FIND GUN LAWS BY STATE

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More

California Gun Laws

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Introduction

As it relates to all firearms, California is unique in its use of state-based preemption. California has used preemption to ensure the strictest of firearms regulation; it has even preempted regulation of ‘look-alike’ guns.

California has the largest population in the U.S. with over 38,000,000 residents. To the north, it shares a border with Oregon.  To the east (across the Colorado River), it borders with Nevada and Arizona. Its southern border is shared with Mexico, which generally prohibits private possession and carry of handguns. The balance of the state is coastal on the Pacific Ocean.

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A. State Constitution

California does not have a constitutional provision for the right to bear arms. California’s constitution can be accessed/reviewed in full online. [http://gunla.ws/ca1]

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B. Scope of Preemption

The controlling language of the California’s preemption statute is set forth as follows:

“It is the intention of the legislature to occupy the whole field of regulation of the registration or licensing of commercially manufactured firearms as encompassed by the provisions of the Penal Code, and such provisions shall be exclusive of all local regulations, relating to registration or licensing of commercially manufactured firearms, by any political subdivision as defined in Section 1721 of the Labor Code.”

However, despite this law, some localities in California (such as San Francisco and Los Angeles) have enacted ordinances regulating ammunition, magazines, gun stores, and some firearms.

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[http://gunla.ws/ca2]

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C. Reciprocal Carry

California does not recognize permits from any other state.

Recent Court Case: On 6/9/16 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s “may issue” policy which requires people applying for concealed carry permits to show “good cause” in order to obtain the permit, and grants local authorities discretion in deciding whether or not to issue them. In its decision, the court specifically said that the Second Amendment does not protect a right of the general public to carry concealed weapons.

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D. Criminal Provisions

Under California law, it is a crime to carry a concealed firearm, with limited exceptions:

“A person is guilty of carrying a concealed firearm when the person does any of the following: (1) Carries concealed within any vehicle that is under the person’s control or direction any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.  (2) Carries concealed upon the person any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.”

[http://gunla.ws/ca3]

The above provision does not apply to:

  • Any peace officer (listed in Penal Code 830.1 or 830.2)
  • Any other duly appointed peace officer
  • Any honorably retired peace officer (listed in Penal Code 830.5)
  • Any other honorably retired peace officer who, during the course and scope of employment as a peace officer, was authorized to, and did, carry a firearm
  • Any full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in California
  • Any person summoned by any of these officers to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while the person is actually engaged in assisting that officer.
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E. Firearm Safety Certificate

Individuals wishing to purchase any firearm are required to take and pass a written test on firearm safety.

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F. Storage of Firearms in Homes with Prohibited Persons

Any gun owner residing with an individual who is prohibited from owning firearms to either keep the firearm in a locked device or carry the firearm on his/her person. Firearm owners may be criminally liable for storage of a firearm in a place where it is reasonably knowable by a person prohibited from possessing firearms.

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G. Carrying Firearms in Vehicles

California allows people who are legally allowed to possess firearms but do not have a carry permit to carry them in their vehicle so long as the firearm is unloaded and sealed in a locked compartment such as the trunk, or in a locked container such as a safe. These restrictions do not apply to people who hold a valid carry permit. [http://gunla.ws/ca4]

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H. High Capacity Magazine Ban

California bans the sale, transfer, and possession of high-capacity magazines. High-capacity magazines are defined as magazines capable of holding more than ten (10) rounds. There are two exceptions to this: internal tube/helical magazines for .22 firearms and internal tube/helical magazines for lever action guns aren’t considered “high-capacity” magazines even if they can hold >10 rounds, and are therefore legal. Firearm owners are prohibited from using “conversion kits” to manufacture high-capacity ammunition magazines. This includes assembling the parts of the magazine. Firearms owners are also prohibited from importing, transferring or selling high-capacity magazines to people within CA, but can legally sell or transfer the magazines to someone outside of CA. Possession of high-capacity magazines is prohibited from a new law that took effect on 7/1/17. This new law completely bans the possession of all high-capacity magazines, with no grandfather exemption for magazines that were previously owned legally. Anyone in possession of a high-capacity magazine is required to dispose of them. There are four ways a person can legally dispose of these magazines: destroy them, surrender them to a law enforcement agency, sell them to a licensed FFL, or remove them from the state. Note that law enforcement agencies will not compensate You for the cost of any large capacity magazines surrendered to them, so selling the magazines out of state is the only way to recoup some of their value.

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I. Duty to Inform Officers

Some counties in California do not require individuals to inform a LEO of a permit or license to carry but if an Officer asks about a weapon, by law, an answer must be supplied.

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J. NFA Items

California permits ownership of all NFA items except for suppressors and pen guns (a type of AOW) provided they are legally obtained pursuant to federal law and additional regulations imposed by CA. A special permit from the CA DOJ is required to own a MG, and these are rarely granted. Short-barrel rifles and shotguns are only legal if they qualify as a Curio & Relic. In addition, NFA items must also comply with CA’s Assault Weapons Ban. [http://gunla.ws/8779]

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K. Waiting Period

California requires a ten (10) day waiting period before purchasing a firearm. This ten (10) day waiting period applies to all persons even if you have previously and/or recently purchased a firearm. There are a few exceptions (firearms dealers, those with special weapons permits, curio and relic collectors, and peace officers) as listed here [http://gunla.ws/ca10]. The California legislature may adopt new rules for the waiting period in future. [http://gunla.ws/9xif]

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L. Universal Background Checks

Background checks are mandatory for all firearm sales, and transfers between private parties must go through a licensed dealer. [http://gunla.ws/lxlx]

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M. Loans of Guns are Now Subject to Background Checks

A new law treats loaning a firearm to anyone other than immediate family (spouse, parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling) as a transfer, meaning that it would have to go through a licensed dealer and the recipient would have to undergo a background check and 10 day waiting period. This would make it a crime to let a friend shoot Your gun at the range or take it hunting unless they completed a background check and waiting period.

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N. Background Checks for Ammunition Sales

A new law requires all sales of ammunition to go through a licensed ammunition vendor, who would be required to conduct a background check on the purchaser and keep records of every sale of ammo for two years. Internet sales of ammunition would have to be sent to a licensed ammunition vendor and picked up in person, much like online sales of firearms. The requirement for all sales to go through vendors takes effect on 1/1/18, and the requirement for vendor record keeping and background checks takes effect on 7/1/19.

EXCEPTIONS to ammo restrictions:

Certain transactions will not be subject to the new restrictions, and will not have to go through a licensed dealer or background check. You can sell 50 rounds per month to immediate family members, or give (without compensation) any amount of ammunition to family or friends without having to follow the new restrictions.

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O. Penalty for Falsely Reporting a Gun as Stolen

It is now a misdemeanor to falsely report a gun as lost or stolen to the police when You know such report to be false.  Furthermore, anyone convicted of making such a false report is banned from owning guns for 10 years after being convicted.

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P. Mental Health Prohibitions

An individual who communicates to a licensed psychotherapist a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim is restricted from possessing a firearm for five (5) years following the psychotherapist’s reporting of the threat within 24 hours.

“A person is guilty of carrying a loaded firearm when the person carries a loaded firearm on the person or in a vehicle while in any public place or on any public street in an incorporated city or in any public place or on any public street in a prohibited area of unincorporated territory.”  Penal Code 25850(a). [http://gunla.ws/ca5]

Note: California defines permissible types of guns. Laws defining guns and which types are permissible within the state can be found online. [http://gunla.ws/30500]

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Q. Gun Restraining Orders

Family members can ask a judge to issue a temporary order seizing someone’s firearms for up to 21 days if the judge believes that person poses a danger to themselves or others.

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R. Self-defense Laws

California has a form of Castle Doctrine, but does not have SYG. According to California laws, the use of deadly force is justified when all four of the following conditions are met: (1) the use of deadly force is used against a person who is not a resident of the home; (2) the person using the deadly force in their home reasonably believed they or another person was in immediate danger of SBI or killed; (3) the person using the deadly force believed that it was the only way to stop that imminent danger; and (4) they used no more force than was necessary to stop the threat.

[http://gunla.ws/a1iu]

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S. Ban on .50 Caliber Rifles

Centerfire rifles chambered in the caliber .50 BMG are generally illegal to own, unless they were owned prior to 12/31/04 and registered by 4/30/06.

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T. Assault Weapons Ban

California has an extensive “Assault Weapons Ban” (AWB) which bans possession and sale of firearms that are deemed “assault weapons,” unless they are legally registered (see below). “Assault Weapons” are defined in two ways, either being specified by name, or by possessing certain features. California recently expanded their definition of an “assault weapon” to include all semi-automatic rifles having a pistol grip and a button to release a magazine. Assault weapons are divided into 3 categories: Category 1 are those that were named in the original AWB of ’89, Category 2 are those that were listed in the second AWB of ’99, and Category 3 are those that were defined based on features they possess.  Category 1 and 2 assault weapons are banned by name (i.e., AR15, AK47), and a complete list of them can be found at the hyperlink below. Category 3 defines “assault weapons” as semi auto centerfire guns capable of accepting a detachable magazine, that also possess one of the following features:

(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.

(G) A semi auto rifle with an overall length under 30”

Many manufacturers made special “California legal” rifles that avoided using prohibited features so as not to be considered Assault Weapons.  One main feature of CA legal assault weapons using an inset magazine release that required a tool to activate (generally the tip of a bullet) as opposed to a normal mag release, as this was not a detachable magazine and were therefore exempt from the AWB.  However, a new law taking effect on 7/1/17 puts an end to this by expanding the definition of assault weapons to include firearms with these “bullet buttons” as prohibited assault weapons.  Many “California Legal” rifles will be affected by this new law, and must either be registered as assault weapons or disposed of. All “assault weapons” must be registered prior to January 1, 2018. Assault weapons not registered prior to January 1, 2018 must be turned in to local law enforcement for destruction.  [http://gunla.ws/ca7] & [http://gunla.ws/ca8]

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U. Registering Assault Weapons

There is a way to legally own firearms classified as “Assault Weapons” in California, and that is if they were registered with the state prior to a certain date.  California generally does not allow You to register new Assault Weapons, so only those that were registered at the appropriate time were grandfathered in.  The period during which Assault Weapons could have been registered are as follows:

  • Category 1 AW: must have been owned by 12/31/1991 and registered by 03/31/1992
  • Category 2 AW: must have been owned by 08/16/2000 and registered by 01/23/2001
  • Category 3 AW: must have been owned by 12/31/1999 and registered by 12/31/2000

Note that registration only allows You to retain possession of a firearm You already owned, You may not sell or transfer an assault weapon to any other CA resident even if it is registered.  Also note that registered Category 3 Assault Weapons can be delisted as assault weapons (and therefore legally transferred) if they are modified to remove the prohibited features and comply with the AWB.

Registration will be opened again for “California Legal” rifles that will be affected by the newest ban on assault weapons.  These firearms that will now be classified as assault weapons must have been owned before 12/31/16 and must be registered before 1/1/18 in order to remain legal. There is a $20 fee to register them.

For a list of places where carrying firearms is prohibited, see:

[http://gunla.ws/ca9]

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V. Do “No Gun Signs” Have the Force of Law?

No. “No Firearm” signs in California do not have the force of law unless they are posted on property that is specifically mentioned in State Law as being off limits to those with a permit/license to carry. However, as a possessor with a real property interest, a retailer, has the right to limit, and qualify the right to enter the property, subject to not carrying a handgun. It would be improper to enter, and the licensee would be subject to ejection for possession of a handgun thereat. Failure to leave once requested would subject the licensee to arrest for criminal trespass.

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W. Carry in Restaurants That Serve Alcohol

Yes. There is no law stating it is illegal except the California application states that you are prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon into bars. You can carry in a restaurant that serves alcohol. Places like Fridays or Chili’s unless they have a “No Gun Sign,” then it is suggested that You not carry into the establishment. This does not include a bar or the bar area of a restaurant. You can carry your firearm into a restaurant that serves alcohol, but you are prohibited from consuming alcohol while carrying a firearm.

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X. Other Prohibitions

While carrying a concealed firearm, You are prohibited from:

  • Consuming any alcoholic beverage
  • Being under the influence of any medication or drug; whether prescribed or not
  • Refuse to show the license or surrender the concealed weapon to any LEO upon demand
  • Unjustifiably displaying a concealed weapon
  • Carrying a concealed weapon not listed on the permit
  • Carrying a concealed weapon at times or circumstances other than those specified in the permit
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FIND GUN LAWS BY STATE

Table of Contents

About the author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More