How Legally to Transport Firearms in California

guns in case
You can legally transport firearms in California if you have it locked and unloaded in your trunk

Generally, a firearm can only be legally transported in California if it is:

  • unloaded, and
  • locked in the trunk or a locked container inside the vehicle.1

When going to and from the vehicle, the firearm has to be unloaded and carried in a locked container.

However, there are different rules for transporting specific kinds of firearms, such as:

  • Handguns that can be concealed,
  • Shotguns and rifles that cannot be concealed, and
  • Assault rifles.

1. How can handguns be legally transported in California?

Handguns are firearms that can be concealed. To legally transport a handgun, it has to be:

  • unloaded,
  • locked in the trunk of the vehicle or in a locked container inside the vehicle, and
  • apparent and not concealed inside the vehicle.2

The gun owner has to follow these rules, regardless of whether they are the driver or passenger in a car.

The gun owner also has to walk directly to and from the vehicle with the firearm. He or she has to carry it in the locked container.

2. How can non-concealable firearms be legally transported?

Firearms that cannot be concealed have to be unloaded while in transport.

Firearms that cannot be concealed include:

  • Shotguns,
  • Rifles,
  • Carbines, and
  • Submachine guns.

Usually, non-concealable firearms do not have to be in a locked container. Federal law, however, requires them to be in a locked container or gun rack when in a school zone.3 School zones are anywhere within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a K-12 school.4

This federal law only applies to firearms that “has moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce.”5

For other rifles and shotguns, California's Gun-Free School Zone Act does not require they be in a locked container while brought through a school zone.

3. How can assault weapons be transported?

While in transport, assault weapons have to be:

  • Stored in a locked container, and
  • Unloaded.

Furthermore, assault weapons can only be transported to and from:

  • A licensed gun dealer for servicing or repair,
  • The gun owner's private property,
  • Property owned by someone else, provided the gun owner has been given express permission to bring their firearm,
  • A firing range,
  • The premises of a shooting club licensed under the Fish and Game Code,
  • A firearms exhibition, display, or educational project organized by law enforcement or a recognized firearms organization, or
  • Public land, with the specific permission of the agency managing it.6

4. Who can legally transport firearms?

For firearm transportation to be legal, the person transporting a firearm also has to be:

  • over the age of 18,
  • a U.S. citizen,
  • either a California resident or temporarily in the state, and
  • allowed to own, possess, receive, or purchase a gun.7

5. What is a “locked container”?

A “locked container” is something that is fully enclosed to prevent access. It has to be locked with a:

  • padlock,
  • keylock,
  • combination lock, or
  • other locking device.8

The following areas of a car are not locking containers under California's firearm laws:

  • Utility compartment, or
  • Glove compartment.

To be legal, the firearm cannot be pried out of the container while it is locked. Locking a gun case with a cable or trigger locks may not prevent this from happening.

The container does not need to be a hard shell case. Gun bags or range bags suffice, as long as they are locked.

6. What if I drive a pickup truck or vehicle with no trunk?

When a vehicle has no trunk, California law seems to require a firearm to be inside the vehicle. For pickup truck drivers, this means the passenger seat or crew cab.

7. Examples

  • An unloaded handgun in a locked case on the passenger's seat,
  • An unloaded rifle in a range bag stored in the trunk of a sedan, and
  • An unloaded assault rifle in a locked case, with the owner driving from their home to the gun range.

8. Criminal offenses related to transporting a firearm

Incorrectly transporting a firearm can lead to charges under various California gun laws, including:

9. Defenses to a firearms charge

Gun owners accused of illegally transporting a firearm can raise legal defenses like:

  • Illegal search or seizure, and
  • Necessity.
man behind bars
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

10. Penalties for illegally transporting a firearm

The penalties of illegally transporting a firearm depend on which law was violated.

Most criminal charges involving firearm possession in California are wobblers. Prosecutors have the discretion to file misdemeanor or felony charges.

When charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties of a conviction can be as high as:

When charged as a felony, the penalties can be:

  • Up to 3 years in jail, and
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.

Convictions for felony offenses also come with collateral consequences. These can impact the gun owner's right to bear arms.

In some cases, prosecutors only file the charge as an infraction. The penalty is a $500 fine. This is rare, though. Only the least severe cases of illegal firearm possession are treated as infractions.

Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 25610 PC.

  2. California Penal Code 25610 and 25400.

  3. 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(A)(iii).

  4. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(25).

  5. 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(A).

  6. California Penal Code 30945.

  7. California Penal Code 25610.

  8. California Penal Code 16850.

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