Posted on January 2, 2012
See our Child Access Prevention policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
California makes someone criminally liable for keeping a loaded firearm where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child (a person under age 18)1 is likely to gain access, only if the child actually gains access to the firearm and carries it to a public place or brandishes it, or if someone is injured.2 The penalty is significantly greater if someone dies or suffers great bodily injury as a result of the child gaining access to the firearm.3
An adult is also criminally liable for keeping a loaded or unloaded handgun on his or her premises where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to it if the child does gain access and carries the handgun off the premises.4
Lastly, an adult is criminally liable for keeping any firearm, loaded or unloaded, on his or her premises where he or she knows or reasonably should know a child is likely to gain access to it if the child does gain access to it and carries the firearm to any preschool or school grades K-12 or to any school-sponsored event, activity, or performance.5
If the child in any of these scenarios was likely to gain access only with his or her parent or legal guardian’s permission, the person is not guilty.6 The person is also not guilty if any of the following is true:
- The firearm was kept in a locked container or in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure;
- The firearm was locked with a locking device that rendered the firearm inoperable; or
- The person had no reasonable expectation, based on objective facts and circumstances, that a child was likely to be present on the premises.7
A parent or guardian is also civilly liable for damages resulting from the discharge of a firearm by that person’s child or ward. These damages are capped at $30,000 per victim, and $60,000 total.8
For the warnings that firearms dealers must post regarding preventing children from gaining access to firearms, see our Dealer Regulations in California section.
- See Cal. Penal Code § 25000. [↩]
- Cal. Penal Code § 25100(b). That section references Cal. Penal Code § 417, which prohibits the drawing or exhibiting of a firearm in a rude, angry, or threatening manner, or unlawfully using a firearm in a fight or quarrel. [↩]
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100(a), 25110 (if the firearm causes death, or great bodily injury to someone, the penalty is a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of $10,000; otherwise the offense is a misdemeanor). [↩]
- Cal. Penal Code § 25200(a). [↩]
- Cal. Penal Code § 25200(b). [↩]
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25100, 25200. [↩]
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 25105, 25205. The person is also not liable if any of the following is true:
- The child obtained the firearm as a result of an illegal entry into any premises by any person;
- The firearm was carried on the person or within such a close proximity to the person that he or she could readily retrieve and use the firearm as if carried on the person;
- The person was a peace officer or a member of the armed forces or national guard and the child obtained the firearm during, or incidental to, the performance of the person’s duties; or
- The child obtained the firearm in a lawful act of self-defense or defense of another person, or persons.
California law also includes the statement that “[i]t is the Legislature’s intent that a parent or guardian of a child who is injured or who dies as the result of an accidental shooting must be prosecuted only in those instances in which the parent or guardian behaved in a grossly negligent manner or where similarly egregious circumstances exist.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25115 and 25210. In such cases, no arrest may occur until at least seven days after the accidental shooting, and law enforcement officials are encouraged “to delay the arrest of a parent or guardian of a seriously injured child while the child remains on life-support equipment or is in a similarly critical medical condition.” Cal. Penal Code §§ 25120, 25215. [↩]
- Cal. Civil Code § 1714.3. [↩]