Weapons crimes, including gun charges, are particularly unique, and such cases are often more complex than one might expect. Many of the justifications or defenses that most people think they would have to a weapons charge, such as possession of a switchblade for self-defense or possession of a gun with an out-of-state license, are not applicable in New York. In addition, weapons and gun laws in New York are often changing and evolving, so the current state of the law is likely in flux at any particular time. For example, the absolute prohibition on gravity knives that has been the subject of countless criminal cases over the years, was repealed in 2019, and simple possession of a firearm was elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony by the enactment of the Criminal Possession of a Firearm statute in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy and other similar mass shootings. Having an experienced attorney who is well-versed in the current state of the law can be crucial.
There are many weapons that are considered “per se” weapons in New York, and therefore absolutely prohibited. In other words, it does not matter what your intention was with these items, it is essentially presumed that they can only be used for illegal purposes. These include switchblade knifes, billy clubs, blackjacks, metal knuckles, chuka sticks, slingshots, and cane swords. Possession of any of these items, even without using them or the intent to use them against another person, can lead to a Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree (PL 265.01) and land you in jail for up to a year. Likewise, any item at all that is possessed with the intent to use it unlawfully against another person, even a shoe or a spoon, can lead to the same charge and consequences. On top of these state laws, the New York City Administrative code makes it illegal to possess a knife that is 4 inches long or more at all if it is in plain view and within New York City.
Like law relating to knives and other weapons, New York’s gun laws are extremely serious as well as complex. For one, the interaction between New York State and New York City is unusual. Even if you have a license to carry a gun issued in Rockland County or Westchester County, where you live, you may not be able to carry or transport that gun in New York City. There is also a distinction to be made between rifles and handguns, the latter of which require licensing and registrations, whereas a typical rifle is not a “firearm” at all under New York’s gun laws.
So how serious can these charges be. For example, simple possession of a loaded, unlicensed handgun in public can be charged as a class “C” violent felony, and can be punished by up to 15 years in state prison. This is the case even without discharging the gun, without any aggravating circumstances, and without any evidence that the person had any intent to use the gun in any way. Similarly, possession of a loaded gun, even without using or threatening to use it, can act as a significant enhancement on other related crimes such as Robbery.
Whether charged with something as seemingly straightforward as carrying a switchblade in your pocket, or something as serious and complex as a gunpoint robbery, it is imperative that the accused be represented by an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to ensure that their rights are protected, and that they have zealous and effective representation.