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California Laws Regarding Magazines
See also: Magazine Rebuild Chart for Californians
Low Capacity Magazines (10 or less) Are Unregulated
Calfornia does not regulate magazines with a capacity of 10 or fewer rounds. Low-capacity magazines such as these are legal to buy, sell, import, trade, or build small doghouses out of. California Penal Code 12020, the same section which regulates short barreled rifles and shotguns, as well as a surprising assortment of martial arts weapons, is what regulates large capacity magazines.
Definition of Large Capacity Magazine
CPC 12020c: (25) As used in this section, "large-capacity magazine" means any ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds, but shall not be construed to include any of the following:
- (A) A feeding device that has been permanently altered so that it cannot accommodate more than 10 rounds.
- (B) A .22 caliber tube ammunition feeding device.
- (C) A tubular magazine that is contained in a lever-action firearm.
As written, it is worth noting that the various "10/30" and other 10rd magazines sold in California with longer bodies for cosmetic or ergonomic reasons, are legal as long as the alterations are permanent. However, there are no standards of permanence encoded in the law. It is very safe to assume, however, that welded steel magazines are permanent. Please note that
Observations on California Magazine Law
The relevant text of CPC 12020 is reproduced for you below, taken from the California Office of the Attorney General's Website as it appeared on 10/29/2007. Before you get into the minutiae, it is worthwhile to bring its summary to your attention, colored with some other items:
- For simplicity's sake, this article is written for the average individual, not law enforcement or armored car company employees or other specially empowered classes of folks.
- You may not buy magazines in another state and drive them, assembled, into California! This is obvious enough from the penal code, but it bears re-statement, as it is a common misperception in California. That is importation of a large capacity magazine, and is a crime unless you fall into an exempted class. It is legal to purchase magazines out of state, and bring in only the parts (disassemble them prior to entry, do not ever reassemble in CA), or store them out of state (storage shed, friend's closet, box buried in the desert... as long as they don't enter the state, you aren't importing them).
- A belt is a magazine. Rounds linked together in belts are magazines. The law is vague on whether you may shoot a large capacity belt (with disintegrating links) entirely, and then reassemble it to its original capacity. Strictly speaking, separating a belt into two belts of 11 or more rounds of capacity would be the creation of a new large capacity magazine. It is legally safest to keep the last 12-13 rounds of your belts loaded with snap caps or other inert rounds, so that at no point does your belt ever cease to be a large capacity magazine. If you are assembling a belt of ammunition from links, you may link no more than 10 rounds together unless you are attaching them to an existing belt with 10 rounds or more of capacity. It is unquestionable that you may legally attach an infinite number of rounds to an existing large capacity belt.
- You do not have to have receipts for your magazines. The burden of proof is entirely upon the state, to prove that you unlawfully acquired large capacity magazines. If you moved into California after 1/1/2000, or the magazines are for a gun that was first distributed after 2000, however, proof will probably be fairly easy. Note that "LE/MIL Restricted" stamps on magazine bodies are not adequate proof, due to the parts replacement section below.
- Further clarifications from the Department of Justice, which do not appear in the print of CPC 12020, are:
- "Assembling" is equivalent to "Manufacturing", according to the DOJ. While common usage would consider the prohibited act of "manufacturing" a magazine to involve folding sheet metal and making a new magazine, the DOJ feels that assembling a magazine from pre-manufactured parts does constitute manufacture. This has not been contested; it is probably wise not to contest it.
- Magazine parts are not regulated; complete magazines are. California does not have constructive possession; if you're moving in from out of state, just disassemble your magazines and keep all the parts. Should the law change, or you move out of the state later on, you may reassemble them. It would be prudent to store all the springs in a separate box from the rest of the parts, however.
- You may replace any part you want on a lawfully owned large capacity magazine. As long as the magazine continues to function in the same weapon, you are not manufacturing a new magazine, but simply repairing an old one. It is illegal to rebuild a new magazine out of the leftover parts. However, you are not required to dispose of them, or to smash them, or anything like that. If you are really worried, folks have advocated smashing the original magazine body flat and retaining it as proof that your shiny new magazine body is simply the current incarnation of an older magazine. Also, there is no single part which constitutes "the magazine". Bodies, springs, floorplates, may all be replaced at will, and there is no requirement that any part of the original magazine remain in the new one.
- A large capacity magazine may be 11 rounds, or 100 rounds. In California, the "magic switch" is when a magazine holds more than 10 rounds. Because, as noted above, you may replace parts on a lawfully owned magazine, you could replace the body and spring from a 20rd AK-47 magazine with that of a 40rd AK-47 magazine, and thus legally upgrade a lawfully owned large capacity magazine without violating the law. However, if you tried this with a magazine which was not a large capacity magazine, you would be manufacturing a new one. Don't do that.
- If a modified magazine ceases to work in the original firearm it was intended for, you have criminally manufactured a new magazine. This is why folks in California get excited about the Olympic Arms no-mods-required Sten magblock, if they already own Sten magazines, and don't get very excited about the Uzi magblocks which require modifications that make the mags stop working in Uzis.
- January 1st, 2000 was the deadline to import, make, had one sold to you (tricky wording, for a reason), or been given a large capacity magazine. If you were born after that date, or moved into the state after that date, you are basically out of luck according to the traditional reading of CPC 12020. But, see below for exemptions.
- Possession of large capacity magazines is not a crime. The burden of proof falls to the state, to prove that a crime was committed a crime by either importing or manufacturing the magazine. There are legal paths to acquire a new large capacity magazine, however they are improbable. It is not illegal to keep a large capacity magazine should you find it. Some folks claim to have found large capacity magazines in desert shooting areas, or abandoned at shooting ranges. It is not illegal to keep magazines which were found in those circumstances.
- It is not illegal to buy a large capacity magazine! The prohibited actions are, "manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, or lends, any large-capacity magazine", and there are various exemptions for temporary loans and such. Note that it is illegal for most folks to sell a large capacity magazine. If you were to buy a magazine from someone who is committing a crime in selling it to you, you are guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime. The interesting wrinkle in this is that, although the spirit of the law is clearly meant to restrict large capacity magazine sales to certain protected classes, as written there are certain classes of folks who can lawfully sell large capacity magazines to anyone.
- All Gun Shops, potentially: Exemption #21 states that "a person licensed pursuant to Section 12071" may sell large capacity magazines, without stipulating to whom they may sell them. While the spirit of the law probably intended to restrict this to LEOs or whatnot, the law does not actually state this restriction. However, the linguistic "construction" of the law does result in anomalous grammar/syntax when read in this light, which is generally held to void this interpretation.
- Armored Car Companies: Exemption #27 allows the owners of armored car companies to legally sell large capacity magazines to anyone. Because it is not illegal to buy it, and not illegal for them to sell it, an armored car company or its operator (not the employees) may sell large capacity magazines all they want in California.
- A "large capacity magazine permit" is an import permit. It is required in order to import them from out of state, not to purchase them from a company which is authorized to sell them. Any gun shop which loses its large capacity magazine permit (perhaps as retribution for selling magazines to the general public as permitted above), can purchase its magazines from any gun shop or armored car company with a valid permit.
CPC 12020, on Magazines
(a) Any person in this state who does any of the following is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison:
Martial arts weapons list deleted
(2) Commencing January 1, 2000, manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, or lends, any large-capacity magazine.
More martial arts weapons deleted
(b) Subdivision (a) does not apply to any of the following:
Exemptions for LEOs and movie companies for short barrelled rifles, shotguns, martial arts weapons, tracers, and other stuff deleted
(19) The sale of, giving of, lending of, importation into this state of, or purchase of, any large-capacity magazine to or by any federal, state, county, city and county, or city agency that is charged with the enforcement of any law, for use by agency employees in the discharge of their official duties whether on or off duty, and where the use is authorized by the agency and is within the course and scope of their duties.
(20) The sale to, lending to, transfer to, purchase by, receipt of, or importation into this state of, a large capacity magazine by a sworn peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 who is authorized to carry a firearm in the course and scope of his or her duties.
(21) The sale or purchase of any large-capacity magazine to or by a person licensed pursuant to Section 12071.
(22) The loan of a lawfully possessed large-capacity magazine between two individuals if all of the following conditions are met:
(23) The importation of a large-capacity magazine by a person who lawfully possessed the large-capacity magazine in the state prior to January 1, 2000, lawfully took it out of the state, and is returning to the state with the large-capacity magazine previously lawfully possessed in the state.
- (A) The person being loaned the large-capacity magazine is not prohibited by Section 12021, 12021.1, or 12101 of this code or Section 8100 or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code from possessing firearms or ammunition.
- (B) The loan of the large-capacity magazine occurs at a place or location where the possession of the large-capacity magazine is not otherwise prohibited and the person who lends the large-capacity magazine remains in the accessible vicinity of the person to whom the large-capacity magazine is loaned.
(24) The lending or giving of any large-capacity magazine to a person licensed pursuant to Section 12071, or to a gunsmith, for the purposes of maintenance, repair, or modification of that large-capacity magazine.
(25) The return to its owner of any large-capacity magazine by a person specified in paragraph (24).
(26) The importation into this state of, or sale of, any large-capacity magazine by a person who has been issued a permit to engage in those activities pursuant to Section 12079, when those activities are in accordance with the terms and conditions of that permit.
(27) The sale of, giving of, lending of, importation into this state of, or purchase of, any large-capacity magazine, to or by entities that operate armored vehicle businesses pursuant to the laws of this state.
(28) The lending of large-capacity magazines by the entities specified in paragraph (27) to their authorized employees, while in the course and scope of their employment for purposes that pertain to the entity's armored vehicle business.
(29) The return of those large-capacity magazines to those entities specified in paragraph (27) by those employees specified in paragraph (28).
(31) The loan of a large-capacity magazine for use solely as a prop for a motion picture, television, or video production.
- (A) The manufacture of a large-capacity magazine for any federal, state, county, city and county, or city agency that is charged with the enforcement of any law, for use by agency employees in the discharge of their official duties whether on or off duty, and where the use is authorized by the agency and is within the course and scope of their duties.
- (B) The manufacture of a large-capacity magazine for use by a sworn peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 who is authorized to carry a firearm in the course and scope of his or her duties.
- (C) The manufacture of a large-capacity magazine for export or for sale to government agencies or the military pursuant to applicable federal regulations.
(32) The purchase of a large-capacity magazine by the holder of a special weapons permit issued pursuant to Section 12095, 12230, 12250, 12286, or 12305, for any of the following purposes:
-- SeanNewton - 29 Oct 2007
- (A) For use solely as a prop for a motion picture, television, or video production.
- (B) For export pursuant to federal regulations.
- (C) For resale to law enforcement agencies, government agencies, or the military, pursuant to applicable federal regulations.