Possession of a Handgun by a Juvenile
Colorado 18-12-108.5 C.R.S.

upset boy holding handgun over his head

Illegal handgun possession by someone under age 18

In Colorado, with few exceptions, you must be at least 18 years old to possess a handgun.

Absent one of these exceptions, you commit the offense of illegal possession of a handgun by a juvenile under section 18-12-108.5 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.).

Punishment for illegal possession of a handgun by a juvenile

A first-time offense of illegal possession of a handgun by someone under 18 is considered a class 2 misdemeanor. Although juvenile sentencing is more flexible than for adults, penalties can include:

  • Commitment to a juvenile detention center, and/or
  • A monetary fine.

A second or subsequent offense for illegal possession of a handgun by a juvenile is, however, considered a Colorado class 5 felony. Consequences of felony illegal possession of a handgun by a juvenile can include:

  • Up to several years in a Colorado Department of Youth Corrections facility, and/or
  • A monetary fine.

Our Colorado juvenile defense lawyers can help

Colorado's law prohibiting handgun possession by someone under 18 is full of nuances and exceptions. To help you better understand 18-12-108.5 C.R.S. and other Colorado gun laws, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

mans arms cradling the hands of a child holding a handgun

1. When can someone under 18 legally possess a handgun?

If you are under 18, you may legally possess a handgun if you have the permission of your parent or legal guardian and any of the following apply:

  • You are in attendance at a hunter's safety course or a firearms safety course; 
  • You are practicing at a legitimate established shooting range where the discharge of a firearm is not prohibited by law;
  • You are engaging in an organized competition involving the use of a firearm or participating in or practicing for a performance by an organized group which is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code;
  • You are hunting or trapping pursuant to a valid license;
  • You are traveling to or from any of the activities above with an unloaded handgun;
  • You are on real property under the control of your parent, legal guardian, or grandparent and your parent or legal guardian has given you permission to possess a handgun there;1 or
  • With the permission of your parent or legal guardian, you have a handgun at your residence for self-defense.

For purposes of these exceptions, a handgun is considered “loaded” if:

  • There is a cartridge in the chamber of the handgun; or
  • There is a cartridge in the cylinder (if the handgun is a revolver); or
  • You have both the handgun and ammunition on your person person in such close proximity that you could readily gain access to both and load the handgun.

2. Penalties for illegal possession of a handgun by a juvenile

Colorado's juvenile justice system has the discretion to impose a number of penalties against first-time juvenile offenders. These can include:

  • Commitment to the Department of Youth Corrections (for serious crimes);
  • If the juvenile is 16 and the crime is serious, he or she can be sentenced as an adult (though this is rare);
  • Placement with a relative or other suitable person;
  • Placement into custody of the Department of Social Services;
  • Commitment to a community accountability program;
  • If the child is mentally ill, placement in a hospital;
  • Up to 45 days detention in a youth detention facility;
  • Payment of a fine or restitution to a victim;
  • Anger management or any other appropriate treatment program; or
  • Probation.

However, if the juvenile is a repeat offender and is not yet 18 at the time of sentencing, the court must sentence the child out of the home for at least one year, unless the court finds that an alternative sentence or a commitment of less than one year out of the home would be more appropriate.

If the offender is at least 18 on the date of sentencing, the court has the discretion to send a repeat offender to county jail or a community correctional facility or program for up to 2 years.

The offender may, however, be released by the committing judge upon a showing of exemplary behavior.

3. How do I defend charges of illegal possession of a handgun by a juvenile?

Common defenses to juvenile handgun charges include (but are not limited to):

  • You were 18 years (or older) at the time of the alleged offense;
  • You didn't know you had a handgun in your possession;
  • You fell within one of the listed exceptions to 18-12-108.5 C.R.S. (because you had permission of your parents and were engaging in a legal or constitutionally protected activity);
  • You were at home and possessed the gun for self-defense with the permission of your parents or legal guardian; or
  • The gun was discovered during an illegal search and seizure in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. 

Call us for help…

call center receptionist

The state of Colorado has a great deal of flexibility when it comes to sentencing of juvenile offenders. Penalties can range from community supervision to time in a juvenile correction facility or even jail. Often, the child's parents lose custody, at least temporarily.

With so much to lose, it is important to retain a skilled and compassionate lawyer with experience defending juvenile adjudications.

If you, your child or a family member has been charged with a juvenile offense, we invite you call one of our knowledgeable Colorado juvenile lawyers for a free consultation. We can help you plan your best defense to the Colorado juvenile gun charges and figure out the best course of action.

We represent clients accused of breaking Colorado gun laws and other juvenile offenses throughout the state. We can speak to you by phone, or arrange an in-person meeting at our conveniently located Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112


Legal references:

  1. The parental permission exception to the offense of illegal possession of a handgun by a juvenile is an affirmative defense. Evidence must be presented indicating that such defense applies before the prosecution has the burden of proving non-existence of that defense. People ex rel. L.M., App.2000, 17 P.3d 829.

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