What to do after an accidental firearms discharge

It can happen to the most experienced gun owner.  For one reason or another, your firearm gets accidentally discharged.  I have a few cases dealing with an accidental discharge in my office now so I thought I would cover a few issues that I have seen.  Clearly, if someone has been injured, your first step is to call 911 right away.  I sure hope that was beyond obvious.

Assuming no one was seriously injured, this is still a very serious situation.  Of course, a lot will depend on what happened and what led to the accidental discharge.   Here are a few scenarios:

-Normal gun handling

Whether its just cleaning or storing the gun, if the gun goes off in your house and just causes damage to your own property, you are probably OK even if the police come.  This also assume that everything is legal.  See below.

-Domestic Violence

I have a case now where a gun was accidentally discharged during a domestic violence incident.  This is a huge problem.  The fact that it was an accident won’t have a big impact on the police.  Domestic violence and guns don’t mix and even handling one for any reason during a domestic violence incident can lead to an arrest and seizure.

-Bullet leaving your house

Regardless of how the firearm was accidentally discharged, if the bullet leaves your house, you may be in for a lot of trouble.  It could have killed someone and the closer you get to doing this, the more trouble you will be in. I’ve seen bullets go through one house, across the street and into another.  In addition to criminal issues, you may wind up facing a civil lawsuit by the other home owner(s).

-Bullet hitting someone causing minor injury

When it comes to guns, there is no such thing as a minor injury in the eyes of the police.  You could be facing arrest as well as a civil law suit.  Keep in mind that the decision to arrest you may not be up to the victim.

-Bullet hitting someone causing serious injury

It is almost certain that you will be arrested her.  Likewise, unless this was a family member, you will likely be sued.

As you can see, the seriousness of the situation will depend on the context in which the firearm was discharged, the people involved and the damage caused.  I cannot give legal advice here, but here are a few considerations:

-You will likely be an emotional wreck

The more serious the situation, the less likely you will be capable of rational thought.  Thus, hiring a lawyer ASAP may be very important.  Of course, this might be impossible until you have already done some damage to your case

-You have the right to remain silent

Anything you say can be used against you in either a criminal or civil case.  This doesn’t just apply to the police.  Anything you say to everyone will be taken down at some point and analyzed.  This is why its important to get a lawyer to get information and give information without helping to build a case against you.  And no, this won’t make you look guilty.  That decision was likely made before you picked up the phone and called the lawyer.

-If you give up your guns, you’ll have to fight to get them back

New Jersey has an unwritten policy that once firearms are taken, only a judge will give them back.  I’m sure someone, somewhere hasn’t had to deal with this, but I think its very rare.  I also don’t care what the police tell you about getting them back in a few days.  They will tell you anything to calm you down.

-If you have any illegal, they will likely find it and charge you

This is the risk you take when you are not legal.  If you picked up something off of the Internet or out of state that is not legal in NJ, this is the time the police will find it.  Look around at your collection including your bullets.  Are you sure everything is legal?  Would you be OK if the police came in your house and saw everything? If the answer to that is no, you might want to think long and hard about the risk you are running.

-Don’t apologize to anyone

If a bullet hits someone else or someone else’s property, don’t apologize.  You have to remember that anything you say to anyone will be used against you.  An apology is an admission of guilt.  It might not make sense if they already know you did it, but trust me, don’t say or do anything until your lawyer advises you to do something.

-DYFS (now DCPP) is to be feared

If there is an accidental discharge in a house with children present, DYFS may be called.  DYFS really, really hates guns and they could make your life a living hell. Saying anything to them without a lawyer is very dangerous.  Forget about your guns, your custody rights may be placed at risk here.

New Jersey is one of the most anti-gun states in the US.  An accidental discharge is just what the police need to take away your firearms rights forever and make an example out of you by arresting you.  Your reaction will help determine how this ultimately impacts you.

Posted on November 24, 2012, in My Practice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on What to do after an accidental firearms discharge.

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