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Changes to California’s Gun Laws

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jan 03, 2017 | 0 Comments

Beginning on January 1, 2017, California has a number of new laws that would restrict residents right to own certain guns and ammunition. To help you better understand these new California gun laws, our California criminal defense lawyers set forth below what you need to know.

Ban on Semi-automatic Centerfire Firearms

Beginning on January 1, 2017, Californians will no longer be able to purchase semi-automatic, centerfire rifles or semi-automatic pistols that have a so-called “bullet-button” device to release spent magazines.

Guns without fixed magazines are now classified as assault weapons if they have any “military-style” features – for instance, a protruding pistol grip, a thumbhole stock, a folding stock, a flash suppressor or a grenade launcher.

The new law defines “fixed magazine” as an ammunition feeding device contained in, or permanently attached to, a firearm in such a manner that the device cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action. So guns with “military” features will now be legal only if removing the magazine requires taking the rifle or pistol apart.

You are exempted from the ban on possession of weapons that meet the new definition if:

  • You lawfully possessed the weapon prior to January 1, 2017, and
  • You register the gun with the Department of Justice before January 1, 2018 (at a cost not to exceed $20).

Otherwise, possession of these or any other assault weapons is a so-called “wobbler” offense, punishable either as felony or by up to one year in a county jail.

You can obtain a registration form for your "bullet-button" assault weapons online from the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms.

Ban on Large-Capacity Magazines

As of July 1, 2017, it will be illegal to possess a magazine capable of holding more than 10 bullets, regardless of the date on which the magazine was acquired. People owning magazines with more than a 10-bullet capacity will be required to get rid of them by destroying them, selling them to a licensed gun dealer or handing them in to law enforcement.

Guns are exempted from the new regulation IF and only if:

  • They were legally purchased before January 1, 2000, 
  • No magazine that holds 10 or fewer rounds of ammunition is compatible with that firearm, and
  • The magazine is used solely with that weapon.

Otherwise, possessing a magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds will be an infraction, punishable by:

  • A fine of up to $100 for a first offense;
  • A fine of up to $250 for a second offense; or
  • A fine of up to $500 for a third or subsequent offense.

Limits on Gun Lending

It is generally a crime in California to loan someone a firearm without going through a licensed firearms dealer. In the past, however, there has been an exemption for gun loans to someone you know personally, provide you loan the gun infrequently and the duration of the loan does not exceed 30 days.

A new law now makes the exemption application solely to the loan of a lawfully registered firearm to a spouse, registered domestic partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild.
As before, such loans must be frequent and limited to 30 days duration.

“Straw purchasing” and False Reports

Two other new California laws make it a misdemeanor to:

  • Buy a gun legally with the intent of giving or selling it to someone else (so-called "straw purchasing”); or
  • File a false report about a gun being lost or stolen.

In addition to misdemeanor penalties, filing a false report of a stolen gun will result in your not being permitted to purchase another gun lawfully for ten years.

Background Checks on Ammunition Sales

Two of the most controversial new laws affect ammunition sales, although they do not go into effect until 2019.

Beginning on January 1, 2019, all purchases of ammunition must take place in-person and will require you to pass a background check with the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms.

Selling or giving ammunition to someone prohibited from owning it (because of California’s “felon with a firearm” law or otherwise) will be a misdemeanor, punishable by:

  • Up to one year in county jail, and/or 
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

There are numerous exceptions to the law for the sale of ammunition to law enforcement, firearms dealers, hunting clubs, and the like.

You will also be allowed to sell up to 50 rounds a month directly to someone else if:

  • The person is an immediate family member or relative, or 
  • The sale is between licensed hunters while engaged in lawful hunting activity.

Otherwise, the sale of ammunition must be conducted through a licensed ammunition dealer.

Rather than having to go through a background check every time you purchase ammo, you will be able to obtain a purchase authorization from the California Department of Justice for a fee not to exceed $50 (for a new authorization or a renewal).

Out-of-state Ammo Prohibited

Another controversial limit on ammunition goes into effect on July 1, 2019. Commencing on that date, a California resident may not bring ammunition purchased in another state into California unless it has first been delivered to an authorized ammunition vendor for lawful delivery to the customer.

Court Challenges Expected

Gun rights advocates are expected to challenge at least some of these laws in court on Second Amendment grounds. However, in the meantime, you will not be able to purchase semi-automatic centerfire guns that meet the new definition of assault weapon.

Keep checking our blog for all the up-to-date news on California gun laws. And, in the meantime, if you have been charged with violating these or any other California gun laws, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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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