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Penalties for Possession of Illegal Firearm in North Carolina

Possession of Illegal Firearm

In North Carolina, the landscape of firearm laws is complex, with significant consequences for violations. For gun owners or those considering gun ownership, understanding what constitutes criminal possession or unlawful carry of a firearm is crucial.

Whether you’re a seasoned gun owner or new to the world of firearms, legal information is essential for responsible gun ownership and staying on the right side of the law.

So let’s demystify the legal jargon and provide a straightforward guide to the regulations and potential penalties you could face for illegal possession of a firearm in the state.

How Does Illegal Possession of a Firearm Work In NC?

In North Carolina, illegal possession charges extend beyond just carrying a firearm. It encompasses various scenarios, including the following:

  • Carrying a concealed handgun without a permit
  • Carrying with a permit but in prohibited locations
  • Possessing a gun while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances
  • Carrying or possession of a firearm while a felon

The penalties for these illegal possession violations range from infractions to misdemeanors and felonies, depending on the specific circumstances.

For instance, carrying a concealed handgun without a valid permit can lead to arrest and criminal charges, with the severity of the penalty varying based on factors like location and your prior criminal history.

Understanding these nuances is vital for anyone who owns a firearm or is considering purchasing one.

What Constitutes Illegal Possession of a Firearm in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the definition of illegal possession of a firearm is not just limited to the type of weapon but also includes the manner in which you carry and use it.

Types of Firearms Considered Criminal Possession

Certain types of weapons are inherently illegal in North Carolina.

The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Sawed-off shotguns
  • Machine guns: Machine guns fire bullets in rapid succession from an ammunition belt or magazine. They can continue firing if the trigger is held down (fully automatic fire). This contrasts with semi-automatic firearms, which require a separate trigger pull for each shot.
  • Certain types of military-style assault weapons
  • Any firearm with serial numbers altered or removed is illegal under state law.

There are exceptions to these rules, particularly concerning antique firearms as defined in G.S. 14-409.11. However, these exceptions are limited and specific.

Illegal Possession Under Concealed Carry Regulations

North Carolina is a “shall-issue” state for concealed handgun permits, as outlined by the United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA). This means that the local sheriff’s office at the county level issues concealed handgun permits.

Carrying a concealed handgun without a valid permit is illegal. The North Carolina General Statutes § 14-415.11(c) clearly state when carrying a concealed gun with a permit is legal. Without a permit, you can only potentially carry on your own premises or where open carry is legal.

Illegal Possession in Open Carry Areas

While open carry is generally legal in North Carolina, there are restrictions.

  • Counties may regulate the display of firearms on public roads, sidewalks, alleys, or other public properties.
  • Open carry in certain prohibited locations, such as government buildings, schools, or private properties with posted “No Weapons” signs, is also illegal.

Illegal Gun Possession Types and Locations

North Carolina law prohibits carrying firearms, whether openly or concealed, in specific locations.

These areas include but are not limited to the following:

  • Educational institutions
  • Law enforcement or correctional facilities
  • State or federal offices
  • Private premises where carrying is explicitly prohibited by posted notice.
  • Places that sell alcohol and patrons consume it
  • Healthcare facilities

Illegal Possession Under the Influence

It is unlawful to carry a concealed handgun while consuming alcohol or if you have any alcohol or controlled substances in your system.

An exception is if you lawfully obtained the substance and took it in therapeutically appropriate amounts. Another exception to firearms law is if you are on your own property.

Felon in Possession of a Firearm

For individuals with a felony record, the laws are even more strict. According to North Carolina General Statute § 14-415.1, if you have a felony conviction, you may not legally do any of the following:

  • Purchase any firearm
  • Own any firearm
  • Possess any firearm in your custody, care, or control
  • Have any firearm in your custody, care, or control

This law applies regardless of where the felony conviction occurred, whether the crime was in North Carolina or another jurisdiction.

Illegal Possession of Deadly Weapons Beyond Firearms

The term “deadly weapon” in North Carolina law also includes items like Bowie knives, dirks, daggers, and others. Carrying these deadly weapons as “concealed carry” is illegal. Carrying them openly may or may not be legal, depending on your circumstances.

By understanding these definitions and regulations, residents and visitors in North Carolina can ensure they comply with state laws

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the penalties for illegal firearm possession are determined by several factors, including the type of firearm and the circumstances surrounding its illegal possession.

Let’s look at these laws, which you can find in the North Carolina General Statutes and exist to protect public safety.

Overview of General Penalties

The general state penalties for illegal possession of a firearm in North Carolina can range from misdemeanors to felonies. The severity of the charge often depends on the specific nature of the offense.

For instance, carrying a concealed handgun without a permit is typically charged as a Class 2 misdemeanor for a first offense. This can result in up to 60 days in jail, along with fines and court fees.

However, repeat offenses or the criminal possession of certain types of firearms can escalate the charges to a felony level.

Breakdown of Penalties Based on the Type of Firearm

  • Handguns: Illegal possession of a handgun, especially when concealed without a permit, is taken very seriously. A first offense is usually a Class 2 misdemeanor, but subsequent offenses can escalate to a Class H felony, potentially leading to 39 months in prison.
  • Deadly Weapons: North Carolina law also categorizes certain items like Bowie knives, dirks, daggers, and other weapons as lethal. Unlawful possession of these weapons, either concealed or openly, without proper authorization can result in similar penalties to those for illegal handgun possession.
  • Firearms by Felons: For individuals with prior felony convictions, possessing any firearm is a Class G felony under North Carolina law, punishable by up to 47 months in prison.

Penalties Based on Circumstances of Possession

  • Carrying in Prohibited Locations: Possession of a firearm in specific locations such as schools, government buildings, or private properties with posted “No Weapons” signs can lead to more severe penalties.
  • Carrying Under the Influence: Possessing a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances is illegal and can lead to arrest and increased penalties.
  • Use in Commission of a Crime: If a firearm is used during the commission of a crime, this can significantly increase the severity of the penalties, often leading to felony charges regardless of the individual’s prior criminal history.

Understanding these laws and the associated penalties is crucial for anyone who owns or is considering owning a firearm in North Carolina.

Aggravating Factors That Increase Penalties

In North Carolina, certain aggravating factors can significantly increase the penalties for possessing an illegal firearm. These factors, outlined in the North Carolina General Statutes, play a crucial role in determining the severity of the punishment.

It’s important for firearm owners and the general public to be aware of these factors to understand the legal consequences of firearm offenses.

Prior Criminal History

Individuals with a previous criminal record, especially those with prior firearm-related offenses, face harsher penalties. The law views repeat offenses more seriously, often resulting in increased fines and longer jail sentences.

Use of Firearm in the Commission of a Crime

If an individual uses an illegal firearm during the commission of a crime, this significantly escalates the severity of the gun crime and charges.

For example, using a firearm to commit gun violence in a robbery or assault can lead to felony charges, which carry more severe penalties than misdemeanors. Using a firearm while committing certain felonies, such as robbery or burglary, can elevate the severity of the charge to a Class C felony.

In Restricted Areas

Carrying an illegal firearm in certain restricted areas, such as schools, government buildings, or places where carrying firearms is expressly prohibited, can lead to enhanced penalties.

The North Carolina General Statutes specifically outline these restricted areas and the associated consequences for violations.

While Under the Influence

Possessing a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances is another factor that can increase penalties.

This is in line with the state’s efforts to prevent firearm-related accidents and crimes under impaired conditions.

Prohibited Persons

Certain individuals, such as convicted felons or those with restraining orders, may not possess firearms under North Carolina law. If these individuals possess a firearm, they can face significantly increased penalties, often resulting in felony charges.

Understanding these aggravating factors is essential for anyone who owns or is considering owning a firearm in North Carolina.

Legal Defenses Against Charges of Illegal Firearm Possession

In North Carolina, facing charges for illegal possession of a firearm can feel stressful. However, several legal defenses can help protect your rights. When effectively applied, these defenses can lead to a more favorable outcome in court.

Here are some key defenses against charges of unlawful possession of a firearm:

Lawful Possession

Demonstrating legal ownership or possession of the firearm is a strong defense. Providing documentation of purchase or a valid permit for concealed carry can establish your lawful possession.

Lack of Knowledge

Proving unawareness of the firearm’s presence can work in your favor. If someone else left the weapon in your vehicle or property without your knowledge, you might not be held responsible for its possession.

Invalid Search and Seizure

Challenging the legality of how law enforcement found out about the criminal possession of a firearm is a common criminal defense. If your Fourth Amendment rights were violated through illegal search and seizure, the evidence obtained might be inadmissible in court.

Mistaken Identity

If evidence suggests the firearm belonged to another person or someone else, and law enforcement mistook you for the owner, this can be a valid defense.

Unlawful Police Conduct

Evidence of police misconduct, such as planting evidence or coercing a confession, can lead to dismissal of charges.


You might demonstrate that the firearm was in your possession solely for self-defense and that you had a reasonable belief that your life was in danger. This might constitute a valid defense.

Intentional Frame-up

Evidence that someone deliberately planted the firearm to incriminate you could undermine the prosecution’s case.

Expired or Incomplete Background Check

An error or oversight in the background check during the firearm purchase process could raise doubts about the legitimacy of the charges.

Invalid Search Warrant

If law enforcement used an improperly executed search warrant or lacked probable cause, this could lead to suppression of the evidence against you.


If law enforcement induced or coerced you into possessing an illegal firearm, this could be considered entrapment, potentially leading to the dismissal of charges.

In North Carolina, the law recognizes specific defenses for criminal possession of a firearm. For example, if the item in question does not meet the legal definition of a firearm, it can serve as a defense. Additionally, if the defendant can establish that they were engaged in a legitimate activity and the possession of the weapon was necessary or related to that activity, it can serve as a valid defense.

If you face charges of unlawful firearm possession, consulting with an experienced attorney is crucial. They can assess the circumstances and identify your best potential defense tactics.

A Scharff Law Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

Facing charges for illegal firearm possession in North Carolina can be a daunting experience. The legal landscape for gun crimes is complex, and the consequences of a conviction are severe.

However, it’s crucial to remember that facing charges is not the same as a conviction. This is why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to offer expert legal assistance to those facing such charges.

Our team at Scharff Law focuses on defending against gun possession charges. We understand the intricacies of North Carolina’s firearm laws and can provide the guidance and representation you need. Our approach involves a thorough analysis of your case, identifying the most effective defense strategies tailored to your specific situation.

Here are some ways Scharff Law can assist you:

Legal Representation: We offer skilled legal representation, ensuring your rights are protected throughout the legal process. We stand by you in court, presenting a solid defense against unlawful possession of a weapon on your behalf

Case Analysis: We meticulously analyze the details of your case, including the circumstances of your arrest and the evidence against you. This thorough analysis helps us identify any weaknesses or procedural errors in the prosecution’s case.

Defense Strategies: We may employ various defense strategies depending on your case. These can include challenging the legality of the firearm possession charge, arguing for lawful possession, or questioning the validity of the evidence.

Negotiation with Prosecutors: We are skilled negotiators. We work to negotiate plea deals or reduced charges where possible, aiming to minimize the impact of the charges on your life.

Guidance and Support: We provide continuous guidance and support throughout your case. Our team ensures you understand each step of the legal process and what to expect, helping to alleviate the stress and uncertainty of facing weapons charges.

At Scharff Law, we are committed to defending your rights and achieving the best possible outcome in your case. If you’re facing gun charges for unlawful firearm possession, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We’re here to help you navigate the legal challenges and work towards a favorable resolution.