In California, there are numerous specific criminal charges related to the use of a firearm, sentencing enhancements for using a gun or another deadly weapon, and strict gun laws that make it easy for innocent people to be accused of weapons violations. If you find yourself facing weapons charges in Los Angeles or anywhere in Southern California, do not hesitate to contact Leah Legal for top-tier legal defense for this very unique practice area.
Only by having a lawyer experienced in weapons charge defense cases and familiar with the details of California gun laws fighting on your side, can you ensure the best possible outcome to your case. Leah Legal stands ready to assist you 24/7! Contact us today by calling 818-484-1100 for a free, no obligation legal consultation.
Overview of California Weapons Charges
Illegal possession or use of a firearm is normally a serious felony offense in California. In some cases, however, weapons offenses can be "wobblers," meaning that either a misdemeanor or felony can be charged, depending on the circumstances of each case and on the defendant's past criminal record. The type of weapon involved and the defendant's actions or intent with the weapon will also play into whether it's a felony or misdemeanor and how severe the sentence would be upon a conviction.
- Misdemeanor weapons charges can get you up to 12 months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.
- Felony weapons charges are punishable by anywhere from one to 20 years in state prison.
The use of a firearm in committing a serious felony or sex crime can lead to a sentencing enhancement. Up to 10 years can be added for possession of a gun during a felony, 20 years added if the gun was fired, and 25 years to life imprisonment added if the gun was fired and caused serious bodily injury or death to a victim.
Clearly, being charged with a gun crime in California is a very serious matter. You should therefore only trust the very best legal help to handle your case.
Gun Possession Laws in California
Any adult can legally possess a firearm in California unless he or she is specifically prohibited from doing so under state law. Normally, you don't even need a license to buy a gun, and you can store it in your home or carry it around with you if it's in a locked container.
But who exactly is excluded from buying or owning or carrying a gun under California law? Here is a list in answer to that question:
- Any convicted felon, for any felony offense in any jurisdiction (California, elsewhere in the US, or even a foreign country.)
- Anyone with 2 or more PC 417 Brandishing a Firearm convictions.
- Anyone addicted to a narcotic.
- Those with a serious mental illness.
- People convicted of certain serious misdemeanor crimes.
- Persons under the age of 18.
If you illegally possess a firearm or ammunition for a firearm, buy a handgun without a handgun safety certificate, possess a gun in a prohibited location, possess a banned type of firearm, or conceal carry without a permit, you violate California's gun possession laws.
PC 29800 Felony Possession of a Firearm
Anyone with a felony on his/her record, or even certain misdemeanors, or who is addicted to drugs violates Penal Code Section 29800 if he/she possesses a gun. In some instances, those convicted of felonies lose their Second Amendment rights for 10 years, in other cases they lose them for life. Minors with felony level offenses can be banned from owning a gun until age 30.
PC 25400 Illegal Concealed Carry
To carry a concealed weapon, either on your person or in your automobile, is a crime in California unless you had a valid concealed carry permit. Prosecutors must prove that you were knowingly concealing the weapon in order to gain a conviction on this charge.
If the gun was unloaded AND in a locked container or locked in the trunk of a car, it is not a concealed carry violation. Nor can you be charged with PC 25400 if the gun was "non-concealable" like a rifle or shotgun. A violation of PC 25400 is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. But, PC 25400 becomes a felony if the defendant has a prior weapons related felony, the gun in question was stolen or illegally possessed, or the defendant was a gang member at the time. Then, it's punishable by from 16 months to 3 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
PC 2580 Carrying a Loaded Firearm in Public
It is a crime in California to carry a loaded gun on your person or in your motor vehicle. If any unexpended bullet is in the firing chamber, or attached to the gun via a clip/magazine, the gun is considered "loaded." And even if the gun itself is non-functional, you can still be charged with PC 2580 so long as the gun is loaded. However, to be guilty of PC 2580, you must have known that the gun was loaded.
Penalties for carrying a loaded firearm are identical to those mentioned just above for illegally carrying a concealed firearm. But if the firearm was both loaded and illegally concealed, you can be charged with both crimes and get double the sentence.
Firearm Possession in Prohibited Places
Not only are certain persons prohibited from possessing a gun in California, but there are also specific places where you cannot legally take a firearm. Under PC 626.9, firearms are banned on school grounds or anywhere within 1,000 feet of school grounds. All levels of schools are included, both public and private. A violation of PC 626.9 can get you up to 7 years of jail time.
Under PC 171c, guns are also banned from all government buildings. PC 171d adds the governor's mansion as a gun free zone. PC 171.5 bans guns from airports and passenger vessel terminals, while PC 171.7 makes it illegal to bring a gun to a public transportation facility.
Possession of Prohibited Firearm Types
Finally, illegal gun possession can relate to the type of weapon possessed. Under California Penal Code Section 16590, all activities related to a list of generally prohibited weapons are banned. You cannot manufacture, import, sell, buy, give away, loan out, possess, carry, or use these weapons legally in California.
Banned items include: camouflaged or disguised firearms, short barrel shotguns or rifles, wallet guns, can guns, and zip guns. Violation of this statute can be a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by from 3 to 12 months in jail; as a felony, it's punishable by 16 months to 3 years in jail. Finally, also note that assault weapons, like AK rifles, Uzis, .50 BMG rifles, or AR-15 semiauto rifles, are banned under a separate statute - PC 30600. A violation can be a misdemeanor or a felony and is punished the same as PC 16590.
Also, there are further weapons bans in California, including of:
- Armor piercing ammo (PC 30315)
- Gun silencers (PC 33410)
- Stun guns (PC 22610)
- Laser scopes/pointers (PC 417.25)
Charges Involving Illegal Gun "Use"
Thus far, we've only looked at California gun crimes to do with simply possessing or carrying a firearm, but now we'll look at gun crimes where the firearm was "used" in some way. These crimes are, unsurprisingly, normally punished more severely than gun possession violations, making it all the more important to have expert legal assistance when you step into court.
PC 417 Brandishing a Weapon
To draw a gun, wave or exhibit it about, or display it in a threatening manner is to "brandish" a firearm. This act is criminalized and penalized under Penal Code Section 417. Note that you don't have to have intended to actually use the gun or harm the victim to be guilty of PC 417. So long as the weapon was brandished in a "threatening manner." PC 417 can be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the specifics of the case. As a misdemeanor, it's punishable by 3 months to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. As a felony, PC 417 is punishable by 16 months to 3 years in state prison.
PC 26100 Drive by Shooting
If you discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle, often referred to as a "drive by shooting," under PC 26100 it can be either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the details of the case. You violate this law whether you are the owner or driver of the car and allow a passenger to shoot from the car, or if you are the one doing the shooting. As a felony, this charge is punishable by anywhere from 16 months to 7 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.
PC 245a Assault with a Firearm
An "assault" is the attempt, coupled with a present ability to carry that attempt out, to inflict physical injury on another person by any means. PC 245a deals with assaults involving the use of a firearm. Note that even if you fire a gun into a crowd without targeting a specific person, it can still be charged as assault with a firearm.
The penalty for PC 245a varies based, in part, on which type of weapons was used:
- If a machine gun or assault weapon was used, you can get 4 to 12 years in state prison.
- For semi-automatic pistols, PC 245a is punishable by 3 to 9 years in state prison.
- For all other firearm types, PC 245a can be a misdemeanor, punishable by 6 to 12 years in jail or a felony, punishable by 2 to 4 years in prison.
PC 246 Shooting at Inhabited or Occupied Buildings/Vehicles
To shoot at a building or vehicle where someone lives (even if they're not home at the time) or where someone is located at the moment, is a felony offense under PC 246. PC 246 is punishable by 3 to 7 years in state prison. Also, PC 247 covers the same ground as PC 246 but applied to uninhabited and unoccupied dwellings and vehicles. It is punishable by up to 3 years in state prison if charged as a felony.
PC 246.3 Gross Negligent Discharge of a Firearm
Under PC 246.3, it is a crime to discharge a firearm (or a BB gun with CO2 canisters & ball bearings) in such a manner as might likely cause the injury or death of another person. The discharge of the gun must have been willful, not accidental, and the level of negligence must be "gross" rather than just "ordinary."
Firearm Sentencing Enhancements
In California, there are not only specific gun crimes, there are also special sentencing enhancements that can increase the penalty of other crimes if a gun was used to commit them. Under PC 12022 & PC 12022.5, you can get from 1 to 10 additional years of incarceration added to your sentence if you were personally armed with a firearm when you committed the underlying offense.
If a generally banned firearm type was used or other aggravating circumstances exist, the enhancement will be on the high side. And if you violate another California gun law, say illegal felon gun possession, plus a felony crime with firearm enhancement, you can be convicted of both offenses resulting in a very severe total sentence. California's firearm enhancements underscore the importance of having a skilled weapons charges defense attorney fighting on your side.
PC 12022.53 Gun Use Enhancement
Under PC 12022.53, if you commit murder, armed robbery, rape, carjacking, kidnapping, sex crimes, or other serious felonies AND have a gun with you at the time, you can get 10 years added to your sentence. If you fired the gun, you can get 20 years added. If you killed or seriously injured someone with the gun when you fired it, you can get 25 years to life added to the sentence. This is called the "Use a gun and you're done" law or the "10-20-life statute."
PC 12022.2 Armor-piercing Ammo / Bullet-proof Vest
If you commit a felony (any felony) while in possession of armor/metal piercing ammo and you used a firearm to commit the crime, 3 to 10 years can be added to the sentence. If you commit a felony with a gun and you are wearing a bullet proof vest, 1 to 5 years will be added to the sentence.
PC 12022.3 Sex Crime + Firearm Enhancement
If you use a firearm to commit a sex crime, be it rape or another serious sex crime, you can get 3 to 10 extra years in prison. If you are armed with a firearm but don't "use" it to commit the crime, 1 to 5 years will be added.
PC 12022.4 Aiding/abetting a Felony with a Firearm
If you do not actually commit a felony crime, but you provide a gun to another person who does, you will still be found guilty of aiding and abetting a felony. And because you helped them commit a gun crime, a firearm enhancement of 1 to 3 years can be added to your sentence.
Defending Against Weapons Charges in California
At Leah Legal, we have extensive knowledge and experience in building effective defense strategies against any and all California weapons charges or sentencing enhancements.
Some of the most common defenses we use are:
- You were legally allowed to possess and/or carry a firearm while concealing it. You did not lose your gun rights in the past and you had a valid conceal carry license.
- Defense of self or others. You only carried a firearm or used it to defend yourself or another person against imminent threat of bodily injury or death. You used only so much force as was necessary to avert the danger.
- You are not guilty of "assault." You may have possessed a firearm but you were not in a possession to use it to harm anyone or you made no attempt or threat to do so.
- Lack of knowledge. You were not even aware the gun was on you (it may have been planted), or you were not aware it was loaded.
- Police misconduct. An illegal search/seizure resulted in the discovery of the firearm, or other police misconduct occurred that violated your rights. In this case, we may be able to get evidence suppressed and force a dismissal of your case.
Contact Us Today for Help!
At Leah Legal, we have full knowledge of the scope and depth of California weapons laws, and we also have extensive experience in handling and winning all manner of criminal defense cases that involve a charge related to firearms or other weapons.
We will know how to build you a solid defense and win the best possible outcome to your case, be that a dismissal, acquittal, or a reduced charge/sentence. Contact our criminal defense attorney today, or anytime 24/7/365, for a free legal consultation and immediate attention to your case! Just call us at 818-484-1100, and we're here to help!