Unlawful Use of Weapons
Illinois and the city of Chicago have some of the toughest gun regulations in the nation. Many well-intentioned citizens end up paying fines or getting locked behind bars just because they exercised their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. For this reason, it’s important for every current or prospective gun owner to be aware of the stringent firearms laws in Illinois.
Illinois Statute 720 5/24-1 provides the definitions, offenses, and penalties pertaining to the unlawful use of a weapon (UUW) in the state. While many violations of the statute are misdemeanors, there are several ways in which an offender might end up facing felony charges. If you’ve been charged with UUW, you should retain the services of an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney immediately.
When Does Unlawful Use of a Weapon (UUW) Constitute a Misdemeanor?
Illinois Statute 720 5/24-1 prohibits the following:
- Selling, manufacturing, purchasing, or possessing a bludgeon, black-jack, slug shot, sand-club, sand-bag, brass knuckles, throwing star, or switchblade
- Carrying or possessing a dagger, billy, dirk, switchblade, razor, stiletto, broken bottle, stun gun or taser, or any other similarly dangerous or deadly weapon with the intent of using it unlawfully against another person
- Setting a spring gun
- Possessing a tear gas launcher
- Carrying a firearm in a public place (either on your person or in your car) that is: 1) not broken down into a non-functioning state; 2) immediately accessible; 3) loaded and not locked in a case; OR 4) not carried in accordance with the firearm concealed carry act
- Selling, manufacturing, or purchasing explosive bullets
- Carrying a billy club or similar weapon in a government building or office
Violating any of these rules will result in a Class A Misdemeanor charge, involving a fine of up to $2,500 and 1 year of incarceration in county jail. Felony charges are a possibility for repeat offenders.
When Might I Face Felony UUW Charges?
A prosecutor may charge you with a Class 4 Felony when you:
- Carry a firearm, stun gun, or other deadly weapon inside any place licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, at a public gathering authorized by a government license, or during a public event where an admissions fee is charged
- Carrying a firearm or other dangerous weapon while hooded or attempting to conceal your identity
A conviction could result in 1 to 3 years of incarceration in state prison and a possible fine of up to $25,000.
Class 3 Felony charges are a possibility when the prosecutor has evidence that you:
- Possessed a silencer
- Manufactured, sold, purchased, or carried a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches or a shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches long.
- Sold, manufactured, purchased, or possessed a bomb or grenade
If convicted, you could face 2 to 5 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000.
A prosecutor may bring Class 2 Felony charges against you if you manufactured, sold, purchased, possessed, or carried a machine gun or author automatic weapon. A conviction could result in a prison sentence of 3 to 7 years and fines of up to $25,000. And if the weapon was loaded and on your person, or in the passenger compartment of your vehicle, you will face Class X felony charges, which may result in a prison sentence of 6 to 30 years and possible fines reaching $25,000.
Whenever a violation of any of the above provisions occurs on or within 1,000 feet of a school, park, public housing development, or courthouse, the charges will be increased to the next level. For example, if you get caught carrying a gun while hooded in a public park, the offense will increase from a Class 4 to a Class 3 felony.
How Might I Get Charged With Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon?
Under Illinois Statute 720 5/24-1.6(3), you may be charged with aggravated UUW if you possessed a firearm either on your person or vehicle, and you were not on your land, residence, or fixed place of residence, and any of the following apply:
- The firearm was loaded, out of its case, and readily accessible
- The firearm was unloaded, uncased, but the ammunition was immediately accessible
- You did not have a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card (FOID)—regardless of whether the gun was loaded or not
- You had previously been ruled a “minor delinquent”
- You were committing a violation of the Illinois Cannabis, Controlled Substance, or Methamphetamine Acts
- You had a restraining or protection order issued against you within the last 2 years
- You were under 21
- You were committing a misdemeanor involving the use or threat of violence
Aggravated UUW is a Class 4 felony that can result in up to 3 years in prison and fines reaching $25,000. A second conviction, however, is considered a Class 3 felony involving up to 5 years in prison. A prosecutor may charge you with a separate aggravated UUW violation for each weapon you possessed at the time of the offense.
How Do I Get an FOID Card?
As you can see from the above section, having a FOID card is a prerequisite to legal gun possession in Illinois. To get your card, you’ll need to submit to a background check and meet the following requirements:
- You have not been convicted of a felony in the US
- A court has not found you to be mentally defective
- You have not been the patient of a mental health facility within the last 5 years
- You are not intellectually or developmentally disabled
- You have not used any illegal drugs in the year preceding your FOID application
- There are no protection, no-contact, or no-stalking orders currently entered against you
- You have no convictions for battery, aggravated assault, assault, or violation of protection order or any similar offenses within the last 5 years
- You’ve never been convicted of domestic battery, aggravated domestic battery or a similar offense
- You are not a fugitive
- Your immigration status is legal
- You are not a medical marijuana patient
- You haven’t failed a drug test within the last year
- You haven’t renounced your US citizenship
- You haven’t been dishonorably discharged from the military
Remember that the FOID card just gives you the right to carry a firearm that is unloaded or non-functional. If you want to carry a loaded weapon on your person or in your car, you’ll need to apply for a concealed carry license.
Defending Against UUW Charges
If you get convicted of UUW in Illinois, you’ll face more than just fines and jail time. You’ll have a permanent entry on your criminal record that will show up in school and employer background checks. This means that your education, job, and future are at stake. But an experienced Chicago criminal defense lawyer by your side can help you avoid the harsh consequences of a conviction.
Unlawful use of weapons charges usually result from the police stopping you on the street or pulling over your car. When doing so, the police must respect your constitutional rights. When they don’t, the evidence they obtained from the stop or search cannot be used against you at trial. For example:
- If the police pull you over without reasonable suspicion that you were doing something illegal, and then see a gun in plain sight in your vehicle, that gun will be inadmissible as evidence in your trial.
- If the police pull you over and then search your car without probable cause to believe you are committing a crime, any incrementing evidence obtained from that search cannot be sued against you.
- If the police find a gun after frisking you, they must show that they had a reasonable suspicion that you were armed and dangerous at the time of the encounter—otherwise, the gun they found will be inadmissible at your trial.
For these reasons, having a defense attorney review the evidence against you and determine whether the police violated your rights is an essential aspect of your defense. Attorney Michael S. O’Meara has over 20 years of experience in criminal law, with some of it spent as a prosecutor. Now he puts this invaluable experience to use in defending the rights of the accused. If you’re facing Illinois weapons charges, call O’Meara Law today at 312-909-0706 for your free and confidential consultation.