Guide to Laws About Weapons in California

GunYou have a right to own a firearm for lawful purposes (like self defense), and the government may not unnecessarily restrict this right. However, like most rights, the right to own a firearm is NOT absolute, and the government may place SOME restrictions on it. This is based on the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.1U.S. Constitution, 2nd amendment; DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (2008)
478 F. 3d 370

California has some of the strongest gun control laws in the country, which we list here. And because of the unfortunate frequent mass shootings, particularly school shootings, gun laws in California are getting stricter.

For constitutional issues and laws for other states, see our Guide to Laws about Weapons in the U.S.

1. Possessing weapons

Who may not own or possess a firearm?

Throughout the country, you may not own or possess any kind of gun if you2U.S. Code Title 18, Section 922(g):

  • have been convicted of a felony3crime that involves possible punishment of more than 1 year or any crime involving domestic violence
  • are a fugitive from justice
  • illegally use any drug or are addicted to any drug
  • have been determined by a court to be mentally ill or have been committed to a mental institution
  • are not a citizen or legal permanent resident (in other words, you must either be a citizen or have a green card to own a firearm; but see exceptions)
  • have been dishonorably discharged from the military
  • renounced your American citizenship
  • are subject to a restraining order related to an intimate partner and/or partner’s child

In California, you are banned from owning any kind of gun if:

  • You are under 21 years old (unless you have a hunting license)
  • You have been convicted of a serious domestic violence charge
  • You have been hospitalized twice in a 1 year period for mental health issues

In addition, if you have been convicted of certain misdemeanors, or convicted of a hate crime, you may not own or possess a firearm within 10 years of the conviction.4AB 785 codified at Section 29805 of the Penal Code

It is illegal for a person to purchase or receive a firearm, attempt to purchase or receive a firearm, or own or possess a firearm knowing that the person is prohibited from doing so by a temporary restraining order, an injunction, or a protective order. This applies to orders from other states as well.5AB 164 (2019)

2. Handguns

What are the rules on handguns in the City of Los Angeles?

See our Guide to Weapons Law in Los Angeles

Can someone carry a concealed gun?

To carry a concealed gun, you must have a “concealed gun” permit. To get such a permit, you must undergo at least 8 hours of training.

3. Long guns

What are the rules on long guns in California?

Whenever a “long gun” is transferred through a dealer it will automatically be registered to the receiving individual6Cal. Penal Code 11106 and 28160

For transactions that do not require a dealer, the recipient of the long gun will need to register it with the California Department of Justice7see generally Cal Penal Code Sec. 27860-28000

4. Assault weapons

Are assault weapons banned in California?

It is illegal to possess, manufacture, sell, buy, or give away any large-capacity or high-capacity magazine.8Cal Penal Code Sec. 32310 In particular, under Proposition 63 (2016), it is illegal to possess a high capacity (more than 10 rounds) ammunition magazine. However, there is currently a lawsuit pending to determine whether this ban violates the 2nd amendment.

It is also illegal to purchase more than 1 semi-automatic weapon per month (30 days). And people under 21 years old are prohibited from purchasing a semiautomatic.9SB 61 (2019)

Is a “bullet button” firearm considered an assault weapon?

Yes.10Section 30515 of the Penal Code

5. Threats of violence

What are the consequences for a person who threatens violence?

A person who communicates serious threats of physical violence against an identifiable victim to a therapist is prohibited from owning and possessing firearms for 5 years.  The therapist is required to report the threat to law enforcement within 24 hours.  A person prohibited this way may petition for the restoration of their firearm rights.11California Welfare and Institutions Code sections 8100 and 8105

As of Jan 1, 2016, family members or law enforcement are able to get a court order to take a person’s guns away if that person is deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.12AB1014; California Penal Code starting at Section 18100; Penal Code Sec 1542, 1542.5 This is sometimes called a “red flag law” or “gun-violence restraining order.”

Beginning September 2020, employers, co-workers and teachers will also be able to request gun restraining order against someone.13AB61 (2019)

The guns can be taken away for 1 year periods, which can be extended up to 5 years.14AB12 (2019)

See our Guide to Law about Harassment.

6. Other rules for firearms

Is there a limit to how many guns you can buy?

Yes, you can only buy 1 handgun per month, and starting July 2021, you can only buy 1 semiautomatic centerfire rifle per month.15SB 61 (2019)

Is a potential gun buyer required to get a background check?

California provides for “universal background checks,” which means that for any type of sale or transaction of a firearm, the potential buyer must pass a background check.

Am I obligated to safeguard firearms at my house in a particular way?

Yes. In California it is a crime to keep any loaded firearm within any premises that are under your control and you know or reasonably should know that a child (any person under 18) is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent and the child brings it to a public place or other place that is unlawful to have such a weapon,16Penal Code 25100(b) or causes injury to himself, herself, or any other person.17Penal Code 25100(a), (b) This is called “criminal storage of firearm.”

This does not apply if the firearm is kept in a locked container or locked with a locking device that has rendered the firearm inoperable.18Penal Code 25105

Is it illegal to bring a firearm to or near a school?

Yes, it is illegal to carry any gun into a school zone, with some exceptions.19Section 626.9 of the Penal Code

Is it illegal to loan a gun to a family member?

You must do a background check on your family member before you loan them your gun.

Do I need a background check to purchase ammunition?

Yes, and you must present ID. And you will be entered into a database of ammunition owners. However, there is currently a lawsuit pending that argues that the new law violates the 2nd amendment.

Is it illegal to possess a magazine that holds more than 10 bullets?


Do I need to register my “ghost gun” or 3-D printed gun?

Yes, and you must obtain a serial number from the California Department of Justice.20Penal Code 29180

Are “bump stocks” illegal?

Bump stocks, or multi-burst trigger devices, are illegal in California.

7. Other weapons

Are brass knuckles illegal in California?

It is illegal to manufacture, sell, distribute, give, or possess any kind of metal knuckles in California.21California Penal Code 21810 The punishment is up to 1 year in county jail.

Are switchblades or butterfly knives illegal in California?

In California, it is illegal to carry openly or concealed on one’s person a switchblade or butterfly knife, or in a motor vehicle stationed in a public place or in a place open to public unless blade is under 2 inches.22Cal Penal Code 653 That said, this law and similar ones in other states are being challenged in court, and may be found unconstitutional.

It is also illegal to make, sell, distribute a switchblade throughout the country. 23exceptions relate to the Armed Forces or individuals with only one arm; see 15 USC Sections 1242-44

Are flamethrowers illegal in California?

Flamethrowers are not necessarily used as a weapon, but certainly could be. In California you can buy and use a flamethrower that shoots flames a distance of less than 10 feet, no permit or anything required. For flamethrowers that shoot at least 10 feet, you must get a permit.24Health & Safety Code Sec 12750-12761 State lawmakers are considering additional regulations on flamethrowers that shoot less than 10 feet.

Related Pages

Guide to Law about Harassment

Guide to Victims Rights

Guide to the Law for People Accused of Crimes


  • Tristan Blaine

    Tristan Blaine is the founder of Law Soup Media, and has been a licensed attorney since 2013.

    About Tristan


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