Florida residents generally have a healthy respect for firearms — and many people have them. The state does have a robust “Stand Your Ground” provision in its laws, after all.

But what happens if you use a firearm illegally in Florida or are caught with a gun in your possession unlawfully?

Frankly, you’re in big trouble. Getting caught with an illegal firearm or being accused of using a firearm in the course of another crime can lead to something known as “enhanced” penalties and charges.

How does the use of a gun in a crime make a difference?

Under the state’s laws, if you use a firearm in the commission of a felony (except when a firearm or another weapon is already an essential element of the crime), the charges are “upped.” So are the potential penalties. For example, a second-degree felony becomes a first-degree felony and a felony of the first degree becomes a crime that can be penalized with life in prison.

Keep in mind that you don’t actually have to use the weapon for these sentence enhancements to apply. It’s enough to merely wave it around, threaten someone with it or have it on your possession — even if the weapon is unloaded.

Firearm enhancements are often subjective decisions on the part of the prosecution. They can provide bargaining power when the state is looking to cut a deal — or they can simply be a political reaction to your alleged offense.

Firearm possession during the commission of a violent crime, including domestic violence, can have serious consequences for your future. Don’t try to handle your case on your own. An experienced attorney can help you explore your legal options and find your best defense.