The law on possession of firearms in California is very lengthy and complicated. Even federal judges have commented on how convoluted and complicated it is. There is a general rule: you cannot possess a loaded or unloaded firearm in public. Possessing a loaded or unloaded firearm in public is generally a misdemeanor offense. However, if that firearm is not registered to you or if it is stolen, possession becomes a felony.

There is no law that says you have to have your firearms registered in California. Nevertheless, since the mid-90s, almost all firearms, specifically handguns, do get registered to the individual they are sold to, and since about 2014, all long guns are also registered to the individual they are sold to.

There are also places where you can’t have a firearm. You can’t, for example, carry a firearm to a courthouse or an airport. Those two areas do trip people up quite frequently, especially regarding ammunition. People will go shooting and then grab that same backpack for a trip; the next thing they know, they are getting caught with a single round of ammunition while going through security at the airport. There are some defenses to that. We recognize that people make mistakes, and good, law-abiding citizens have the right to target shoot and hunt. Ammunition is so small that it’s possible for you to forget about it and end up taking it into a secure area like an airport. In those cases, it’s just a matter of addressing that issue with the prosecution and the judge to explain the situation.

Some people are prohibited from owning firearms in California. There could be an issue if they were to get into a car and be unaware that another passenger or the driver has a gun in the car. Some people have firearms that were purchased several years ago before California laws changed and were not considered assault weapons then but are now.

Some people like to manufacture their own firearms. California changed the law about two years ago to require that you obtain a serial number before you manufacture a firearm. Unfortunately, a lot of people are on the internet buying kits and don’t know that these laws are in place, which means they can easily run afoul of them. Failure to get a serial number and clearance from the DOJ for manufacturing a firearm can be a felony in California.

If you are charged with a gun crime, it’s really important to get an attorney who understands not just gun law, but firearms themselves, because the law is so nuanced. Different aspects of different firearms are so new that even somebody who knows gun law may not understand how it applies to a specific firearm because they are not familiar with that firearm. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain to DAs why the law doesn’t apply to a particular gun. Even firearms experts for the prosecution might not be familiar enough with the firearm to understand why the law doesn’t apply to this particular gun. I’ve handled many cases where I’ve had to explain that the gun was acquired at a timeframe when the law didn’t apply, or now that the law has come into effect, that this particular firearm isn’t necessarily in violation, or if it is in violation, what the issues are.

Can Firearm Related Convictions Ever Be Expunged or Set Aside in California?

Convictions can be set aside or dismissed in California. What attorneys commonly refer to as an expungement is actually a dismissal under Penal Code Section 1203.4, and it is not a true expungement. The case is still there; it can still be seen by law enforcement, and it can still be seen by the general public. It’s just not supposed to be used by most employers for the purposes of hiring, but the conviction is still there. These dismissals under 1203.4 do not necessarily restore all of your rights, especially if you have a conviction that prohibits the ownership of firearms. If you have that conviction set aside or dismissed under 1203. 4, it does not restore your right to own firearms. I get people all the time who are in trouble for attempting to purchase a firearm or possessing a firearm or ammunition who truly believe that they can do so because their case has been “expunged.” In reality, it’s still a conviction.

What Are Possession of Illegal Weapons Charges in California?

Even federal judges have problems with what constitutes illegal weapons because California law has changed so much and is so difficult for people to understand. It is possible for a person to have a gun that they bought years ago that was perfectly legal at the time, but due to changes in the law, it is now considered an assault weapon, meaning it’s a felony to possess. Some people move from out of state with guns that were legal in the state where they came from but are illegal in California. Maybe they haven’t read all the laws or they don’t understand how the law applies to their gun.

I offer to go out and look at guns to evaluate them for people who are not super familiar with guns or who have moved with a gun from out of state. Consulting someone like me is also important in situations involving inheriting guns from a loved one’s estate. When someone who possessed firearms has passed away, the executor of their estate or their surviving spouse or children want to know if these things are legal and what to do with them. Even if they are illegal, there are ways to properly dispose of those firearms with the right gun dealer. In some cases, the person has to go to law enforcement; but if we can get them to a gun dealer who has the ability to buy and sell some of those guns, we might be able to still make a little bit of money off the guns, even though they are prohibited.

For more information on Possession of Firearms in California, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (866) 982-3230 today.

Brandon Leibrock

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