What Might the Charges Be? (Gun-Related)

Inspired by this thread about the fact that a loaded gun was found sitting in plain sight in the toy aisle of a Target store in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:

What charges might be brought against a person who:

a. purposely left a loaded firearm in the toy aisle at Target

b. accidentally left a loaded firearm in the toy aisle at Target
In this case, nobody was injured or killed. What would change if someone had been injured or killed? What would be different if the person who pulled the trigger was an adult rather than a child?

What about if it was a working firearm, but left unloaded. Or loaded with blanks, given that blanks can be dangerous in their own right.

If the gun had been left there on purpose, would the intent of the person who left it affect anything?

Would any of this be affected by whether the owner/gun was properly permitted/registered according to the applicable laws?

A tangential question that I imagine has been asked before: If by some bizarre set of circumstances I came into possession of a firearm and wanted to dispose of it safely but needed to remain completely anonymous, what could I do?*

  • I did come into possession of two illegal assault rifles once. (Long story) I had no reason to need anonymity in that case, so I just called the cops. They came and took the guns away, no problem.

As long as the owner had a concealed weapon permit, I do not think any serious laws were broken. I do not see anything in the South Carolina code requiring weapons be secured at all times. Cops will probably come up with some creating a nuisance charge or something. Just because it is national news and all.

In fact it seems the state has a law just for the benefit of people who lose their guns in Target.
SECTION 16-23-55. Procedure for returning found handgun.

(A) A handgun that is found and turned over to a law enforcement agency must be held for a period of ninety days. During that period, the agency shall make a diligent effort to determine:

(1) if the handgun is stolen;

(2) if the handgun has been used in the commission of a crime; and (3) the true owner of the handgun.

(B) At least twice during the ninety-day holding period, the agency shall advertise the handgun with its full description in a newspaper having general circulation in the county where the handgun was found.

© After the ninety days have elapsed from publication of the first advertisement, and upon request of the individual who found and turned over the handgun, the agency shall return the handgun to this person if the individual fully completes the application process as described in Section 23-31-140 and in federal law, and pays all advertising and other costs incidental to returning the handgun. No handgun may be returned until the individual fully completes the application.

Endangering the welfare of a child.

As to the unwanted gun, you can probably cut it up with a hacksaw.

You do not think that someone who purposely left a loaded handgun in a toy aisle broke any serious laws as long as he had a concealed carry permit? I would certainly hope that qualifies for reckless endangerment whether or not anyone was hurt by it. Were say a child accidentally killed by that gun by another child, I’d think it would qualify as manslaughter or worse.

So, the rifles jumped up and assaulted someone? That is truly an incredible story! The term “assault rifle” is purposefully inflammatory and meaningless. It’s a rifle.

I’ve never heard anyone mention anything about an “illegal car” when some nut goes crazy and drives up a boardwalk. But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt if the particular rifles are actually illegal to own where you live. But that’s not the case in most of the USA. So, were the two rifles illegal to own, or what made them illegal?

And you turned over a couple of rifles worth probably $600 to $1300 each, just like that? Were the cops going to find out who they belonged to? Do you get them back if the owner is not found? How is this different than if you found an $800 camera or bicycle? Not saying you should keep it without trying to find the owner, but I’d certainly want the item if the owner can’t be found.

In any event, an act is against the law only if there a law is broken. Unless there is a law on the books disallowing someone leaving a firearm somewhere (by accident or on purpose), then no law was broken. From a civil standpoint, it’s a different story. If the hypothetical gun was left by accident, then someone would have to be harmed and they would have to prove gross negligence. If the hypothetical gun were left on purpose, then I guess there are any number of possibilities regarding willful negligence, but again, I would think there would have to be some actual harm, not just hypothetical harm. If you leave the keys in your car (by accident or on purpose) and someone gets in and drives into someone, are you liable?

I’d be flabbergasted if this were true.

Taking a hacksaw to a loaded gun would be stupidly dangerous, no? “Safely” was one of the parameters. I wouldn’t even know how to check whether it was loaded or not.

For the sake of the tangential question, assume the person who has the gun knows absolutely nothing about guns, has never really handled guns, and that their gun safety knowledge consists only of “always treat a gun as if it were loaded” and “holy shit, a gun!”

Do what Eddie Eagle says, “leave it alone and tell an adult”.

You are right. And so is Cheesesteak. Endangering the welfare of a child seems a likely charge and that is serious. An unfortunate aisle to loose a gun in. ( assuming this was an accident…I bet some gun rights guys are already thinking some liberal planted it…)

Orwell…wouldn’t a fully auto AK be considered an illegal assault weapon?

Also I think pouring concrete on a gun, then throwing it in a lake would be my preferred method of disposal.

I think you’re being a little to nitpicky even for SDMB. The Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This law did define what assault weapons were. You may not agree with the definition, but the phrase is not meaningless. I realize this has expired, but the OP said he found them once. It could well have been when they were illegal. And I wouldn’t say it is meaningless to describe a weapon as an assault rifle even now; it certainly evokes a different, and not meaningless difference, than the phrase “hunting rifle” at least to me.

Furthermore, isn’t turning over to the police found property that is obviously valuable the right thing to do? It is their job to find the rightful owner not the finders. As you point out there is even a law (as Fistar points out) describing what they should do.

I am correct in referring to them as “assault rifles” because a. they were defined as “assault firearms” by the current New Jersey state law and b. because they were rifles.

They were illegal. Here’s a .pdf of the applicable law.

The incident occurred on or around September 3, 2004, while the linked law was in effect. The experts at Ray’s Sport Shop, a well-known and respected gun store and shooting range in North Plainfield, NJ identified them as illegal assault weapons as per the current state laws.

Yes, I turned over the firearms “just like that.” It was illegal for me to have them. Are you advocating criminal behavior?

I’m not sure why you think I didn’t know who the weapons belonged to. I said “I came into possession of them,” not “I found them.” I knew the owner personally, and I told the officers who he was. I also told them exactly where they could find him: six feet under in Queens, NY. I explained how I came to have them and that I didn’t know they were illegal until after I transported them into New Jersey. The cops thanked me, took the firearms, and left.

He said “assault rifle”, which is a perfectly descriptive term for a fully automatic or burst fire rifle and has been a standard term for this sort of weapon since the 1950s.

I agree that calling a weapon that isn’t fully automatic an “assault X” is confusing. A civilian AR-15 is just an M-16 assault rifle that isn’t capable of automatic fire. It isn’t any more suited to shooting up a school than a deer rifle, even if it has a bayonet lug.

But you let your knee jerk too hard, and read “assault weapon”. What he wrote was “assault rifle” which is a real thing. Maybe he didn’t really have two assault rifles and only thought he did, but if he did have two fully automatic rifles then he really did have two assault rifles and they really were contraband unless he had a machine gun license.

Lemur -

a. I think you must have written that after I had already posted my full explanation because I clarified why they were indeed “assault” rifles under NJ law. Also, they were manufactured too early to be covered under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, but they would have qualified otherwise. As of 2004, weapons of that type were defined as “assault,” whether anyone likes it or not.

b. I’m a she, noobcakes. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t know SC law but probably some version of reckless endangerment. It’s the law that basically covers doing something stupid that could have hurt somebody. I’d say that covers leaving a loaded gun in a public place.

I don’t think there’s necessarily any law broken, although you never know. Target is private property. How is the law supposed to distinguish beween leaving a loaded gun in the toy aisle of Target and leaving a loaded gun on an outdoor table at a gun range? They’re both private property. The law (thankfully, as yet) doesn’t attempt to tease out the precise public risk of every single act on private property and say what the legislature, in their awesome God-like wisdom, finds is and is not permissible.

That is not to say, however, that any number of people might have a civil complaint here, depending on how things work out. But the odd nature of civil complaints is that there has to be some actual injury, you can rarely sue someone for just a risk. So…if someone got hurt with the gun, that person would probably have a civil case against Target for not preventing this dangerous thing from lying around their property, just as your visiting mother-in-law might sue you for the broken leg she sustained tumblign down the stairs after fleeing in fright from the plastic poisonous snake you left in the guest room for her to discover.

It’s probable Target would have a civil case against whoever left the gun there, particularly if it was done on purpose, the same way a homeowner would if he invited his mother-in-law to visit and in rage about a joke snake she left behind a sack of dog shit in the dishwasher. I expect Target could successfully sue that person for whatever it cost them to safely dispose of the gun, even if nothing else happens.

Since so far the Supreme Court does not say people have an unlimited right to possess weapons in public, it is likely the polity has regulated the possession in public, and would be well within its rights to revoke the right to carry a weapon in public of the owner, for being a God-damned fool, even though it happened on private property. Obviously Target could ban this person from their property, and refuse to do business with them.

The situation would be different if the gun were left in a public park or on a street, however. In that case, there are any number of laws prohibiting dangerous conduct in public spaces. The difference is that the public (i.e. the law) has a right to regulate conduct in the public space, because everyone has to use it, and the police have broad powers to decide what is, and isn’t, safe and reasonable conduct. Nobody is required to go to Target (on private property), however. You choose to do so. It’s up to you to assess the risk of doing so, and you always have the option of not going onto someone else’s property if the risks are too high or insufficiently known. Hence the law attempts to regulate what happens on private property to a much lesser extent.

The law does treat differently “completely” private places (a home) and private places of public accommodation (a store). Of course both are different from public places (a park).

You call me. 24/7. I’m here to help.

Not really. Just because anti-gun groups, or lawmakers trying curry favor with the feeble-minded, want to label certain firearms as “assault rifles” does not make them assault rifles any more than me labeling my dog as a cat so I don’t have to put leash on him makes him a cat. Consensus does not make true that which is not true. Even in Joisey.

It’s really not. I can’t say I heard the term before 1990 or so. But it’s not descriptive. It’s a lie that’s meant to be a lie and scare the uneducated. One must consider the source.

I don’t. I call it stupidity at best, and a lie at worst.

This however, is true.

Green Bean: You wrote that these guns were illegal. Do mean that mere possession of them in NJ made them illegal, or that you could not import them from 2002 to 2007? I didn’t read the entire link because there were soooo many little words jammed together and I’m really tired.

The AW ban of 1994 - 2004 banned a similar list of firearms from being sold, manufactured, or imported during that time period, but those that existed or were owned allowed to stay.

I’m not trying to be contrary or an overbearing gun-nut, but a stapler is a stapler, and a book is a book; they have a specific definition, as does assault rifle.
Any other thing that is not that thing, is simply not that thing.

That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

So. . .it would be ok to take a hacksaw to this 12 gauge?

That depends. Full-automatic weapons manufactured before May 1986 are legal for ownership and transfer under the National Firearms Act. Anything after that date would have to be a manufacturer sample or possessed by someone who paid the Special Occupational Tax.

Note that the scarcity of such weapons makes them hugely expensive, often to the tune of $20-25,000 per. The cheapest NFA weapon I have ever seen went for $4000 (a TEC-9), and even the parts that make the weapon full-automatic, like drop-in sears, are cost-prohibitive. Anyone who went to the trouble of registering such a weapon with the BATFE would NOT be leaving it anywhere, and if they did they would absolutely be breaking the law because the paperwork (complete with tax stamp) must remain with the weapon at all times and it would be trivial to track the weapon back to the owner.

Other than those particular circumstances, owning a full-automatic weapon is very illegal. There are arguments that making your own as long as you don’t ever intend to transfer it is OK, but I don’t know that they have been tested yet.

Yes, and a Prius and a ZR-1 Vette are both “cars.” So are a Yugo and a Viper SRT-10. And, of course, our troops go into battle with Dad’s old Remmy. All the same thing. Nothing to see here; move along.

And I haven’t seen anyone make the silly argument that a Corvette should be unavailable because it has four tailpipes or a hood scoop.