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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

Know Your Rights: What Guns Are Illegal in California?

California gun laws allow individuals aged 21 and above to own, possess, and buy a firearm, given they have a firearm safety certificate and no prior convictions that prohibit them from owning weapons.

Carrying a concealed weapon in California is illegal unless the individual has a lawful permit. In this article, attorneys at Goss Law will review the relevant gun laws and the legal defenses available for the defendants.

What Guns Are Illegal in California?

What Guns Are Illegal in California?

Although the Second Amendment gives every American the right to bear firearms, California Penal Code 16590 provides details of the guns that are illegal in the state.

Also referred to as "generally prohibited weapons," the state's statute bans the import, manufacture, sale, gift, lend, or possession of certain firearms and their accessories.

The following are the types of guns that fall under "generally prohibited weapons" in California:

  • Short-barreled rifles or sawed-off shotguns: Under California Penal Code section 33215, short-barreled rifles or sawed-off shotguns are illegal in the state. The law defines a sawed-off shotgun as having a barrel less than 18 inches long and a short-barreled rifle as having a barrel less than 16 inches long. The court treats the possession of this type of generally prohibited weapon as a "wobbler offense," meaning it could lead to a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts surrounding the case.

  • Undetectable firearms: According to California Penal Code 24610, individuals cannot own, sell, manufacture, or import undetectable guns in the state. These weapons are made from materials that metal detectors cannot detect. Ceramic and plastic guns fall under this category. Anyone convicted of possessing undetectable firearms may face misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the circumstances of the case.

  • Firearms that are not easily recognizable: Under California Penal Code 24510, individuals cannot possess, manufacture, sell, buy, or import guns that are not easily recognizable as firearms. These types of weapons fall under "disguised firearms" and may include a cane gun, wallet gun, pen gun, or any other similar type of weapon. If convicted under the criminal justice system, the individual may face 16 months to three years of imprisonment and hefty fines.

  • Unconventional pistols: California Penal Code section 31500 makes manufacturing, selling, or possessing unconventional pistols illegal. These types of firearms lack a rifled bore and have a barrel shorter than 18 inches, with the overall length not exceeding 26 inches. The penalty for a conviction under Penal Code 31500 is a county jail sentence of no more than one year.

  • Cane guns: The state's Penal Code 24410 deals with cane guns and explains them as firearms enclosed in a walking cane that one can fire while remaining concealed within the object. Anyone convicted of manufacturing, possessing, selling, or purchasing these types of guns may face a county jail imprisonment sentence, a fine, or both. The jail sentence may vary from one year to three months, depending on whether the court charges the crime as a misdemeanor or a felony.

  • Wallet guns: Under Penal Code 17330, a wallet gun is a firearm mounted or enclosed in a case. They often resemble a wallet, making it easy for users to carry them in their purse or pocket and fire the weapon while still enclosed or mounted on the case. If an individual has a wallet gun and commits a criminal act, they may receive up to one year in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both if convicted as a misdemeanor. However, if the criminal justice system convicts the individual of a felony, they may face up to three years in prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.

  • Zip guns: California law prohibits the possession of zip guns and refers to them as improvised firearms. Since gun manufacturers in the country do not manufacture these types of weapons, zip guns are cheap makeshift guns. Individuals convicted of a misdemeanor for possessing this type of generally prohibited weapon may face up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both. The person may receive a felony conviction depending on their criminal history, resulting in a maximum jail sentence of three years, up to $10,000 in fines, or both.

Are Assault Weapons Banned in California?

California has had a long-standing ban on assault weapons or BMG (Browning Machine Gun) rifles. Under California law, there are specific characteristics that help to identify whether a firearm is an assault weapon, and these include the following:

  • Semiautomatic centerfire rifles with/without fixed magazines

  • Semiautomatic centerfire rifles shorter than 30 inches in length

  • Semiautomatic pistols with or without fixed magazines

In addition to these characteristics, these firearms must have additional features or modifications, such as a pistol grip, thumbhole stock, folding or telescoping stock, or a flash suppressor, among others. More than 70 different types of guns fall under the category of "assault weapons," including AK rifles, Uzi submachine guns, and Striker 12 shotguns.

In 2021, Federal District Judge Roger T. Benitez of the Southern District of California ruled against the state's assault weapon ban. He compared the AR-15 to a Swiss army knife, stating that it was the perfect home defense weapon and equipment. Goss Law has information on what size knife is legal to carry in California.

However, following his ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit filed an appeal, meaning that the assault weapons ban remains in effect for the time being.

Violation of Penal Code 30600 is a felony, and if convicted, the individual can face up to eight years in state prison. However, it is essential to note that the law permits certain qualified individuals to manufacture assault weapons and sell them to law enforcement agencies.

Can Individuals Travel to California with an Assault Weapon for a Competition?

The Penal Code Sections 30600, 30605, and 30610 do not apply to non-residents under the following conditions:

  • The individual is going to or coming from a competition involving the use of an assault weapon.

  • The competition the individual is attending is on a target range with the necessary licenses or a private or public club organization's target range that is solely organized for shooting targets.

  • A law enforcement agency organizes, sponsors, or approves the competition.

  • The transportation of the assault weapon is in accordance with Section 25610 or Article 3 of Chapter 2 of Division 5.

Are There Rules on Ammunition and Gun Accessories in California?

Besides addressing generally prohibited weapons, California's gun laws also place restrictions on the types of ammunition and accessories an individual may purchase, sell, import, manufacture, or use. Some of these include the following:

Large Capacity Magazines

California law defines large capacity magazines as any ammunition-feeding device holding 10 rounds of ammunition or more.

In 2016, the state passed Proposition 63, among many other gun safety reforms, that banned the possession of large capacity magazines, effective July 1, 2017.

However, there are certain exceptions to this ban, which include a good cause, use by agency employees, and the use as a motion picture, television, or video prop (requires a permit from the California Department of Justice).

Armor-piercing Magazines

Under Penal Code 30315, it is a crime to possess armor-piercing bullets that have the capacity to penetrate ballistic armor and protective shields. California law bans these types of weapons as they can hit and kill law enforcement officers in the line of duty.


California Penal Code 33410 makes it illegal to use silencers, and possessing one is a felony crime. A silencer is a device that reduces the sound of gunfire and can result in a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to three years of county imprisonment if convicted.

Stun Guns

Although possessing a stun gun is legal, there are certain exceptions to this, as explained in the state's Penal Code 22610.

Under California law, buying, using, or possessing a stun gun is illegal if the individual has a felony conviction, is a narcotic addict, or is a minor without written consent from their parent or legal guardian.

Laser Scopes and Laser Pointers

A laser scope is a firearm accessory that individuals can attach to their gun to project laser at objects in the distance. Owning or possessing laser scopes or pointers in the state is not illegal.

However, under Penal Code 417.25, it is a misdemeanor crime to point one at another individual in a threatening manner. A conviction can be punishable by up to 30 days in county jail.

Does California Law Allow Owning Ghost Guns?

Ghost guns are firearms that individuals can buy online and assemble at home. What differentiates ghost guns from other firearms is that they are unserialized and untraceable.

Due to the increased involvement of ghost guns in crime, California passed a new law in 2022 that requires individuals to apply for a serial number for their ghost guns by January 1, 2024.

The recent legislation, effective from January 2023, prohibits anyone from manufacturing or possessing a gun without a serial number, and any violation may lead to a ban on firearms for a period of 10 years.

How to Buy, Sell, or Register Guns in California?

How to Buy, Sell, or Register Guns in California?

There are certain rules that individuals must follow if they wish to buy, sell, or register firearms in California, and these include the following.

Rules for Buying Firearms in California

Any private party transaction or purchase of firearms at a gun show must be through a licensed firearms dealer. Under state law, the buyer must wait for a period of 10 days before they can receive the weapon from the seller.

The Penal Code 27510 states that it is illegal for a licensed gun dealer to sell, supply, deliver, transfer, or give possession of a gun to an individual under the age of 21. However, there are certain exceptions. An individual who is under the age of 21 but over 18 can buy firearms in California if they:

  • Have a valid hunting license;

  • Are an active peace officer; or

  • Are an active law enforcement or federal officer with the authority to possess firearms.

Individuals who wish to purchase a weapon in California must follow the Dealer's Record of Sale (DROS) process and show proof of their age to the dealer by presenting any of the following:

  • A valid California driver's license

  • A valid California identification card

  • A valid military identification card

  • Any other government-issued identification card that contains the buyer's photograph and birthdate

Besides proof of age, the buyer must also present proof of California residency by showing a utility bill, lease documents, or government-issued identification card.

Rules for Selling Firearms in California

To sell firearms legally in California, gun dealers must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Have a valid firearms license

  • Have a regulatory or business license

  • Have a valid sellers permit

Under federal law, firearm dealers must conduct proper background checks on the buyer before selling a gun to them. Any weapon dealer failing to comply with state requirements can face up to a year in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both.

Rules for Registering Firearms in California

When individuals purchase a firearm in California, they must register it by filling out and submitting the Firearm Ownership Report (FOR) Application. However, not all guns or gun owners require submitting the FOR application.

What Are the Defenses for Generally Prohibited Weapons Charges?

Individuals who face charges for possessing, manufacturing, or selling generally prohibited weapons must seek legal help from experienced criminal defense attorneys.

Skilled criminal defense lawyers at Goss Law have a vast knowledge of criminal law and extensive experience handling criminal cases. They can gather evidence and use many different defenses in their legal arsenal depending on the circumstances of the case, including the following:

  • The firearm was not a generally prohibited weapon: Since the list of weapons under PC 16590 is very specific, an attorney can argue that the defendant was not carrying a generally prohibited weapon.

  • The defendant was unaware: When prosecuting a case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor, who must prove that the defendant was aware of the illegal nature of the weapon. On the other hand, an attorney can argue that the defendant did not know about the firearm's unlawful status and can provide relevant evidence.

  • The defendant has a valid permit: People can make, sell, or possess some weapons mentioned under PC 16590 in limited circumstances. Depending on the facts surrounding the case, a skilled criminal defense attorney can argue that the defendant had legal grounds to hold or use the firearm.

An experienced Sacramento gun crime lawyer at Goss Law have a deep understanding of California's assault weapons law and gun regulations to help the accused. Those facing charges must immediately reach out to them for legal help.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Caring Criminal Defense Attorneys at Goss Law

Those charged with a gun crime must immediately contact (916) 999-7689 for a free consultation with experienced criminal defense lawyers at Goss Law to discuss their case and learn more about their rights.


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