What is a Zip Gun and is it Illegal in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Oct 08, 2018 | 0 Comments

zip gun makeshift pistol california law
A zip gun is essentially a cheap makeshift gun.

A zip gun is essentially a cheap makeshift gun. Persons make them using supplies from around their home or found at a local hardware store. Zip guns are sometimes favored by an offender because they're relatively untraceable and can be thrown out after a single shot. The term “zip” is used because a rubber band is often used to help fire these weapons.

Under California Penal Code 33600 PC, it is illegal if a person does any of the following with zip guns:

  • Manufactures them,
  • Imports them into the State,
  • Keeps them for sale,
  • Offers them for sale,
  • Gives or lends them, and/or
  • Possesses them.

If a person performs any of these acts with a zip gun, he can get charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specific facts of a case. The penalties for either charge can include imprisonment for one to three years and/or substantial fines.

The Law on Zip Guns

PC 33600 is California's statute governing zip guns. According to this code section, it is a crime if any person:

manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, or possesses any zip gun…

Further, 33690 PC states that any zip gun is a nuisance under California law. This means that the State can “enjoin,” or prohibit the:

manufacture of, importation of, keeping for sale of, offering or exposing for sale, giving, lending, or possession of [any zip gun] …


A violation of this section is a wobbler offense, 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 a term not to exceed one year.

If charged as a felony, the crime is punished pursuant to California Penal Code 1170(h) PC.

Penal Code 1170(h) PC is a catchall provision for felony sentencing. It allows a judge to sentence a defendant to a county jail term of:

  • 16 months,
  • Two years, or
  • Three years.

In addition to jail time, a person guilty of a crime under PC 33600 may be subject to a fine in an amount between $1,000 and $10,000.

Other Laws Prohibiting Zip Guns

Penal Code 16590 PC is the California statute governing “generally prohibited weapons.” The statute lists several weapons/objects that are generally prohibited in the State of California. Zip guns are one such type of weapon, specifically banned under PC 16590 (z).

Examples of other prohibited weapons include:

  • Concealed daggers;
  • Belt buckle knives; and,
  • Metal knuckles.

Exemptions from the General Laws

Please note that certain people and/or situations are exempt from prosecution for possessing a zip gun and other prohibited weapons. For example, members of law enforcement agencies may sell, transfer, or possess zip guns. The same holds true for some antique dealers.

Please also note that the above statutes and code sections do not prohibit the lawful use or possession of other lawful firearms. For example, conventional pistols, revolvers, long rifles, and long shotguns can still be legally owned by most adults in California, subject to certain restrictions.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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