Gun Storage Laws in California

California gun owners must store their weapons safely and securely to keep them from children and adults who aren’t supposed to have firearms.

By , Legal Editor | Updated by Kat McClain, Attorney

If you keep a gun in your home or car, California law requires that you take reasonable steps to make sure the weapon doesn't get into the hands of a minor or anyone who's prohibited from possessing a firearm. Learn about the state's rules on gun storage, the criminal charges for violating those rules, and the exceptions.

Crimes and Penalties: Storing Guns Where Children Could Get to Them

California makes it a crime to keep a loaded or unloaded gun on your property (or property you control) if you know or should know that a minor (younger than 18) is likely to get access to it without parental permission. There are three levels to the crime, with increasing punishment based on the following circumstances.

Third-Degree Criminal Storage of Firearms

You stored the gun carelessly or simply left it somewhere the child could get to it, and you didn't take reasonable steps to prevent that from happening. These circumstances constitute third-degree criminal storage of a firearm, which carries misdemeanor penalties of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Second-Degree Criminal Storage of Firearms

It's a second-degree crime if the child actually got the gun and injured him or herself or someone else with it (other than great bodily harm), took it out in public, showed it in a threatening or angry way, or used it in a fight. A defendant guilty of second-degree criminal storage faces up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the child takes the gun to school-related grounds, the offender can be required to pay up to $5,000 in fines.

First-Degree Criminal Storage of Firearms

The child obtained the gun and killed or seriously injured him or herself or another person. This first-degree crime is a wobbler, meaning the prosecutor can charge it as a misdemeanor or felony. The misdemeanor subjects an offender to up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A felony conviction carries a potential punishment ranging from 16 months to three years' incarceration and a $10,000 fine.

Crime and Penalties: Storing Guns Accessible to Adults Prohibited From Firearm Possession

You can also be charged with criminal storage of a firearm if you keep a gun on your property while knowing that it could be accessible to anyone who isn't allowed to possess a firearm under state or federal law and that person actually gets the weapon.

The same first- and second-degree penalties described above apply to these crimes. It's a first-degree offense if the person kills or seriously hurts someone as a result, and a second-degree offense if the person causes a less-serious injury, carries the gun in public, displays it in a threatening way, or uses it in a fight. (The third-degree penalties don't apply here.)

Exceptions to Criminal Storage of a Firearm

California's laws on criminal storage of a firearm don't apply in a number of circumstances, including when:

  • a minor got the gun as a result of illegally entering the premises
  • the gun was locked with a locking device or kept in a locked container or another secure place
  • the defendant had the gun on their body or close at hand
  • the defendant is a peace officer or in the military, and the child obtained the gun during the performance of the person's duties
  • the child obtained the firearm in a legal act of self-defense or defense of another person, or
  • the defendant had no reasonable expectation that a child would be present on the premises.

For more information on storing firearms safely, see these Firearm Safety tips provided by the State of California Department of Justice.

Can Parents Be Prosecuted When Children Accidentally Shoot and Hurt Themselves in Their Homes?

When children accidentally hurt or kill themselves with guns they've found in their homes, it's the policy in California not to charge the parents with criminal storage of a firearm unless they've acted in a grossly negligent manner or where egregious circumstances exist. Even if law enforcement officers decide to arrest the parents, that shouldn't happen until at least seven days after the accidental shooting. Additionally, officers should delay making an arrest while the child's medical condition remains critical.

Getting Legal Help

If you're charged with criminal storage of a firearm, you should talk to a California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can explain how the law applies to your situation, tell you how your case is likely to fare in court, help protect your rights, and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 417, 25100, 25105, 25110, 25115, 25120, 25200, 29800, 29805, 29820, 29825; 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2021).)

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