Penal Code § 20170 PC states that “no person may openly display or expose any imitation firearm in a public place.” A first-offense violation is treated as an infraction punishable by a $100.00 fine. A second offense carries a $300.00 fine. A third or subsequent violation is punishable as a misdemeanor.
An “imitation firearm” includes objects such as:
- a BB gun,
- a toy gun, and
- a replica of a firearm.
Some examples of crimes under PC 20170 are:
- Tony points a toy rifle at his friend’s chest in a department store.
- Kelly takes an IF out of her purse while waiting in line for a movie.
- Roberto pulls a BB gun out at school (not a crime though under California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act, Penal Code 626.9).
Luckily, there are several legal defenses that you can raise if accused under this code section. These include showing that you:
- did not have an “imitation firearm,”
- were not in a “public place,” and
- qualified for an exemption from the law.
Violating Penal Code 20170 is an infraction. A first offense is punishable by a $100 fine; and, a second offense is punishable by a $300 fine.
A third or subsequent violation of this section is punishable as a misdemeanor (as opposed to a California felony).
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. Are imitation firearms illegal in California?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to PC 20170 violations?
- 3. What are the penalties, punishment, and sentencing?
- 4. Related laws
1. Are imitation firearms illegal in California?
Penal Code 20170 is the California statute that makes it a crime to display an “imitation firearm” in public.1
An “imitation firearm” includes objects such as a:
- BB gun,
- toy gun, and
- replica of a firearm.2
An imitation firearm also includes any other device that would lead a reasonable person to believe that it is a firearm.3
According to PC 20170, a “public place” is an area open to the public and includes:
- front yards,
- parking lots,
- automobiles, and
- buildings open to the general public.4
2. Are there legal defenses to PC 20170 violations?
You can try to challenge a PC 20170 accusation by raising a legal defense. A legal defense may work to reduce or dismiss a charge.
Three common defenses to Penal Code 20170 charges include:
- there was no imitation firearm;
- you were not in a public place; and/or,
- you were exempted.
2.1. No imitation firearm
Please recall that PC 20170 only applies to “imitation firearms.” It is always a valid defense, therefore, to show that while you may have displayed an object in public, it was not an IF (for example, it was a wooden bat).
2.2. No public place
Also recall that you are guilty under PC 20170 only if you display an IF in a “public place.” This means that it is a defense to show that while you displayed a toy gun, you did not do so in public (for example, you were in your home).
There are certain situations that are exempted from the general prohibition under Penal Code 20170. For example, the section states that it does not apply when the imitation firearm is used:
- in a theatrical production or movie,
- when hunting,
- as a display on a wall plaque or in a presentation case, and
- in parades.5
If you display an IF, and the situation falls into one of these exemptions, you have a valid defense to any charge of displaying an IF in public.
3. What are the penalties, punishment, and sentencing?
Violating Penal Code 20170 is an infraction.6 A first offense is punishable by a $100 fine; and, a second offense is punishable by a $300 fine.7
A third or subsequent violation of this section is punishable as a misdemeanor.8
4. Related offenses
There are three laws related to displaying an imitation firearm in public. These are:
- brandishing a weapon – PC 417;
- possession of a switchblade – PC 17235 and 21510; and,
- California’s cane gun law – PC 24410
4.1. Brandishing a weapon – PC 417
Per Penal Code 417, it is a crime to “brandish a weapon or firearm.”
In particular, PC 417 prohibits drawing, exhibiting, or using a firearm or deadly weapon.9
A violation of this code section is a California wobbler, 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 up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for:
- 16 months,
- two years, or
- three years.10
4.2. Possession of a switchblade – PC 17235 and 21510
California Penal Code 17235 and 21510 both regulate the possession, use, and sale of switchblades.
Specifically, if a switchblade has a blade two inches or more in length, it is a crime to:
- possess the knife in the passenger’s or driver’s area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public,
- carry the switchblade upon your person, or
- sell, offer or expose for sale, or loan, transfer, or give the knife to anyone else.11
A violation of California’s switchblade laws is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by either:
- up to six months in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.
Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award you with misdemeanor probation. This is sometimes referred to as “summary” or “informal” probation.
Misdemeanor probation contrasts with California “formal” (felony) probation.
4.3. California’s cane gun law – PC 24410
Penal Code 24410 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to make, import, sell, give, or possess a “cane gun.”12
Under California Penal Code 16330 PC, a “cane gun” is a type of firearm that is:
- enclosed within an object resembling a walking cane; and,
- can be fired while inside the object.13
A violation of PC 24410 is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
No matter how charged, the crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail; and/or,
- a significant fine.14
For additional help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per Penal Code 20170 PC, we invite you to contact us for a consultation. We can be reached 24/7.
- California Penal Code 20170 PC (formerly PC 12556(a)). The language of the code section reads that:
(a) No person may openly display or expose any imitation firearm in a public place.
(b) As used in this section, “public place” means an area open to the public and includes any of the following:
(1) A street.
(2) A sidewalk.
(3) A bridge.
(4) An alley.
(5) A plaza.
(6) A park.
(7) A driveway.
(8) A front yard.
(9) A parking lot.
(10) An automobile, whether moving or not.
(11) A building open to the general public, including one that serves food or drink, or provides entertainment.
(12) A doorway or entrance to a building or dwelling.
(13) A public school.
(14) A public or private college or university.
- California Penal Code 16700(a) PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 20170 PC.
- California Penal Code 20175 PC.
- Penal Code 20180 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 417 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 21510 PC.
- California Penal Code 24410 PC.
- California Penal Code 16330 PC.
- See same.