The news is full of tragic stories of young children who comes across loaded, unattended firearms and shoot themselves or other children. Leaving a loaded gun where a child can find it is not only dangerous, but in some states, including California, it is also illegal and can result in criminal charges for the gun owner. For more information on California’s gun laws, see Open and Concealed Gun Carry Laws in California and Gun Permit Laws in California.
In California, a person commits criminal storage of a firearm (in the third degree) by keeping or leaving a loaded firearm in a place where the defendant knows (or should have known) that a child under the age of 18 is likely to gain access to the gun without permission of the child’s parent or guardian, and the defendant does not take reasonable steps to secure the firearm. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 25105.)
For example, a person who keeps a loaded handgun in an unlocked drawer of a nightstand and regularly entertains children at home and allows them free access to the bedrooms, including the master bedroom, could be charged with criminal storage. However, if the person locks the nightstand drawer, locks the bedroom drawer, or keeps the gun in a locked safe, then the defendant has likely taken reasonable steps to secure the gun and would probably not be charged with third degree criminal storage of a firearm even if a child found the gun.
Criminal storage of a firearm is punished more severely if the defendant keeps or leaves a loaded firearm in a place where the defendant knows (or should have known) that a child is likely to gain access to the gun without permission; and the child causes death or injury (to self or others). or carries the gun into a public place.
Oftentimes, children injure or kill themselves with guns that they find in their own homes. California’s lawmakers require that a parent whose child shoots him or herself as a result of criminal storage of a firearm not be arrested until at least seven days after the shooting. Parents whose children shoot themselves or others should be prosecuted only when they have acted grossly negligent. (Cal. Pen. Code, § § 25115, 25120.)
Gun dealers are required to post signs warning consumers that it is crime to store a gun where a child can find it and that guns should be locked or stored in locked containers. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 26835.)
The following are defenses to criminal storage of a firearm:
(Cal. Pen. Code, § 25105.) For example, if the defendant never had any children in his home and never invited any children into his home, but while he was out of town, the neighbor who was bringing in the mail unexpectedly allowed a child to come into the defendant’s home and the child found a gun, then the defendant may be able to avoid a conviction for criminal storage by showing that he or she had no reasonable expectation that a child would come into the home.
Criminal storage of a firearm in the third degree is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If a person is injured or killed or if the child takes the gun into a public place, then criminal storage of a firearm may be punishable by 16 months, two, or three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000; or by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 25110.)
If you are charged with criminal storage of a firearm, or any other crime, you should talk to a California criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain the law and answer your questions and tell you how your case is likely to fare in court, depending on the facts and the assigned judge and prosecutor. An attorney can help you protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.