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California has strict firearm laws that manufacturers, sellers, and owners have to follow. Understanding these laws is essential in knowing who, where, and when to buy, carry or use a gun. Leah Legal goes into further detail about firearm laws in California, to help you remain on the right side of the law, or recover your gun after a charge for a gun offense in Los Angeles.

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Who Can Possess A Gun in California?

Gun possession is legal under the laws of California. Any person aged twenty-one (21) and above can own a firearm without a license legally. There are exemptions for:

  • A person aged eighteen (18) or older who has a valid hunting license from the department of fishing and wildlife, the permit should be unexpired
  • Active peace officers who are allowed to carry firearms as part of their employment
  • Active federal officers or law enforcement agents who have the authority to carry guns as part of their employment duties
  • Persons who are active members or honorably discharged members of the US armed forces, National Guard, or active reserve components, and can provide the proper identification to the same

When selling a firearm, the buyer must provide clear evidence of age, including a valid driver’s license, alien registration number, or 1-94 number. Those purchasing handguns must provide proof of residency in California. Also, purchasers of handguns must provide a valid handgun safety certificate.

You may be among the persons prohibited to own or possess a firearm in California if:

  • You have been convicted of a felony offense (not necessarily in California). Carrying a gun under this condition makes you guilty of a PC 29800 violation. A felon found to own, possess, purchase, or receive a firearm can have their gun rights revoked for at least ten years, and life in some cases. Juvenile offenders will be barred from owning a gun until they are thirty
  • You are addicted to narcotics
  • You have at least two convictions for brandishing a weapon (PC 417)
  • You have been convicted with a PC 273.5 (domestic violence) misdemeanor
  • People suffering from mental illness
  • You are below eighteen (18) years and not in the exempted categories.
  • A person who was dishonorably discharged from the military
  • Illegal aliens
  • Persons who have renounced their US citizenship
  • Anyone who has been indicted or convicted for a crime with a sentence of more than one year
  • Anyone charged or convicted with a stalking crime
  • Fugitives of justice

Carrying a Firearm in California

Carrying a loaded or unloaded firearm is illegal in California unless you have a Carry Concealed Weapons (CCW) permit. The license allows you to carry a gun that can be concealed on your person. California does not recognize CCW permits from other states. To qualify for a CCW permit under PC 26155, you must meet the following conditions:

  • Be of good moral conduct
  • Be through with an approved firearms training class
  • You have a good cause to justify the need for a permit. To prove a good cause for carrying a weapon, you need to justify that a clear danger exists to you or your family, and having the gun would mitigate the threat
  • You are a resident of the county or spend most of your time at work in the county, or city within the county

Even with a permit, there are some restrictions, including the types of weapons you can carry. The license prohibits:

  • Carrying assault weapons and generally prohibited weapons
  • Brandishing a weapon in public in a threatening or angry manner. The law could excuse you if the act was in self-defense.

In addition to these general restrictions, your permit may have other restrictions, which you must adhere to, to keep your license.

Crimes related to carrying a firearm include:

  1. Carrying a concealed firearm (PC 25400) - which is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on whether there are aggravating circumstances. As a misdemeanor, you can spend up to one (1) year in the county jail and a fine of one thousand ($1,000) dollars at most. A PC 25400 felony is charged when you have a prior felony conviction for a firearm offense in California, you have a stolen firearm (which you knew was stolen), you are involved in a criminal gang, or you illegally possess the weapon, or it is an illegal weapon. This felony conviction is punishable by a jail term of sixteen (16) months, two (2) or three (3) years in county jail.
  2. Carrying a loaded firearm in public (PC 25850) - which prohibits carrying a loaded firearm on your person or in a car without a CCW permit. You can carry a gun in a vehicle if it is in the trunk or a locked container.
  3. Possessing a firearm in an airport or passenger vessel terminal (PC 171.5) - is an offense under California law and can be punished by a jail term of up to six (6) months in county jail, a fine not exceeding one thousand ($1,000) dollars or both.
  4. Knowingly possessing a firearm in public transit (PC 171.7) - is a misdemeanor offense punishable in the same way as a PC 171.5 violation.
  5. Possession of a firearm in school grounds (PC 626.9) - PC 626.9 prohibits the possession, discharge, or attempt to discharge a firearm in a school zone (an area that is within 1000ft of the school’s grounds). The law applies to both private and public schools. In most cases, violation of PC 626.9 is a felony that attracts a prison term of between three (3) and seven (7) years in state prison, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Selling or Buying a Firearm in California

California has laws that regulate the sale and purchase of firearms. Sellers are required to have a valid permit to sell, transfer, or lease a firearm. Selling a firearm without a permit is a PC 26500 misdemeanor violation. You can be jailed for a maximum of six (6) months in county jail with a fine of not exceeding one thousand ($1,000) dollars, for every firearm you sell, lease, or transfer without a permit. California also requires private parties engaging in any firearm transaction to do so through licensed dealers.

You can obtain a license to sell firearms in California by obtaining and maintaining:

  • A valid federal arms license
  • A local business permit
  • A sellers permit from the State Board of Equalization
  • A certificate of eligibility from the Department of Justice
  • A local one-year license from an authorized licensing authority

When buying a firearm, even in a private transaction, you must involve a licensed dealer. The dealer requires you to provide valid identification documents to ascertain that you are a resident of California and meet the legal age requirements for purchasing a gun. After applying, the department of justice will require ten days during which it will conduct a thorough background check to determine whether you can possess a gun. Once approved, the dealer will record the transfer of ownership, after which you have thirty (30) days to pick up the firearm. California restricts firearm purchase to only one (1) firearm in thirty (30) days.

Laws on the Use and Storage of Firearms

California laws have restrictions on where and when you can use a firearm. Failure to adhere to these regulations can land you in jail or prison, in addition to suffering other consequences. Using a gun for self-defense where you believe you are in danger of bodily harm or to protect your home or property is legal under California law. Restrictions when using a gun include:

  • Alteration of obliteration of firearm identification marks placed on the firearm (PC 23900) or purchasing a firearm with the knowledge that the identification marks have been altered or obliterated (PC 23920).
  • Possession of a firearm on school grounds or within 1000 feet of the public or private school including Kindergartens through to 12th grade, colleges, and universities in California.
  • Possession of a firearm in a courtroom or other restricted government premises. Such as the grounds of the California state capitol, any legislative office, the governor’s mansion or the Senate or Assembly.
  • Knowingly possession of a firearm in an airport or passenger vehicle terminal or a public transit facility.

Gun storage laws require that firearm owners store firearms and ammunition in a locked or safe area where a minor cannot access them. Gun storage laws prohibit keeping a loaded firearm in your residence or property where you should reasonably know that a minor could access. In case a minor accesses the gun and harms themselves or others, you will be guilty of a PC 26100 violation.

Crimes Related to the Use of Firearms

  1. PC 417 Brandishing a Weapon

The penal code prohibits the exhibition, drawing or use of a firearm in an angry or threatening manner, whether or not you intend to cause harm. Brandishing a weapon is either a misdemeanor, wobbler of a felony offense.

Misdemeanor offenses are charged when you brandish the weapon in a public place. The penalty may include a fine of a jail term of between three (3) to twelve (12) months in the county jail. The same penalties apply for a wobbler offense charged as a misdemeanor. As a felony, you are punished by a state prison term of sixteen (16) months, two (2) or three (3) years.

PC 417.8 prohibits brandishing a weapon to resist arrest. In such cases, you can get a state prison sentence of either two (2), three (3) or four (4) years.

If you cause serious bodily harm when brandishing a weapon, you can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor (PC 417.6). As a misdemeanor, you will get a maximum sentence of one (1) year in the county jail. For felony offenses, you get a state prison term of sixteen (16) months, two (2), or three (3) years.

  1. Drive-in Shooting

PC 26100 prohibits the discharge of a firearm from a motor vehicle (stationary or moving). Allowing a person to carry a gun in a car you own, you are guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty for a misdemeanor conviction is either a fine of up to one thousand ($1,000) dollars, a jail term of up to six (6) months in the county jail or both.

Discharging a firearm at someone else, or allowing a person in your car to do so, is charged as a felony. The crime is punished by a term of three (3), five (5), or seven (7) years in state prison and a fine of up to ten thousand ($10,000) dollars.

Prohibited Weapons

California law in PC 16590 has several weapons falling under the generally prohibited weapons category. The law makes it illegal to manufacture, support the manufacturing, sell, give, lend, or possess a prohibited weapon. Usually, prohibited weapons include firearms and accessories such as:

  • Cane guns,
  • Camouflaging firearm containers,
  • Zip guns,
  • Wallet guns,
  • Guns not readily recognizable, and
  • Unusual pistols.

The possession of a generally prohibited weapon is a wobbler offense. When charged as a misdemeanor, you can spend between one (1) and three (3) years in the county jail or sixteen (16) months, two (2) or three (3) years in the county jail for a felony conviction. Both charges include the confiscation of the weapon.  

Assault Weapons and Rifles

California prohibits the manufacture, sale, exchange, and possession of assault weapons and BMG rifles. Assault weapons include AK series, Uzis, Colt AR-15 series semiautomatic rifles. The law allows legal ownership of assault weapons or BMG weapons under specific circumstances such as:

  • Having a valid permit to possess an assault weapon
  • You possessed the firearm lawfully before its classification as an assault weapon
  • As the executor of an estate holding such firearms
  • You are part of a lawful target practice
  • You are a non-California resident who is part of a competitive match, league or competition, which involves the use of assault weapons

Crimes under PC 30600 can be charged on varying degrees from infractions to felonies as follows:

  • Possession of a .50 BMG rifle is a misdemeanor offense attracting a penalty of one (1) year in the county jail and a fine of at most one thousand ($1,000) dollars.
  • Possession of an assault weapon is either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, you can stay for up to one (1) year in the county jail and pay a fine not exceeding one thousand ($1,000) dollars. For a felony, you spend sixteen (16) months, two (2) or three (3) years in the county jail and a maximum fine of ten thousand ($10,000) dollars.
  • Possessing an assault weapon during the commission of another crime results in an additional sentence of one (1) year and other sentencing enhancements, including losing your firearm.

Restrictions on Guns, Ammunition, and Gun Accessories

The laws of California extend to placing restrictions on gun accessories and ammunition. These restrictions determine the type of ammo you can purchase or keep, the type of accessories you can and cannot use and the penalties for violating these restrictions.

  • California PC 30315 prohibits the possession of armor piercing ammunition. Violation of PC 30315 is punishable as either a misdemeanor or felony by a county jail term of up to one (1) year or sixteen (16) months, two (2), or three (3) years respectively. Both charges can have a fine of not more than five thousand ($5,000) dollars.
  • Possessing a silencer is a violation of PC 33410, which is charged as a felony. A conviction attracts a county jail term of sixteen (16) months, two (2) or three (3) years. A fine of at most ten thousand ($10,000) dollars may be charged.
  • Aiming or pointing a laser scope or pointer at someone in a threatening manner, intending to cause harm is a violation of PC 417.25. If convicted, you can spend up to thirty (30) days in the county jail. However, the punishment is quite severe, where the victim is a peace officer. In such a case, you violate PC 417.26, which is punishable by a jail term of up to six (6) months.

Sentencing and Penalties for Gun related Offenses

You can violate the firearm laws in California in many ways. Finding yourself facing charges for firearm violations could subject you to additional or alternative sentencing. The judges will often determine your sentencing and penalties depending on your criminal record, the type of firearm, whether the offense is a misdemeanor or felony and the provision of the law on additional sentencing for the crime.

Alternative sentencing mostly includes formal and informal probation. The probation keeps you out of jail, as long as you meet all the pre-set conditions of the court. Felony charges may be subject to a sentence enhancement, which means, you spend more time in prison, in addition to the time you were to serve. Sentence enhancements in California include:

  • Personally using a gun
  • Use a gun and you are done (commonly used for offenses that involve using and firing a gun, or causing serious bodily injury or death to another person. The enhancement runs between ten (10) years to life)
  • Criminal street gang enhancement applicable for gang members
  • Committing a felony while possessing armor piercing ammunition or wearing a bulletproof vest
  • Using a firearm when committing a sex crime
  • Aiding someone with a firearm while they are committing a felony

Find a Firearm Attorney Near Me

If you are facing charges for violating firearm laws, you need to contact an experienced attorney who will help you to navigate the case. Our Van Nuys criminal defense lawyers at Leah Legal in Los Angeles understand the strictness of firearm laws in California, and will prepare a solid defense on your behalf. Contact us for legal representation today at 818-484-1100.