With very few exceptions, .50 BMG (fifty caliber) rifles are illegal in California. They are prohibited by Penal Code 30600 PC, California’s law on assault weapons.
In fact, “BMG” stands for Browning Machine Gun. It was originally developed by John Browning (in a .30 caliber version) for use by the military. Newer versions make use of larger and more powerful .50 caliber bullets.
.50 BMG rifles are powerful enough to be used against lightly armored vehicles, including boats and low-flying airplanes. So as far as California law is concerned, they are a type of assault weapon.
When is it legal to own a .50 BMG rifle in California?
Circumstances in which you may legally possess a 50 caliber rifle in California include:
- You hold a valid permit to possess an assault weapon specifically (not just a general concealed carry permit),
- You lawfully possessed the rifle before it was made illegal (i.e., before January 1, 2005),
- You are the executor or administrator of an estate that lawfully holds such firearms,
- You engage in lawful target shooting and/or police-approved firearm exhibitions, or
- You are a non-California resident traveling who is traveling to or from an organized competitive match or league competition that lawfully uses assault weapons.
The penalty for possessing a .50 BMG rifle in California
Simply possessing a .50 BMG rifles is a misdemeanor in California (unless you are a “felon with a firearm.”) The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in county jail.
But the potential penalties increase if you possess a .50 BMG rifle while committing another criminal offense. And if you use a .50 BMG rifle during the commission of another crime, you face a three to ten-year prison enhancement in addition to any other charges and enhancements.