Prohibited Weapons

California laws prohibit certain weapons, and those found in possession are severely punished. The regulations detail specific categories that these weapons fall under, whether the weapons are legal or illegal for possession, and who can be in possession or cannot. While these laws explaining prohibited weapons and offenses are strict, an accused person has the right to fair and qualified legal representation.

If you or your loved ones find themselves in contravention of the statutes that govern these laws, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will represent you during the pretrial and trial phases for your case.

Possessing prohibited weapons in California attracts harsh penalties. If a criminal defense attorney develops efficient defenses, you could have reduced sentencing, lesser fines, or even case dismissal. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we have attorneys with vast knowledge in handling prohibited weapons cases in California.

What are Prohibited weapons as Per California Laws?

California Penal Code 16590 details the specific weapons that are prohibited. The statute prohibits the selling, possessing, or manufacturing of these dangerous weapons. They are as follows:

  • Firearms such as shotguns (short-barreled) or riffles
  • Knives and sharp-pointed weapons such as ballistic knives
  • Melee weapons such as metal and brass knuckles, nunchakus commonly known as nunchucks and clubs
  • Ammunition and explosives

The essence of these laws is to ban people from the manufacture or modification, possession, importation into California, selling, and distributing these weapons that are generally easy to conceal and use, posing a threat to the general public. In most cases, these weapons are usually intended for criminal and unlawful purposes as they are unnoticeable but highly effective and lethal.

Specific Laws that Govern Prohibited Weapons in California

Under section 16590 of the Penal Code, specific laws lay the foundation for the prohibition of these weapons. Extrapolated below are the prohibited weapons in California and the penal code’s particular sections that make them outlawed:

Prohibited Firearms and Gun Modification

  • Zip guns, cane guns, or wallet guns according to Penal Code 33600 PC, 24410 PC, and 24710 PC
  • Pistols without a bore (unconventional) according to Penal Code 31500 PC
  • Undetectable firearms as per Penal Code 24610 PC; short-barreled rifles and shotguns as per Penal Code 33215 PC
  • Any firearms that may not be recognized instantly as firearms under section 24510 PC
  • Bump stocks under section 32900 PC
  • A large-capacity magazine of more than ten rounds under section 32310 PC
  • Any containers that may camouflage firearms under section 24310 PC

Knives and Edged/Sharp Pointed Weapons

  • Shobi-Zeus as per 201710 PC
  • Cane swords as per 20510 PC
  • Writing pen knives as per 20910 PC
  • Belt-buckle, ballistic, and lipstick case knives as per Penal Code 20410 PC, 21110 PC, and 20610 PC

Melee Weapons

  • Metal or brass weapons (Section 21810 PC)
  • Nunchakus/nunchucks (Section 22010 PC)
  • Blackjacks, Billy clubs, sand clubs, leaded canes (Section 22210 PC)

Ammunition and Explosives

  • Shells and bullets made from flechette darts and flechette darts per section 30210 PC
  • Bullets that have combustible substances and explosive bullets under section 30210 PC
  • Military practice metal hand grenades and their replicas under section 19200PC unless they cannot be adjusted into functionality or are permanently inactive
  • Any volatile agents that concealed except for fixed ammunition under section 19100 PC

Illegal Activities Concerning the Prohibited Weapons

Certain activities concerning prohibited weapons are considered illegal under the law. These activities may include the possession, manufacture, or initiating the manufacturing, design, importation to the California state, the lending or giving, offering for sale and exhibiting, storing, and keeping to sell prohibited weapons. However, it is only a crime if the above activities are committed knowingly by the offender.


You would face prosecution if you knew that the tool you possessed is a prohibited weapon and intended to commit a felony using it. The prosecutor may not necessarily have to prove this, meaning that a conviction would be arrived at as long as it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew it to be a weapon.


Under California law, constructive and actual possession is conclusively defined as ‘possession.’ The two terms have distinct meanings. You are said to be in actual control if you can immediately access, or you are found holding an item considered a prohibited weapon. It includes a gun concealed in something he/she has on the body like a backpack, or if the firearm is found somewhere on his/her body. Constructive possession is when one does not have immediate and direct access to a weapon but has the absolute right to control it.

What are some of the Exceptions to the Rule?

Criminal proceedings are exempt for some people and situations under the law, guided by some specific threshold requirements and caveats. Some of these exceptions are, but not limited to:

  • Transfer or sale and possession of a weapon by law enforcement agents
  • The exhibition and use of firearms that which may be unloaded in books, movies, and cinema production
  • When one turns in a weapon that is prohibited to law enforcement officers
  • When such weapons are found to be possessed by a forensic laboratory
  • A person authorized to handle relic, or antique ammunition
  • When such weapons are in custody at a museum, a historical site, or a library
  • Nunchucks owned by schools that tutor martial arts students

What Should the Prosecution Prove?

There are some aspects of the case that the prosecution must prove beyond any reasonable doubt before your conviction. Some of these elements are outlined below:

You were in Actual or Constructive Possession

The prosecution must prove that you were found in possession of, caused the design, manufacture, concealed, kept, and was involved in selling prohibited weapons. It may be argued from an actual or constructive possession viewpoint and proved that either of the two was the case.

You Knowingly Engaged in Outlawed Activities

Additionally, the prosecution must show that you knowingly engaged in illegal activities related to prohibited weapons. These activities are manufacturing, selling, receiving, possessing, offering, exhibiting for sale, or being involved in purchasing these weapons. Ideally, you will only be liable for a felony if they knew that the item in question was a weapon or could be used as a weapon.

A plea of innocence will be entered if you demonstrate that you didn’t know that the said weapon was or had any features that could be surmised as a weapon or used for such purposes. The prosecution doesn't necessarily have to make prayers to the effect that you intended to use the said item as a weapon.

You Knew the Potential of the Weapon to be Used in Illegal Activities

Further, it must be proven without reasonable doubt that you knew the potential of the item, as one that can be used in illegal activities. In this scenario, the weapon’s purpose is focused upon, as commonly prohibited weapons are small, concealable but designed to cause significant harm. The prosecution is responsible for proving that the object you possessed was intended for sale if the charges leveled against you are related to the sale or manufacture of the said item.

Additional Gun Offenses and Firearms Possession Restrictions

Gun offenses and firearms possession may have additional restrictions under California law, and you must understand such regulations. The law defines a firearm as an item that is intended to be used as a weapon, from which a projectile (missile) can be discharged out of a barrel, leading to an explosion or any other combustion type.

And while it is legal for an adult to own a firearm such as a revolver, a shotgun, a rifle, pistols, and other conventional ammunition, this has to be subjected to applicable laws and regulations. One is prohibited and will be found criminally liable for the manufacture, sale, and distribution of firearms, legal or otherwise, if they are found to be drug addicts or have a mental challenge.

Additionally, minors (18 years and under) or repeat offenders charged in a prior felony under any jurisdiction are prohibited. Remember, even a firearm that isn’t working or inoperable can constitute prosecution under the law.

What are the Possible Penalties for Possessing and Using Prohibited Weapons in California?

Depending on the prosecutor’s facts and your criminal history, the charges may be considered a felony or a misdemeanor. However, an exception is given for one found in possession of metal replica or military hand grenades as the charge is deemed an infraction. One may be severely punished, mainly if they belong to a gang. Charges will attract a penalty of a $250 fine.

Penalty for Felony Charges

This will constitute a fine not exceeding $10,000, one-year county jail incarceration if on probation, and 16 months’ prison term, which will go up to two or three years if one isn't on probation. One can as well pay a fine plus serve in jail.

Penalty for Misdemeanor Offenses

This will constitute a maximum fine of $1000 or one year in county jail with informal probation or both.

Additional Consequences for Possessing Prohibited Weapons

There are additional consequences for possession of prohibited weapons. The law is more stringent, especially if one is a legal alien or an illegal immigrant as you may be deported. And while a misdemeanor may not result in one losing their firearm, a felony will lead to receiving a lifetime ban on the use, possession, manufacture, purchase, or ownership of a gun. In a case where the court reduces your charges to a misdemeanor, you may still own your gun.

If one is sentenced to probation, a petition may be lodged in the court to have the conviction expunged from records once the probation period ends. However, the court will determine whether you followed and adhered to all the probation terms, and if found that you didn't, then such expungement may be denied. It is important to note that only your criminal records will be cleared in the likelihood of a successful expungement, but your right to own a firearm will not be restored.

However, suppose you are found in possession of dangerous weapons (weapons that are dangerous and may cause great bodily harm). In that case, the possibility of gaining firearm rights after being convicted of a felony will permanently be revoked.

What are the Possible Legal Defenses?

Your criminal defense attorney would argue the case against you by employing several strategies. The standard defense line would fall under:

  • No knowledge
  • Unlawful search
  • Not a prohibited weapon

No Knowledge

Under no knowledge, and as observed above, you are only liable for a conviction if you were found with an object you knew is a weapon or has the capabilities of being used as such. Therefore, a defendant can rightly argue that he/she did not know that the said object was a weapon or is a weapon.

Unlawful Search

The unlawful search and seizure defense is a probable line of argument that underpins the fact that law enforcement agents cannot conduct or take property without a valid search warrant. Without a search warrant, the authorities must show a legal excuse for not having one. Any evidence gathered from an unlawful search and adduced in court can be expunged from criminal proceedings, in which case, the charges may be reduced or the case summarily dismissed.

However, legally, the authorities can search if you consent voluntarily to such an investigation or if they have reasons to believe that you were or are engaged in activities that can be deemed illegal and unlawful. The authorities can legally search and initiate a subsequent investigation.

Not a Prohibited Weapon

The defense can also argue that the weapon in question does not fall under the general prohibited weapons category. A person can only be guilty under the Penal Code 16590 if found in possession of one or any of the statute’s items as a prohibited weapon.

Other possible legal defenses include:

You are Exempted from Prosecution

You could be among the people exempted from prosecution under the law, permitting you to own a weapon. In this argument, the defense only needs to prove that you fall under such a category, as the law protects you.

You Acted from Coercion

You could argue that you were lured, coerced, or against your will, persuaded into unlawful criminal activity by the authorities. This then constitutes an entrapment. As per the California law, a well-thinking, upright, and ordinary citizen can, without doubt, resist committing a crime in the event of such an opportunity.

Professional Misconduct by the Police

You or your attorney could argue that the police committed professional misconduct during the search and seizure. In California, police misconduct is unlawful. Such misconduct could include but is not limited to coercion where you are forced to confess, or an illegal search and seizure led to discovering the items.

Further, you could argue that the evidence adduced in court was "planted" and was never at the scene of the crime or that they violated your fundamental rights as enshrined and protected under the law.

Insufficient Evidence

Further, the defense can deduce that the evidence adduced in court by the prosecution is insufficient and cannot constitute the minimum threshold to have a conviction. The trial has to ensure that they produce sufficient evidence in court, link it to you, and prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you either were in actual or constructive possession of the prohibited weapons. Failure to which the charges may be dismissed.

Momentary Possession

The prosecution can also argue that you were in momentary possession of a prohibited weapon. In this case, for instance, if a licensed arms dealer handed you a gun that you were considering buying, such possession would be deemed short and wouldn’t constitute a crime as it was momentary.

Authorized Possession

Additionally, the defense may argue that you had the authority to possess the said weapon. Though the law does not allow you to carry concealable weapons even with a license, in some exceptional circumstances such as entertainment firearms permits, one may be authorized to use unloaded guns during the production or the entertainment as props.

Offenses Related to Prohibited Weapons in California

In California, there are several crimes and offenses related to prohibited weapons and covered under the law. These include:

Brandishing a Weapon

It is an offense to brandish a weapon, as it may attract two separate charges of possession of a prohibited weapon or brandishing it. The law prohibits one from misusing a gun by using it to threaten others, by drawing and exhibiting it angrily and violently. This falls under a misdemeanor and may attract the penalties discussed above, and is according to Section 417 PC.

Possessing and Carrying Dirks or Daggers Concealed to a Person

According to Section 21310 PC, possessing and carrying dirks or daggers concealed to a person is an offense. It may be defined as any tools such as knives that do not have a handguard and could be used for stabbing and inflicting severe physical damage or even death. It is a felony that may lead to one convicted and sentenced to 16 months, two or three years in county jail. If reduced to a misdemeanor, the offense may attract a one-year county jail term.

Section 21510 of the Penal Code lays down punishment by probation, a maximum jail term of six months, or a $1000 fine for anyone in possession of switchblades. You can as well receive both the jail term and the fine.

Concealable Firearms Carried on a Person

Concealable firearms carried on a person are as well prohibited. It is under Section 25400 of the Penal Code, and details that one found with banned weapons such as a pistol or a revolver in their car or on the person risks prosecution.

Carrying a Loaded Firearm in Public

Having a loaded firearm and carrying it in public is also described under Section 25850 of the Penal Code. The weapon in question doesn't have to be prohibited as per Penal Code 16590. Additionally, carrying and possessing an unloaded firearm in public is a crime under California law as per Section 26350 of the Penal Code. Important to note is that one is allowed to carry an unloaded firearm in a private space.

What is the Effect of a Conviction on Gun Rights?

Any conviction under the laws outlined has a detrimental effect on one's gun ownership and rights. According to California laws, any convicted felon is prohibited from purchasing, owning, and possessing a gun. A convicted felon found with a firearm will violate the law and charged with gun-related offenses.

Remember, Section 16590 determines that this law’s violation can fall under a misdemeanor or a felony. It means that if the defendant is charged with a felony as an act that involves the possession of generally prohibited weapons and is convicted of the offense, their gun rights are jeopardized, and the victim will lose his gun.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Regulations that govern prohibited weapons, especially firearms, are continually changing. You could unintentionally and unknowingly violate California Penal Code 16590. You will need experienced attorneys to handle your case. For a fair trial and developing defenses, you need the services of a criminal defense attorney who has experience handling such cases.

At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we could help you navigate the lawsuit by using strong defenses. Call us at 310-564-2605, and we will be happy to represent you in a Los Angeles court. Our primary goal is to help you obtain a favorable outcome and justice in your case.

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