Utah’s Legislature recently passed sweeping reforms to the state’s laws governing access to firearms. The state’s new “concealed carry” laws make it easier than ever for the people of Utah to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. The new laws don’t, however, make substantial changes to the statutes governing access to firearms and other dangerous weapons by juveniles. In fact, the new law actually makes it more difficult for those under the age of 18 to lawfully carry guns.
That being said, there are situations where it is perfectly legal and acceptable for minors to carry and use firearms. Knowing the difference between lawful use and illegal possession of guns is vital, especially if the juvenile is facing criminal charges where simply carrying a weapon can lead to exponentially increased penalties.
What Laws Govern Minor Access to Firearms in Utah?
The most prominent legal provision concerning underage access to firearms is found in Title 76, Chapter 10, Section 509 of the Utah Criminal Code. Section 509 – titled “Possession of Dangerous Weapons by Minor” – sets forth the exact circumstances in which someone under the age of 18 can lawfully possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon. The law puts the onus on parents to either give permission or directly supervise minors who are using or are otherwise in control of firearms. Section 509 even allows a juvenile 14 or younger to possess a weapon provided he or she is accompanied by a parent or other responsible adult.
The law assigns specific criminal penalties that a violator will be subject to:
- A first offense (i.e., a minor unlawfully possessing or controlling a firearm or other dangerous weapon) is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of no more than $1,000.
- A subsequent violation is treated like a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
Punishment enhancement provisions could also come into play if the minor accused of committing an offense where a firearm was involved (or present) is over the age of 16. Enhancements result in additional fines, longer jail sentences and more confining probationary conditions.
How Do Utah’s Gun Laws Affect Minors?
Other laws – like the new concealed carry law that went into effect in May 2011 – touch on the issue of minors lawfully possessing firearms. The law decrees that anyone 21 or older who meets certain criteria can possess an unloaded firearm without a permit and can carry it concealed on his or her person.
The new law allows permit holders 21 or older to openly carry a loaded weapon that is “at least two actions away from firing” – for example, a semiautomatic weapon that has a loaded magazine, but the safety on (action No. 1) and no bullet in the chamber (action No. 2 would be required to get a bullet into firing position).
Like the old law, however, the new rules prevent anyone 18 or younger from purchasing a handgun from a licensed firearms dealer or from having a loaded firearm in or on a vehicle.
What Should You Do if Your Child Is Facing a Gun Crimes Charge?
First of all, don’t panic. Panicking leads to making irrational decisions or possibly giving damning statements to police or prosecutors. Give serious thought to contacting a skilled criminal defense attorney. Defense attorneys know the ins and outs of Utah’s laws governing firearms, including those dealing with obtaining permits, carrying concealed weapons and enhancement of criminal charges where firearms or other “deadly weapons” were present.
Particularly if your child is 16 or older, his or her defense might literally make the difference between a life full of promise and a life spent behind bars. A criminal defense lawyer might be able to negotiate for lesser charges, thus preventing your child from being tried as an adult, removing even the possibility of a lengthy jail term.