Possessing a dangerous or illegal weapon
(Colorado 18-12-102 C.R.S.)

hand holding an Uzi submachine gun

What are dangerous and illegal weapons in Colorado?

Under section 18-12-102 of Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) it is a felony to possess a dangerous weapon, defined as a:

  • firearm silencer, 
  • machine gun, 
  • short shotgun, 
  • short rifle, or 
  • ballistic knife.

First-time possession of a dangerous weapon can land you in prison for up to 3 years. A second or subsequent possession conviction carries a maximum sentence of 6 years.

18-12-102 C.R.S. also makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly possess an illegal weapon, meaning a:

  • blackjack,
  • gas gun, 
  • gravity knife,
  • switchblade knife, or
  • metallic knuckles.

Possessing one of these weapons carries a possible sentence of up to 18 months in jail.

To help you better understand the Colorado crime of possession of a dangerous or illegal weapon, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

purple switchblade, both closed and with blade extended

1. What is a dangerous weapon in Colorado?

You violate 18-12-102 C.R.S. when you possess a dangerous weapon.

In Colorado, a “dangerous weapon” means any:

  • firearm silencer, 
  • machine gun, 
  • short shotgun, 
  • short rifle, or
  • ballistic knife.

“Ballistic knife” means any knife that has a blade which is forcefully projected from the handle by means of a spring-loaded device or explosive charge.1

“Firearm silencer” means any instrument, attachment, weapon, or appliance for causing the firing of any gun, revolver, pistol, or other firearm to be silent or intended to lessen or muffle the noise of the firing of any such weapon.2

“Machine gun” means any firearm, whatever its size and usual designation, that shoots automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.3

“Short rifle” means a rifle having a barrel less than sixteen inches long or an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.4

“Short shotgun” means a shotgun having a barrel or barrels less than eighteen inches long or an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.5 This includes shotguns of normal length that have been sawed-off so that the barrel is less than eighteen inches.

A weapon does not need to be operable in order to be dangerous. You violate 18-12-102 C.R.S. if the weapon can be made operable with the addition of a readily replaceable part or quick repair.6

2. What is an illegal weapon in Colorado?

Colorado 18-12-102 C.R.S. makes it a misdemeanor tor knowingly possess an illegal weapon, defined as any:

  • blackjack,
  • gas gun, 
  • gravity knife,
  • switchblade knife, or
  • metallic knuckles.

“Blackjack” includes any billy, sand club, sandbag, or other hand-operated striking weapon consisting, at the striking end, of an encased piece of lead or other heavy substance and, at the handle end, a strap or springy shaft which increases the force of impact.7

“Gas gun” means a device designed for projecting gas-filled projectiles which release their contents after having been projected from the device and includes projectiles designed for use in such a device.8

“Gravity knife” means any knife that has a blade released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force.9

“Switchblade knife” means any knife, the blade of which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in its handle.10

“Knowingly” does not mean that you knew that the weapon was illegal. It means that you didn't know that you possessed it.11

  • Example: Andie, a teenager, is hanging out on the street smoking weed with her girlfriends, when a police officer approaches. Unbeknownst to Andie, one of her friends slips a switchblade into her backpack. When the officer searches the girls, he finds the switchblade and charges Andie with possession of an illegal weapon. However, if she can create reasonable doubt that she knew she had the switchblade, Andie should be found not guilty of the charges.

3. Penalties for possessing a dangerous weapon

Possession of a dangerous weapon (a firearm silencer, machine gun, short shotgun, short rifle, or ballistic knife) is a Colorado felony.

Punishment for a first-time dangerous weapon possession conviction can include:

  • 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

Penalties for a second or subsequent charge for possessing a dangerous weapon can include:

  • 2-6 years in prison (with 3 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

4. Penalties for possessing an illegal weapon

In Colorado, it is a class 1 misdemeanor to knowingly possess a blackjack, gas gun, metallic knuckles, gravity knife, or switchblade knife.

Consequences of possessing one or more of these illegal weapons in Colorado can include:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

5. Defenses to Colorado dangerous or illegal weapon possession charges

Common defenses to possession of a dangerous or illegal weapon include (but are not limited to):

  • You didn't know you possessed an illegal weapon;
  • The weapon was not operable and could not easily be made so;
  • The weapon was found during an illegal search and seizure;
  • You were a peace officer or member of the armed forces of the United States or Colorado National Guard acting in the lawful discharge of your duties; or
  • You held a valid permit and license for the possession of the weapon.

Call us for help…

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Simply possessing a dangerous or illegal weapon in Colorado can land you a hefty jail or prison sentence – even if you have no intention of using the weapon.

But while fighting a possession charge might seem like an uphill battle, years of experience have taught us that it is very possible to prevail.

If you or someone you know has accused of a Colorado weapons charge, we invite you to call us for a free, no-obligations consultation.

One of our caring Colorado criminal lawyers will respond promptly to discuss your case and help you start planning your best defense to Colorado weapon charges.

You can reach us through the form on this page, or by calling our Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202

Legal references:

  1. 18-12-101 (1) (a.3) C.R.S.
  2. 18-12-101 (1) (c) C.R.S.
  3. 18-12-101 (1) (g) C.R.S.
  4. 18-12-101 (1) (h) C.R.S.
  5. 18-12-101 (1) (i) C.R.S.
  6. People v. Vigil, 1988, 758 P.2d 670, 81 A.L.R.4th 737.
  7. 18-12-101 (1) (a.5) C.R.S.
  8. 18-12-101 (1) (d) C.R.S.
  9. 18-12-101 (1) (e) C.R.S.
  10. 18-12-101 (1) (j) C.R.S.
  11. See, e.g., People v. Tenorio, 1979, 590 P.2d 952, 197 Colo. 137. (To convict one of possessing a weapon, jury must find, not mere possession, but that defendant “knowingly” possessed the weapon and that he understood that the object possessed was a weapon.) 

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