Gun Laws / Weapon Charges

Few laws have more vociferous proponents and opponents than our nation’s gun laws. California, having some of the strictest gun regulations in the county stands on one side, while other states have very few restrictions on gun ownership. This makes for a confusing network of gun laws and since people can move freely between the states, difficult enforcement in strict gun regulations states like California. As an Orange County criminal defense attorney, William Weinberg has represented many individuals who have violated one of the countless gun-related laws in California. No matter where you fall on the gun ownership divide, if you live in California, understanding and abiding by the complex California gun laws can be difficult for the average gun owner.

Buying and Possessing a Firearm in California

Let’s start with the basics. For those who are eligible to buy and possess guns in California, most handguns, such as pistols, and long guns, such as rifles, are permitted. Semi-automatic firearms, short-barreled shotguns or rifles, .50 BMG caliber rifles and guns that hold high-capacity magazines are, in most cases, not legal to possess in California.

Legal guns can only be bought in California from a licensed California firearms dealer. Only verified California residents may purchase a gun in California and there are many categories of people who may not be eligible to make such a purchase; these categories are discussed in the next section.

Before a California resident can purchase a gun in California, he or she must take a safety test and pass it in order to receive the required Firearm Safety Certificate. A purchaser must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a long gun and at least 21 years of age to purchase a handgun. There is a 10-day waiting period between the purchase and the release of the gun to the purchaser. The waiting period is to allow for an eligibility background check to make sure the purchaser is not a person prohibited under California law from purchasing the weapon.

For persons who move to California and already legally own personal firearms, California law allows the personal importation of those firearms, but not those firearms that are illegal to possess in California. The new resident must file a form with the California Department of Justice declaring the firearms within 60 days of becoming a new resident. If the state discovers that the new resident is a person prohibited by California law from owning firearms in the state, the state may require the new resident to relinquish the guns.

Persons Prohibited from Owning Firearms in California

The list of people who are prohibited from possessing firearms in California is long and includes a lifetime ban for those convicted of most felonies and some misdemeanor offenses, including misdemeanor domestic violence offenses.

There is a 10-year ban on the possession of firearms for a number of criminal convictions, even many misdemeanor convictions, such as certain threat crimes, assault crimes, and bringing firearms into public offices where firearms are prohibited, ban a person from possessing any firearm for 10 years.

For those that have been taken into custody as a danger to self or others under the Welfare and Institutions Code, there is a 5-year ban on the possession of firearms. These persons, if certified under certain Welfare and Institutions statues as having a mental health disorder may be banned from owning a firearm for life.

A minor who was adjudged a ward of the court (in adult criminal parlance, convicted) of certain crimes may not possess a firearm until he or she reaches the age of 30.

Finally, there are certain provisions in the law that prohibit persons from possessing firearms that may be only temporary prohibitions, such as person’s subject to a restraining order, persons on probation, and persons who are addicted to narcotics.

Places Where It is Unlawful to Bring a Firearm in California

Unless a person is duly authorized, it is illegal to bring any firearm to the following places:

  • The campus of any public school, including all public and private universities and colleges
  • Public facilities including, courthouses, the State Capitol, and legislative offices
  • The residences of the Governor or any constitutional officer or Member of the California State Senate or Assembly
Miscellaneous Unlawful Acts

It is illegal to:

  • Alter the identification marks on a firearm
  • Draw or exhibit a firearm in a rude or threatening manner (unless in self-defense)
  • Discharge a firearm in a grossly negligent manner (such as shooting towards the sky on New Year’s Eve)
  • Discharge a firearm at an unoccupied structure
  • Discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle
  • Store a loaded firearm where a person under the age of 18 may gain access

All of the violations discussed above can result in criminal charges and, for some violations, a conviction may result in a prison sentence.

Sentence Enhancements

Needless to say, it is illegal to use a gun to commit a violent or felony crime. When a person uses a firearm—even one that is legally possessed—to commit any crime, he or she will be charged with what is called a sentence enhancement. This means that to any sentence meted out for the underlying crime, the defendant will be sentenced to an additional term of imprisonment that will be consecutive to the sentence for the underlying crime. In other words, someone convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment for an assault may be sentenced to an additional and consecutive 2 years because he or she had a gun during the assault, meaning the final sentence will be 5 years imprisonment. This is just an example, every criminal conviction will vary.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation

This barely scratches the surface of the abundantly complex gun laws in California. Even someone who believes they are within the gun laws may be unsuspectingly violating the law. If you or someone you care about has been charged with a gun-related crime, there may be defenses available, such as lack of intent or self-defense and many other defenses too numerous to discuss here. Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg will be happy to discuss your options. Call him at (949) 474-8008 or email him at for a complimentary consultation about your case.

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