Are Short-Barreled Rifles or Sawed-Off Shotguns Illegal in California? (Penal Code 33215)

Posted by Neil Shouse | Oct 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

california short barreled rifle law m16
Short Barreled M16 Rifle

California Penal Code 17170 defines a “short-barreled rifle” as a rifle having either:

  • A barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length; or,
  • An overall length of less than 26 inches.

California Penal Code 17180 defines a “short-barreled (or sawed-off) shotgun” as a one having either:

  • A barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length; or,
  • An overall length of less than 26 inches.

A short-barreled shotgun is also referred to as a sawed-off shotgun.

Under California Penal Code 33215, it is illegal if a person does any of the following acts with a short-barreled rifle or a short-barreled shotgun:

  • Manufactures them,
  • Imports them into the State,
  • Keeps them for sale,
  • Offers them for sale,
  • Gives or lends them, and/or
  • Possesses them.

If a person performs any of these acts with the firearms in question, he can get charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specific facts of a case. The penalties for either charge can include imprisonment for one to three years and/or substantial fines.

Short-Barreled Rifles and Shotguns and Penal Code 33215

PC 33215 is California's statute governing short-barreled rifles and sawed-off shotguns. According to this code section, it is a crime if any person:

manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, or possesses any short-barreled rifle or short-barreled shotgun…

As to possession, California courts have ruled that a person can be guilty of this crime even if the rifle or shotgun is broken down into component parts. This is provided, though, that the firearm can be quickly assembled.

Penalties for Violating PC 33215

A violation of Penal Code 33215 PC is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a term not to exceed one year.

If charged as a felony, the crime is punished pursuant to California Penal Code 1170(h) PC.

This code section is a catchall provision for felony sentencing. It allows a judge to sentence a defendant to a county jail term of:

  • 16 months,
  • Two years, or
  • Three years.

In addition to jail time, a person guilty of a crime under PC 33215 may be subject to a fine in an amount between $1,000 and $10,000.

Other Laws Prohibiting Short-Barreled Rifles and Shotguns

California Penal Code 16590 is California's statute governing “generally prohibited weapons.” The statute lists several weapons/objects that are generally prohibited in the State of California. Short-barreled rifles and sawed-off shotguns are two such weapons, specifically banned under PC 16590(t).

Examples of other generally prohibited weapons include:

  • Nunchakus (more commonly referred to as “nunchucks”);
  • Cane guns; and,
  • Shurikens.

Exemptions from the General Laws

Please note that certain people and/or situations are exempt from prosecution for possessing illegal rifles and shotguns and other prohibited weapons. For example, members of law enforcement agencies may sell, transfer, or possess these weapons. The same holds true for some antique dealers.

Please also note that the above statutes and code sections do not prohibit the lawful use or possession of other lawful firearms. For example, conventional pistols, revolvers, long rifles, and long shotguns can still be legally owned by most adults in California, subject to certain restrictions.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).


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