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What is a Deadly Weapon?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A deadly weapon is something which has the capacity to inflict bodily harm, even if it is not explicitly designed to do so. Anything which someone uses to inflict serious harm or kill someone can be considered a deadly weapon, as can objects specifically designed for use as weapons, such as guns, swords, and knives. When a deadly weapon is involved in a crime, the offense may be treated more seriously under the eyes of the law.

Many deadly weapons statutes specifically provide a long list of examples of things which are classified as deadly weapons. These include objects and devices which are intended to be used for the purpose of inflicting injury or killing, or which would be reasonably repurposed to do so. In addition, statutes allow courts to consider objects which are not designed as weapons to be classified as deadly weapons when they are used to hurt people.

Items like baseball bats, boards, rocks, ice picks, and even banjos have been considered deadly weapons in individual cases. In some cases, people with AIDS have even been prosecuted for using a "deadly weapon" when they engage in unprotected sex with partners who are not aware of their disease status. The argument in such cases has been that when someone carries the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and knows it, exposing people to the virus is akin to assaulting them with a weapon.

Deadly weapons statutes may limit ownership of such objects or provide methods for registering and controlling them. For example, when people travel with deadly weapons, they may be required to keep them reasonably secured for safety. Likewise, people cannot bring weapons into settings such as courtrooms, unless the weapon is being presented as evidence in part of the prosecution of a case, in which case it will be controlled and secured while it is in court.

It is important to note that, in the case of something like a gun, disabling the weapon does not make it any less deadly. An unloaded gun, a gun fitted with a gun lock, or a gun with the firing pin disabled is still considered a deadly weapon and will be treated as such in legal disputes. Manufacturers may also be barred from making devices which look like deadly weapons, which is why toy guns often have bright markers on them to alert people to the fact that the weapon is a toy.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Oct 13, 2011

@orangey03 - My friend is a cop, and he once told me that I would get in trouble for shooting someone in my own yard. He told me to only shoot them if they enter my house.

To me, this seems ridiculous. If I’m being attacked and fearing for my life in the front lawn, why can’t I fire the weapon there? I probably couldn’t make it to the house at that point, and I might just die because I didn’t use my weapon.

However, I would suggest that you file a police report if your neighbors ever threaten you in any way. My friend told me that this would help if a situation ever arose that required me to defend myself.

By orangey03 — On Oct 13, 2011

I have some shady neighbors, and I don’t feel entirely comfortable alone in my yard. I have a gun, but I don’t want to pull it out when it isn’t totally necessary and get charged with something.

Obviously, a gun is considered a deadly weapon, but I have a permit for mine. I usually keep it in the house, but I would feel better if I could walk around with it in a holster.

If I got attacked in my yard and pulled the gun on someone, would I get in trouble for defending myself? I know that if someone came into my house and I shot them, it would be justifiable homicide. What happens if you have to shoot someone in your yard?

By seag47 — On Oct 12, 2011

One year at the haunted Halloween forest, a worker went a little too far with his choice of scare tactic. Hiding in the darkness, he would burst forth with a blowtorch when people walked by.

He misjudged the distance between himself and some kids at one point, and a boy’s shirt sleeve caught fire. He put it out quickly, but the kid’s mother filed charges against him. The court determined that a blowtorch did qualify as a deadly weapon.

I think the judge understood that he didn’t mean to harm anyone, so he doled out a lesser sentence. He had to punish him somehow, though, due to the direness of the situation.

By cloudel — On Oct 11, 2011

I had a troubled boyfriend who used a microphone stand as a deadly weapon. He was in a band, and he had problems with drug and alcohol abuse. When a guy tried to pick a fight with him on stage, he lost it and bludgeoned the guy with the stand.

He didn’t die, but he did go into a coma. When he finally came out of it, he took my boyfriend to court, where he was accused of assault with a deadly weapon. The guy easily could have died, so I don’t blame him for wanting justice.

By ceilingcat — On Oct 11, 2011

@SZapper - Well, I'm not a lawyer so I might be off base here. But I feel like someone who had AIDS but didn't know it and gave it someone else might be guilty of negligence. I know to be convicted of a lot of crimes, you have to intend to commit the crime. If there was no intent, usually the person will be convicted of a lesser crime.

Anyway, I think it's a shame there are so many regulations about "deadly weapons." As the article pointed out, a lot of things can be used as a deadly weapon besides a gun. It seems pointless to place so many regulations on a gun but not, say, an ice pick.

By SZapper — On Oct 10, 2011

@strawCake - Either way it would still be an assault with a deadly weapon, right? I don't think it should be treated any differently just because the object wasn't meant to be used as a weapon.

I think the example with AIDS was kind of interesting too. I suppose AIDS could definitely be considered a "deadly weapon" if you gave it to someone without their knowledge. I wonder if this would still be the same if the person with AIDS didn't know they had it? It seems like the intention to commit the crime wouldn't be there.

By strawCake — On Oct 10, 2011

Wow, it seems like pretty much anything could be a deadly weapon. For instance, my knitting needles are very sharp and pointy. I think you could definitely inflict some damage with one. Or what about a pair of high heeled shoes?

Anyway, I don't think that a deadly weapon that is actually meant to be a deadly weapon and a normal object that is used as a deadly weapon should be treated the same under the law. If you carry a gun with you, and use it to hurt someone, that seems premeditated. But if you use, say, a high heeled shoe in the heat of the moment that's totally different!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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