Charged With Unlawful Gun Possession In California?
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives American citizens the right to bear arms. Still, there are limits and restrictions as to who can own a gun and the process for legally purchasing one. If you possess a gun without going through the proper legal channels, or you are part of a class of individuals that is prohibited from possessing a firearm, then you may be charged and convicted of unlawful possession of a gun. This is a serious offense that may have life-altering consequences including fines and jail time. Here is a brief overview of California’s gun possession laws and what you should do in the event that you are charged with unlawful gun possession in California.
California Laws On Gun Possession
Contrary to popular belief, there are no laws in California that prevent an individual from owning or possessing an unregistered firearm. However, there are a number of circumstances where a person will end up with a criminal charge if they do not have the proper firearm permits. California law essentially states that it is illegal to take a gun outside of your home absent having the appropriate permits and registration.
California law specifically prohibits certain individuals from possessing a firearm under any circumstance. Those individuals are:
- Felons: Under California law, any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the United States, the State of California, or any other state, government, or country and who owns, purchases, receives, or has a firearm in their possession, custody or control is guilty of a felony gun possession offense.
- Drug Addicts: While this term has been notoriously difficult to define, and prosecutors generally will not pursue charges unless the person is also accused of other serious charges, the law provides that any person who is addicted to a narcotic drug and who owns, purchases, receives, or has a firearm in their possession, custody or control is guilty of a felony gun possession offense.
- Those Convicted of Certain Misdemeanors: It is a misdemeanor offense in California to draw or flash any firearm – regardless of whether it is loaded – in a rude, angry or threatening manner towards someone unless you are doing so in self-defense. If you have two or more of those misdemeanor offenses on your record, then you will be prohibited from possessing a firearm.
- Those With Outstanding Warrants: Any person who knows that there is an outstanding warrant issued against them for unlawful possession of a firearm and who owns, purchases, receives, or has a firearm in their possession, custody or control is guilty of a felony gun possession offense.
What Is Considered A Firearm?
Under California law, a firearm is anything that shoots, fires, or launches a projectile as a weapon. It does not matter if the gun is loaded for it to qualify as a firearm. Notably, crossbows and instruments used for archery do not qualify as firearms. However, handguns, pistols, rifles, shotguns, and flare guns are considered firearms.
Possessing An Unregistered Firearm
Simply having an unregistered gun in your possession is not a criminal offense in California. However, being caught with an unregistered gun in public may result in criminal charges. California law makes it illegal to carry a gun in public unless one of the following applies:
- You have a valid California firearm permit.
- You are carrying an unloaded handgun to, from, or within a car in a locked container (or in the trunk of a vehicle) for a lawful purpose.
- You are transporting an unloaded firearm that is not capable of being concealed on you (e.g. a long rifle or long shotgun).
California law makes it illegal to possess the gun in public unless you have a valid concealed carry permit.
The penalties for possessing an unregistered firearm in public vary depending on a number of factors. Generally speaking, a conviction under this law is a misdemeanor. However, if certain aggravating factors are present, it could become a felony. Felony offenses in this context are punishable by a maximum $10,000 fine and three-year jail sentence.
California also has something known as the wobbler offense. Basically, a wobbler offense is a crime that a prosecutor can charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony. There are certain requirements that must be met to trigger the wobbler. However, carrying a loaded firearm will always be a felony if you are prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
In addition, if you are convicted of an unlawful possession offense, you face up to a lifetime ban on possession of a firearm in the State of California. The specific nature of the offense determines the length of time in which you will be banned.
While every scenario presents opportunities for novel defenses, generally speaking, there are a few common defenses to unlawfully carrying or possessing a firearm. One of the most common defenses is that the gun is not yours. If you are pulled over in a vehicle with multiple people inside and the police find a gun, then you may be able to beat the charge by establishing that the gun belonged to someone else that was in the car. Similarly, in that same scenario, it may be a valid defense to assert that you were unaware of there being a firearm in the vehicle. Further, while it may not technically qualify as a defense, you may be able to get the evidence of the gun excluded if you establish that the gun was found as the result of an illegal search or seizure.
If You Have Been Charged With A Gun Crime, You Should Hire An Attorney
California’s gun laws are complex and confusing. Depending on a number of factors, being convicted of a gun crime in California can carry significant jail time. Critically, no two cases are the same, meaning that your specific case may contain facts that could qualify your case for pretrial diversion or even a dismissal. But attempting to navigate the criminal justice system alone is a risky proposition that could ultimately cost you your freedom.
Hiring an experienced California criminal defense lawyer will ensure that you have someone on your side who is fighting to protect your rights and who will go over your individual case with the precision and expertise of a trained professional. Do yourself a favor and obtain legal representation because your future is too important to leave up to mere chance.
My Rights Law Group – Criminal & DUI Attorneys is dedicated to fighting for the rights of the accused. Our attorneys have extensive experience defending California clients who have been charged with gun offenses or other criminal charges. If you have been criminally charged in California, then reach out to My Rights Law Group by calling (888) 702-8882 or by contacting us online for a free consultation.