Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, there’s no denying that guns can and do kill people. To minimize the dangers of children and those prohibited from using firearms accessing these dangerous weapons, California has enacted many laws specifying how they should be stored and transported. The City of San Diego has even passed a stricter local ordinance detailing proper firearm storage methods. While it’s always best to learn these laws ahead of time to avoid running afoul of the law, anyone facing criminal charges for the improper storage of a firearm should immediately contact a skilled criminal defense attorney.
Do Guns Have to be Stored in a Safe in California?
Not always. In some homes, guns can be left entirely unsecured, but under California Penal Code section 25100 (PC), it is illegal to leave a firearm where a minor is likely to gain access without their parent’s permission. This law also requires you to fully secure your gun if you cohabitate with someone who has been banned from using firearms under state or federal law, which could include anyone with a:
While the California Attorney General recommends unloaded firearms be secured with a trigger lock and stored in a secured gun safe in a different location than the ammunition, you are not legally required to follow all of these suggestions to comply with the law. Instead, 25100 (PC) only applies when someone “negligently stores or leaves a firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child’s parent.”
Can you Store Guns and Ammo Together in California?
Just as you do not legally need to keep your firearm in a safe in California, you can store a loaded gun together with ammunition. However, every action you take to prevent unauthorized firearm access can keep your child safer and further your defense if a juvenile does access the weapon.
California Safe Storage Law for Guns Kept at Home
The are three different levels of charges under 25100 (PC). The most minor of the charges, “criminal storage of a firearm in the third degree,” applies when someone keeps a firearm unsecured in an area where a child is likely to gain access to it without parental permission. Note that at this level, the offense does not apply to those who live with individuals prohibited from accessing firearms, however, the same actions are a crime under 25135 (PC).
When a child or person banned from using a gun accually accesses an improperly secured weapon, second degree charges can be filed if:
- they carry the weapon to a public place
- use it in a way that causes a mild or moderate injury to themselves or someone else
First degree charges will apply if a minor or individual prohibited from using firearms accesses an unsecured gun and uses it to cause death or great bodily injury to themselves or another person.
What Are the Penalties for Breaking CA Gun Storage Laws?
Violations of criminal storage of a firearm in the third- and second-degree are misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year months in jail and fine$1,000. Second degree charges are also misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail.
In first-degree cases, where the individual person caused injury or death to themselves or another person, the crime is a wobbler, meaning it can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by no more than one year in jail, but as a felony, the maximum sentence is three years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. A defense lawyer may be able to convince the DA to file the charges as a misdemeanor, depending on the situation.
The law does take into account the guilt and pain a parent may feel if his or her child has shot someone, which is why parents of children who have been shot due to criminal storage of a firearm cannot be arrested until at least seven days after the shooting. Additionally, the prosecution must prove gross negligence if a child who shot themselves or others obtained the gun due to his or her parents’ lax storage.
On top of the criminal penalties, a parent can face civil damages if their child injured another person after accessing their firearm. State law caps the damages at $30,000 per victim, with a maximum of $60,000 in total damages.
Fighting the Charges
You can’t be charged with this crime simply because a child or person prohibited from firearm possession managed to access your gun. Instead, to prove these charges, the prosecution must be able to show that:
- that the defendant knew (or should have known) a minor was likely to access it without their parent’s permission (or in applicable first and second-degree cases, that an adult prohibited from using weapons was likely to access the firearm)
- that the defendant neglected to take reasonable steps to secure the weapon
The law specifically prohibits charges being brought up in cases where:
- the child (or adult banned from using firearms) obtained the gun by illegally entering someone’s home
- the gun was kept in a locked safe
- the weapon was secured with a locking mechanism
- the firearm was on the defendant’s body or in their immediate vicinity
- the juvenile used the weapon in self defense or to defend others
- the defendant had a valid reason not to expect a child (or individual stripped of their gun rights) to be present on their property
As a result, there are many strong defenses to these charges. If you did not know a child or person who was prohibited from using firearms was going to visit your home, or if they broke into your home, you have an automatic defense. If you used a trigger lock or kept the gun in a locked safe, room, nightstand or other secure area, you cannot be found guilty.
On the other hand, arguing that you trained your child in proper gun safety methods and believed they would not use the firearm in an unsafe manner would only be seen as a confession to the charges. Because it is easy to say something that can be used against you, always have an attorney present if you have been accused of this crime.
San Diego Safe Storage of Firearms Ordinance
While the state requires ony those likely to have a child enter their home to use gun locks or safes, San Diego takes things a step further and requires all firearm owners to do so. If you live in the City of San Diego or one of the unincorporated ares of the County, you are legally required to use a trigger lock or safe to secure a gun in your home whenever it is not in your imediate control.
It requires all guns in homes or structures near a home to either be secured with a trigger lock or be locked away in a container. The only exception is if the firearm is within the immediate control of an authorized person. This ordinance is an infraction, meaning it is only punishable with a fine.
Notably, other cities in San Diego, such as La Mesa, Del Mar, Encinitas, and Solana Beach all have their own safe storage laws, so it’s wise to look into your local gun ordinances if you purchase or own a firearm.
Can You Keep a Gun in Your Glove Box California?
No. California has very specific laws when it comes to how firearms are transported from one place to another, and these vary based on whether the weapon is a handgun, shotgun or rifle, or assault rifle. To take a handgun in your vehicle, for example, Penal Code 25610 (PC) requires you to store the firearm unconcealed and unloaded in the trunk of your car or elsewhere in the vehicle inside a locked container, such as a gun safe. You cannot store a firearm inside the glove box of your car.
If the vehicle does not have a fully enclosed trunk that is unlocked away from the passenger compartment, the weapon must be stored in a locked container. Note that trigger locks are not considered locked containers, so when transporting a gun in the car, you must still store the weapon in a trunk or lock box, such as a safe, even if you have a trigger lock in place.
For weapons that cannot be concealed, such as rifles or shotguns, the state does not require these weapons to be stored in a locking container or gun rack unless the vehicle enters a school zone, which is any area within 1,000 feet of a school. They still must be unloaded during transport. Assault weapons must be stored unloaded in a locked container.
If you have been accused of violating local or state gun storage laws, please call (760) 643-4050 as soon as possible to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.