When Can You Point a Firearm at Someone?

More citizens in the United States own firearms than in any other country in the world. Most gun owners in our country own firearms for either sport or self-defense. When faced with a perceived threat of harm, people will sometimes display a firearm or flash it at the person presenting the threat. However, flashing a firearm in the wrong circumstance can result in criminal charges. It’s important to understand the laws outlining when you can and cannot display or flash a firearm. This post will explore two criminal statutes about this; C.R.S. 18-3-206 (Menacing) and C.R.S. 18-9-106 (Disorderly Conduct).

What Is Menacing?

When Can You Point a Firearm at Someone?“A person commits the crime of menacing if, by any threat or physical action, he or she knowingly places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. Menacing is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but it is a Class 5 felony if committed by the use of a firearm, knife, or bludgeon or a simulated firearm, knife, or bludgeon.” C.R.S. 18-3-206. Felony menacing carries a possible penalty of 1 to 3 years in prison and a fine of between $1,000 and $100,000.

What Is Disorderly Conduct?

A related but lesser offense is Disorderly Conduct. C.R.S. 18-9-106(f). This statute makes it illegal to display “a deadly weapon, display an article that is used or fashioned in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe that the article is a deadly weapon, or represents verbally or otherwise that he or she is armed with a deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm.” Id.  This offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to 120 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $750.

People v. Torres

While similar, the Colorado Supreme Court explained the difference between the two statutes in People v. Torres, 848 P.2d 911. In Torres, the defendant was traveling as a passenger in a vehicle when he got out of the window and displayed a shotgun at a car traveling next to him. Mr. Torres was charged with Menacing. Torres argued that the actus reus, or criminal act, in both statutes was the same, and therefore, Mr. Torres could not be penalized under the more punitive Menacing statute because that would violate his equal protection rights.

The Court disagreed and explained, “The display of a deadly weapon in an alarming manner in a public place constitutes the actus reus of disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon.  In contrast, the more specific act of “placing another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury by the use of a deadly weapon” constitutes the actus reus of felony menacing. A person can display a deadly weapon in an objectively alarming manner in a public place without placing anyone in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.  Id. 915. Generally, the difference is whether the defendant directed his actions specifically at a person or group of people with the intent to threaten serious bodily injury as opposed to, for example, waiving a gun in a crowd without indicating a threat or intent to use it.

Your Actions Must Be “Reasonable” to Be Lawful

Often, people will get charged with one of these offenses after displaying a firearm after receiving what they believe to be a threat, only to end up being charged with a crime.  While Colorado allows a person to “stand his or her ground,” the law places limits on when a person can display a firearm. C.R.S. 18-1-704 allows a person to use force to defend himself or another from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force. But, the degree of force used can only be reasonable and proportional to the perceived threat. This is where people often get into trouble. A “reasonable” belief is one that would be shared by others in the same or similar situation. It is not a belief that applied only to the defendant in the moment.

For example, Mary is thrown out of a bar because she is being disruptive. As the bouncers remove her to the street, Mary says one of the bouncers twisted her arm and sprained her elbow. She draws a handgun and points it at him telling him to leave her alone. This would not be a reasonable belief of harm proportional to the threat of serious bodily injury she is presenting to the bouncer. Mary would likely get charged with Menacing. Her claim of standing her ground would not hold up.

To be found guilty of Menacing, it has to be proven that the offender’s intent was to instill a fear of imminent serious bodily injury. The threat alone is not sufficient. The problem with firearms is that most people are reasonably scared of imminent serious bodily injury when someone points a firearm at them. Before you point a firearm at someone the fear, remember that you are about to instill in them a fear that must be reasonably proportional to the fear you are experiencing from them.

Protective Yourself Legally as Well as Physically

Owning firearms for self-defense is common. If you do, you must understand what lawful and unlawful use of the firearm is. Each year, law-abiding, upstanding citizens find themselves charged with Menacing because they didn’t understand the limits of the use of the firearm.

If you’ve been charged with menacing or disorderly conduct because of the use of a firearm, call The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. at (719) 475-2555. They have the experience and knowledge necessary to present your best defense.