A Guide to California BB Gun Laws

Are BB guns legal in California?

Criminal defense attorney and gun rights lawyer Neil Shouse, discusses whether BB guns are legal in California, and what laws govern them under Penal Code 12550(a) and PC 12556. BB guns are treated like a hobby toy, with a couple caveats, such as that minors need parents’ permission to own or possess a BB gun, and that it’s illegal to display a BB gun in a public area. In this way California law treats a BB gun as an “imitation firearm” under Penal Code 12566. BB guns are also dangerous weapons if they are fired at someone, or in a public venue. Someone who brandishes a BB gun, or shoots someone with a BB gun, may be charged with assault, battery, or even assault with a deadly weapon, under California Penal Codes 240, 242, or 245(a)(1). More info at https://www.shouselaw.com/bb-gun-laws or call (888) 327-4652 for a free consultation. If you or a loved one is charged with a crime we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

With respect to BB guns, California law provides that provide that:

Note that a violation of the above laws is typically punishable by a fine. Sometimes, however, a violation can lead to misdemeanor charges (as opposed to a charge of a California felony or an infraction).

Also note that if a person shoots someone with a BG, he can be charged with either:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

Airsoft BB Gun
Under California Penal Code 12556, it is against the law for a person to display an “imitation firearm” in a public place

1. Is it legal to own a BB gun in California?

Under California gun laws, it is generally legal for a person to own a BB gun.

The law, however, is different for those under the age of 18. It is illegal for a person 18 or younger to own a BG without parental permission. It is also against the law to sell or furnish a non-powdered gun to anyone 18 years or under without parental permission.1

2. Can a person carry a BBG in public?

It is against the law for a person to display a BB gun in public.

BB guns fall into the definition of “imitation firearms,” as set forth in Penal Code 12550(a).2 And, PC 12556 states that it is a crime for a person to display imitation firearms in a public place, including:

  • streets,
  • front yards, and
  • buildings open to the public.3

California law also prohibits a person from possessing a BBG in three specific public places. These are:

  1. government buildings4,
  2. secure and screened areas of airports5, and
  3. public or private school grounds.6

Please also note that is always a crime for a person to display an imitation firearm in a threatening manner, which would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm.7 This is true no matter if a person is on public or private property.

3. Can a person in California carry a BB gun in his car?

A person can generally carry most types of BBGs in a car.

Prior to Senate Bill 199 (approved by the governor in 2014), the law prohibited anyone from purchasing, selling, manufacturing, shipping, transporting, distributing, or receiving an imitation firearm. But all BB gun devices were excluded under this general prohibition.8

Most BB guns are still excluded. But, under SB 199, BB devices that expel a projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, that is 6 millimeters or 8 millimeters in caliber are now subject to the general prohibitions above.9

boy handcuffed arrested
A violation of BB Gun laws can result in a fine and/or jail time

4. What are the penalties if a person shoots someone with a BB gun?

It is a crime in California if a person intentionally shoots a BB gun at another person, per California's assault and battery laws. This holds true even if a person shoots at someone else and misses.

Depending on the specific facts involved in the shooting, the shooter could be charged with either:

  • battery, per California Penal Code 242 PC,
  • assault, per California Penal Code 240 PC, or
  • assault with a deadly weapon, per California Penal Code 245(a)(1)

4.1. Battery, per Penal Code 242

Under PC 242, the California crime of battery consists of any willful and unlawful use of force or violence on someone else.10

Since intentionally shooting a BB gun at another (and hitting him) definitely involves the willful and unlawful use of force, it could be a battery if a person shot a BBG at another.

A violation of Penal Code 242 PC is a misdemeanor under California law. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $2,000.11

4.2. Assault, per Penal Code 240

PC 240 defines an assault as an attempt to use force or violence on someone else.12 While a battery involves the actual use of force or violence, assault specifically focuses on the attempt to use such force or violence.

This means a person could be charged with assault if he shot a BB gun at a person and for whatever reason missed. Even though the intended victim was not hurt, the attempt to inflict violence still occurred.

Penal Code 240 is a misdemeanor under California law. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.13

4.3. Assault with a deadly weapon, per Penal Code 245(a)(1)

PC 245(a)(1) says that the crime of assault with a deadly weapon ("ADW”) consists of an assault that is committed either with:

  • a so-called “deadly weapon,” or
  • by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.14

A “deadly weapon” is defined as any object, instrument, or weapon which is used in a manner that makes it capable of producing death or great bodily injury.

This includes the obvious deadly weapons such as guns and knives. But, it also includes items (like BB guns) that can be used in a way that could kill someone or cause them substantial harm.

Great bodily injury” is defined as any serious impairment of someone's physical condition. Some examples include:

  • concussions,
  • bone fractures, and
  • wounds requiring extensive suturing.

Therefore, if a defendant assaulted another person by means of a BB gun, he could be charged with ADW if the facts also show that:

  • the BB gun was used as a “deadly weapon;” or,
  • in a way likely to cause “great bodily injury.”

A violation of PC 245(a)(1) is a wobbler offense, which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum jail sentence is one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, ADW can lead to two, three, or four years in state prison.

5. What are some important safety tips regarding BBGs?

There are four important safety tips regarding BB guns. These are:

  1. Follow all California State laws involving BBGs.
  2. Never use a BBG if you have been drinking or are under the influence of drugs.
  3. BB guns are not toys. They should be handled with care and used wisely.
  4. Every person that uses a BBG should get safety training on appropriate use.

Were you accused of violating a California BB gun law? Call us for help…

california bb gun legal defense
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a California BB gun crime, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 12551 PC. See also California Penal Code 12552 PC.

  2. California Penal Code 12550(a) PC.

  3. California Penal Code 12556 PC.

  4. California Penal Code 171b(a) PC.

  5. California Penal Code 171.5(b)(c) PC.

  6. California Penal Code 626.10(a) PC.

  7. California Penal Code 417.4 PC.

  8. Senate Bill 199.

  9. See same.

  10. California Penal Code 242 PC.

  11. See same.

  12. California Penal Code 242 PC.

  13. See same.

  14. California Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC.

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