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Legal Disposal of California Assault Weapons (Incomplete)

For one reason or another, periodically people wish to dispose of assault weapons in California. The path to disposal varies, dependent upon a few conditions.

Motives to Dispose of an AW

There are a few common motivations to dispose of a California assault weapon. I'll outline some of the more common ones below, as well as some alternatives which should be considered if these are the motives.

Discovery of Abandoned Assault Weapons

There've been a few incidents of new homeowners discovering Uzis, AK-47s, or other assault weapons hidden within their homes by the previous occupant. This typically happens when a gun owner hides weapons at various places in his home, then dies. When the family sells the house later, the weapons remain behind. Unfortunately, it is be illegal to take possession of these weapons, so they must be destroyed or surrendered to the police. Strangely enough, destruction is a more prudent course of action, as the receivers may be destroyed and then the other parts may be retained to be rebuilt into a California-legal configuration.

Discovery of Illegal Status

This occurs fairly frequently, due to the reckless implementation and irresponsible lack of notification on the part of California's legislature. The assault weapon bans of '89 and '99 were passed with almost no public notification program. Even today, literally thousands of gun owners in California are completely ignorant that they're in felonious possession of now-illegal weapons, with no legal means of registration open to them at this date. The lucky ones find out about it from a knowledgeable friend or someone at a gun show, but every year more of them get charged for simple possession of weapons they legally purchased and were never told to register. Hopefully, this guide will assist the lucky ones who find out in advance, by helping them eliminate their legal liability.

Loss of Legal Ability to Continue Possession

There are various grounds for losing ongoing ability to legally possess an assault weapon (or any weapon, for that matter). The most obvious is a felony charge of any sort. Other reasons include any domestic violence conviction or mental health commitment (5150).

Desire Not to be on a List

Many folks are afraid or annoyed at California's assault weapon registration, and are afraid to be on "the list". I would point out that simply disposing of your assault weapon will not remove you from their databases, so there's no real gain in the disposition of your assault weapon. The weapon itself will be removed from the registered database and is unlikely to show up on police terminals during traffic stops, but it's unlikely that all traces of your existence as a gun owner will be gone.

Desire to Reduce Legal Complexity

Assault weapons are subject to transportation restrictions which closely mirror those of handguns. A lot of folks don't really enjoy the possibility of getting a criminal record for forgetting to lock up their rifles, for instance, before going to the range. I would observe that if one feels THAT uncomfortable, just leave the AW locked up at home and buy a non-AW weapon to take to the range.


This is the most vexing of all reasons for disposal of an assault weapon. If the registered owner dies, even if the heir is named in the will, there's no way to move the assault weapon registration over to the new owner. CA law, unless I'm mistaken, allows the heir to possess the weapon for one year after the inheritance, but the weapon MUST be disposed of legally, and may not be kept. In the case of non-explicitly-listed weapons, it is possible to convert the weapon to a CA-legal state and de-register it as an assault weapon in order to continue possession.

Determining Eligible Disposal Methods

Was the weapon registered with the DOJ?

If the weapon was registered with the Department of Justice (no, it is not registered just by being bought in a gun shop!), you may sell (but only to a very limited number of people within CA, or to a dealer outside of CA), destroy, or surrender the weapon.

Was the weapon NOT registered with the DOJ?

If it is an assault weapon and wasn't ever registered, your only options are to destroy it or arrange to surrender it to police.

Means of Disposal

Selling a Registered Assault Weapon

Assuming that the assault rifle is a registered pre-ban assault rifle and not a functionally similar CA-legal variant of one, selling it is tricky. Within California, assault rifles must be sold via a gun shop with an assault weapon permit. You can't sell them to private individuals unless they happen to have some kind of exemption (a police officer with a letter from his department could legally purchase it, as long as the transfer happened through an AW-permit-holding gun shop). Assuming you have found a gun dealer with an assault weapon permit, they can handle the transfer of the weapon. You would arrange for the weapon to be sold (i.e. list it on Gunbroker, or a board, or something like that) and then transport the weapon to the dealer. The dealer will then handle shipping the weapon to the purchaser's dealer, and everything is taken care of in accordance with California law. If your weapon appears on the Roberti-Roos or Kasler lists, this is the only way you can sell your weapon.

De-Assaulting a Registered AW Prior to Sale

If you possess a registered assault weapon which is not on the list, and is only an assault weapon based on features classification (such as an M1A with a flash hider installed, or a Ruger Mini-14 with a pistol grip and folding stock), you can remove any offending SB23 features from it (folding stock, pistol grip, etc) and then send the DOJ notification that it is no longer an assault weapon. Once it is no longer a registered assault weapon, it may be sold like any ordinary non-assault-weapon version of the weapon.

Surrendering a Listed Assault Weapon

If you possess an assault weapon legally registered in your name, you may take it at any time to a police station to surrender it for destruction. However, you should call ahead to arrange a time for the surrender. This is simply because just showing up at a police station with a weapon, AW or not, is a bad idea.

If this is a weapon which you didn't register with the DOJ, you'll need to arrange for the disposal of the weapons through an attorney. The issue is that, although the surrender of the weapon has eliminated the ongoing existence of a felony possession, it does not erase the fact that the weapon's been in your possession up until that point. It is possible that the police may choose to attempt to pursue charges based upon prior possession. I'm not sure exactly how the attorney changes things; I assume that he/she is under no obligation to disclose your identity to the police, and they'll simply accept the weapon for disposal. Note to self: Call Bill and figure this out.

Surrendering an Unlisted Assault Weapon

The simplest solution here, is to disassemble or reconfigure the unlisted weapon so that it is no longer in an SB23-prohibited configuration and then continue to possess it. As long as it's reconfigured into a manner that complies with SB23 (see LegalCaliforniaRifleGuide), it may be sold or kept like any other weapon. Although in this case, it makes far more sense to at least hold onto the non-receiver parts, unless you are prohibited from owning parts.

Destroying an Assault Weapon

To be written

-- SeanNewton - 23 Jun 2008

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Topic revision: r5 - 12 Oct 2012 - SeanNewton
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