California’s laws on weapons are some of the most stringent in the country. The statutes range from weapons that anybody can possess to controls on who can possess legal weapons. These regulations are often perplexing. While some weapons are outrightly illegal, others only become illegal when you make modifications, such as changing the type of ammunition or increasing the capacity of the magazine. However, California law permanently prohibits specific weapons making it illegal to possess, sell or manufacture these “generally prohibited” weapons.

If you or a loved one are facing accusations of contravening any statute on prohibited weapons, you must contact an experienced lawyer immediately. You need a legal practitioner who can navigate the provisions of the law and possibly tip the justice scales in your favor. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney will represent you aggressively to get the best possible outcome. Our primary goal is to protect your rights and ensure that you obtain justice.

California’s Laws on Prohibited Weapons

Section 16590 of the California Penal Code aggregates the list of weapons that various other parts of the code prohibit. The goal of enacting the statute is to ban people from designing, selling, or possessing tools that are short, light, or easy to conceal. Such weapons are silent and effective for attacks and are typically used for unlawful and criminal intent.

Below is the list of all prohibited weapons and the specific penal code sections that proscribe them.

  • Explosives and ammunition
    • Explosive bullets or those that contain combustible substances (Section 30210 PC)
    • Flechette darts or bullets and shells made from flechette darts (Section 30210 PC)
    • Concealed volatile agents except for fixed ammunition (Section 19100 PC)
    • Metal military practice hand grenades or their replicas (Section 19200 PC), except if they are permanently inactive and not easily adjustable into a functional hand grenade

The activities that are illegal concerning generally prohibited weapons include:

  • Possession
  • Lending
  • Giving
  • Offering or exposing for sale
  • Keeping for sale
  • Importing into the state
  • Manufacturing or causing to be manufactured

Exceptions to the rule

Some situations and people are exempt from criminal proceedings for possession of some types of generally prohibited weapons. However, the exceptions have specific caveats and requirements.  They include, but not necessarily limited to:

  • Possession by, or transfer or sale to law enforcement officers
  • Possession, sale, transportation, and manufacture of short-barreled shotguns or rifles when you have approval from the Department of Justice
  • Possession of nunchucks in a school that teaches martial arts
  • Possession of relic, curio, or antique ammunition or firearms by authorized persons
  • Approved possession by museums, libraries, and historical societies
  • Using unloaded weapons for video, television or movie productions
  • Handing over a prohibited weapon to law enforcement
  • Possession by a forensic laboratory

The Elements that Prosecution Must Prove

For a court to convict you for violating PC 16590, the prosecution must prove specific facts, also known as the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. These are:

  • That you possessed, imported into California, caused the manufacture or manufactured, kept, exposed, or offered for sale a prohibited weapon. They must prove that you lent, given, received, or purchased an object listed in PC 16590.

You could face possession charges even if you were not physically carrying a prohibited weapon. Possession can be either constructive or actual. If you are holding the weapon with your hands or having it in your pocket during your arrest, you are in actual possession. Constructive possession is having access to where the object is, and that area is in your control. For example, a prosecutor will charge you with constructive possession for having a prohibited weapon in your home.

  • You knowingly engaged in any of the unlawful activities relating to prohibited weapons. The activities include possession, sale, manufacture, offering, or exposing for sale, giving, receiving, or purchasing. You only contravene the law on prohibited weapons if you aware that the item in question:
  • Can be utilized as a weapon, or
  • Is a weapon

You are innocent if you are not aware that the object has the features of a weapon. The prosecutor does not need to prove your intention to use the item as a weapon. They also do not have to demonstrate that the instrument is in working condition. It is sufficient that you recognize the object’s potential to be a weapon.

  • You were aware of the object’s potential to be used for illegal purposes.

This element considers the purpose of the object. Prohibited weapons are easily concealed, short, and weighted to form silent and effective attack weapons. The capability test relies on whether the object is likely to be used for threatening rather than harmless purposes.

If your charges include the manufacture for sale, possession for sale, or sale of prohibited weapons, the prosecution must provide evidence to demonstrate your intention to sell the weapons.

If your charges involve firearms, you must understand the additional restrictions on firearms. California’s gun laws define a firearm as:

  • Any device
  • Made for use as a weapon
  • Out of which a missile (projectile)
  • Is discharged through a barrel
  • By explosion or another type of combustion.

In California, most adults can legally own long shotguns, long rifles, revolvers, conventional pistols, and conventional ammunition, subject to applicable restrictions. However, it is a crime to possess, sell, or manufacture even the legal firearms if you:

  • Have a prior felony conviction in any jurisdiction
  • Are addicted to drugs
  • Have at least two prior convictions for Penal Code 417, the statute that prohibits brandishing a weapon
  • Have a previous conviction for certain misdemeanors
  • Suffer from mental sickness
  • Are a minor (below 18 years)

You can face conviction even when the prohibited firearm in your possession is inoperable. The legislative intent of this type of law is to protect third parties or victims from coercion or fear that such weapons may evoke.


Penalties for Violating Prohibited Weapons Laws

Violating PC 16590 is a wobbler. Your charges will be either a misdemeanor or felony depending on:

  • Your criminal history
  • The facts of your case

However, your first offense relating to metal replica hand grenades or metal, military practice hand grenades is an infraction. The penalty is a maximum fine of $250. This offense becomes more severe if you participate as an active criminal street gang member.

Misdemeanor offenses are punishable by:

  • Informal probation with one-year county jail imprisonment
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Both a fine a time in jail

Penalties for felony charges are:

  • Incarceration in a county jail for one year if you get probation
  • A county jail term of 16 months, two years or three years if you do not go on probation
  • A maximum fine of $10,000
  • Both a fine and jail time

Other additional consequences of a weapons conviction include:

  • Deportation: If you are an illegal immigrant or a legal alien, a weapons conviction can result in removal
  • Expungement: If you get probation, you can petition the court to expunge your conviction after you complete probation. However, the court will deny expungement if you do not adhere to your probation terms. Additionally, expungement only clears your criminal record but does not restore your rights to firearm ownership.
  • Loss of your right to firearm possession: A misdemeanor conviction will not revoke your firearm possession rights. However, a felony conviction results in a lifetime ban from receiving, possessing, owning, or purchasing a firearm. You can only restore your rights if the court reduces your felony conviction to a misdemeanor.

However, there is no possibility of restoring your firearm rights after a felony conviction for using a dangerous weapon. For such an outcome, not even a governor’s pardon or certificate of rehabilitation can restore your gun rights. A dangerous weapon is any weapon, instrument or object that

  • can cause and is likely to cause great bodily harm or death
  • Is fundamentally dangerous or deadly


Possible Defense Strategies

There are various legal defenses that your defense lawyer can present during your trial. Examples are:

  • The police search was illegal

Prohibited weapon charges will most likely arise after law enforcement officers stop you for some investigation. Legally, law enforcement should only search your property or person  when:

  • They reasonably believe that you were or are engaged in unlawful activities. This belief provides probable cause for an investigation
  • A judge issues a search warrant authorizing the officers to search your property or person, and they must adhere to its scope
  • You voluntarily consent to a search on your property or person.

A search or seizure outside of this criteria violates your constitutional rights. If you can demonstrate that the search was unlawful, the court will likely dismiss your case.

  • You were unknowingly in possession of the prohibited weapon

Unintentionally possessing a prohibited weapon does not constitute an offense. The prosecution must demonstrate that you intentionally possessed or carried the prohibited weapon. Without such evidence, California law will overlook your unconscious deeds. For instance, if you purchase a cane that you do not know is a cane sword, then you are not violating any law.

  • You are among the exemptions permitting you to have a prohibited weapon

The law permits certain people to possess prohibited weapons provided that they meet specific conditions. Possession of the weapon outside of the specified conditions is what constitutes a crime. You only need to demonstrate evidence that you are legally allowed to possess the weapon that you have.

  • You have authorization

The permit that authorizes you to carry a concealable firearm does not include generally prohibited weapons. Therefore, you cannot possess any weapon in the Penal Code 16590 list, even if you have a license to carry concealed weapons. However, some categories of permits allow some prohibited weapons. For example, the Department of Justice issues entertainment firearms permits that authorize the use of unloaded guns as props during production or at entertainment events. Also, licensed firearms dealers can obtain licenses from the Department of Justice to possess, transport, or sell magazines with large capacities to out-of-state buyers.

  • Entrapment

This defense applies when you can demonstrate that the police coerced, lured, or persuaded you into unlawful conduct. California’s criminal law presumes that an ordinary, upright person will resist crime even when a simple opportunity presents itself. For example, if you own an antique shop, and an undercover officer asks you to get him a writing pen knife. You resist, but he insists for weeks until you eventually accept the request to stop him from interfering with your activities. The court will absolve you of the crime because you did not participate willingly. 

However, if the officer asks for the same weapon and you do not have it, but offer to get it for him, you have initiated the crime. You, therefore, may not succeed in claiming entrapment as your defense.

  • Police misconduct

Inappropriate police behavior may cause dismissal of your charges. Such misconduct includes:

  • Fabricating or “planting” evidence
  • Discovering the weapons during an unlawful search
  • Coercing you to confess
  • Any other act that violates your rights

The object is not a prohibited weapon

PC 16590 identifies the objects that constitute prohibited weapons. Therefore, you cannot face a conviction for possessing, selling, or manufacturing objects that do not meet the specifications of prohibited weapons. For example, the police may arrest you for having a 13-inch long pistol with a rifled bore on the premise that the gun is unconventional. However, the law defines unconventional pistols as those without a rifled bore, have a barrel shorter than 18 inches, and a total length of fewer than 26 inches. Your gun has a rifled bore; therefore, it does not meet the criteria for unconventional pistols.

  • Prosecutorial misconduct

The role of the prosecutor is to provide evidence of their accusations against you. They should persuade the judge and jury beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you only based on evidence. The prosecution should never attempt to influence the jury to unjustly condemn you or impose a stiffer penalty than is appropriate. If you prove such conduct, the judge may reduce your sentence or dismiss your charges.

  • Insufficient evidence

The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were in actual or constructive possession of a prohibited weapon under PC 16590. If your lawyer can demonstrate an acceptable level of uncertainty on the evidence against you, the court may dismiss the charges.

  • Momentary possession

Possessing prohibited weapons briefly is not a crime. For example, when a licensed weapons dealer hands you a belt buckle knife while you consider a purchase, the possession is not a crime because it is short.

Offenses Related to Prohibited Weapons

California has several laws that relate to generally prohibited weapons. These laws may also be a basis for additional charges to the underlying prohibited weapons charges. Some of these laws are:

  • Carrying a firearm that you can conceal on your person: PC 25400 prohibits you from carrying concealed firearms. It forbids you from having a revolver or a pistol in your vehicle or on your person.
  • Brandishing a weapon: Under Section 417 PC, it is a misdemeanor offense to exhibit, draw, or use any weapon in a threatening, angry, or rude manner. If you breach this rule using a prohibited weapon, you are likely to face two separate charges of brandishing a weapon and possession of a prohibited weapon.
  • Possession of switchblades: Possessing a switchblade whose blade is at least two inches long is a PC 21510 It is punishable by probation, $1,000 in fines, jail time not exceeding six months, or both a fine and jail time.
  • Carrying concealed daggers or dirks: Under Section 21310 of the Penal Code, your offense is a wobbler if you carry a hidden:
    • Knife or other tools
    • With or missing a handguard
    • That is readily usable as a weapon to stab, and
    • That can inflict substantial physical harm or death.

Folding knives, except for switchblades are stabbing weapons that cause significant physical harm if

  • You expose the edge
  • You lock the blade into place.

As a felony, you face 16 months, two years or three years in jail. As a misdemeanor, this offense is punishable by one year in jail.

Find a Los Angeles Defense Criminal Attorney Near Me

Regulations regarding weapons, especially firearms, are constantly changing. While you may try your best to observe the law, you may unintentionally violate the law and end up in police custody. The thought of spending time in jail or paying hefty fines can be overwhelming. Call us at 424-333-0943, and we will handle your case in any court within Los Angeles, CA. We will fight vigorously to have the judge dismiss or reduce your charges, possibly.