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.

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 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.

Storing Loaded Guns Where Children Could Get to Them

California makes it a crime to keep a loaded gun somewhere on your property (or property you control) if you know or should know that a minor (under age 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:

  • 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 (“criminal storage of a firearm in the third degree”).
  • The child actually got the gun and hurt someone with it, took it out in public, showed it in a threatening or angry way, or used it in a fight (second-degree criminal storage).
  • The child obtained the gun and killed or seriously injured someone (first-degree criminal storage).

(Cal. Penal Code § 25100 (2019).)

Storing Loaded Guns Accessible to Adults Prohibited From Firearm Possession

You can also be charged with the more serious versions of California’s gun-storage law if you keep a loaded 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. As with minors, 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. (Cal. Penal Code § 25100(a), (b) (2019).)

Who Is Prohibited From Having Guns?

If you keep a gun in your home and have an adult living with you, you should know whether that person might be barred from having guns. People covered under federal prohibitions include those convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors, anyone subject to a domestic violence restraining order (after a hearing), and illegal drug users. California’s prohibitions also apply to people convicted of certain misdemeanors in the 10 years (including a domestic violence crime) and those who are subject to various types of temporary restraining and protective orders, including gun violence restraining orders under California’s “red flag law,” domestic violence protective orders, or anti-harassment restraining orders. (18 U.S.C. § 922(g); Cal. Penal Code §§ 29800, 29805, 29825 (2019).)

Exceptions to Criminal Storage of a Firearm

California’s law on criminal storage of a firearm doesn’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 was kept in a locked container or another secure place
  • the defendant had the gun on his or her body or close at hand
  • 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.

(Cal. Penal Code § 25105.)

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

Prosecution of Parents When Children Hurt Themselves With Guns 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 there are other especially bad circumstances. Even if law enforcement officers decide to arrest the parents, that shouldn’t happen until at least seven days after the accidental shooting; in addition, officers should delay making an arrest while the child’s medical condition remains critical. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 25115, 25120 (2019).)

Punishment

Third-degree criminal storage of a firearm is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or fine of up to $1,000, or both. The punishment for the second-degree crime goes up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. The first-degree crime is a "wobbler," meaning it could be charged either as a misdemeanor, with the same punishment as the second-degree crime, or as a felony, with potential punishment ranging from 16 months to three years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 19, 25110 (2019).)

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.

Laws Change

California could change its laws any time, so you may want to check the current California statutes mentioned in this article. But court decisions may also affect how laws are applied and interpreted—another good reason to speak with a lawyer if you’re concerned about actual or potential criminal charges related to gun storage.

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