offence.

The crown must prove several elements of the offence, which leaves several areas for me to defend you and provide the court with reasonable doubt as to your guilt. For example, as with the above charges, the crown will have to prove you were the one possessing the weapon. The crown must also prove the exact purpose you had the firearm for. For every part of your case, I will review and argue all the ways I can successfully defend you.

Alternatively, there may be an area to negotiate with the crown to a lesser charge depending on the facts of your case. Contact me and I will advise you as to the path forward and what steps you can take to mitigate the potential for a conviction. 

Possession of a Prohibited Weapon

This offence involves possession of any number of prohibited weapons, including, for example, certain knives, mace, brass knuckles, and certain crossbows, to name a few. 

If you have been charged with a firearms-related offence, then certain defences may be available to you. The most straightforward of these pertain to the crown’s failure to prove all the necessary elements or components of the offence, as defined by the Criminal Code and Firearms Act themselves. 

If you have been charged with a firearms-related offence, several possible technical legal defences might be available to you. For example, defences can stem from concerns over the initial police investigation or from defects in the search warrant that police relied on to authorize a search of your property. There may also have been police or crown deficiencies in other ways, or problems with the evidence gathered from witnesses or elsewhere.

In the hands of an experienced criminal lawyer like myself, these kinds of deficiencies are used to build a strong defence against the charges you are facing. 

Potential Penalties – Firearms Offences

There are a range of sentences you might face depending on the circumstances or seriousness of your specific scenario. With many of my clients, I have success in securing a withdraw of charges or the minimum penalty. For example, you might be eligible for a diversion program, or you may pay a fine, or be on a specified period of probation.  

However, it is useful to know the maximum penalties you might face for what you have been charged with. Where aggravating circumstances exist, it is more likely you will face a higher penalty. 

For less serious charges, the maximum penalties you will face will be on the lower end of the spectrum. For example, unsafe storage of a firearm or careless use of a firearm charges have a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment when they are proceeded by indictment on a first offence. However, with these charges the penalty maximum increases to five years imprisonment for a second or subsequent offences. 

For possession charges, the maximum penalties increase. On the lower end, such as for an unauthorized possession of a firearm charge, you will face a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment for a first offence when proceeded by indictment. 

For more serious possession charges, such as possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, you will face a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment when the crown chooses to proceed by indictment.

Call me, Susan Karpa, an experienced criminal lawyer.

Because of the nature, complexity, and possible penalties of firearm and weapons offences, it is important to secure legal representation at the early stages. I have years of experience in these types of offences, both as a former crown prosecutor, and as a criminal defence lawyer. 

My skills and experience are invaluable in defending you against firearms and weapons charges. Feel free to give my office a call, and we can discuss the specific circumstances of your case. I can advise you as to the best possible path forward.

Give me a call