In the United States, many people hold their second amendment right to bear arms very close. As an American, you have the right to own and carry a firearm, but that doesn’t mean you are free to do whatever you please with that firearm.
There are certain acts involving firearms that are illegal under Illinois state law If you are found guilty of one of these acts in a court of law, then you may lose your right to own one. Illinois, in particular, has many laws surrounding guns and the use of firearms – laws not every citizen is aware of.
Knowledge is power, so understanding what types of weapons crimes are against the law in Illinois will help you avoid violating those laws. Here is your comprehensive guide to Illinois weapons crimes – why they exist, what they are, and what the potential consequences can be.
What Is the Point of Having Gun Laws and Restrictions?
A number of people out there believe that there should be more severe restrictions on firearms. Others argue that any restrictions violate Second Amendment rights.
What cannot be debated, however, is that guns are devices with the potential to hurt and kill – and that people use them to do this every single day in Illinois. How serious is the damage associated with firearms?
According to Giffords.org, over 1500 people die each year in our state due to gun violence. In fact, someone dies from a firearm here every six hours.
How does this break down? More than 61% of these deaths are homicides. Another 36% are suicides. Unintentional shootings and “other” incidents make up the rest.
This isn’t the whole story, though. Suicide by gun has been rising over the past decade, and firearm violence is the number one cause of death for Illinois minors.
The idea behind laws that restrict gun use and punish misuse is to curb this violence. Regardless of whether you adhere to this philosophy or not, all citizens must live within these rules or face the consequences.
Weapons Crimes in Illinois
There are several weapons crimes that are commonly charged in Illinois. They are listed below, along with the potential penalties that can be faced.
Unlawful Use of a Weapon
A person commits unlawful use of a weapon in Illinois if they possess an uncased or concealed, loaded firearm – or they have an unloaded firearm with readily accessible ammunition – in any public place or vehicle. Furthermore, in this situation, they do not have a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card or a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Weapons that are included in this law include things such as:
- Stun guns
- Any type of firearm that can be used lethally
Unlawful use of a weapon can sometimes be considered a misdemeanor, usually when someone has the proper FOID card but was improperly carrying a weapon. In those cases, a Class A misdemeanor can result in up to 12 months in jail and fines of as much as $2,500.
If a person was carrying a loaded gun on their person or in their vehicle without proper documentation, it can be a Class 4 felony. This can result in up to three years behind bars.
Unlawful Use of a Weapon by a Felon
It is illegal in Illinois for someone who has been convicted of a felony in the state or any other jurisdiction to knowingly possess on their person, in their home, or in their place of business a firearm or firearm ammunition.
If a person is found guilty of this crime, then they can face the penalties for a Class 3 felony, which are up to two years in prison. If a felon has subsequent convictions, then it can be elevated to a Class X felony, the most serious in Illinois. That can result in up to 50 years in a penitentiary.
Unlawful Possession of Firearm/Weapons
Unlawful possession of a firearm is committed in certain circumstances, such as:
- A person under the age of 18 possesses a firearm that can be concealed
- A person under 21 who has been convicted of a misdemeanor offense possesses a firearm or ammunition for a firearm
- Anyone who has been a patient at a mental institution within the last five years possesses a firearm or ammunition for a firearm
- The possession by anyone of an explosive bullet
Unlawful possession of a weapon in Illinois does not apply to someone under the age of 18 who is participating in a recreational activity with a firearm, like lawfully hunting or firing a gun at a shooting range.
If someone is found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm, they may face a Class A misdemeanor or a Class 4 felony – it all depends on the circumstances of the case. The penalties for a Class A misdemeanor include up to 12 months in jail and fines of as much as $2,500. A Class 4 felony is punishable by up to three years behind bars, plus fines.
Armed Habitual Criminal
This is a weapons charge in Illinois. It makes it illegal for someone with a minimum of two certain types of criminal convictions to sell, receive, transfer, or possess a firearm. Someone can be charged with this type of offense if they have two or more criminal convictions on their record that fall under these categories:
- Forcible felony
- Unlawful use of a weapon by a convicted felony
- Aggravated battery involving a firearm
- A violation of the Illinois Controlled Substance Abuse Act that is at least a Class 3 felony
- Home invasion
- Aggravated child battery
- Aggravated discharge of a firearm
If a person is considered an armed habitual criminal, then they face Class X felony charges. That can put someone behind bars for up to 30 years – or, if they have two or more prior Class X felonies on their record, up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Reckless Discharge of a Firearm
In Illinois, it is illegal to recklessly fire a weapon – that means a weapon fired in such a way that it endangers the bodily safety of others. If this offense takes place from a moving vehicle, and the driver knew about it and consented, then they can also be charged with this crime.
This crime is considered a Class 4 felony. It is punishable by up to three years in prison and fines of as much as $25,000.
Aggravated Discharge of a Firearm
This crime is committed when a person intentionally or knowingly discharges their firearm into or at a building that they should know has the reasonable chance of being occupied. The firearm must also be discharged from a position or place outside of the building or in the direction of a person or vehicle they should reasonably know is occupied by someone.
This crime is a Class 1 felony, which can result in a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and fines of as much as $25,000.
Possession of a Stolen Firearm
This crime is committed when someone who is not entitled to the possession of a firearm does, in fact, possess a firearm that they know to have been stolen. It is illegal in the state to possess any stolen firearm, whether it is being used unlawfully or not.
This crime is a Class 2 felony and can result in a prison sentence of up to seven years and fines of as much as $25,000.
Possession of a Firearm by a Felon
In Illinois, it’s illegal for a person who is a convicted felon to knowingly possess certain types of weapons in any circumstance. Firearms and ammunition are just two of the weapons prohibited, and any felon found in possession of them is guilty of this crime.
Possession of a firearm by a felon in Illinois is a Class 3 felony. It is punishable by up to 10 years behind bars. However, those who are repeat offenders of this crime face a charge of a Class 2 felony, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Unlawful Sale or Delivery of Firearms
Unlawful sale or delivery of firearms is perpetrated when a person knowingly commits one of the following acts:
- Give or sells a firearm that can be concealed to someone under the age of 18
- Gives or sells firearms to someone under the age of 21 who has been convicted of a misdemeanor offense
- Gives or sells a firearm to someone who is a known narcotic addict
- Gives or sells a firearm to anyone who was convicted of a felony
- Gives or sells a firearm to anyone who has been in a mental institution in the past five years
- Gives or sells firearms to someone who is intellectually disabled
- Delivers a firearm to someone who doesn’t follow the laws of a legal sale – i.e. withholding the delivery at least 72 hours after its purchase
- Delivers or sells a firearm to an unlicensed person while holding a license as a firearms dealer
- Gives or sells a firearm to someone under 18 who doesn’t have a proper FOID card
- Gives or sells firearms while engaged in business for which they are not properly licensed as a federal firearms dealer
- Transferring ownership or selling a firearm to someone who does not have a valid FOID card
- Delivers a firearm they know to be stolen or converted while not being entitled to the possession of the firearm
The penalties for this crime depend on what actions a person took. It can be charged as a Class 4 felony, a Class 3 felony, a Class 2 felony, a Class 1 felony, or a Class A misdemeanor. That means that, depending on the charge, the person could face as little as one year in jail for this crime or as much as 15 years in prison. Fines also generally tend to be upwards of $25,000.
Frequently Asked Questions about Weapons Crimes in Illinois
There are several questions people often ask about weapons charges in Illinois. Some of the most common include:
What is a FOID Card?
FOID stands for Firearm Owner’s Identification Card. In the state, an FOID card is required for anyone who wants to lawfully purchase or carry a firearm. As pointed out, even if you’re eligible for the card, lacking one but carrying a weapon anyway is a misdemeanor offense on its own.
What Makes You Ineligible to Own a Firearm in Illinois?
The state of Illinois requires those in possession of a firearm to have a FOID card, but not everyone is eligible to get one of these cards. In general, you have to meet certain requirements to be eligible.
Some attributes will make you ineligible, such as:
- Being under the age of 21 without the consent of a parent or guardian
- Not being a resident of the state
- Having a problem with narcotics addiction
- Having previously been convicted of a felony
- Being a patient in a mental health facility in the previous five years
- Being involuntarily committed to a mental health facility
- Developmental or intellectual disability
- Not a legal citizen or resident alien of the United States
- Conviction of the crime of domestic battery
- Having ever been dishonorably discharged from the United States military
- Having been convicted of assault, battery, or aggravated assault in the previous five years
- Having violated an order of protection in which a firearm was involved in the last five years
- Being the subject of a current order of protection
What About Search and Seizure Laws?
If you are charged with a weapons crime in Illinois, you may be wondering if the police had the right to search you in the first place.
You have the right under the Constitution of the United States to secure yourself and your property against illegal search and seizure. As a general rule, police often need a warrant to search anything unless they have probable cause to suspect a person of a crime. Probable cause is often left up to the discretion of judges to determine if the search and seizure were constitutional or not in a particular case.
What About Firearm-Enhanced Sentencing?
It is true that, in Illinois, some violent crimes that involve a firearm will automatically be subject to enhanced sentencing. Often, these enhancements will apply:
- If the crime was committed by someone armed with a firearm – then 15 years will be added to the sentence
- If the crime is committed, and the defendant discharges the firearm – then 20 years is added to the sentence
- If the crime was committed, and the defendant discharged a firearm that caused permanent disability, disfigurement, great bodily harm, or death – then 25 years to life can be added to the sentence
These are enhancements to other crimes due to firearms being involved, not weapons charges in and of themselves.
Protecting Your Rights When Charged with an IL Gun Crime
Weapons crimes in Illinois are taken very seriously, and you can potentially face serious consequences if found guilty of any one of the weapons crimes discussed here. That’s why it’s vital to understand your rights as well as any charges against you in the state of Illinois, often with the help of an experienced attorney.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by Avvo (2013 and 2018), SuperLawyers (2015-2020), The National Trial Lawyers, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.