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, possibly including child endangerment.
For information on transporting firearms into California, see our article What is the legal way to bring a firearm into 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. Penal Code §§ 25100, 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.
Second degree criminal storage of a firearm occurs 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 injury (to self or others) or carries the gun into a public place. First degree criminal storage occurs if death or great bodily injury results. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100, 25105.)
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. Penal 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. Penal Code § 26835.)
The following are defenses to criminal storage of a firearm:
the child obtained the firearm as a result of an illegal entry onto the premises, such as if the child is a burglar or trespasser
the gun is kept in a locked container, such as gun locker, or other secure location, or is carried on or in close proximity to the body
the firearm is locked with a locking device
the defendant is a police officer or military personnel and the child obtains the firearm during the performance of the defendant’s official duties
the child obtains the firearm in an 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 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 or fine of up to $1,000, or both. Second degree criminal storage of a firearm is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. First degree criminal storage of a firearm is punishable by 16 months or two or three years in jail or a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 19, 25110.)
For more information on storing firearms safely, see these Firearm Safety tips provided by the State of California Department of Justice.
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.
Updated June 26, 2018