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 Stacy Barrett, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated March 07, 2024

If you keep a gun in your home or on your property, California law requires that you take reasonable steps to make sure the weapon doesn't get into the hands of a child or anyone who's prohibited from having a firearm.

Here's a breakdown of gun storage laws in California and what can happen if you violate them.

Is It Illegal to Store Guns Where Children Can Get to Them in California?

California makes it a crime to carelessly store a firearm on your property if you know or should know that a child (younger than 18) is likely to gain access to it without parental permission. The crime—"criminal storage of firearm"—has three levels with increasing punishment based on what happens with the gun.

Penalties for Storing Guns Where Children Could Get to Them

Depending on the circumstances, you can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor or felony for unlawfully storing a firearm.

Criminal Storage of Firearm—Third-Degree

It's a crime to carelessly store or leave a gun where you know (or should know) that a child can find it unless you have permission from the child's parent or guardian, or you took reasonable action to secure the firearm from the child.

Criminal storage of a firearm in the third degree is a misdemeanor. If convicted, you could be sentenced to a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to a $1,000 fine.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 19, 25100, 25110 (2024).)

Criminal Storage of Firearm—Second-Degree

You can be punished more severely if you carelessly store a gun and a child actually gets it and:

  • causes minor or moderate injuries to either themself or someone else
  • "brandishes" the gun (displays it rudely or angrily or during a fight), or
  • takes it to a public place.

Second-degree criminal storage is still a misdemeanor, but you can be sentenced to up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the child takes the gun to a school or school-sponsored event, the potential fine increases to $5,000.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 417, 25100, 25200 (2024).)

Criminal Storage of Firearms—First-Degree

If you carelessly store a gun and a child gets the gun and uses it to kill or seriously injure themself or someone else you could be charged with a felony. First-degree storage is a wobbler, meaning the prosecutor can charge it as a misdemeanor or felony. The punishment for a felony is 16 months to 3 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000 fine. The punishment for a misdemeanor is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100, 25110 (2024).)

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

Parents and guardians who carelessly store guns and pay the ultimate price—having their child hurt or killed as a result—can be prosecuted for criminal storage of a firearm. But California law requires prosecutors to consider, among other factors, the impact of the injury or death on the parent or guardian and only prosecute cases in which a parent acted in an extremely careless or outrageously bad way. An arrest must be delayed for at least seven days after the accidental shooting and should be delayed while the child's medical condition remains critical.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 25115, 25120 (2024).)

Safe Storage of Firearms Around People Who Can't Legally Access Guns

You can also be charged with criminal storage if you carelessly store a firearm around someone who isn't allowed to possess a firearm under state or federal law.

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 with the gun, 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. If you live with someone you know or should know isn't allowed to have a gun and you don't secure it, it's a misdemeanor.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100, 25135 (2024).)

Who Is Prohibited From Having Guns?

If you keep a gun in your home, you should know whether anyone who lives with you is prohibited from owning or possessing guns or ammunition. People covered under federal or state gun bans typically include the following:

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 29800, 29805, 29820, 29825, 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2024).)

Potential Defenses to Criminal Storage of Firearm Laws

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

  • the child accessed the gun as a result of an illegal entry (for example, by trespassing or breaking in)
  • the gun was in a locked container or another secure place
  • the person with the gun carried it on their body or close enough to readily retrieve it
  • the firearm was locked with a locking device
  • the child obtained the firearm from a peace officer or military member who was performing their duties
  • the child obtained the firearm in a legal act of self-defense or defense of another person, and
  • the person with the gun had no reasonable expectation that a child would be present on the premises.

(Cal. Penal Code § 25105 (2024).)

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 play out in court, protect your rights, and help you get the best possible outcome in your case.

For more information on storing firearms safely, see these Firearm Safety tips provided by the State of California Department of Justice. To learn more about how and when you can carry a gun in a vehicle, check out: Can I Carry a Gun in My Car?

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