California Penal Code § 32310 PC makes it illegal to possess, sell, purchase, give away, import, transport, or manufacture large-capacity magazines (LCMs). These are defined as any ammunition-feeding device that can hold more than 10 rounds.
This rule has some limited exceptions, such as for law enforcement and military personnel in certain circumstances. Plus, a federal judge on September 22, 2023 ruled that banning large-capacity magazines is unconstitutional, though this court ruling will likely be stayed while the 9th Circuit reviews the issue.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is the current law regarding high-capacity magazines?
- 2. What was the court’s reasoning?
- 3. What is the law under California Penal Code 32310?
- 4. Are there legal defenses to PC 32310 violations?
- 5. Penalties, punishment, sentences
- 6. Related offenses
1. What is the current law regarding high-capacity magazines?
On September 22, 2023, a federal judge in California held that PC 32310 – the state ban on large-capacity magazines – was unconstitutional. Though the ban will likely stay in place while the Ninth Circuit considers the issue.
On November 30, 2021, the Ninth Circuit upheld the state ban on large-capacity magazines. However, the United States Supreme Court vacated that opinion and asked the court to reconsider the issue in light of a recent United States Supreme Court ruling regarding firearm rights.1
The magazines in question had been prohibited since 2000. At that time, the law said that those who owned them before are now allowed to keep them. In 2016, this provision was removed, meaning no gun owners could possess a large-capacity magazine.
2. What was the court’s reasoning?
In overturning the ban on LCMs, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego argued, “This case is about a California state law that makes it a crime to keep and bear common firearm magazines typically possessed for lawful purposes. Based on the text, history and tradition of the 2nd Amendment, this law is clearly unconstitutional.”
3. What is the law under California Penal Code 32310?
Under Penal Code 32310(a), it is a crime if you:
manufacture or cause to be manufactured, import into the state, keep for sale, or offer or expose for sale, or give, lend, buy, or receive any large-capacity magazine…
Penal Code 32310(c) goes on to make it a crime to possess a large capacity magazine, regardless of the date it was acquired.2
A “large-capacity magazine” means any ammunition-feeding device with the capacity to hold more than 10 rounds.3
According to California law, any of the following are not large capacity magazines:
- a feeding device that has been altered so that it cannot hold more than 10 rounds;
- a .22 caliber tube ammunition feeding device; and,
- a tubular magazine that is contained in a lever-action firearm.4
Large-capacity magazines were also prohibited under California Penal Code 16590, the State’s statute governing “generally prohibited weapons.”5
Please note that certain people and/or situations are exempt from prosecution with regards to large-capacity magazines. For example, members of law enforcement agencies may sell, transfer, or possess these ammunition holders.6
3.1. Penal Code 32310 was upheld as constitutional before recent decision
PC 32310 is a relatively new law. It arose out of California Senate Bill 1446, which Gov. Brown signed into law in 2016. The California Penal Code was amended to include PC 32310 after the signing.
Some parties challenged the new law and stated it was unconstitutional in that it violated gun owners’ equal protection rights. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, however, recently upheld SB 1446 and PC 32310. The Court ruled that the new law is constitutional and does not violate any rights.7
4. Are there legal defenses to PC 32310 violations?
If you are accused under Penal Code 32310, you can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical to hire an attorney for the best defense.
Three common defenses to PC 32310 accusations are:
4.1. Coerced confession
This defense applies to the situation where you were charged under PC 32310 following a confession.
California law states that police may not use overbearing measures to coerce a confession.
If you can show that the police coerced you into a confession, then:
- The judge may exclude the confession from evidence; or,
- The case could get dropped if you were pressured into confessing to a crime you did not commit.
In many PC 32310 cases, suspects are often arrested and accused after an undercover officer buys a large capacity magazine from them. Any later charges under Penal Code 32310, though, must get dropped if the officer lured you into committing the crime.
This “luring” is known as entrapment. It applies to overbearing official conduct on the part of police officers, like pressure, harassment, fraud, flattery, or threats. Entrapment is an acceptable legal defense provided that you show you only committed the crime because of the entrapment.
4.3. No probable cause
This line of defense tries to exclude evidence that is being used against you for a PC 32310 violation.
California law says that a police officer must have probable cause to detain or arrest a suspect. “Probable cause” essentially means that there is a reasonable belief that you committed a crime (based on all of the circumstances).
If you were stopped or arrested without probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. The exclusion of evidence regarding large capacity magazines could result in the dismissal or reduction of charges.
5. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year.8
If charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a term of:
- 16 months;
- Two years; or,
- Three years.9
If charged as an infraction, the crime is punishable by a fine not to exceed $100 for each magazine.10
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:
- A fine of up to $100 (per magazine); and/or;
- A sentence of up to one year in county jail.11
6. Related offenses
There are three crimes related to illegal acts with large-capacity magazines. These are:
- Carrying a concealed weapon – PC 25400;
- Carrying a loaded weapon – PC 25850; and,
- Assault weapon crimes – PC 30600
6.1. Carrying a Concealed Weapon – PC 25400
Penal Code 25400 PC, California’s carrying a concealed weapon law, makes it a crime to carry a concealed firearm on your person or in your vehicle.12
This law applies to both loaded and unloaded firearms.
Further, you must know that you are concealing a gun to be guilty under PC 25400.13
Absent aggravating circumstances, carrying a concealed firearm is a misdemeanor. If convicted of this misdemeanor, you may be punished with:
- Up to one year in county jail; and/or,
- A maximum fine of $1,000.14
A PC 25400 violation can be charged as a felony if certain aggravating circumstances are present in a case (for example, you have a prior conviction of a California firearm offense).
6.2. Carrying a Loaded Weapon – PC 25850
California Penal Code 25850 PC makes it a crime to carry a loaded firearm in a vehicle or public place.15
A “public place” is any place that is open to common and general use and is readily accessible by anyone wishing to go there.16
As with the crime of carrying a concealed weapon under PC 25400, most Penal Code 25850 crimes will be charged as misdemeanors. If so, they are punishable by:
- Up to one year in county jail; and/or,
- A maximum fine of $1,000.17
However, as with charges under PC 25400, acts of carrying a loaded weapon can be charged as a felony if certain aggravating factors are present in a case.
6.3. Assault Weapon Crimes – PC 30600
Penal Code 30600 PC is California’s law regarding assault weapons and .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) rifles. It prohibits:
- giving away,
- lending, and/or
assault weapons and BMG rifles, except in very specific circumstances.
The penalties for violating PC 30600 will vary from minor infractions to very severe felonies. These are punishable by both a fine and/or a prison term. The specific penalty will vary depending on the specific act you commit and the underlying facts of the case.
On June 4, 2021, a federal judge overturned California’s ban on assault weapons on the grounds that it violates the constitutional right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. But assault weapons remain illegal in California while the state appeals the ruling.18
- Kevin Rector and Matthew Ormseth, Federal judge again overturns California ban on high-capacity gun magazines, Los Angeles Times (September 22, 2023). Maura Dolan, U.S. appeals court upholds California’s ban on large-capacity firearms magazines, Los Angeles Times (November 30, 2021). See also Duncan v. Becerra, No. 19-55376, D.C. No. 3:17-cv-01017-BEN-JLB (9th Cir, August 14, 2020), affirming Duncan v. Becerra, 366 F. Supp. 3d 1131 (Southern District of California, 2019)(“California Penal Code § 32310 is hereby declared to be unconstitutional in its entirety and shall be enjoined.”); Teri Figueroa, 9th Circuit ends California ban on high-capacity magazines, LA Times (August 14, 2020). New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen (2022) 597 U.S. , 142 S. Ct. 2111, 213 L. Ed. 2d 387 (prohibits states from requiring people to show a special need for self defense in order to publicly carry handguns). Duncan v. Bonta (9th Cir. 2022) U.S. App. LEXIS 21320.
- California Penal Code 32310(c) PC; see note 1.
- California Penal Code 16740 PC; see note 1.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 16590 PC; see note 1.
- California Penal Code 33225 PC.
- The court case is Wiese v. Becerra.
- California Penal Code 32310(a) PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 32310(c) PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 25400 PC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 25400(c)(7).
- California Penal Code 25850 PC.
- California Jury Instructions – Criminal – CALCJI 16.431.
- California Penal Code 25850(c) PC.
- California Penal Code 30600 PC; Don Thompson, California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons is unconstitutional, federal judge rules, Los Angeles Times (June 4, 2021)(“U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego ruled that the state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court.”)