A zip gun is essentially a cheap makeshift gun. A person constructs one using supplies from around their home or found at a local hardware store.
Zip guns are sometimes a weapon of choice among criminals because they’re relatively untraceable and can be thrown out after a single shot. The term “zip” is used because a rubber band is often used to help fire these weapons.
Under California Penal Code 33600 PC, it is illegal to do any of the following with zip guns:
- Manufactures them,
- Imports them into the State,
- Keeps them for sale,
- Offers them for sale,
- Gives or lends them, and/or
- Possesses them.
Doing any of these acts with a zip gun can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specific facts of the case. The penalties can include imprisonment for one to three years and/or substantial fines.
- 1. What is the law on zip guns in California?
- 2. What are the penalties?
- 3. What are other laws re. zip guns?
- 4. What are the exemptions?
1. What is the law on zip guns in California?
Put simply, zip guns are prohibited in California. According to Penal Code 33600 PC, it is against the law to create, bring into the state, offer, loan, trade, or even be in possession of a zip gun.1
1.1. Zip guns are a nuisance
33690 PC states that any zip gun is a nuisance under California law. This means that state or city prosecutors can bring a legal action to prohibit your zip guns from being:
- possessed for the purpose of being sold,
- given, or
In short, California courts can authorize law enforcement to confiscate your zip guns and have them destroyed. It does not matter if you have no intention of using them and keep them locked in a gun safe. 2
2. What are the penalties?
A violation of this section 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. The judge can sentence you to a county jail term of:
- 16 months,
- Two years, or
- Three years.
In addition to jail time, a conviction under PC 33600 carries a fine in an amount between $1,000 and $10,000.3
3. What are other laws re. zip guns?
Penal Code 16590 PC is the California statute governing “generally prohibited weapons.” The statute lists several weapons/objects that are generally prohibited in the State of California. Zip guns are one such type of weapon, specifically banned under PC 16590 (z).
Examples of other prohibited weapons include:
4. What are the exemptions?
Certain people and/or situations are exempt from prosecution for possessing a zip gun and other prohibited weapons. For example, members of law enforcement agencies may sell, transfer, or possess zip guns. 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.5