Assault Weapons in California

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

With limited exceptions, California prohibits anyone from possessing an assault weapon unless he or she possessed the firearm prior to the date it was defined as an assault weapon and registered the firearm with the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in the timeframe established by state law.1 Note that this timeframe has now ended, and DOJ is generally not accepting any new registrations of assault weapons.

California also prohibits any person from manufacturing, distributing, transporting, importing, keeping for sale, offering for sale, giving, or lending any assault weapon within the state.2 However, DOJ may, upon a finding of good cause, issue permits for the manufacture, sale, or possession of assault weapons to certain law enforcement agencies and officers and to approved individuals over the age of 18.3 DOJ must conduct a yearly inspection – or every five years if the person to be inspected has fewer than five permitted devices – of every person to whom a permit is issued, for security and safe storage practices, and to reconcile the inventory of assault weapons.4 Generally, no lawfully possessed assault weapon may be sold or transferred to anyone within California other than to a licensed gun dealer or to a police or sheriff’s department.5

California law lists certain firearms that have been deemed assault weapons, including all AK series and Colt AR-15 series.6 California’s Attorney General is required to promulgate a list specifying all such firearms.7 However, a firearm that meets any of the following descriptions is also an “assault weapon”:8

  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following: 1) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; 2) a thumbhole stock; 3) a folding or telescoping stock; 4) a grenade or flare launcher; 5) a flash suppressor; or 6) a forward pistol grip;
  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds;
  • A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches;
  • A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following: 1) a threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer; 2) a second handgrip; 3) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel allowing the bearer to fire the weapon without burning his or her hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel; or 4) the capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip;
  • A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than ten rounds;
  • A semiautomatic shotgun that has both a folding or telescoping stock, and a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, thumbhole stock, or vertical handgrip;
  • A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine; or
  • A shotgun with a revolving cylinder.

Antique firearms (i.e., firearms manufactured prior to 1899)9, and certain pistols that are designed expressly for use in Olympic target shooting events, are exempt from these provisions.10

California does not ban kits that allow a person to convert a lawful firearm into an assault weapon.

Any person owning a lawfully registered assault weapon may possess the firearm only under limited conditions, unless he or she obtains a permit for additional uses from DOJ.11 Those conditions include:

  • At the person’s residence, place of business, or other property owned by that person, or on property owned by another with the owner’s express permission;
  • While on certain target ranges and shooting clubs;
  • While on publicly owned land if specifically permitted by the managing agency of the land; or
  • While properly transporting the firearm between any of the places mentioned above, or to any licensed gun dealer for servicing and repair.12

California law includes a statement of the dangers posed by assault weapons:

The Legislature hereby finds and declares that the proliferation and use of assault weapons poses a threat to the health, safety, and security of all citizens of this state. The Legislature has restricted the assault weapons specified in Section 30510 based upon finding that each firearm has such a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.13

California law provides that the possession of an assault weapon in violation of state laws is a public nuisance.14 As a result, any assault weapon possessed in violation of state laws must be destroyed, except upon finding by a court, or a declaration from DOJ, a district attorney, or a city attorney stating that the preservation of the assault weapon is in the interest of justice.15

The courts have rejected legal challenges to California’s assault weapons ban.16

See DOJ’s Assault Weapon FAQs page for further information.

Notes
  1. Cal. Penal Code § 30605. See generally Cal. Penal Code §§ 30600-30675, 30900-30965, 31000-31005. For state assault weapon regulations, see Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, §§ 5459-5473, 5495, 5499. DOJ’s website also includes information about the development of these regulations.
  2. Cal. Penal Code § 30600.
  3. Cal. Penal Code §§ 31000, 31005.
  4. Cal. Penal Code § 31110
  5. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30910, 31100.
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 30510.
  7. Cal. Penal Code § 30520.
  8. Cal. Penal Code § 30515.
  9. Cal. Penal Code § 16170(a).
  10. Cal. Penal Code § 30515(c).
  11. Cal. Penal Code §§ 30945, 31000.
  12. The person may also possess the assault weapon while attending an exhibition, display, or educational project about firearms which is sponsored by, conducted under the auspices of, or approved by a law enforcement agency or a nationally or state recognized entity that fosters proficiency in, or promotes education about, firearms. Id.
  13. Cal. Penal Code § 30505(a).
  14. The Attorney General, any district attorney, or any city attorney may, in lieu of criminal prosecution, bring a civil action or reach a civil compromise in any superior court to enjoin the possession of the assault weapon that is a public nuisance. Cal. Penal Code § 30800(a).
  15. Cal. Penal Code § 30800(c). Upon conviction of any misdemeanor or felony involving the illegal possession or use of an assault weapon, the assault weapon must be deemed a public nuisance and disposed of pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 18005(c). Cal. Penal Code § 30800(d).
  16. See Kasler v. Lockyer, 2 P.3d 581 (Cal. 2000) (holding, inter alia, that the ban does not violate equal protection of the law because the statute does not burden a fundamental constitutional right to “bear arms,” as no such right exists under the California constitution). See also Silveira v. Lockyer, 312 F.3d 1052, (9th Cir. 2002) (rejecting federal constitutional challenges to the ban, holding, inter alia, that the Second Amendment only protects the collective right of the people to maintain well-regulated militias). Note, however, that the Supreme Court has subsequently held, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, unconnected with service in a militia. The Court in Heller noted, nevertheless, that the Second Amendment is consistent with laws banning “dangerous and unusual weapons.” Id. at 2817. Since the Heller decision, several federal courts have upheld assault weapons bans that were challenged on Second Amendment grounds. For more information, see our Post-Heller Litigation Summary section.

Assault Weapons in New York

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

New York’s assault weapon law prohibits manufacturing, transporting, disposing of or possessing an assault weapon in the state.1

An assault weapon is defined as:

• A semi-automatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least one of the following characteristics:

o A folding or telescoping stock;

o A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;

o A thumbhole stock;

o A second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand;

o A bayonet mount;

o A flash suppressor, muzzle break, muzzle compensator,  or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor, muzzle break, or muzzle compensator;

o A grenade launcher; or

• A semi-automatic shotgun that has at least one of the following characteristics:

o A folding or telescoping stock;

o A thumbhole stock;

o A second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand;

o A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;

o A fixed magazine capacity in excess of seven rounds;

o An ability to accept a detachable magazine; or

• A semi-automatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least one of the following characteristics:

o A folding or telescoping stock;

o A thumbhole stock;

o A second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand;

o Capacity to accept an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;

o A threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer;

o A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned;

o A manufactured weight of fifty ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded;

o A semi-automatic version of an automatic rifle, shotgun or handgun; or

• A revolving cylinder shotgun;

• A semiautomatic rifle, a semiautomatic shotgun or a semiautomatic pistol or other weapon as defined by New York Penal Law § 265.00(22)(e)(v) as that section read under the laws of 2000 and otherwise lawfully possessed prior to September 14, 1994; or

• A semiautomatic rifle, a semiautomatic shotgun or a semiautomatic pistol that qualifies as an assault weapon as defined above and possessed prior to January 15, 2013.2

The term “assault weapon” does not include:

• Any rifle, shotgun or pistol that:

o Is manually operated by bolt, pump, lever or slide action;

o Has been rendered permanently inoperable; or

o Is an antique firearm as defined by federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16);

• A semi-automatic rifle that cannot accept a detachable magazine that holds more than five rounds of ammunition;

• A semi-automatic shotgun that cannot hold more than five rounds of ammunition in a fixed or detachable magazine;

• A rifle, shotgun or pistol, or a replica or a duplicate thereof, specified in Appendix A to 18 U.S.C. § 922 as such weapon was manufactured on October 1, 1993.  The mere fact that a weapon is not listed in Appendix A shall not be construed to mean that such weapon is an assault weapon;

• Any weapon validly registered pursuant to New York Penal law § 400.00(16)(a); or

• Any handgun, rifle, or shotgun that was manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including a replica thereof that is validly registered pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(16-a).

Any semiautomatic rifle, semiautomatic shotgun, or semiautomatic pistol qualifying as an assault weapon, as defined above, that was legally possessed prior to January 15, 2013, may only be sold to, exchanged with or disposed of to a purchaser authorized to possess such weapon or to an individual or entity outside the state provided that any such transfer outside of the state must be reported to the entity wherein the weapon is registered within 72 hours of such transfer.  A person who transfers any such weapon to a person inside New York without complying with these requirements is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.3

An owner of an assault weapon, as defined above, which was possessed before January 15, 2013, must make an application to register the assault weapon with the Superintendent of State Police, in a manner to be prescribed by the Superintendent, or by amending an issued firearms license on or before January 15, 2014.  Registration information must include the registrant’s name, date of birth, gender, race, residential address, social security number, and a description of each weapon being registered.  Registration will not be valid if the registrant is prohibited or becomes prohibited from possessing a firearm pursuant to state or federal law.

The Superintendent must determine whether such registrant is prohibited from possessing a firearm, but such check must be limited to determining whether the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) apply or whether a registrant has been convicted of a serious offense as defined in New York Penal Code § 265.00(16-b), and whether a report has been issued pursuant to New York Mental Hygiene Law § 9.46, concerning patients that present a serious risk to self or others.

All registrants must recertify to the Division of State Police every five years.  Failure to recertify will result in a revocation of the registration.4

A person who knowingly fails to apply to register an assault weapon on or before January 15, 2014, will be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.  A person unknowingly failing to register an assault weapon within the time period provided by statute must be given a warning by an appropriate law enforcement authority about this failure and given 30 days in which to apply to register or surrender the weapon.  A failure to do so within 30 days will result in the weapon being declared a nuisance and removed by an appropriate law enforcement authority.5

Educating the Public

The Superintendent of State Police must create and maintain an internet website to educate the public as to which semiautomatic rifle, semiautomatic shotgun, or semiautomatic pistol or other weapons are illegal under these provisions.  The website must contain information to assist the public in recognizing the relevant features proscribed by these provisions, as well the make and model of weapons requiring registration.6

Notes
  1. N.Y. Penal Law §§ 265.02(7), 265.10.
  2. N.Y. Penal Law § 265.00(22)(f).
  3. N.Y. Penal Law § 265.00(22)(h).
  4. N.Y. Penal Law § 265.00(22)(g).
  5. N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(16-a)(a).
  6. N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(16-a)(c).

Assault Weapons in Massachusetts

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

No person in Massachusetts may sell, offer for sale, transfer or possess an assault weapon (or large capacity feeding device, see the Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines section) that was not otherwise lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994.1 Firearms dealers are also specifically prohibited from selling, leasing, renting, transferring, delivering, or offering for sale, lease, rent, transfer or delivery, any assault weapon or large capacity feeding device not otherwise lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994.2

Massachusetts defines “assault weapon” by referring to the definition of semi-automatic assault weapon contained in federal law as it appeared on September 13, 1994 (that federal statute expired on September 13, 2004).3 The definition includes a list of named weapons and copies of those weapons; semi-automatic rifles and pistols that have the ability to accept a detachable magazine and have at least two specified characteristics; and semi-automatic shotguns that have at least two specified characteristics.

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131M.
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Sixteenth).
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 121 (referring to the federal Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, former 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30) ).

Assault Weapons in New Jersey

New Jersey prohibits the knowing possession of “assault firearms”1 (unless the purchaser or possessor is licensed to possess the assault firearm or the weapon is registered or rendered inoperable), defined to include:

  • More than 50 specified firearms or their copies;2
  • A semi-automatic shotgun with either a magazine capacity exceeding six rounds, a pistol grip, or a folding stock;3
  • A semi-automatic rifle with a fixed magazine capacity exceeding 15 rounds;4 and
  • A part or combination of parts designed or intended to convert a firearm into an assault firearm, or any combination of parts from which an assault firearm may be readily assembled if those parts are in the possession or under the control of the same person.5

Any person seeking to purchase or possess an assault firearm in New Jersey may apply for a license to do so by filing a written application with his or her county’s superior court, setting forth in detail the reasons for desiring such a license.6 “No license shall be issued to any person who would not qualify for a permit to carry a handgun…and no license shall be issued unless the court finds that the public safety and welfare so require.”7 See the section entitled Concealed Weapons Permitting in New Jersey for additional information.

New Jersey prohibits any person from manufacturing, transporting, shipping, selling or disposing of an assault firearm without being registered or licensed to do so under state law.8

Any person who lawfully purchased an assault firearm on or before May 1, 1990 was permitted to register that weapon within one year, if the Attorney General determined it was of a type used for legitimate target-shooting purposes.9 The owner was also required to pay a $50 fee per weapon, produce for inspection a valid Firearms Purchaser Identification Card (FPIC), a valid permit to carry handguns, or a copy of the permit to purchase a handgun which was used to purchase the assault firearm being registered, and submit valid proof of membership in a rifle or pistol club.10

Upon the death of a registered owner of an assault firearm, the owner’s heirs or estate have 90 days to either transfer the weapon to someone lawfully entitled to own or possess it, render it inoperable, or voluntarily surrender the gun to law enforcement.11

Finally, any person who offers to sell a semi-automatic rifle or “assault firearm” by means of an advertisement published in a newspaper circulating within New Jersey, where the advertisement does not specify that the purchaser is required to possess a valid New Jersey license to purchase and possess an assault firearm, or a valid FPIC to purchase and possess a semi-automatic rifle, is criminally liable for a misdemeanor.12

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-5f. “Assault Firearm” is defined under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-1w.
  2. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-1w(1), (2).
  3. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-1w(3).
  4. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-1w(4).
  5. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-1w(5).
  6. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-5a.
  7. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-5b. Licenses expire two years from the date of issue. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-5g. See N.J. Admin. Code §§ 13:54-5.1 – 13:54-5.4, 13:54-5.6 – 13:54-5.7 for further information on assault firearms.
  8. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-9g.
  9. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-12b.
  10. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-12b.
  11. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-12f. See also N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-13 (provisions for prior owners who chose not to register their assault firearms).
  12. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:39-15.

Assault Weapons in Ohio

Ohio has no law restricting assault weapons generally. However, Ohio includes within the definition of “[a]utomatic firearm” any semi-automatic firearm designed or specially adapted to fire more than thirty-one cartridges without reloading, other than a firearm chambering only .22 caliber short, long, or long-rifle cartridges.1 For further information, see Machine Guns/Automatic Firearms in Ohio.

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.11(E).

Assault Weapons in Illinois

Illinois has no law restricting assault weapons.

There are, however, local jurisdictions within the state, such as the City of Highland Park, with ordinances that restrict the possession and sale of assault weapons.1

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. See Highland Park City Code, Chapter 136.

Assault Weapons in the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia deems assault weapons unregisterable, thereby prohibiting possession of these firearms.1 Unregisterable firearms cannot be sold or transferred in the District.2 The District has created a list of banned firearms under the definition of “assault weapon.”3

The District also includes within its definition of “assault weapon”:

  • A semiautomatic, rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
    • A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
    • A thumbhole stock;
    • A folding or telescoping stock;
    • A grenade launcher or flare launcher;
    • A flash suppressor; or
    • A forward pistol grip;
  • A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
    • A threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer;
    • A second handgrip;
    • A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that allows the bearer to fire the weapon without burning his or her hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel; or
    • The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip;
  • A semiautomatic shotgun that has one or more of the following:
    • A folding or telescoping stock;
    • A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
    • A thumbhole stock; or
    • A vertical handgrip; and
  • A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine; and
  • Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder; unless it also has an attached tubular device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition; and
  • Any firearm that the Chief of Police may designate as an assault weapon by rule, based on a determination that the firearm would reasonably pose the same or similar danger to the health, safety, and security of the residents of the District as those weapons mentioned above.4

Antique firearms (i.e., firearms manufactured prior to 1899), and certain pistols that are designed expressly for use in Olympic target shooting events, are exempt.5

District law provides that any manufacturer, importer or dealer of an assault weapon will be held strictly liable for any direct and consequential damages resulting from injuries or death caused by these weapons:

Any manufacturer, importer, or dealer of an assault weapon…shall be held strictly liable in tort, without regard to fault or proof of defect, for all direct and consequential damages that arise from bodily injury or death if the bodily injury or death proximately results from the discharge of the assault weapon…in the District of Columbia.6

The assault weapons encompassed by the strict liability law are defined under D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2501.01(3A).7 The following exceptions apply to the District’s strict liability law:

  • No assault weapon originally distributed to a law enforcement agency or a law enforcement officer shall provide the basis for liability;
  • No action may be brought by a person injured by an assault weapon while committing a crime;
  • The statute may not limit in scope any cause of action available to a person injured by an assault weapon;
  • Any defense available in a strict liability action is available as a defense to an action brought under the District’s assault weapons strict liability laws; and
  • Recovery is not allowed for a self-inflicted injury that results from a reckless, wanton, or willful discharge of an assault weapon.8

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Notes
  1. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.02(a)(6).
  2. D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2505.01, 7-2505.02(a).
  3. See D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2501.01(3A)(A).
  4. D.C. Code Ann. § 7- 2501.01(3A). In those instances where the term “assault weapon” refers to a firearms manufacturer or description without including a specific model reference, the term shall be interpreted to include only those firearms produced by such manufacturer, or possessing such description, that share characteristics similar to other enumerated firearms under D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2501.01(3A)(A)(i)(I) – 7-2501.01(3A)(A)(i)(III), or possess any of the enumerated characteristics listed in D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2501.01(3A)(A)(i)(IV) – 7-2501.01(3A)(A)(i)(VIII) and D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2501.01(3A)(A)(ii) – (iii). D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2324.2. A firearm produced by a manufacturer or that possesses a description included in the definition of “assault weapon” by statute, but which does not share characteristics similar to those enumerated firearms or characteristics similar to other firearms described in D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2324.2, may be registered, provided that the firearm is not otherwise prohibited from registration under District or Federal law or regulation. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2324.3.
  5. Id.
  6. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2551.02.
  7. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2551.01(1).
  8. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2551.03.