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Notes about California law

This page is not a substitute for reading the actual text of the laws. The best place to read California's firearms laws is at the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms. That having been said, this page is meant as a convenient quick reference chart for California law.

Timelines and History

This information is sourced from http://nramemberscouncils.com/legs.shtml, which is where you should go for updates. That having been said, the summaries I present may be easier to track for some folks.

Other Information

Local Issues

  • Los Angeles has a number of special gun laws which are more restrictive than the rest of California.

Related to Carrying Firearms in California

Guides to Specific Topics

Specific California Compliance Devices

AR-15 devices HK Family devices

Legal Issues with Specific Rifles

  • CA-legal H&K clones (G3, MP5, etc)
  • FN's PS90 and FS2000 rifles have a number of configuration challenges which must be addressed before they can be lawfully assembled.
  • Thompsons are amazingly easy to render CA-compliant, although they're not very ergonomic.
  • 1911 Carbines are coming to California soon - Spiggy, of Calguns, has a compliance kit that'll be marketed in a while.

Relative to Staying Out of Jail

  • Generally, guns must be unloaded when transported in California.
  • Some police officers regard any loaded magazine to be a loaded weapon. The reasoning which has been employed, is that because a magazine-fed gun will not function normally without a magazine installed, the magazine itself is a part of the gun. By this reasoning, a loaded magazine is a loaded weapon. This does not apply to stripper clips (see SKS) or en-bloc clips (see M1 Garand), however. This has been shown to be untrue in case law, however it remains a frequently held position amongst LEOs. See People vs Clark
  • A "law update" video was circulated to California police departments in early 2007, notifying officers that the mere presence of a gun case in a vehicle constitutes a valid cause to open the case and inspect the weapon to verify that it is unloaded. You have no right to refuse search if a gun case is visible. This does not, however, mean that you must grant consent to search the rest of your vehicle, only the gun case. This information courtesy of eta34, from Calguns.
  • If you lose a gun or have it stolen: If the loss occurred in Los Angeles, or if you reside in Los Angeles, you must report it within 48 hours to the LAPD.

Prohibitions By Weapon Type

This section is a derivative of the assault weapon code, plus a few other sources.


  • Any semi-automatic handgun with a threaded barrel, a shrouded barrel (think heat sink), a magazine located outside of the pistol grip, or a forward pistol grip, is an assault weapon.
  • Los Angeles (including its suburbs, such as Reseda) forbid the purchase of "ultra-compact firearms". See LegalCaliforniaCityLosAngeles for more details on this and other LA-specific restrictions.
  • You may only purchase one new pistol every 30 days, unless you possess a Certificate of Eligibility. You may acquire an unlimited number of pistols via Private Party Transfer.


  • Minimum legal barrel length, for a shotgun barrel, is 18"
  • Minimum overall length, for any shotgun, is 26". Break that law, and you have a short barrelled shotgun, even if the actual barrel is 18" or over.
  • You may not have both a pistol grip and a telescoping/folding/collapsible stock on a semi-automatic shotgun. Break this rule, and you have an assault shotgun.
  • You may not have any semi-automatic shotgun with a detachable magazine. Break this rule, and you have an assault shotgun.
  • Bear in mind that none of these rules apply to pump-action, lever action, or otherwise non-semi-automatic shotguns.
  • It is legal for one Californian to purchase a rifle or shotgun 50 years or older from another Californian, face to face, with no paperwork involved. This does not convey any immunity from other California laws - you may not purchase 60 year old assault weapons by doing this.

Centerfire Rifles

  • Minimum legal length for a rifle barrel is 16", although permanent barrel extensions (pinned or welded flash hiders) are acceptable to bring the length up to 16". A rifle breaking this rule is a short barrelled rifle. Note that this mirrors Federal law, and is a Felony offense in either a state or federal context!
  • All semi-automatic rifles must be no shorter than 30" in their minimum configuration. Rifles which are not semi-automatic must have a minimum length of 26". If you have a collapsible stock, measure the rifle with the stock collapsed (see the Rooney case for reference on this). If your rifle is below the minimum length, then it is an assault rifle regardless of whether its "feature list" is compliant with the law. Note that a rifle less than 26" long is also a Federal felony.
  • A semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine may not have a forward pistol grip, flash hider, collapsible stock, thumbhole stock, grenade/flare launcher, or pistol grip. A rifle breaking these rules is an assault rifle.
  • A rifle that is NOT semi automatic, or a semi automatic rifle with no detachable magazine, may have all the above features without violating the law, provided that minimum length limits are adhered to.
  • Any semi-automatic rifle with a fixed magazine holding more than 10 rounds, is considered an assault rifle. AR-15 builders, pay attention here - if you build a fixed-mag rifle, you can't use a standard capacity magazine on the rifle.
  • It is legal for one Californian to purchase a rifle or shotgun 50 years or older from another Californian, face to face, with no paperwork involved. This does not convey any immunity from other California laws - you may not purchase 60 year old assault weapons by doing this.

Getting (most of) what you want without breaking the law


  • Rimfire rifles: The assault rifle regulations all pertain to centerfire rifles. Rimfire rifles may use the 'evil features' list as a laundry list, if they so desire. However, if you're looking at a rimfire AR, be wary of using conversions to existing rifles. The 'ceiner' conversion devices (which replace the bolt carrier of an AR-15 with a 22LR assembly) are entirely too close to the line to use with a detachable magazine. I personally do feel safe with the V-22 upper on one of my AR-15s, however, as it's almost impossible to remove from the rifle without tools.
  • Fixed-mag rifles: You can fix the magazine in place for most semi-automatic rifles, thus permitting them to retain their pistol grips, flash hiders, or other features you've grown attached to. AK-47s can be fixed in place via an L-shaped thing inserted into the magazine catch assembly or by covering the magazine latch with a shield, and there are a number of conversion kits available that prevent the AR-15 magazine release from being operable. On a PTR-91, you can form a metal plate that fits under the magazine release and prevents it from being operated. Some folks use 5/16" e-clips, but I feel that's legally unsafe - too easy to remove, or one could probably bend the e-clip with sufficient force, and still drop the magazine free.
  • 'Featureless' rifles: My personal favorite approach, is to remove the 'evil features' from the rifles so that they're legal to use with detachable magazines. On an AK-47, it's as simple as not screwing in the pistol grip. On an AR-15, you'd need to either leave off the safety, install a Spring Retaining Bracket, a U-15 stock, a Hammerhead Rifle Stock Adapter or a Monsterman Grip replacement. On an H&K pattern rifle, it would entail hacksawing off the pistol grip.


  • Although you cannot buy any modern handgun not listed on the California Approved Handgun List from a dealer, anyone moving into California may bring in as many handguns as they wish. The handguns can be transferred to you in a private party transfer, which doesn't require that the handgun be listed in order to affect the transfer. This does not convey immunity to the assault weapon laws, though.
  • Curio & Relic handguns are exempt from the California approved handgun list requirements.
-- SeanNewton - 23 Aug 2006

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PDFpdf awsheet.pdf r1 manage 321.8 K 28 Mar 2007 - 14:08 UnknownUser Assault Rifle handout
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Topic revision: r48 - 08 Aug 2016 - SeanNewton
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