California’s New Definition of an Assault Weapon

The New Assault Weapon Law – Fixed Magazine

On July 1, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed 6 new firearms related bills into law.  Amongst the most controversial new laws that Gov. Brown signed are Assembly Bill 1135 and Senate Bill 880.  These bills change the definition of an assault weapon in California by amending California Penal Code section 30515.

Previously, in order for a firearm to be an assault weapon the firearm needed to be a semiautomatic center fire rifle or a semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and has any one of a number of specified attributes, such as for a rifle, a thumbhole stock, and for pistols, a second handgrip.  (See California Penal Code section 30515 below for a complete list).

Now, effective January 1, 2017, an assault weapon will mean a semiautomatic centerfire rile, or a semiautomatic pistol that does not have a fixed magazine but has any one of the specified attributes in California Penal Code section 30515.  A fixed magazine will be defined as an ammunition feeding device contained in, or permanently attached to, a firearm in such a manner that the device cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action.  In essence, this legislation effectively outlaws magazine locking devices, e.g., bullet buttons.

This new law does not change the punishment for possession of an assault weapon.  Under California Penal Code section 30605(a), possession of an assault weapon is punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail or by up to three (3) years in prison – or in other words, possession of an assault weapon is punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony.  Under Assembly Bill 109, the prison sentence, if imposed, would be served in a county jail instead of a state prison run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

What this new law means for people is that they can continue to buy a semiautomatic centerfire rifle with a detachable magazine and one or more of the specified attributes in Penal Code section 30515 up to December 31, 2016.  But, these individuals will have to register the firearm with the California Department of Justice before January 1, 2018, but not before the effective date of specified regulations.  (Cal. Pen. Code section 30900(b)(1).)  The registration will be required to be electronically via the internet, and will require a certain specified information.  Specifically, under California Penal Code section 30900(b)(3),

“The registration shall contain a description of the firearm that identifies it uniquely, including all identification marks, the date the firearm was acquired, the name and address of the individual from whom, or business from which, the rearm was acquired, as well as the registrant’s full name, address, telephone number, date of birth, sex, height, weight, eye color, hair color, and California driver’s license number or California identification card number.”

If you have specific questions about your obligations under the new law, you should contact an experienced firearms attorney.

30515. Further definition of “assault weapon”

  • (a) Notwithstanding Section 30510, “assault weapon” also means any of the following:
  • (1)A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
    • (A)A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.
    • (B)A thumbhole stock.
    • (C)A folding or telescoping stock.
    • (D)A grenade launcher or flare launcher.
    • (E)A flash suppressor.
    • (F)A forward pistol grip.
  • (2)A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
  • (3)A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches.
  • (4)A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
    • (A)A threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer.
    • (B)A second handgrip.
    • (C)A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that allows the bearer to fire the weapon without burning the bearer’s hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel.
    • (D)The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip.
  • (5)A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
  • (6)A semiautomatic shotgun that has both of the following:
    • (A)A folding or telescoping stock.
    • (B)A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, thumbhole stock, or vertical handgrip.
  • (7)A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine.
  • (8)Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder.
  • (b) The Legislature finds a significant public purpose in exempting from the definition of “assault weapon” pistols that are designed expressly for use in Olympic target shooting events. Therefore, those pistols that are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and by USA Shooting, the national governing body for international shooting competition in the United States, and that were used for Olympic target shooting purposes as of January 1, 2001, and that would otherwise fall within the definition of “assault weapon” pursuant to this section are exempt, as provided in subdivision (c).
  • (c) “Assault weapon” does not include either of the following:
  • (1)Any antique firearm.
  • (2)Any of the following pistols, because they are consistent with the significant public purpose expressed in subdivision (b).
  • (3) The Department of Justice shall create a program that is consistent with the purposes stated in subdivision (b) to exempt new models of competitive pistols that would otherwise fall within the definition of “assault weapon” pursuant to this section from being classified as an assault weapon. The exempt competitive pistols may be based on recommendations by USA Shooting consistent with the regulations contained in the USA Shooting Official Rules or may be based on the recommendation or rules of any other organization that the department deems relevant.