California doesn't require a permit to buy a stun gun or Taser. But some people aren't allowed to have these weapons, and it's illegal to carry or use them in certain places and circumstances. Read on for details.
Both stun guns and Tasers are hand-held devices that can temporarily incapacitate someone with an electrical current. While stun guns only shock the target on direct contact, Tasers work from a distance by shooting darts attached to wires; the electrical current passes through the wires and disrupts the target's neuromuscular system. (Taser is a brand name that has become the popular term for these weapons.)
California law defines stun guns as devices that emit an electrical charge capable of immobilizing someone and are used or meant for use as defensive or offensive weapons. That definition presumably covers both direct-contact stun guns and Tasers, even though it excludes "less lethal weapons" (which could conceivably include Tasers). (Cal. Penal Code §§17230, 16780 (2019).)
Compared to some other states, California has few restrictions on consumer use of stun guns or Tasers. The state allows anyone to buy, possess, or use a stun gun (without a permit requirement), unless they:
Violations of these restrictions are misdemeanors. (Cal. Penal Code § 22610 (2019).)
California law does restrict possession of stun guns and Tasers in certain sensitive locations:
On-duty law enforcement officers and certain other authorized individuals are exempt from these restrictions. Punishment for these offenses depends on the location, but it's generally no more than one year in jail and/or a fine of $1,000. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 171b, 626.10, 22620 (2019).)
It's a crime in California to assault someone with a stun gun or Taser. The violation can be a misdemeanor or a felony (what's known as a wobbler), with a maximum sentence of up to one year in county jail or up to three years in prison. Potential sentences are longer if the stun gun was used to assault an on-duty police officer, firefighter, or school employee. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 244.5, 245.5 (2019).)
Look Out for Legal Changes
States can change their laws at any time, so it's always a good idea to check the current California statutes by using this search tool.
Local governments in California may have their own regulations on stun guns and Tasers. You can try contacting your local law enforcement agency to find out if there are any restrictions in your city or town. You might also consult a local criminal defense attorney with any questions about your legal right to buy, carry, and use a stun gun. If you're already facing charges for a stun gun violation, however, you should strongly consider consulting a qualified criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.