Understanding Gun Laws in California

Navigating the complex landscape of gun rights in California is no small feat. As a responsible gun owner, it is crucial to familiarize oneself with these laws to ensure the safety of oneself and others. This comprehensive guide will provide you with a clear understanding of California’s gun laws, from ownership eligibility to concealed carry permits, and everything in between. 

California’s gun laws comprise a stringent set of regulations designed to protect its citizens from gun violence and ensure that firearms are only possessed by those deemed responsible and eligible. To legally own a firearm in California, individuals must meet specific eligibility criteria, including age requirements, background checks, and certain restrictions based on criminal or mental health history.

Age Requirements

The age requirements for purchasing firearms in California vary depending on the circumstances. For handguns, shotguns, and rifles, the minimum age is 21 years. However, there are exceptions to these age requirements, such as inter-family guns transders to an individual who is at least 18 years of age, provided certain conditions are met. Another exception is made for licensed hunters and members of the Armed Forces who are at least 18 years old.

Background Checks

Background checks are an integral part of California’s gun laws, as they help to confirm the purchaser’s eligibility to possess firearms. The Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS) process mandates that all gun purchases in California, including private sales and gun shows, be conducted through licensed dealers. The background check process involves the following steps: Presentation of appropriate identification and age proof; Initiation of a background check by the dealer through the California Department of Justice; Verification of the purchaser’s eligibility to own and purchase firearms. Fulfilling these background check requirements is a fundamental part of responsible gun ownership in California.

Restrictions Based on Criminal or Mental Health History

Certain criminal convictions or mental health issues may disqualify an individual from owning a firearm in California. For example, individuals who have been involuntarily committed or deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others are prohibited from owning firearms.

Anyone convicted of a felony, or an ever-growing list of misdemeanors will be prohibited from owning or possessing firearms in California.  Some California misdemeanors carry a 10-year firearm ban, while others carry a lifetime ban.  Additionally, any domestic violence conviction – misdemeanor or felony – will trigger a lifetime federal firearms ban.

In order to legally acquire a firearm in California, individuals must obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC) . These certificates serve as proof that the individual has received the necessary education and training to safely handle firearms within the state.

To obtain an FSC, individuals must pass a written test on firearm safety and basic firearms laws. The test is administered by DOJ Certified Instructors, typically located at firearms dealerships. A score of 75% or more on the 30-question exam is required to obtain either certificate. We shall discuss more legal requirements for gun ownership in the coming blog posts. 

Common California Gun Charges

In the state of California, where a complex web of firearm regulations exists, individuals may find themselves facing a variety of gun charges, each with its own unique set of legal implications. These charges range from unlawful possession of firearms by prohibited individuals, such as felons and those under restraining orders, to violations of strict regulations on firearm modifications, magazine capacities, and assault weapon classifications. Navigating the intricacies of California’s gun laws is essential for both responsible firearm owners and legal professionals alike, as is understanding how the potential consequences and legal requirements can significantly impact the outcome of a case and the preservation of Second Amendment rights. 

One of the most frequently encountered charges is the unlawful possession of a firearm, as defined in Penal Code Section 29800. This charge is often brought against individuals with prior felony convictions, certain misdemeanors, or individuals subject to restraining orders, who are prohibited from possessing firearms. 

Another prevalent charge is carrying a concealed firearm under Penal Code section 25400. Under this law, it is generally illegal for an individual to carry a concealed firearm on their person or in a vehicle. However, there are exceptions, such as for individuals who have obtained a valid concealed carry permit. Violations of this law can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on specific circumstances like prior criminal convictions or if the firearm is stolen. The intent of this law is to regulate the concealment of firearms to enhance public safety and reduce the risk of gun-related incidents.

Another gun charge to keep in mind is the possession of an unregistered “assault weapon,” under Penal Code Section 30605, which requires all “assault weapons” to be properly registered with the state. Historically, when California has enacted new assault weapon regulations or amendments to existing laws, it often sets deadlines by which owners of assault weapons must register them. These deadlines are tied to the dates when the laws come into effect. For instance, if a new law categorizing a certain type of firearm as an assault weapon is passed, there’s usually a deadline by which owners of such firearms must register them to remain in legal compliance. The specific deadlines vary depending on the legislation and the date of acquisition of the firearm.

Violating California’s assault weapon ban, found in Penal Code Section 30605, is also a common gun-related offense. This law restricts the possession of specific types of firearms, including certain semi-automatic rifles. We discuss more about firearm registration and how to legally own firearms in our other blog posts. Simply search “gun” in our blog to find a wealth of information.

Additionally, improper storage of firearms, particularly when accessible to minors or prohibited persons, is addressed in Penal Code Section 25100, and failure to comply with these storage requirements can result in criminal charges. 

One crucial aspect of these laws concerns unsafe handgun modifications, as stipulated in Penal Code Section 32000. To remain legal, firearms must adhere to specific safety and design standards. Engaging in unauthorized modifications can lead to criminal charges.

Additionally, California restricts the possession of high-capacity magazines through Penal Code Section 32310. Owning magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition is generally prohibited, aiming to reduce the potential for mass shootings and excessive firepower.

Open carry restrictions, outlined in Penal Code Section 26350, govern the practice of openly carrying a firearm in public. This is typically prohibited, with few exceptions reserved for law enforcement and licensed security personnel.

For those seeking to carry concealed firearms, California imposes strict regulations outlined in Penal Code Section 26150. Currently, obtaining a concealed carry permit demands demonstrating “good moral character” for issuance, a process that varies significantly from other states with more permissive concealed carry laws. However, California’s Senate Bill 2 (SB 2) has made significant changes to the requirements for obtaining a Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) license in the state in regards to this requirement which will take effect on Jan 1, 2024. 

Safety also extends to firearm storage requirements as specified in Penal Code Section 25100. Firearms must be securely stored to prevent access by minors or prohibited individuals, with legal consequences for those failing to adhere to these safeguards.

Background checks for ammunition purchases are mandatory in California, governed by Penal Code Section 30370. Buyers are subject to background checks, and dealers must report ammunition sales to the California Department of Justice, enhancing oversight and accountability.

Finally, Penal Code Section 626.9 addresses gun-free school zones, making it illegal to possess firearms within 1,000 feet of a school, with certain exceptions for those holding concealed carry permits. These measures aim to protect students and maintain a safe learning environment. The restriction also applies to colleges and universities.

These are just a few examples of the various gun charges and their corresponding penal codes that defense attorneys in California frequently encounter. Understanding the nuances of these laws is essential for those seeking to navigate the legal complexities surrounding firearms in Southern California.

At Criminal Defense Heroes, P.C., our attorneys have years of experience defending the gun rights of Californians. We understand the nuances of the law and the best strategies for maintaining Second Amendment rights. Contact us today at 323-529-3660 for a consultation.