Call Today - (510) 995-0000
Dec 01, 2021

What Are the Firearms Laws for California?

While every United States citizen has the right to own a gun under the Second Amendment, states get to decide how they deal with firearms laws. California has some of the strictest firearms laws in the nation, and if you get caught with the illegal possession of a firearm or you’re facing another type of gun charge, you could experience harsh consequences under the law.

If you’ve been arrested for a firearm-related charge, then it’s time to research more about this topic and find an experienced Oakland criminal defense attorney to defend you. Then, you can hopefully get your charges reduced – or perhaps even dropped altogether.

Eligibility for Buying a Gun in California

To purchase a rifle or shotgun in California, you need to be at least 18 years old. To purchase a handgun, you need to be at least 21 years old. You cannot purchase an assault rifle, which has a fixed magazine and can accept more than 10 rounds. If you acquired an assault rifle before 1989, then you can possess it.

U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents can buy guns, along with people with non-immigrant visas if they meet the requirements.

Note that if you were convicted of any crime that was punishable by more than one year in prison, misdemeanors dealing with assault, stalking, domestic violence, firearms, or intimidation, or a violent offense, then you will not be able to purchase a firearm.

Additionally, if you were dishonorably discharged from the military, a court deems you mentally incompetent, you’re under a restraining order or protective order, a psychotherapist reported you for threats against another person, you’re addicted to narcotics, or you’re under a conservatorship because of alcoholism, then you are also prohibited from purchasing a gun.

Process for Purchasing a Gun

When buying a gun, you’ll need to take proof of your age, like your identification card or an up-to-date driver’s license that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued to you. You will also have to show proof of residency, like a lease or utility bill. You can only buy a gun from a licensed firearm dealer.

You’ll need to go through a Personal Firearms Eligibility Check, which will check your criminal record and determine if there are any other things in your past that could disqualify you. Most gun buyers in California also have to obtain a Firearms Safety Certificate and Handgun Safety Certificate; you’ll need to answer 30 questions about firearms and receive a grade of 75% or better to pass. Then, there’s a 10-day waiting period before you can receive your gun. There is no limit to the amount of guns you can have, but you can only legally buy one gun every 30 days.

If you’re moving from another state to California, you must register your guns within 60 days of your arrival.

Gun Laws in California

While Concealed Carry is legal, you will need to obtain a license for it from a local police department. You’ll also need to undergo a training course, which could take anywhere from 16 to 24 hours.

California has the Castle Doctrine, which means that if an intruder enters your property and they are posing a deadly threat, then you do not have to retreat.

You are not allowed to take a firearm into a school, government building, the governor’s mansion, public transit facilities, airports and passenger vessel terminals, or meetings open to the public and public buildings.

If you want to transport a handgun in your car, then it must be locked in the trunk or in a locked container in the car, unloaded, and not concealed. If you have a child in your home, you must make sure they cannot access the gun, or else you could get in trouble – as well as potentially cause harm to the child.

There are a number of different firearms-related crimes in California, including the following.

Felon in Possession of a Firearm

If you are a convicted felon, then you cannot possess or purchase a firearm. If you do, you could face felony charges and go to jail for three years. You might also have to pay fines of up to $10,000.

Assault With a Firearm

Assaulting an alleged victim with a gun could be a misdemeanor or a felony in California depending on the circumstances of the situation. Pointing a gun at someone, firing the gun in the direction of another person, pistol whipping them, or shooting them could land you behind bars.

Assault with a generic firearm could result in six months to one year in county jail, or, if you’re charged with a felony, you could receive a jail sentence of two, three, or four years. If the assault involved a semiautomatic firearm, machine gun, .50 BMG rifle, or assault weapon, then it’s going to be charged as a felony. You could be sent away for three to 12 years.

Carrying a Concealed Weapon Without a Permit

If you don’t have a permit to carry your concealed weapon and you get caught, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If you get hit with a misdemeanor conviction, you could spend up to one year in jail, go on summary probation, and have to pay up to $1,000 in fines. If you’re convicted of a felony, you could spend up to three years in prison, pay up to $10,000 in fines, and go on formal probation. You could get a felony charge if you are in illegal possession of the firearm, you’re knowingly carrying a stolen firearm, you are involved in a gang, or you have a drug or narcotics conviction on your record.

Unlicensed Sale of Firearms

You cannot lease, sell, or transfer ownership of your firearms in California if you don’t have a valid permit or license. This is a misdemeanor, and you could end up going to jail for up to six months and paying a fine of up to $1,000 for every firearm involved. In the state, all firearms sales need to go through a licensed dealer.

Drive-By Shooting

If you shoot a firearm outside of your vehicle when you’re in your vehicle or let a person bring a gun into your car, then you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. With a misdemeanor conviction, you could go to county jail for up to six months and pay a fine of up to $1,000, and if you’re charged with a felony for shooting at another person while you’re in another vehicle, you could be sentenced to a seven-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.

Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling

If you use your firearm to shoot at an inhabited dwelling or an occupied car, you could get hit with felony charges. This might result in up to seven years in prison. If you actually do shoot someone, you could get an additional 25 years to life in prison.

Gross Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

You cannot willfully discharge a firearm in a grossly negligent way that could lead to death or injury. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. If you’re convicted of a misdemeanor, you could have to go to jail for up to one year, and if you’re convicted of a felony, you could have to serve 16 months or two or three years behind bars.


If you commit some types of felony offenses in California, then 10 or 20 years or 25-years-to-life could be added to your sentence. Some of the felonies that this applies to include rape, sodomy, kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, assault with intent to commit a specified felony, assault by a prisoner, lewd act on a child, or murder.

Legal Defenses to Firearms Charges

When you’ve been charged with a firearms crime, you might be worried about the consequences. Are you going to have to spend years behind bars? Will you need to pay large fines? Will your life ever get back on track?

By coming up with a valid and legal defense, then you may be able to get your charges reduced or dropped. For instance, you could say that you were acting out of self-defense when you used a firearm. You must show that you reasonably believed you were in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm, you reasonably thought that the use of force was necessary to defend against that harm, and you didn’t use more force than necessary.

For instance, if someone threatened to punch you at a bar and you took out your gun and pointed it at them, the courts are likely not going to see that as a reasonable reaction. But if someone was driving their car fast in order to hit you – and they made that clear – and you subsequently defended yourself with a firearm, then that might be seen as a reasonable reaction.

If you’re involved in a drive-by shooting or some other type of shooting where you didn’t have a gun or discharge one, then you could argue that you didn’t know the person you were around had a gun on them.

You may have also been legally allowed to possess a weapon when you got arrested. Maybe you even had a valid concealed carry permit.

In addition, you could have fallen victim to an illegal search or seizure. The police might not have had a right to search you because they didn’t possess a valid warrant.

Plea Deals vs. Going to Trial

There are two options when you get charged with crimes: You can either take a plea deal or go to trial. Most criminal cases end in plea deals, because the criminal justice system is already overwhelmed. Prosecutors would rather do a plea deal.

With a plea deal, you either plead guilty or no contest to some or all of your charges in exchange for a reduced sentence or dropped charges altogether. Your Oakland criminal defense attorney will advise you on what move they think is the best to make based on your situation. Of course, if they think your case should go to trial in front of a jury, they will fight for you in court as well.

Using a Court Appointed Attorney

You will be given the option to use the court appointed public defender to help you with your case. While this may seem like a good option because it’s free of charge, you could end up in a bad position. This is because public defenders are juggling many different cases at once, and they won’t have the time or resources to dedicate their all to your case. It’s just not worth it to put your future on the line. That’s why it’s recommended to hire an Oakland criminal defense attorney to help you in your time of need. Then, you’ll have the best chance possible of securing a bright future ahead.

Hiring an Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney

To hire the best Oakland criminal defense attorney, look for one who has several years of experience with firearms cases along with outstanding results for their clients. Elliot Silver of Silver Law Firm would make an excellent representative for your case and help you in your time of need. Just take a look at his past case results.

In one case, following an erroneous mental health call, the police took away the client’s gun collection. These firearms were very valuable because they were family heirlooms. The client contacted attorney Elliot Silver to help get these firearms back. It became apparent that the city attorney tried to forfeit the guns. But attorney Silver acted quickly and successfully had the guns returned.

If you’ve been charged with a firearms crime and don’t know what to do, reach out to Oakland criminal defense attorney Elliot Silver today at (510) 995-0000 or by emailing him at We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with your case.

    100% Confidential