Gun laws in California
The gun laws of California are some of the most restrictive in the United States. A Firearm Safety Certificate, obtained by passing a written test, is required for gun purchases. Handguns sold by dealers must be "California legal" by being listed on the state's Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale. This roster, which requires handgun manufacturers to pay a fee and submit specific models for safety testing, has become progressively more stringent over time and is currently the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit on the basis that it is a de facto ban on new handgun models. Private sales of firearms must be done through a licensed dealer. All firearm sales are recorded by the state, and have a ten-day waiting period. Unlike most other states, California has no provision in its state constitution that explicitly guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms.[not in citation given] The California Supreme Court has maintained that most of California's restrictive gun laws are constitutional, based on the fact that the state's constitution does not explicitly guarantee private citizens the right to purchase, possess, or carry firearms. However, U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010) established that the Second Amendment applies to all states within the Union, and many of California's gun laws are now being challenged in the federal courts.
California Penal Code §12031 defines what constitutes a loaded weapon.
Semi-automatic firearms that the state has classified as assault weapons; .50 BMG caliber rifles; and high-capacity magazines (magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition) may not be sold in California. Possession of automatic firearms, and of short-barreled shotguns and rifles, is generally prohibited.
California is a "may issue" state for permits to carry concealed guns. The willingness of issuing authorities in California ranges from No Issue in most urban areas to Shall Issue in rural counties. Additionally, the issuing authority can also impose restrictions on the CCW permit-holder, such as limiting concealed carry only to the purposes listed on the approved CCW permit application. However, concealed carry permits are valid statewide, regardless of where they were issued. This creates a situation where residents in presumptively No Issue locations such as Los Angeles and San Francisco cannot lawfully carry a concealed firearm, but residents from other counties with more permissive CCW issuance policies can lawfully carry within these same jurisdictions. California does not recognize concealed carry permits issued by other states, and non-residents are generally forbidden from obtaining a California concealed carry permit.
California has state preemption for many, but not all, firearms laws. Actual enforcement of California's firearms laws also varies widely across the state. Urban areas, such as the San Francisco and Los Angeles metropolitan areas strictly enforce firearms laws, and some communities within these areas have passed local ordinances that make legally owning a firearm difficult. Meanwhile, some rural jurisdictions narrowly enforce the same firearms laws by prosecuting only those who demonstrate malicious intent, or not enforcing portions of the state's firearms laws at all. The California Highway Patrol strictly enforces state firearms law anywhere in California.
- 1 Summary table
- 2 State Constitutional Provisions
- 3 Preemption
- 4 Firearm sales
- 5 Concealed carry
- 6 Open carry
- 7 Transportation
- 8 Child safety
- 9 NFA firearms
- 10 Assault weapons
- 11 Other laws
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
|Subject/Law||Long guns||Handguns||Relevant Statutes||Notes|
|State permit to purchase?||Yes||Yes||§26500, §12071, §12082||All firearm sales must be completed through a dealer. Firearm purchases require a Firearm Safety Certificate and proof of residency unless the individual purchasing the firearm is active duty military or a peace officer under Penal Code Section 830. Military reservists must provide proof of residency in order to purchase a firearm.|
|Firearm registration?||No*||No*||§12025 and §12031||*While there is no comprehensive system of firearms registration in California, the California Department of Justice ("DOJ") retains information about the purchaser and seller of all in-state firearm sales and transfers, and requires that any firearms imported into the state be reported to the DOJ. All handgun serial numbers and sales are recorded by the state in the Department of Justice's Automated Firearms System. While there is no requirement for California residents to register previously owned handguns or firearms with law enforcement, §12025 and §12031 enhance several misdemeanor offenses to felonies if the handgun is not on file in the Department of Justice's Automated Firearms System. New residents must register handguns (purchased outside of California) with DOJ within 60 days. As of January 1, 2014 Long gun serial numbers are now recorded, where as previously only the sale was recorded. However, it is not required that long gun owners register their firearms and it is not a crime to be in possession of an un-registered firearm.|
|Owner license required?||No||No||None|
|Assault weapon law?||Yes||Yes||§12280, §12285||Illegal to possess, import, or purchase assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles, unless such weapons were acquired by the owner prior to June 1, 1989. While California's Assault Weapons Ban does allow individuals to obtain, transport or possess banned weapons with permission from the DOJ, the DOJ generally does not grant such permission to ordinary citizens. Legally defined assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles listed by make and model by the DOJ must be registered. Their sale and transfer is prohibited. Military look-alike rifles that are not chambered for .50 BMG and are not on the DOJ roster are legal to purchase or possess, with some restrictions in configuration – known as "banned features". Active-duty military members residing out of state and assigned to duty in California may bring personally-owned assault weapons into the state. The military member's residence must be in a state that permits private citizens to own and possess assault weapons, and the firearms must be registered with the California Department of Justice prior to the servicemember's arrival in California by submitting the registration form with a copy of the member's Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders and an authorization letter from the installation commander.|
|Magazine capacity restriction?||Yes||Yes||§32310||
Section 32310 of the Penal Code states: "commencing January 1, 2000, any person in this state who manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, buys, or receives any large-capacity magazine is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment". Thus, the offenses listed can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor. The section continues further by explaining that: "'manufacturing' includes both fabricating a magazine and assembling a magazine from a combination of parts, including, but not limited to, the body, spring, follower, and floor plate or end plate, to be a fully functioning large-capacity magazine". Until January 1, 2014, it was only a crime to "manufacture, import, keep for sale, offer or expose for sale, or give or lend any large-capacity magazine". Assembly Bill 48 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 11, 2013 and expanded previous prohibitions by making it illegal to buy or receive a large-capacity magazine or magazine rebuild kit. Peace officers (under Penal Code Section 830) and "person licensed pursuant to [CA Penal Code] Sections 26700 to 26915" are exempt this prohibition on the purchase and sale of large-capacity magazines for personal use. However, federal law enforcement officers are not exempt and must obtain large-capacity magazines through their agency. It is noteworthy that mere possession of a large-capacity magazine is not, in and of itself, a violation of the California Penal Code. That said, the City of Sunnyvale (Chapter 9.44 of the Sunnyvale Municipal Code) and the City and County of San Francisco (Article 9, Section 619 of the San Francisco Police Code) have enacted ordinances that make mere possession of large-capacity magazines a misdemeanor offense within their respective city limits. The Los Angeles City Council has passed a resolution stating they want to draft an ordinance similar to those in Sunnyvale and San Francisco but no actual ordinance has been passed.
|Carry permits issued?||Yes||Yes||§12050||May issue, depending on jurisdiction. County sheriff's or local Police Chief's discretion, many counties are de facto "no-issue", while others are "shall-issue" in practice. CCW permits valid statewide. Out-of-state permits not valid in California. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled California's may-issue law unconstitutional in February 2014, but has allowed the law to remain in effect pending further appeals. Some counties that have historically been very restrictive in issuing CCW permits have implemented shall-issue policies for granting CCW permits in the wake of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, while other counties with restrictive policies have opted to continue operating under the existing discretionary criteria until a court order is issued that eliminates the requirement for applicants to show "good cause" for a CCW permit. A few counties have stopped processing CCW permits altogether and are awaiting a final ruling from the courts before they resume processing applications.|
|Open carry?||Partial||Partial||§26350||Long guns may be carried in unincorporated rural areas where open carry is permitted by local ordinance. In a county with a population of less than 200,000 residents, a permit to carry a handgun "loaded and exposed" may be issued by the county sheriff. A person may also open carry if he or she "reasonably believes that any person or the property of any person is in immediate, grave danger and that the carrying of the weapon is necessary for the preservation of that person or property." One can expect to be detained and questioned by law enforcement in most urban areas if using the latter rationale as the basis for openly carrying a firearm in public.|
|State preemption of local restrictions?||Yes||Yes||§53701 GC||Most but not all local restrictions preempted.|
|Castle doctrine law?||Yes||Yes||California never requires a duty to retreat whether in your own home or not. The state acknowledges a legal presumption that an intruder poses a deadly threat if in your own home or property that is owned and controlled by yourself.|
|NFA weapons restricted?||Yes||Yes||§12220, §12020, §12020||Possession of automatic weapons or short-barreled shotguns or rifles prohibited without DOJ "Dangerous Weapons Permit"; permission rarely granted outside of film industry. Suppressors (aka silencers) prohibited. Destructive devices are prohibited unless are designated as curios & relics, in which case a collectors permit can be obtained. The only AOWs that are permitted are smoothbore pistols and firearms with a combination of a smoothbore and rifle barrel.|
|Peaceable journey laws?||No||No||California courts have ruled that large capacity magazines (LCM) that are disassembled or LCM parts are legal to possess. Otherwise federal rules are observed.|
|Waiting period?||Yes||Yes||§26815(a), §26950-27140, §27540(a), §27600-27750||California has a ten (10) day waiting period for all firearm purchases, transfers, and private sales which must be conducted through a federal and state firearm license holder. That is, upon purchase, the purchaser must wait 10 days after the purchase before the firearm is released to the owner.
On August 25, 2014, the California’s 10-day waiting period for gun purchases was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California which found that "the 10-day waiting periods of Penal Code [sections 26815(a) and 27540(a)] violate the Second Amendment" as applied to members of certain classifications (notably holders of concealed carry permits) and "burdens the Second Amendment rights of the Plaintiffs". The ruling is currently under appeal.
|Background checks required for private sales?||Yes||Yes||Cal. § 27545||Private party transfers of firearms must be conducted though a licensed dealer, who is required by federal law to conduct a background check and keep a record of the sale.|
State Constitutional Provisions
The Constitution of California does not contain a provision explicitly guaranteeing an individual right to keep and bear arms. Article 1, Section 1, of the California Constitution implies a right to self-defense (without specifically mentioning a right to keep and bear arms) and defense of property, by stating, "All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy."
California law (§53071 GC) restricts county and city authorities from enacting firearm regulations. This provides for uniform firearm laws and prevents situations found in other states (such as New York) where traveling with an otherwise legal firearm could put a citizen at risk of violating local city ordinances.
Because of their inability to regulate firearms directly, some cities, such as Los Angeles, have prohibited residents from possessing a handgun or rifle magazine that fit more than 10 rounds, require firearms be stored in locked containers or with trigger locks installed when not in use, and have enacted ammunition regulations. Many jurisdictions have enacted ordinances restricting or banning the discharge of firearms within their boundaries.
Due to one of California’s earliest gun-control bills passed in 1923, gun sellers may not advertise the sale of handguns on their property.
The buyer of a firearm must fill out an application to purchase a particular gun. The firearms dealer electronically submits the application to the California Department of Justice (DOJ), which performs a background check on the buyer. The approved application is valid for 30 days. There is a 10-day waiting period for the delivery of any firearm. The buyer must pick up the firearm within 30 days of the original submission of paperwork (if approved), or he or she will have to have a dealer resubmit the paperwork and another 10-day waiting period starts.
Sales of firearms from one person to another (private party transfers) must be through a licensed firearms dealer using a Private Party Transfer form. The licensed dealer may charge a $10 fee, in addition to the $25 transfer fee that the state charges. Any number of firearms may be transferred at one time using this method. The dealer submits a Dealer's Record of Sale (DROS) form to the state, and the purchaser must wait 10 days before picking up the guns. Federally defined curio or relic long guns over 50 years old may be sold without going through a licensed dealer.
Handgun purchases, except for private party transfers and Certificate of Eligibility (COE) holders, are limited to one per 30-day period. To purchase a handgun, a buyer must have a Handgun Safety Certificate. This is obtained by passing a written test, given by a Department of Justice certified instructor, on the safe and legal use of handguns. The certificate is valid for five years. A buyer must also perform a Safe Handling Demonstration when taking possession of a handgun. Some individuals are exempt from the Safety Certificate and Handling Demonstration requirements, including active and retired military and law enforcement personnel, hunter safety certificate holders, and concealed carry license holders.
Effective January 1, 2015, the Handgun Safety Certificate program was replaced with the Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) program. Under the FSC program, requirements that previously applied to handguns only now apply to all firearms (handguns and long guns), unless exempt. A valid Handgun Safety Certificate can still be used to purchase/acquire handguns only until it expires. For long gun purchases/acquisitions made January 1, 2015, and thereafter, an FSC will be required. Once an FSC is obtained, it can be used for both handgun and long gun purchases/acquisitions.
Residents of California purchasing long guns in other states are subject to the same requirements as for purchasing firearms in-state, if the buyer returns to California with the weapons in possession. For example, a California resident who purchases a long gun in Nevada would be required to go through a registered FFL in Nevada to have the weapon shipped to an FFL in California, who would then complete the DROS and administer the 10-day waiting period. However, a California resident would not be subject to California law for long guns purchased out-of-state and are never brought into California. In other words, a California resident who purchases a long gun in Nevada, for example, and stores the weapon at the home of a family member or friend in Nevada, would not be violating California law, as long the weapon never enters the state. The California Department of Justice has been known to conduct sting operations by sending undercover agents to gun stores and gun shows in neighboring states to observe California residents purchasing firearms at such venues, and then tracking buyers back into California, where they are then arrested and prosecuted.
Roster of handguns certified for sale
Dealers may not sell any new handgun unless it is listed in the state Department of Justice roster of handguns certified for sale. Listed handguns must include certain mechanical features and pass a set of laboratory tests. Private party transfers, curio/relic handguns, certain single-action revolvers, and pawn/consignment returns are exempt from this requirement. Sale to law enforcement personnel are exempt from list restrictions.
On May 17, 2013, the state attorney general began enforcing a new law requiring that semi-automatic pistols incorporate microstamping. With this technology, very small markings are engraved, using a laser, on the tip of the firing pin and on the breechface of the firearm. When the gun is fired, these etchings may be transferred to the primer by the firing pin, and to the cartridge case head by the breechface, using the pressure created when a round is fired. If successful, this imprints two identifying numbers, unique to that gun, on each spent cartridge casing. This requirement applies to new guns being added to the California Department of Justice's roster of handguns certified for sale; semi-automatic handgun models already listed on the roster are not required to incorporate microstamping. Note of interest- this law was passed in 2007 and the wording in the law stated that it shall become effective when there are at least two companies, unencumbered by a patent, employing this technology. To date, no manufacturer offers this technology in firearms available to the public.
California is a "may issue" state for concealed carry. A license to carry a concealed firearm may be issued or denied to qualified applicants at the discretion of a county's sheriff or an incorporated city's chief of police in their place of residence. Residents of incorporated cities and towns have the option to apply for a concealed carry license through their local police department or through the sheriff's office in their county of residence. Applicants must generally be residents of the jurisdiction in which the permit application is filed. The only exception to this is for non-resident applicants with a bona-fide place of business in the jurisdiction where the permit application is filed, in which case the permit is valid only in that jurisdiction. In practice, the attitudes of different sheriffs and police chiefs toward the issuance of permits vary widely and, consequentially, different jurisdictions in California can vary anywhere from de facto shall-issue to de facto no-issue. A permit may be issued, by a county Sheriff or city Chief or head of municipal police, in one of two formats:
- A license to carry concealed a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.
- Where the population of the county is less than 200,000 persons according to the most recent federal decennial census, a license to carry loaded and exposed in that county a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person."
California does not recognize any concealed carry permits issued by other states or their political subdivisions. With exceptions for nonresident Active Duty military members permanently stationed within California, state law generally forbids nonresidents from obtaining a California CCW permit. As of September 2011, there were around 35,000 active concealed carry permits in California, compared to a total population of 39 million.
California law provides that the Sheriff of a county or a city Police Chief may issue a license to carry a concealed weapon upon proof that the person applying is of "good moral character" and that "good cause" exists for the issuance. While it is generally believed to be extremely difficult to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon (CCW) in California, the difficulty varies greatly by city and county of residence. In most rural counties, qualified applicants are usually successful in obtaining a license, while some cities and counties, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, are extremely restrictive in what they perceive to be good cause, such as a clear and immediate threat on the applicant's life that cannot be avoided or mitigated by other means. There are also jurisdictions with "moderately restrictive" policies, where an applicant must show circumstances that demonstrate a need for a permit above that for the general populace, such as residing or conducting lawful business in high-crime areas, where a general risk of victimization exists even if no specific threat has been identified. Some jurisdictions have established additional local requirements the applicant must meet before the issuing authority grants a CCW permit. For example, the counties of Alameda and Monterey require applicants to obtain a mental health assessment at the applicant's expense as part of each county's permit application process.
In some of the more restrictive cities and counties, licenses tend to be issued mainly to "Friends of the Sheriff" (or Police Chief), celebrities and campaign donors. Some of these departments are now being challenged in Federal Lawsuits, under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Some argue that the California system for CCW issuance fosters political corruption and systematic discrimination of applicants, as it has been publicized that numerous celebrities, government officials, and campaign donors have been issued CCW licenses in cities and counties where the general public have been consistently denied. CCW issuance is also extremely low in areas where the population has a high concentration of minorities and minority applicants are more frequently denied, causing some to allege institutional racism.
Carrying a concealed firearm without a permit is a misdemeanor with a minimum penalty of 90 days in jail. It may be prosecuted as a felony if any one of over a dozen specific circumstances exist, such as carry by a felon, carry in relation to gang activity, carry with the intent to commit a violent crime, etc.
Peruta v. San Diego
On February 13, 2014, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court, in the case of Peruta v. San Diego, ruled that California's may-issue concealed carry rules as implemented by the County of San Diego, in combination with its ban on open carry in most areas of the state, violate the Second Amendment, because they together deny law-abiding citizens the right to bear arms in public for the lawful purpose of self-defense.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department issued a press release dated February 21, 2014 stating it will not seek review of the decision by the entire membership of judges sitting in the Ninth Circuit, and "Should the decision of the Ninth Circuit become final, the Sheriff's Department will begin to issue CCW's in situations where the applicant has met all other lawful qualifications and has requested a CCW for purposes of self-defense." This paves the way for California's may-issue law to be replaced with a shall-issue law.
On February 27, 2014 California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a petition for en-banc review of the decision. As the state was not a formal party of the case, her action is not an appeal, but merely a request that the full court re-hear the case en-banc on its own initiative. However, the petition filed was denied by the Ninth Circuit on November 12, 2014. However, Chief Judge Thomas of the Ninth Circuit ordered on March 26, 2015 that the case be reheard en banc. The en banc oral arguments were heard on June 16, 2015. On June 9, 2016, the Ninth Circuit reversed its prior decision and ruled that "The right of a member of the general public to carry a concealed firearm in public is not, and never has been, protected by the Second Amendment." The court's ruling did not address open carry in public, leaving that issue open to potential future litigation.
Open carry in California is governed by a set of laws that, at times, conflict with one another. This has created significant confusion over the legality of open carry in California. Open carry of loaded or unloaded firearms in public is generally prohibited, although open carry may be allowed in unincorporated rural areas under certain circumstances.
Personal possession (i.e., carry) of a loaded firearm is prohibited in incorporated areas (such as inside city limits) or prohibited areas of unincorporated territory without a license to carry or other exemption provided for by law. A license to carry "loaded and exposed" may be issued by a Police Chief or County Sheriff in a county with population of less than 200,000 persons at the last census. No license or permit is required to openly carry a loaded firearm in unincorporated areas where discharge is not prohibited by local ordinance. Additionally, state law allows open carry in situations where one "reasonably believes that any person or the property of any person is in immediate, grave danger and that the carrying of the weapon is necessary for the preservation of that person or property." However, one using this rationale as the basis for openly carrying a firearm can expect to be detained and questioned by law enforcement (and possibly arrested and charged with unlawful carrying of a firearm if the officer does not believe that open carry is sufficiently justified), especially in more densely-populated areas.
California Penal Code §12031 defines what constitutes a loaded weapon). For Penal Code to have validity, all following must apply to the case.
A firearm is "loaded" when there is:
an unexpended cartridge or shell, consisting of a case that holds a charge of powder and a bullet or shot, in, or attached in any manner to, the firearm…including, but not limited to, in the firing chamber, magazine, or clip thereof attached to the firearm.. Therefore, carrying a loaded magazine separate from the handgun is NOT Prohibited under the CA Penal Code. As long as the loaded magazine is not inserted into the gun, you are carrying/transporting an unloaded weapon.
e.g. Ammunition and handgun are in the same box but the handgun does not have a loaded magazine inserted, nor a round in the chamber.
In the case of People v. Clark (1996) a shotgun shell attached to the shotgun (e.g. "side-saddle"), although not chambered or placed in a position where it was able to be fired, was declared to be legal under California law and the charge of having a loaded firearm against Clark was dismissed.
Prior to January 1, 2012, it was legal to openly carry an unloaded handgun in public. In October 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that modifies the law on openly carrying an unloaded firearm to match the restrictions for openly carrying a loaded weapon. Legislation was later signed by Governor Brown to expand these restrictions to long guns and shotguns, except while hunting.
When being transported, handguns must be unloaded and in a locked fully enclosed container other than the glove box or any console attached to the vehicle. The trunk of a car is considered to be a locked container but a glove box or "utility box" is specifically forbidden. If one believes he or she is within a "gun-free school zone" (area surrounding 1,000 feet from the edge of school grounds which teaches any grade from kindergarten to 12th grade) then the handgun must be locked in a fully enclosed container. Failure to lock up a handgun while in a school zone is a violation of federal (only if one does not possess a concealed weapons permit issued by California) and state law.
Long guns (rifles, shotguns) must be unloaded when transported in a vehicle. There is no requirement for a locked container with the exception of long guns considered to be "assault weapons". Federal law requires locking containers when inside of a "gun-free school zone." In U.S. v. Lopez the Supreme Court ruled the federal Gun-Free School Zone Act was an unconstitutional exercise of Congress's power under the commerce clause. However, in 1996 Congress passed an amendment to the law requiring the gun to have traveled in interstate commerce, thereby voiding the effect of the ruling.
Assault weapons, as defined by California law, must always be transported in locked containers and may only be transported under certain circumstances
Traveling into California for purposes of competition
PC§ 30665. Possession and Importation of Assault Weapon or .50 BMG Rifle Into State by Nonresident; Conditions Permitting Sections 30600, 30605, and 30610 shall not apply to the possession and importation of an assault weapon or a .50 BMG rifle into this state by a nonresident if all of the following conditions are met: (a) The person is attending or going directly to or coming directly from an organized competitive match or league competition that involves the use of an assault weapon or a .50 BMG rifle. (b) The competition or match is conducted on the premises of one of the following: (1) A target range that holds a regulatory or business license for the purpose of practicing shooting at that target range. (2) A target range of a public or private club or organization that is organized for the purpose of practicing shooting at targets. (c) The match or competition is sponsored by, conducted under the auspices of, or approved by, a law enforcement agency or a nationally or state recognized entity that fosters proficiency in, or promotes education about, firearms. (d) The assault weapon or .50 BMG rifle is transported in accordance with Section 25610 or Article 3 (commencing with Section 25505) of Chapter 2 of Division 5. (e) The person is 18 years of age or over and is not in a class of persons prohibited from possessing firearms by virtue of Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 29800) or Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 29900) of Division 9 of this code or Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. (Added by Stats. 2010, SB 1080, Ch. 711, Sec. 6. Operative January 1, 2012.)
Firearms must be kept locked up when children may be present. The 2008 California Dangerous Weapons Control Law modified California Penal Code §12035 defining criminal storage of a firearm as keeping "any loaded firearm within any premises that are under his or her custody or control and he or she knows or reasonably should know that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm." A person may be charged with a crime, if he or she keeps a loaded firearm, and the child takes the firearm to a public place or causes injury.
It is illegal to possess an automatic firearm or a short-barreled shotgun or rifle without permission from the DOJ; such permission is generally not granted. Enforcement of the ban varies throughout the state. Authorities in most urban areas will prosecute someone for merely possessing a prohibited firearm regardless of intent, whereas county sheriffs and local police in some rural counties have either refused to enforce the ban or to only prosecute those in possession of banned weapons who demonstrate malicious intent. The California Highway Patrol strictly enforces the ban and will arrest anyone regardless of where in the state the violation occurs.
Since 1989, it is illegal to sell a firearm that the state has defined as an assault weapon and that has been listed in the California Department of Justice (DOJ) roster of prohibited firearms. This includes many military look-alike semi-automatic rifles and .50 caliber BMG rifles. DOJ roster firearms may be legally possessed if registered with the state prior to January 2005. Military look-alike firearms that are not listed on the DOJ roster of prohibited firearms, known as "off-list lowers," are legal* to own and possess as long as state laws concerning configuration are followed. It is illegal to import, sell, give, trade, or lend a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition, except for fixed tubular magazines for lever-action rifles and .22 caliber rifles; however, the possession of such magazines is legal. *Technically these "off-list" lowers are Category 2 assault weapons under current California law. However, in the 2001 case Harrott v. County of Kings (25 P.3d 649 (Cal. 2001), the Category 2 assault weapon law was ruled unenforceable.
Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989
The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA), its augmentation in 1999, and the .50 Caliber BMG Regulation Act of 2004 have led to many restrictions on semi-automatic firearms. In addition to a list of specific firearms that are banned by name, the following firearms are banned by characteristic (from Penal Code §12276.1):
- (1) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
- (A) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.
- (B) A thumbhole stock.
- (C) A folding or telescoping stock.
- (D) A grenade launcher or flare launcher.
- (E) A flash suppressor.
- (F) A forward pistol grip.
- (2) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
- (3) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches [762 mm].
- (4) A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
- (A) A threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip.
- (B) A second handgrip.
- (C) A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that allows the bearer to fire the weapon without burning his or her hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel.
- (D) The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip.
- (5) A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
- (6) A semiautomatic shotgun that has both of the following:
- (A) A folding or telescoping stock.
- (B) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, thumbhole stock, or vertical handgrip.
- (7) A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine.
- (8) Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder.
In addition, (Penal Code §12001.5) bans, by definition, short-barreled shotguns and short-barreled rifles. Defined in Penal Code §12020; a short-barreled shotgun is defined as a firearm (designed, redesigned, or altered) to fire a fixed shotgun shell and has a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches. A short-barreled rifle is defined as a semiautomatic, center fire rifle with a barrel length of less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches.
Interesting note- While a Rossi Circuit Judge (18" barrel) is considered a shotgun with a revolving cylinder (violation of #8 above), the CA DOJ claims it is legal because it has a rifled barreled. However, the Taurus Judge handgun is considered a "short-barreled shotgun" and therefore illegal in CA, even though it fires the same shot shell as the Circuit Judge, as well as has a rifled barrel. Conversely, there are many revolvers that fire shot shells made in different calibers (e.g. 22, 9mm, 38, etc.) mostly used to shoot birds or snakes. Even though these handguns, with less that 18" barrels, fire shot shells, like the The Judge, they are legal in California.
Methods of obtaining particular styles of firearms similar to assault weapons have been achieved by design changes by gun parts manufacturers to allow a person to obtain a style of rifle used in sport shooting and competitions. One of the most common modifications is a "bullet button", which modifies a rifle so that the magazine is not removable without the use of a tool (a bullet was defined as a tool per state law), which presses a button that a finger alone cannot press. Weapons with this feature no longer have a "detachable magazine" within the assault weapons definition, and therefore may be exempt depending on the other requirements. As certain portions of firearms (the lower receiver, or "lower" for short, which is legally considered to be the firearm) are banned by model name under California state law, multiple requirements are made to allow a rifle to comply under state law.
It is under these exceptions that the weapons used in the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack  were legal when initially purchased, and subsequently illegally sold to the perpetrators. The perpetrators subsequently illegally altered these exempt weapons in ways that violated other provisions of the California law, by enabling the DPMS Panther Arms AR-15 rifle to use a high-capacity magazine and modifying the Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle.
California's assault weapons ban has a provision for an individual to seek approval from the state DOJ to acquire, transport and possess a firearm that meets the state's prohibited firearm criteria, although such approval is generally not granted unless the applicant qualifies under a limited set of exceptions:
- Individuals who owned listed assault weapons before the 1989 assault weapons ban went into effect are allowed to keep such firearms; owners were required to register such weapons with the California DOJ by a deadline established in the assault weapons ban legislation.
- Non-resident, active duty military members who bring their firearms into California when permanently assigned to a military installation within the state. Prior to arrival, the military member must submit a registration form and a copy of his or her assignment orders and an authorization letter from the installation commander to the DOJ, and the firearm(s) in question are legal to obtain and possess in his or her home state.
- Resident police officers in California may own listed assault weapons with permission of their police chief and the DOJ. As of 2011[update], police officers may keep their assault weapons and high capacity magazines after retirement or separation from the force. No permission is needed for police to purchase and possess magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition, but they must present proof of their active law enforcement affiliation.
- Firearms that would have been classified as assault weapons but are used for Olympic and International competitions are exempt. There is a list of the exempt firearms, and new firearms can be added to the list if needed by USA Shooting, the governing body for Olympic and International Shooting Sport competition.
- Assault weapons being imported into California for sale and delivery to a federal, state or local governmental agency for use by employees of such agencies to perform official duties.
- Assault weapons intended for use in the film industry are allowed, with approval from the DOJ.
Nonresidents transporting assault weapons through California
There are protections under the federal Firearm Owners Protection Act for nonresidents traveling through California with firearms that meet the state's assault weapon criteria. First, the weapon must be legal for the traveler to own under federal law and under the laws of his or her home state and the state of destination. Additionally, the weapon in question must be unloaded with the firearm and ammunition locked in separate cases and placed in an area of the vehicle that is not easily accessible, such as the trunk of a car or bed of a truck. Finally, the traveler should traverse the state by the shortest route and make the minimum number of stops practicable.
There are also numerous other laws, such as prohibition on possession of tracer ammunition, handgun armor-piercing ammunition, .50 BMG rifles, and the sale or transfer of magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. All rifles are normally exempt for the original owner if properly registered at the time of the acts which prohibited them.
In addition, the law states that any weapon that is part of the AR-15 series or AK series is also an assault weapon, regardless of manufacturer; this dates back to 1989 ban, and was confirmed in the Kasler v. Lockyer decision, filed 6/29/2000. However, the California Supreme Court declared the identification of assault weapon by series membership to be too dubious and difficult for the average citizen or even trial court to make without specific and clear model identification guidelines. The court thus set some specific requirements for the "series" identification portion of the law in their ruling of Harrott v. County of Kings, filed 6/28/2001. This decision required banned firearms to be specifically listed by make and model in California Code of Regulations (the "Kasler list"); it did not address assault weapons defined by features. Thus, only firearms specifically listed by exact combination of manufacturer and model name, or conforming to explicit exterior characteristics (such as a pistol grip or folding stock in combination with a detachable magazine) can be banned under current legislation.
Once it was realized the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) had not updated the "Kasler list" in the five years after the Harrott decision, many Californians found they could legally purchase and possess AR and AK rifles not yet officially identified as "series" members. As of February 2006, over 10,000 "off-list" receivers (frames) for such rifles have been legally imported to, and purchased within, California. The only requirement for these receivers are that the combination of make and model is not explicitly listed as banned, and as long as the owner does not add certain "characteristic features" turning the firearm into an assault weapon (i.e. pistol grip, flash suppressor, etc.). These characteristic features can be used, however, if a nondetachable 10-round (or less) magazine, conforming in the converse to the California Code of Regulations §5469, formerly §978.20, definition of detachable magazine, is affixed to such "off-list" rifles. These off-list rifles can also be used without a pistol grip, folding stock, or flash hider, in which case it is legal to own and use them with detachable magazines, including large capacity magazines. (California Code of Regulations §978.20 was changed without regulatory effect renumbering §978.20 to §5469 filed 6-28-2006)
The CA DOJ produced a report from the Ferranto Commission in response, intimating that this list will be updated in early 2006; as of December 2006, it had not done so. On February 1, 2006, the CA DOJ also issued a controversial memorandum about this subject; critics say the described actions are not founded or supported within statutory law in Penal Code §§12275–12290. This memo stated that once off-list "series" firearms are declared and registered as assault weapons, they will not be able to have characteristic features added or fixed magazines removed. This is being challenged by pro-gun groups, since there is no criminal violation in the California Penal Code for adding or changing features to a legally acquired, registered assault weapon.
On November 8, 2005, San Francisco voters enacted Proposition H, a total ban on the manufacture, sale, transfer or distribution of firearms or ammunition in San Francisco, as well as a ban on the possession of handguns within the city by San Francisco residents (excepting police officers, security guards and the like). The ban did not prohibit possession of weapons other than handguns, nor did it prohibit residents of other cities from possessing handguns in San Francisco. While this measure made San Francisco the third major U.S. city, following Washington, D.C. and Chicago, to enact a ban on handguns, San Francisco's ban extended further, not implementing a grandfather clause found in Chicago's and Washington D.C.'s laws that protected existing gun owners. Proposition H stated that handgun owners in San Francisco must turn over their handguns to the police by the end of March 2006, have them confiscated, or move outside the city limits. In June 2006, Judge James Warren of the San Francisco County Superior Court struck down Proposition H, asserting that under California law local officials do not have the authority to ban handgun ownership by law-abiding citizens. On January 9, 2008, a California appellate court upheld Judge Warren's decision. The National Rifle Association (NRA) opposed the ban from its inception.
In May 2013, the Los Angeles City Council voted to draft a law prohibiting the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, sparking lawsuit threats from two gun rights organizations. In November of the same year, the city of Sunnyvale passed a similar ordinance along with three other firearm related restrictions. The new ordinance requires city residents to "dispose, donate, or sell" any magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds within a proscribed period of time once the measure took effect. Measure C also requires:
- city residents to report firearm theft to the police within 48 hours,
- residents to lock up their guns at home, and
- gun dealers to keep logs of ammunition sales. The city of San Francisco then passed similar ordinances a short time later.
SB199 passed in August 2014 requires all fake guns to be painted in bright colors for safety reasons.
Bill 1014 that has passed the State Senate in September 2014 would allow the police to confiscate guns from high-risk individuals for a period of 21 days without a warrant or court order. On 30 September 2014, Governor Brown signed the law which is phased in through 1 January 2016. This makes California the fourth state (behind Connecticut, Indiana, and New York) to have a weapons seizure law.
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