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Penal Code 16520 PC – Definition of a “Firearm” in California

Penal Code 16520 PC is the California statute that provides the legal definition for the term “firearm.  The section says that a firearm is “a device, designed to be used as a weapon, from which is expelled through a barrel, a projectile by the force of an explosion or other form of combustion… [This] also includes a rocket, rocket propelled projectile launcher, or similar device containing an explosive or incendiary material, whether or not the device is designed for emergency or distress signaling purposes…”

Pistols, revolvers, handguns, and shotguns (including short-barrelled shotguns) are all examples of “firearms” under PC 16520.

If you have a valid handgun safety certificate and don’t meet any of the following criteria, you can lawfully own a gun:

  1. has been convicted of a felony, 
  2. is a narcotics addict, 
  3. is a person convicted of two or more offenses under Penal Code 417, California’s legislation prohibiting the brandishing of a weapon, and 
  4. is a person guilty of certain misdemeanor offenses.

Please keep in mind that there are some other restrictions.

A valid permit is required to legally sell or transfer a firearm in California. When a sale or transfer of a weapon occurs without permission, it is a violation of California Penal Code 26500, unauthorized sale of weapons.

A person who breaches PC 26500 faces a misdemeanor offense. The offence carries up to six months in county jail  and/or  a maximum $1,000 fine.

Also,  it is a misdemeanour offense in the state of California for a person to:

  • carry a loaded gun, pursuant to Penal Code 25850, and
  • Openly carry any unloaded firearm, pursuant to Penal Code 26350.

The California criminal defense attorneys at Spodek Law Group will give you an overview of the following in this article:

1. What is the legal definition of “firearm” according to Penal Code 16520?

2. Who is legally permitted to own or possess a firearm in California?

3. Who is legally permitted to sell a firearm in California?

4. Is a person allowed by law to carry either a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm?

5. What is the legal definition of an assault weapon according to California law?

1. What is the legal definition of “firearm” according to Penal Code 16520?

A “firearm” is defined as “any instrument designed to be used as a weapon from which is expelled through a barrel” under PC 16520  a projectile as a result of the force of any explosion or other type of combustion.

Pistols, revolvers, handguns, rifles (including short-barrelled rifles), shotguns (including short-barrelled shotguns), and the frame or receiver of any of the above are examples of “firearms,” which are often generically referred to as “guns.”

Rockets, rocket-propelled projectile launchers, and similar devices containing an explosive or incendiary element are also included in the definition of “firearms.”

Unloaded antique firearms and destructive devices, according to Penal Code 16520, are not firearms.

2. Who is legally permitted to own or possess a firearm in California?

If you have a valid handgun safety certificate and aren’t one of the following, you can lawfully own a gun:

  1. a person with a felony conviction, 
  2. a narcotics addict,
  3. a person with two or more convictions under Penal Code 417, California’s anti-weapons statute,
  4. a person convicted of certain misdemeanor charges,
  5. a person suffering from mental illness, and 6. a minor (that is, anyone under 18).

3. Who is legally permitted to sell a firearm in California?

To legally sell or transfer firearms, a person must have a valid permit, according to Penal Code 26500.

Please keep in mind that a license to sell firearms does not imply that the licensee has the authority to sell all firearms. It means he’s only allowed to sell the legal firearms listed on the permit.

A person who breaches PC 26500 faces a misdemeanor offense.

The offence carries up to six months in county jail and/or a maximum $1,000 fine.

These penalties apply to each and every firearm that is sold, leased, or transferred without a permit.

4. Is a person allowed by law to carry either a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm?

Carrying either a loaded or an empty firearm is illegal in California.

Carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle or public place is illegal under Penal Code 25850 PC.

Carrying both loaded and unloaded pistols in public is also illegal under Penal Code 26350 PC.

A misdemeanor is usually charged when either statute is broken. The crimes are punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.

5. What is the legal definition of an assault weapon according to California law?

California’s assault weapons and.50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) rifle laws are codified in Penal Code 30600 PC. This clause makes it illegal to:

  • producing,
  • selling,
  • distributing or donating,
  • loaning, and/or
  • possessing

any assault weapon or BMG rifle, except in very particular circumstances.

Although there is no universal definition of a “assault weapon,” the California Attorney General has defined them as “highly dangerous offensive weapons which are unambiguously hazardous…they are of the same type that soldiers typically use when fighting in a war.”

Over 70 different rifles, pistols, and shotguns are all categorized as assault weapons under Penal Code 30510 PC.

AK rifles, Uzi submachine weapons, and the Striker 12 shotgun are examples of these. 

California’s assault weapons ban was invalidated by a federal judge on June 4, 2021, on the grounds that it violated the Second Amendment’s freedom to bear arms. However, while the state appeals the verdict, assault rifles remain outlawed in California. 

For more information, please contact us! 

We welcome you to call Spodek Law Group if you or someone you know has been charged with a crime involving a “firearm,” as defined by Penal Code 16520 PC. We can provide you with a free consultation either in person or over the phone. We serve clients throughout the state of California, including the greater Los Angeles area, the San Fernando Valley, Orange County, Ventura, Long Beach, Riverside, Pasadena, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, San Diego, Napa County, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose.


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Best service I ever had. Todd is absolutely class personified. You are in the safest hands with spodek. They have their clients interest in mind.

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"Spodek Law Group have offered me excellent support and advice thru a very difficult time. I feel I've dealt with someone who truly cares and wants the best outcome for you and yours. I'm extremely grateful for all the help Spodek Law Group has offered me. I can't recommend them..."

David Bruce

"Spodek Law Group was incredibly professional and has given me the best advice I could wish for. They had been helpful and empathetic to my stressful situation. Would highly recommend Spodek Law Group to anyone I meet."

Rowlin Garcia

"Best service I ever had. Todd is absolutely class personified. You are in the safest hands with spodek. They have their clients interest in mind."

Francis Anim
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