Penal Code 12556 PC - “Imitation Firearms”

Penal Code 12556 is the California gun law that makes it a crime for a person to display an “imitation firearm” (“IF”) in public.

An “imitation firearm” includes objects like a:

  • BB gun,
  • toy gun, and
  • replica of a firearm.

Some examples of crimes under PC 12556 are:

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused under this code section. These include showing that a defendant:

  • did not have an “imitation firearm,”
  • was not in a “public place,” and
  • qualified for an exemption from the law.

Penalties

A person that violates Penal Code 12556 is charged with 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 highlight the following in this article:

child holding toy gun
Penal Code 12556 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to display an “imitation firearm” (“IF”) in public.

1. What is the legal definition of displaying an IF in public?

Penal Code 12556 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to display an “imitation firearm” in public.1

An “imitation firearm” includes objects like a:

  • BB gun,
  • toy gun, and
  • replica of a firearm.2

An IF also includes any other device that would lead a reasonable person to believe that it is a firearm.3

According to PC 12556, a “public place” is an area open to the public and includes:

  • streets,
  • sidewalks,
  • plazas,
  • front yards,
  • parking lots,
  • automobiles, and
  • buildings open to the general public.4

2. Legal Defenses

A person can try to challenge a PC 12556 accusation by raising a legal defense. A legal defense may work to reduce or dismiss a charge.

Three common defenses to Penal Code 12556 charges include:

  1. no imitation firearm;
  2. no public place; and/or,
  3. exempted.

2.1. No imitation firearm

Please recall that PC 12556 only applies to “imitation firearms.” It is always a valid defense, therefore, for a defendant to show that while he may have displayed an object in public, it was not an IF (e.g., it was a wooden bat).

2.2. No public place

Also recall that a person is guilty under PC 12556 only if he displays an IF in a “public place.” This means that it is a defense for an accused to show that while he displayed a toy gun, he did not do so in public (e.g., he was in his home).

2.3. Exempted

There are certain situations that are exempted from the general prohibition under Penal Code 12556. For example, the section states that it does not apply when the imitation firearm is used:

  • in a theatrical production or movie,
  • when a person is hunting,
  • as a display on a wall plaque or in a presentation case, and
  • in parades.5

If a defendant displays an IF, and the situation falls into one of these exemptions, he has a valid defense to any charge of displaying an IF in public.

money and fines
A violation of this law can result in fines

3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing

A person that violates Penal Code 12556 is charged with 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:

  1. brandishing a weapon – PC 417;
  2. possession of a switchblade – PC 17235 and 21510; and,
  3. California's cane gun law – PC 24410

4.1. Brandishing a weapon – PC 417

Per Penal Code 417, it is a crime for a person 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 a guilty party 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 for a person 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

Were you accused of displaying an imitation firearm in public in California? Call us for help…

california criminal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per Penal Code 12556 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

  1. California Penal Code 12556(a) PC. This code section states: “No person may openly display or expose any imitation firearm, as defined in Section 12550, in a public place.”

  2. California Penal Code 16700(a) PC.

  3. See same.

  4. California Penal Code 12556(e) PC.

  5. California Penal Code 12556(d) PC.

  6. Penal Code 12556(b) PC.

  7. See same.

  8. California Penal Code 12556(c) PC.

  9. California Penal Code 417 PC.

  10. See same.

  11. California Penal Code 21510 PC.

  12. California Penal Code 24410 PC.

  13. California Penal Code 16330 PC.

  14. See same.

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